Sunday, January 31, 2010

Urban Chicken Farmer

I had another great idea the other day; raise chickens! In this rapidly changing recessionary world, I cast my mind back to stories of the depression. Farmers fared better than urban dwellers. In a pinch they could eat from their land (if their dirt didn't turn to dust). Those of us in an urban setting have a harder time of it, that is for sure. This last year I planted a few more vegetables in my little yard. Obviously pigs are out. And then it struck me; chickens! Even if I haven't the heart to eat them, I can gather their eggs. When I googled my great idea, it turns out I'm not the first to think of it. Check out these popular pages:

Why has urban chicken farming taken off? Well, likely the very reasons I am considering it. Also, there's the local eating trend inspired by the desire to know more about what we eat, eating organic, to reduce stress on food animals in transit, reduce our carbon footprint, and as a reaction to the highly networked, industrialized, and interdependent society that we live in. You can't get better control on the food you eat than if you raise it yourself.

From the National Geographic blog: "The current recession and farm-to-table movement have taken the trend further still. 'Just get a few chickens and you can feed yourself,' says AbuTalib of the Bronx’s Taqwa Community Farm. 'He who controls your breadbasket controls your destiny.' "

This magazine tells us how to be an urban chicken farmer in five easy steps, or read Chicken Rearing 101 for the real poop.

I'm not so sure I'm ready to dig in to the chicken business, now that I find out I'm a rather late follower on a trendy trend. On the other hand, it looks like there are lots of blogs and "experts" around to help me, if I do decide to take it on.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Heroes in Haiti

As the news rolls in on the devastation in Haiti, it is great to hear the stories of professionals rushing in to provide support. One of my favorite bloggers, Paul Levy, provides reports from doctors on the scene at

Could the aid be faster, more coordinated? Paul Sullivan, contributor to the Metro, asks the same question. He challenges the legitimacy of the stars at the Golden Globes displaying ribbons when they are robed in luxury. I disagree on that point. Everyone does what they do best, and celebrities are good at encouraging fans to care and give. Many of the starlets donated their gowns, and other big donations were announced.

But back to the questions; could the aid be faster, more coordinated? I watched with horror the molasses-slow response in the New Orleans disaster, until, finally, the military were invited in. Armies go where they are called, and there is a clear line of command. There is focus in their actions, and they know the job is to get-er-done. They are prepared to handle chaos, broken communication, and broken infrasture. They have their own corps of engineers to build roads and bridges where their are none, and to do it quickly.

Paul Sullivan asks, "Haven't we learned anything about nature's capacity to kick the poor of the world in the teeth, and can't we get there with food, water and rescue faster? Why does it always seem that the governments of the world have been taken by surprise, and it's up to you and me to bail them out? Isn't it time to challenge the script?"

I agree. And in the developed world at least, there are domestic government departments dedicated to handling disaster. These are the disaster preparadeness folks, and they have gone to considerable effort to develop plans in case of disaster. The idea is that the assigned people can open their manual, follow the chain of command, and swiftly respond to any emergency that may emerge.

These departments emerged after World War II first as a response the threat of nuclear strike, and gradually expanded to handle all possible threats. These days there are plans for pandemics, plans for terrorist threats, floods, fire, and others. The H1N1 provided a test to these plans, and natural disasters such as the Quebec ice storm. Bureaucrats will do that. When their original purpose begins to fade, they create new reasons to keep their jobs.

When I considered the origins and makeup of these disaster preparadness groups, I worried that their very design has a fatal flaw. The leaders and committee members of these agencies by nature and career are not risk-takers. They are meeting mavens and manual makers. When disaster hits, response by their very nature is cautious, slow. What we need people who know how to get-er-done when the job is not orderly. Right now these are the people of the Red Cross and the army. Why? They routinely work in chaotic conditions. The job attracts a whole different kind of person. They are experienced and ready.

I've always thought that developed countries should have disaster response teams geared to help anywhere in the world they are needed. Then, if disaster should strike at home, these same experienced teams are ready to provide swift response. Right now we have the army and the red cross, doctors without borders, and others. When Haiti is restored to some sort of order, perhaps we should ask them what such a team should look like.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Janet's Proverbs

I'm having one of my morning brainwaves, and I'm catching here some of my home-made proverbs. I'll explain in a later post.

In doing, don't delay.

