Notes on a community in transition.

Wither thou goest I may or may not follow.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Proposal to Save the Commons and Our Water

This idea originally grew out of research that I did on the 1928 battle to save the commons of Epping Forest(part of the City of London England).

Rights of the Commons: Intro:
Ancient custom and biblical practice ensured everyone's right to free access to the community well as a matter of course. The waters of our contemporary wetlands represent our commonwealth. A commons is by definition Crown Land chartered by the crown to a Lord of a manor, in which local commoners maintained their rights to wood and food and access. The commons is so foundational to British common-law that the House of Commons was created to represent the relationships between the crown and the people.

In fact, in a legal battle fought over Epping Forest near London England in the 1920's, the lord of the local manor attempted to enclose the forest-commons, so that he could develop the property.

The commoners fought the attempt to deny them their rights of access to the Forest. In the court's decision, the judge ruled that no commons could be enclosed without the consent of the Ministry of Agriculture.

That common-law precedent led me to realize that the best security for the water and the lands of Ontario's Rivers lay in creating a Wild Harvest, hence this proposal.

Wild Harvest

A Community Economic Development Project

Executive Summary
An abundance of wild foods grow in our conservation areas,
in our municipal wild parks, agreement forests and on private properties: everything from high profit items like morels, chanterelles and bolete mushrooms,
to fiddle heads, wild leeks and scores of wild plants useful for teas
and medicines, plus fruits, berries and nuts, all crops.

Using The City of Guelph and its environs as the pilot project,
the idea would be to 1) assess the designated lands for their bounty,
2) develop a sustainable agricultural plan that
a) involves a low impact harvest methodology and that
b) includes environmental safeguards so that surrounding lands
are left as wild as possible.
An educational component would be essential,
not only for the workers but for the general public.

The City of Guelph
Wellington County
The Grand River Conservation Authority
The Arboretum
The University of Guelph
The Ministry of Agriculture
The Ministry of Natural Resources
The Ministry of Correctional Services
The Ministry of Culture
Human Resources Canada
Ontario Works
St.Ignatieff's College
Private Landowners
Community Volunteers
Ducks Unlimited
Cycling & Trail Clubs etc

Some of the Crops
Mushrooms: morels, chanterelles, boletes, puffballs etc.
Edible plants: wild leeks, fiddleheads, wild ginger, watercress, mint, etc.
Wild domestic plants: thyme, oregano, asparagus etc
Fruits:raspberries, blackberries, haws, apples
Nuts: chestnuts, walnuts, hickories etc.
Animals: fish, ducks, partridges, pheasant, frogs, deer etc.
Firewood: maple, oak, beech etc.

Thesis Student Field Coordinators

The actual onsite work would be under the direct supervision
of Masters and Phd students whose proposals for projects in agricultural,
social science, food science, food and hotel management etc,
were accepted by both the University and the Project Facilitator.

The Workforce
The workforce itself would consist of a project facilitator under the authority of a Board of Advisers, a general manager, a site coordinator, various governmental and municipal liaison personnel, Ontario Works recipients, Employment Insurance recipients, University doctoral students and community volunteers. Also, nearby private enterprises engaged in similar harvests, could be involved to their profit in localized supervisory roles.

The produce would be sold in local farmers' markets with the profits being turned back into the project's operating expenses, as well as into a share for participating private landowners,(relative to the crop value of their lands.)

Organizational and Workforce Structure
Advisory Board Representatives:
City of Guelph, Conservation Authority, Correctional Services, Human Resources Canada, University of Guelph, Arboretum, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Correctional Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Culture, St. Ignatieff College, Community Reps

Project Facilitator:
Office Manager, Site Coordinator, Conservation Authority Liaison, Correctional Services Liaison, Human Resources Canada Liaison, Agriculture Liaison, Natural Resources Liaison , Culture Liaison, Guelph Liaison, Arboretum Liaison, Volunteer Coordinator

Thesis Student Field Coordinators:
Ontario Works Beneficiaries, Employment Insurance Beneficiaries, Correctional Services Sentencees, Volunteers

Wetland's Cleanup
A second major component of the project would be wetlands cleanup.
It is in that area that the Ministry of Correctional Services would play a role,
in that some of the cleanup work crew could be comprised of those convicted of crimes related to illegal dumping, pit party bottle smashing and the like.

Local farm dumps, which abound around the area's wetlands could also be cleaned up.
It is even conceivable that rather than hauling all that metal and glass away,
community artists could be engaged to create onsite "sculptures" and mosaics
with help of Ontario Works and EI "employees" and community volunteers.
Any valuable items, whether antique or reusable could be sold to
help offset cleanup costs, with input from the local landowners.

