Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Greenacres Farm

Autumnal rain has arrived finally.  I'm not complaining - the soil needs it and I have made great progress in the field while the dry spell lasted.  Wet weather jobs have been piling up so it is a chance to catch up on those.

Things are not loooking so rosy elsewhere however.   People may be aware that Brian Adair has had his organic business up for sale for a while.  I know there have been interested parties, but so far nothing has materialised.  He was the first certified organic producer  in the Island and has a well established  business with a strong customer base.  If thats not viable or attractive as a business , then some serious questions need to be asked politically of ministers about what they do think is valuable and worthwhile in the Island. 

 In reality the answers will be made obvious today in the States  with the MTFP  debate.  It comes down to one thing  economic growth - the magic fairy dust that, like entropy in thermodynamics and dark matter in cosmology, has to be conjoured up conceptually to make the number work according to the the theory.

Unsurprisingly  I have been asked by a number of people if I am going to take on Brian's business.  I suppose it is an obvious question as I do go on so much about organic food, have some experience as a smalholder and  have run a few successful businesses in the past.   I have not entertained the possibility previously.  There are several reasons.

What I do in my own field is not a commercial operation  - I don't intend it to be. It is informal research based on my observations of that might constitute a bioethical food production system.  It is deliberately small scale and  in the last few years devoid of all mechanisation.  There's the first problem - scale.  Brian's operation would need at least 2 people to work as a  market garden/horticultural  concern, based on Eliot Coleman's maximum 2.5 acres per person observation.  Plus of course I'd still have my fields to manage and maintain. That means going back to a walk behind tractor at least, and that takes me away from the direction I have been experimenting on.

Another reason I havent entertained it  was commitment.  I am at an age where I have probably energy and time for one , perhaps  just two big projects left in my life.  Big projects I think of as those that require 'all in' effort - typically starting a new business  is like that - certainly those I have done before have been.   In the current state of organic production locally it certainly would  have to be an all consuming commitment.  If I were to do that it would have to be the right project.  There is a sort of opportunity costs here - other projects would have to be ditched or forgone.

All that  (and more) before even looking at the commercial figures and viability.  It is a fact that in Jersye  access to the land is controlled.  Even if you own fields you are not allowed to work them unless  you have permission! There are financial requirements of marginal profit  be a bona fide farmer (£40,000 per year) and to occupy  good agricultural land, or even more than a few vergees of less favoured land you have to qualify financially (interestingly they appear to have dropped the main income from farming  obligation that used to exist, I wonder why ;) ) See Land Control

There is a facebook group looking at the possibilities for saving the farm .  See   https://www.facebook.com/groups/1577795972527334/  The groups s interested in a Community Supported Agriculture model. It has worked elsewhere. There's a useful UK site on how that might work  at  Community Supported Agriculture.  The Soil Association also has promoted CSA for organic production.  It is certainly a better bet than hoping the States of  Jersey will support organic agriculture in the Island!

I posted on that group some  thoughts about how this might go forward.  I've reproduced them below.

I know people are interested in CSA, but there may be another way to do this. If you have seen any of my rantings over the last 2 years you will know we have been losing certified organic land and growers for some time. Warnings fell on deaf ears politically. We have long had a problem in Jersey that farming and horticulture is viewed as a purely commercial activity. It can be done that way of course- that's how you get the agri chemical industry. But it needn't be. 2,500 years ago Hippocrates said (in greek of course!) Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. I've posted a link below to a scheme in the USA taking that literally.

It isn't just immediate human health we need to consider either. There is the health of the soil and less well known to many is its ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Possibly the last great hope for avoiding significant climate change. And there is the diversity and abundance and health of the eco system and biology around agriculture and horticulture - the water quality, wildlife and the psychological benefits of access to deep nature.

Put that lot together and it suggests to me a different approach , a different mind set is required. Not a commercial venture but a social one. Not a financial imperative, but a health one. If you think of it as a business the particiapnts expect a return. If you think of it as a charity , you get a different answer. Its not incompatible with CSA you can have supporting subscribers and charities can and do have volunteer workers and paid professionals. 

The question is whether you are in it just for what you can get out of it, or for what good can come out of it.

In Jersey we have low-income people with diabetes and high blood pressure. So what about this bleedin' obvious idea from the USA. Load fresh fruits and vegetables into a refrigerator truck and drive it to a health clinic. To improve the diet have a doctor write a “prescription” for food . Even better if it were local wholesome organic produce.

Monday, 12 September 2016

An interesting informal scale

I came across this idea a few years ago, but I've realised more recently it is probably applicable rather more widely than  its original purpose.  I have a dim recollecton of something similar applying to communication and IQ. 