Taking longer than I expect is not failure. Sometimes the journey is just as important.

Habits are easier to make than to break. Build great new habits.

Puppies, Kittens, Dolphins and Wolves

Puppies, kittens, dolphins and wolves. Cutness is charming. Cuteness sells. Well, wolves aren't cute per se, but they do have a wild beauty that is mesmerizing. Wolves are in the same category as soaring eagles. Dolphins, too, for their apparent freedom, their charm, intelligence, and friendliness. It can't hurt that their mouths are frozen in a permanent grin. Puppies and kittens, well. They elicit that strong urge to mother and protect. Their large brown eyes gaze in to ours, trusting, secure.

From these obsessions, it would seem perhaps that our daily life has a deficit of opportunities to nurture, to be free in our individualism, to be strong yet caring too. City life, with it's crowded streets of humanity, paradoxically removes us from our brother. Since there is no way to develop a significant relationship with everyone we see in a day, we retreat within ourselves. There are our spouses, our children, perhaps some extended family. A little farther removed, there are our co-workers. Life is routine with few opportunities to break out in to caring. How often in a day or week to we gaze deeply in to the eyes of our neighbours? Do we have opportunities to genuinely connect?

I suggest that the puppies, kittens, dolphins and wolves provide a sham substitute for our yearnings. Besides that, I have the snob's prejudice against bad art. If one poor puppy's eye is off kilter, or a wolf's cheek is missing, the discordance is disturbing rather than warming.

Then we have the huge back-market of mass produced statuary - cutness sprayed on in a sweatshop in some nameless part of the third world.

Let's not even get started on puppy mills. Removed from their shady origins, the puppies and kittens frolic in a pet store enclosure, selling themselves. The puppy mills would close tomorrow if the market died. But too many of us respond viscerally to their charm, putting aside for a moment any qualms about origins.

Am I an insensitive boob, or so attuned that exploitation makes me shudder?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Making Do When You Don't Have Enough

This is a baseball story that pleases me. It illustrates the challenge of putting together an organization when there are not many options available; with spunk we can make it through. Perhaps the joke will be lost in the explaining, but here it is.

It was 1933, and Casey Stengel was a rookie manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were low on the list for Rule 5 draft picks that year, and Casey picked Ray Berres, a 170 pound light hitting catcher. When asked why he picked the lightweight Berres, Casey replied,

“You have to have a catcher because if you don't you're likely to have a lot of passed balls.”

Think about it. If no-one is there to catch the ball, you don't have much of a game.

When faced with tough choices, ask yourself what sort of business you are in. What is it that you absolutely must do, or shut your doors?

Casey's Dodgers only won four games that year, and the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs. Casey's career as a manager was a spotted one. He won some and he lost some. What he never lost was his sense of humor, and his ability to warm the crowd. He loved what he did and he made sure people loved playing his game. A plaque dedicated to him at the Yankee Stadium's monument park reads in part,

" for over 50 years; with spirit of eternal youth."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rising Tide of Dementia

The Canadian Alzheimer Society has released a report called "Rising Tide", estimating that there will be a new diagnosis of dementia once every two minutes by 2038. Right now a new diagnosis of dementia happens once every five minutes. The reasons for this prediction are the increased life expectancy of the population, and ageing baby boomers. The implications of this prediction is that there will be an ever increasing burden on the health care system and caregivers as our population ages.

My gut reaction to this news was, "Well, cure it then!" It's about time we knew more about our brains. We have new imaging techniques, stronger analysis tools, and a greater understanding of the finest structures in our bodies. Consider how computing power and technological advances dramatically reduced the time required to decode the human genome.

I am reminded also of Michael J. Fox's ambition to find a cure and better treatments for patients with Parkinson's disease. His ambitious goal was to set up a foundation intent on finding a cure. This foundation has enjoyed spectacular success. I'm reminded also of a recent article about the Brain Observatory where a donated brain has been dissected, slice by slice, to better understand it's operation "Building a Search Engine of the Brain, Slice by Slice".

Do I really want another reason to dread the future, where an overburdened caregiving system sees me as yet another lump to be carried through the system? Wouldn't our time and money be best spent looking for causes, prevention, and cures? I wish all success to the Alzheimer's society. I hope our society sees this wake-up call as an opportunity to change our future, rather than with passivity.