A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

[LINK] “Why high schools still shut down during harvest in Maine”

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David Sharp’s Associated Press article describing how upstate Maine’s potato harvest, traditionally relying on the work of students given weeks off of school, is changing with the time evoked Atlantic Canada for me. Potato culture is common to people on both sides of the border.

In the gentle hills of northern Maine, far from the rocky coastline and lighthouses, teenagers trade warm classrooms for cold potato fields every fall, just as they have for generations.

Schools shut down — sometimes for weeks at a time — while their students haul in the harvest or monitor conveyor belts for potatoes that don’t measure up as farmers rush to fill their stores before the ground freezes.

But as farm operations consolidate and heavy machinery make them more efficient, farmers wonder how much longer there will be a place for the harvest breaks that as little as 20 years ago saw kids hand-picking potatoes for 50 cents a barrel.

“Eventually it’ll probably fade away,” said Wayne Garrison, the 72-year-old co-owner of Garrison Farms, which hired eight high school students to help harvest its 280 hectares of potatoes. “I’d hate to see it go, I really would.”

Up until the 1940s, Maine was the United States’s potato capital and Aroostook County — a place so vast that it’s more than double the size of Greater Toronto — is still home to roughly 20,000 hectares of potato farms. Nearly a dozen high schools here emptied for this year’s harvest — fewer than the old days, when virtually all schools shut down.

This year, only a handful of high schools have closed for the entire three-week harvest. And school boards are continually grappling with whether or not to continue the tradition as modern farming reduces the need for large numbers of labourers.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 20, 2014 at 9:45 pm

[LINK] “Amish scout new community in P.E.I.”

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I am intrigued by this report, from the CBC. It’s a bit surprising that there hasn’t been more migration like this, taking advantage of low-cost farmland.

Two Amish families are heading back to southern Ontario Friday morning after spending most of the week on P.E.I., looking for a new place to live.

Anthony Wallbank is a friend of several members of Ontario’s Amish community, and drove some of them to the Island to look at farm properties. Wallbank said many younger Amish men are looking to start up their own farms, but affordable, fertile farmland is scarce in Ontario.

On P.E.I., he said, there’s lots of land at a tenth of the price.

“Twenty or 30 or any number of Amish families could come here and they could find farms the size that they’re looking for,” said Wallbank.

“The farmland is nicely sloped, well drained. They could come here and they could farm the way they’re used to farming in southern Ontario.”

Written by Randy McDonald

October 20, 2014 at 9:40 pm

[PHOTO] Red soil garden, Rollo Bay

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Red soil garden, Rollo Bay

Written by Randy McDonald

October 17, 2014 at 10:59 am

[NEWS] Some Monday links

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  • Al Jazeera warns about the militarization of the Ukrainian state, notes the alienation of Turkish Kurds from their goverment and wonders if northern Syria will become a Turkish protectorate, wishes Arab authors could travel to the United States more readily, wonders about the impact of immigrants on Catalonian separatism, and notes Wheaton College’s issue with new federal healthcare regulations.
  • Bloomberg observes the shrinkage of the American labour force, the success of the coffee crop in Vietnam, the emigration from ethnic Czechs from Ukraine to the Czech Republic, the successful retention of industry in Singapore, observes the debilitating toll of illegal fisheries off of the West African coast, and notes the call for an investigation into the treatment of the United States’ first Ebola victim.
  • Bloomberg View notes that Uber can succeed only in the context of a struggling labour market, looks at the economic issues of European petrostates, notes how political concerns override fears for the Russian economy, argues British cities also need autonomy, and via Faroese fish exports notes that sanctions may not have that much effort.
  • CBC notes Tanya Tagaq’s stalking by a sexually aggressive man in Winnipeg, and notes that Windsor is using cayenne peppers to deter squirrels from attacking the city’s tulips. (That last should work.)
  • The Inter Press Service notes the scale of Samoan emigration, observes the negative consequences of climate change for livestock farmers in the Caribbean, looks at the drought besetting Sao Paulo, looks at an economically questionable train line in Sri Lanka, considers how the Karabakh issue makes Armenian entry into the Eurasian Union problematic, and u>observes anti-Palestinian discrimination in housing in the Jerusalem area.
  • IWPR reports on growing Ukraine-related ethnic tensions in Kazakhstan and observes Georgia’s clampdown on immigration.
  • Open Democracy recommends a consistent policy of European Union opening to the western Balkans, notes the plight of Copts in Egypt, looks at ethnic tensions in North Ossetia between Ossetians and Ingush, examines Basque and Corsican separatisms, fears for the future of secularism in Mali and Senegal, and considers the dire demographics of Ukraine.

[LINK] “Seeds of Doubt”

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Michael Specter’s article in The New Yorker deserves to be widely shared, indeed. Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva seems, to put it charitably, more concerned with the impact of her rhetoric than the accuracy of her facts. Even her biography has issues: she is not world-famous as a physicist.