It is important to point out that this is an informal scale.  There is no science or  evidence behind it, just observation that it kind of fits.  It is a logarithmic scale in 10 divisions and it applies to people so level 10 is just 1 person , level 9 10 people, level 3 100 and so on.  As it happens level 10 would be 10billion, a very crude approximation to the humans on the planet.  That's one reason the scale has appeal.

The other observation is  that wherever you are on the scale anyone a level or two higher is sort of cool, 3  levels higher is a touch nutty, and more than that is crazy. Similarly,  one level lower are ignorant, three levels back are all but intolerable!

The original scale was done by Paul Wheaton and refers to permaculture .  I was rather amazed to see I have had meetings with and have conversed and corresponded with two of the 10 people at level 9 on the original scale.

 There is an easier to read version of this graphic at Wheaton Eco Scale

I haven't done the figures, but I suspect global wealth fits a similar pattern.  I can imagine athletic ability is also similarly distributed.

If you  want to know where I fit on the eco scale,  I'm not saying!  Judge where you are and figure out if I am a nut  or intolerably far behind.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Who is this 'no hoper'

It is quite excruciating when former States members display their  disregard or ignorance of democratic concepts. So I wasn't  impressed to  read Mr Shenton's view on hustings at
no hopers are ruining the political hustings for voters

There are a few problems  not just with the principle as it applies to proper democratic processes, but also with a few practicalities.  I'll start with a couple of them.  Take Donald Trump.  Widely perceived as something of a joke candidate and no hoper at the start of the process he is now a contender for president of the United States.   Or what of Abraham Lincoln who was a serial election loser before he was eventually elected to that same office.   See Abraham Lincoln failures  And what about the psephologists predictions for the last UK general election or the BrExit referendum, both of which they got wrong.  So how do you determine a priori who and who is not a no hoper, or indeed a shoe in winner?  If you cannot do that  Mr Shenton's proposition is a farcical piece of nonsense.

It may surprise Mr Shenton to know that hustings are not principally about entertainment.  They are historically for the benefit of those voters who wish to see the candidates perform and hear their views, deriving from a time when many voters might be illiterate.  Just as elections are not reality TV pop culture voting , not least because it is about a lot more than simply winning. People can and do take to the elections process to argue a political case - it may be unaccepted by the electorate, but nevertheless very useful and important.  It takes time to gain widespread support for change and new ideas.   We use democracy to do that as it is the least worst option, and it enables those ideas to be raised and tested in public.  That's a good thing, not to be suppressed, Mr Shenton.

The former Senator  bemoans the lack of engagement with the public, yet he proposes a mechanism that  would do nothing to increase the choice and variety on offer to the electorate. Indeed his main aim seems to be to narrow the options  by excluding what he concludes to be no hopers.  I ask how is that going to increase participation, who is going to turn out to vote if there is no one presenting a view they support (as indeed some have commented about the absence of a deep green candidate at the last general and this recent by election).

Another problem with his proposed mechanism is the fixed rate.  It wouldn't put off wealthy  'no hopers' but it would be disproportionately  arduous on poorer candidates.  Perhaps if he had proposed a deposit of  1%  of gross wealth that would be more equitable, but still contrary to the democratic  philosophy.   And I guess that's where we really see what is going on here.  Mr Shenton would have an election limited to the choices of comfortable off candidates who subscribe to a narrow view of politics .  More a personality selection process than any political choice.  That's one sure way to undermine  the whole system, including the participation rate.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

By election result

Congratulations to Senator Ferguson, shame on you Jersey.

An abysmal turnout, a lack of factual background material available to the public on the candidates and their past voting and political records and a situation not helped by an outdated first past the post election system.  

The outcome.  We elected a senator who said on radio she'd have supported UKIP at the last UK election, is sceptical to put it mildly on climate change, and opposes most renewable energy options. Of course none of that was mentioned on her election leaflet.  She did talk and write about opposing new taxes/charges, but forget to mention she voted for GST  and against exemptions when she had the power to do so in the States.  Maybe she has changed her mind, we might have known had there been anything like debate in the election and detailed reporting in the press on issues rather than caricatures and snide observation on husting attendance.  

This isn't working, but how to change. It isn't arguing about  electoral change and constitution . It isn't angry letters to the JEP (though that might help you feel better), it is to take back the communications between the activists and the public, not let intermediaries and commercial interests have a stranglehold .  Online helps a little with that, but not enough  - it needs activists on streets year round connecting with  people  face to face , door to door.  Very old fashioned, very effective, almost impossible on any meaningful scale without structure and organisation and resources.   
Don't get mad, get active!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Senatorial by election eve of poll

It is not easy picking a candidate to vote for.  No one has impressed me with any great grasp of the ecological and global challenges that will impact Jersey and in which we have a moral  obligation to play our part.  Nor have I been impressed that some very important extant local issues have been barely mentioned, eg the Committee of Inquiry and its implications.