More serious forms of industrial pollution could also be brought
under control in order to ensure the health of the harvest.
The benefits to fish, waterfowl and wild animal habitat would be enormous.

In every instance, an extensive mapping and local site analysis of
hazards and benefits would prove of immense value to both
the project and the local community.

Catwalks, bridges, natural trail fencing, stone works,
buttressing, blazing, maintaining, all path projects
will be designed for minimalist yet practical impacts.

As per Jane Jacobs beliefs in pedestrians and public spaces as the fulcrum of social and personal security in neighbourhoods, the walkways and trails around the growing areas need to be public whenever pragmatic. But for wild life preservation purposes
the simplest method of access and preservation would be to have web-cameras on every cleanup, harvest or art or work site, so that the public can monitor the progress of the project from afar.

It may in some cases be necessary to limit actual access to sites
to those who live in any given municipality. ie the commoners.

The city's pilot project should evolve into
an ongoing public window for the entire Grand River Valley system.
In essence, Guelph would become the archives and museum for the project.

At the same time, each community along the river,
has its own commoner base, its own people to serve, its own local access list,
which include rights to purchase, rights to know how the money is being spent,
how much money is being made, rights maintained through a stakeholders council.

Stakeholder's Council
Ultimately, the stakeholders' councils should be watershed-wide,
since a commonwealth is founded first on water,then on the food it harvests.

But since the Grand River Valley communities are the ultimate stakeholders in the survival of the natural foundations of our wealth, the local councils should have limited but real local option processes, all of which can be negotiated by the stakeholders throughout this process.

Food Sales
Wild harvest foods are in fact a key to the development of the Canadian Food movement, a movement which has taken hold of a great many Canadian chefs, restaurants and food academics.

Some of the wild foods of themselves aren't market valuable (ie fruits like haws and elderberries and wild apples) but, through value-adding and processing can make wonderful jams etc.

Sugar maples can be tapped and even birch sap could be developed into syrups and vinegars.

Other plants like cattail have a wide array of uses, either as edibles, or as basket materials.

In each and every case however, care must be taken to ensure that a sustainable approach is being applied, so that wildlife habitats are not unduly destablized.

The Costs
As this proposal is a preliminary budget
dependent on the input of an array of government agencies,
the municipality, the Conservation Authority, the University and others
can only be roughly attempted be at this time.

Seed Project

Preliminary Weekly/Annual Budget

Operational Staff

Project Facilitator $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Office Manager $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Site Coordinator $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
$ 78,000.00 = $ 78,000.00
Operating Expenses
Office Expenses $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Transportation $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Public Relations $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Field Costs $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Land 'Survey' $ 500.00 x 52 weeks = $ 26,000.00
Subtotal $130,000.00 = $130,000.00
Total $208,000.00

Clearly there are some within the environmental movement who strongly believe that humans should have as little impact on wild plants and animals as possible, and while that is a cautionary position that must be kept in mind, the simple fact of the matter is that Guelph is about to be incorporated into the superhighway grid in a few years and massive development is about to obliterate Guelph's historical position as agricultural capitol of Ontario.

Guelph has already lost its role as the advocate of sustainable living for family farms and rural communities and is on the fast track to becoming unwholistic food central. 70% of the food we buy in grocery stores is already genetically modified.

The wild harvest is the last stand of unadulaterated food left in the province.
No less importantly, if we protect the wild harvest by actually harvesting it
using sustainable practices, we protect the public's access to public water.

Water Rights
In this age when privateers (government sponsored pirates) are
pillaging public institutions and community chests,
Crown Land water rights are being removed from citizens
and sold to the highest bidders, in violation of the spirit
of ancient and biblical water rights.

It is my belief that by creating sustainable agricultural practices
throughout Canada's wetlands, in the form of a wild harvest,
Canadian water will remain part of our common heritage.

Community economic development projects like Wild Harvest
can serve as defenders of our constitutional and spiritual origins.

After the Seed Project
Once the project has been established in the Guelph area,
the model should be extended throughout the Grand River system;
and then throughout Ontario's conservation authority wetlands.
The movement could then spread beyond the province to the rest of Canada.

Wild Harvest as a Documentary
Because of the nature of the project, a filmed, or digitally recorded
documentary of the process: it's strengths, weaknesses, discoveries, failures
and other aspects useful to the larger Grand Valley project and therefor
to other communities in still later projects, should also be undertaken.

Its value as an educational tool, an analytical aid, and a promotional vehicle
cannot be undervalued. The public relations benefits to Guelph and to
the surrounding townships, to the Conservation Authority and to other governmental participants would be felt long after the seed project had matured.

Once an initial agreement-in-principle has been reached with the City and
the Conservation Authority the documentary should begin.

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