Hundreds of millions of people, in twenty-eight countries, eat transgenic products every day, and if any of Shiva’s assertions were true the implications would be catastrophic. But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered. Her claims were based on a single research paper, released last year, in a journal called Entropy, which charges scientists to publish their findings. The paper contains no new research. Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)

Shiva refers to her scientific credentials in almost every appearance, yet she often dispenses with the conventions of scientific inquiry. She is usually described in interviews and on television as a nuclear physicist, a quantum physicist, or a world-renowned physicist. Most of her book jackets include the following biographical note: “Before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists.” When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn’t list any such position in her biography.

Shiva argues that because many varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola have been engineered to resist glyphosate, there has been an increase in the use of herbicides. That is certainly true, and in high enough amounts glyphosate, like other herbicides, is toxic. Moreover, whenever farmers rely too heavily on one chemical, whether it occurs naturally or is made in a factory, weeds develop resistance. In some regions, that has already happened with glyphosate—and the results can be disastrous. But farmers face the problem whether or not they plant genetically modified crops. Scores of weed species have become resistant to the herbicide atrazine, for example, even though no crops have been modified to tolerate it. In fact, glyphosate has become the most popular herbicide in the world, largely because it’s not nearly so toxic as those which it generally replaces. The E.P.A. has labelled water unsafe to drink if it contains three parts per billion of atrazine; the comparable limit for glyphosate is seven hundred parts per billion. By this measure, glyphosate is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine.

For years, people have been afraid that eating genetically modified foods would make them sick, and Shiva’s speeches are filled with terrifying anecdotes that play to that fear. But since 1996, when the crops were first planted, humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and have draped themselves in thousands of tons of clothing made from genetically engineered cotton, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result. That is one reason that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, the U.K.’s Royal Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the European Commission, and dozens of other scientific organizations have all concluded that foods derived from genetically modified crops are as safe to eat as any other food.

Spectre goes on to demonstrate much more.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 6, 2014 at 11:01 pm

[NEWS] Some Sunday links

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  • Al Jazeera notes the effects of population aging worldwide, observes the quarantining of four individuals possibly exposed to Ebola, comments on the huge costs associated with reconstruction in eastern Ukraine, and reports on a conference held by the Vatican on the plight of Middle Eastern Christians.
  • Bloomberg notes the recovery of house prices in Hungary, notes that elderly Koreans are being warned against speculative investments, looks at Southeast Asian Muslims going off to fight in Syria, notes the resistance of farmers to Thailand’s junta, quotes Angela Merkel’s comparison of the Ukrainian crisis to the decades-long Cold War and East Germany, looks at possible Russian capital controls and growing Spanish public indebtedness, points to the aging of Sweden’s nuclear reactors, looks at Catalonia’s separatists as they prepare for a controversial independence referendum, and warns the world about Japan.
  • Bloomberg View notes the profound uncertainty over Ebola, suggests Shanghai cannot replace Hong Kong as a financial centre yet, looks at skyrocketing real estate prices at the far upper end of the New York City scene, and suggests that Hong Kong’s revolt will sputter out.
  • CBC notes that Makayla Sault, a First Nations child who refused treatment for her leukemia, is relapsing, notes that global warming is leading Greenlanders to hunt more orcas, observes that the Islamic State has ended the Arab spring, and wonders what China will do with Hong Kong.
  • IWPR notes the odd optimism of many eastern Ukrainians, looks at the problems of Syrian Armenian refugee schoolchildren in the Armenian school system, and notes controversy over the creation of a Russian satellite university in Armenia.
  • National Geographic notes the new phenomenon of sanctuaries for former pet pigs, and suggests that threats to an Ottoman tomb could bring Turkey into Syria.
  • Open Democracy notes the plight of Syrian Kurds, suggests that secularism is an alternative to oppressive religious identities, and criticizes European Union migration policy.
  • Wired looks at Europe’s history of trying animals for crimes and examines Andy Warhol’s sketching of Blondie’s Debbie Harry on an Amiga.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Big Picture shares images of Syrian Kurdish refugees flooding into Turkey.
  • blogTO quite likes the new visitor centre at Fort York.
  • James Bow quite liked the Word on the Street festival in the Albertan city of Lethbridge.
  • Crooked Timber suggests that French economist Thomas Piketty, with his writings on inequality, has unusually drawing power.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper proposing new methods for studying the atmospheres of gas giant exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that scientists have just now developed a new, more efficient method of photosynthesis.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that, according to the US Census, a half-million people have entered same-sex marriages.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig considers a particular post-1918 orthography reform of the Russian language.
  • pollotenchegg considers the institutions Crimean Tatars trust, and not.
  • Savage Minds considers the complexities of ethnographic writing.
  • Spacing Toronto’s John Lorinc considers overpolicing in Toronto.
  • Torontoist notes that a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio will be on display at the University of Toronto.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy is skeptical of the good sense in pretending Islam is not a religion.

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