Council of Ministers supporters are very thin among the candidates.  Only Mary O'keefee Burger seems to be fully behind their programme. Given several astounding gaffes from her they are probably thinking they would be better off without her support.  She isn't going to get elected anyway. Nor is Nick Le Cornu or Mike Dun.  

Mike Dun's  campaign is arguably the most logical.  This result won't change the CoM or their policies in any material way.  So a single issue campaign is not a problem. The 20 month  tenure of the successful candidate tallies fairly well with the Brexit timetable .  It could have significant implications for Jersey, particularly in trade and labour.  But ecologically it is largely irrelevant. If you think Brexit is the overriding concern of our time or if you want a Senator who questions everything Mike might be your candidate.

On paper  Hugh Raymond is exactly the sort of candidate Jersey likes.  Extensive business experience, including in finance, public service as an honorary officer, and several other  public roles.  Despite what Mr Ocean claims, he probably is the dependable safe pair of hands type option.  My impression is he is doing better in the country parishes than might be supposed, but not so well in urban areas.  He has several times mentioned climate change and also questioned the volume of cars owned locally.   

Christian May is doing well amoung younger professionals.  He has run a positive campaign on the whole, whilst trying to distance himself from the Council of Ministers. He is going down well amoungst liberals and many professionals who like a conscience salving  bit of social progress to go alongside their otherwise business as usual agenda. He has made a specific point about climate change impact locally a few times (a definite plus) and university access.  I like a lot of what he has foccussed on (but then I am a liberal so that's no surprise) on the social agenda, but I am unconvinced he has it to take a real fight  to the Ministers in the assembly if it came to it. He will do well and has a chance of winning.

Sarah Ferguson  appears to be doing well.  Probably this is down to her opposition to CoM policies on tax and finance.  Some of her analysis here is good, but her record of voting  for GST  and against exemptions for food does not chime with her current position on the hustings.   She has tried toning down her climate change scepticism, but after the St Ouen husting she reinterated to me her opposition of renewables on some sprurious tax ground leading to  fuel povery to pensioners (that is not renewables, that is down to  regressive tariff structures).  She might appeal to right wingers/libertarian types , but it is definitely a no from me.  

Stevie Ocean's policy platform makes no political sense to me.  He is very well known, and usually that plays well for candidates, unless they are associated with problems or perceived failure.  Guy de Faye is also very well known, but comes with 'baggage'.  It will be intriguing to see which one polls better, but neither seems set to become senator this election.

Reform's candidate is Sam Mezec.  He as spoken well at the hustings and has made some impact with his campaign.  He hasn't been as strong on environmental matters as I would like.   If your politics are social democratic, Sam is your candidate.   He is in with a chance of winning, all depending on the turnout in St Helier and some of the other urban areas.

Lastly there is John Young.  His performance hasn't been the most polished, and his leflet isn't eye catching, but the content has been overall pretty decent.  Definitely on the progressive side, and with a track record of asking awkward questions and bringing, sometimes winning, propositions to the assembly.  He has been consistent on the built environment and utility scale renewables, if like the others rather lacking on ecological matters.  From my non scientific survey he is getting a good proportion the deep green votes, not that there are enough of those to give anyone a victory.  

Sunday, 4 September 2016

A touch of dissonance

I was amused by a small posting on the gov.je web site about the successful (aren't they always?) fact finding trip by the assistant ministers to Estonia.   Digital fact finding

Of course in the days before Tim Berners-Lee put the world at our fingertips, it was generally necessary to do trips like this to find out  how things are done differently elsewhere.  It is good to be open minded about what others do.  That is one of the ways we learn and improve.  However  there is something dissonant about this trip.

Estonia is a digitally fired up country, perhaps the world leader when it comes to e-gov. Jersey has spent tens of millions of pounds of public money on the fibre project Gigabit.  The question has to be asked therefore is e-gov anything like it is cracked up to be.  The bandwidth is there, the technology exists, but if we cannot get facts on a relatively open government like Estonia  through digital, is it ever going to deliver?   It doesnt register very highly on the credibility stakes to have assistant ministers doing a marketing pitch on something , but then failing to adopt  the policy aims themsleves.  Why could they not  teleconference, what exactly did they expect to find out with their senses about digital what couldn't be done, well digitally?  

They are not alone of course.  We have a sustainable transport policy of sorts, but we have reserved car parking spaces at the airport so ministers and assistant ministers can  demonstate their commitment to the policy!  We have cuts to all sort of services to save money, but strangely the States member's pay and the expenses allowances remain sacrosanct.   

If our elected ones really want to see higher turn out in elections, more participation in the machinery of governemnt, they could do an awful lot worse that demonstrate some practical  leadership on  those things they spend so much time talking about.  Start to close the credibility gap or it is only going to get worse.