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The Rural-Living Dilemma

 
Posts: 80
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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Last year, I moved my family from Montréal - where we'd been living for the past 4.5 years - back to BC. A very remote part of BC; Graham Island, Haida Gwaii. Population is around 4,500, mainly split between a handful of villages and communities. Haida Gwaii is about 40-60km from the mainland and requires either:

1. A prohibitively expensive plane ride (about $250 each way) with a 3 hour drive to the airport, with a wait for a 25 minute ferry
2. An even more prohibitively expensive plane ride (via a smaller airport, about $350 each way)
3. Or a 1.5 hour drive, followed by an 12 hour (fairly expensive at $40 / person + $143 per vehicle) ferry ride

To get off-island to get reasonable access to supplies. About half the suppliers who sell online (no Amazon!) won't ship to PO Boxes - which is our only option here.

I moved here knowing all this.

Living in Montreal, our carbon footprint was tiny. We rode bikes everywhere in the summer, and took transit in the winter. We shopped at bulk and zero-waste stores. In Quebec, lots of producers still use glass reusable containers, and there are very large farmer's markets in the central quarters and boroughs. We grew a ton of stuff in the backyard in containers and old drawers. There is a fantastic bartering community there called "The Trade Hole", and through this we were able to get almost everything we needed - including homemade foods, plants, furniture, art supplies, etc - without the exchange of money. The opportunities for trash-hounding and dumpster diving were plentiful and fruitful (see what I did there?).

Coming up here, I expected - living close to and on the land - I could be a steward, and work with it, while maintaining our tiny carbon footprint.  While we do everything we can (we're on rainwater, have a composting toilet, passive solar house design, wood heat, propane stove and water heater, foraging and fishing, and growing/planting what we can) it doesn't negate the fact that 90% of what we purchase here has a massive carbon footprint, and that most of the electricity generated on the islands here is fuelled by diesel. We could generate our own electricity but this requires an initial investment which we do not have.

Aside from a major lack of options (very few organic or free-trade or ethical products -- nothing without palm oil) the local grocery stores do not carry bulk, so we're stuck with packaging. Plastic packaging for everything.

The economy here is very slow, and most people are low income, and so suppliers tend to support that demographic through lots of processed and garbage foods. A lot of the population is so focused on subsistence, so there's no a lot of time or money left to avoid the addictive convenience of Coke or the crunchy delight of Frosted Flakes with subsidized milk. While a lot of the locals rely on fish and berries (which is plentiful), the majority of food available (and consumed) is processed.


We're currently considering re-re-locating back to Quebec in the next year or so; land is still affordable there, and we feel we can be a lot more ecologically responsible, among other reasons.

Anyone else suffer from eco-guilt? How do you think rural communities can turn this around?

Investment will help, better resource management will help, and perhaps the local food movement needs a champion in the rural north (but it won't be me)!


 
gardener
Posts: 985
Location: Western Washington
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I think about this a lot.

The problem with rural living in much of the world these days is that there is a lot of untapped potential. In the US, rural living equals a lot of driving, and in some ways bears a lot of resemblance to suburban life. I think restoring local food production and industry is part of the solution, though the viability of that obviously varies greatly.

There are people in the country who only go into town once a month. They're rare these days, but they exist. They need only buy staples like salt and rice, and maybe a food group they don't produce--dairy, for example. I find myself in that position more often as my farm gets better developed.

It's hard to start cottage and local industry back up. We are in an odd transition zone right now, living in a time before this kind of production is critical. It is hard to lay the groundwork for a sustainable future without being "ahead of your time." An example of this is a local woman who raises a really neat variety of lard pig that she bred herself. These pigs are hardy, disease resistant, adaptable, and full of fat. But almost no one wants them, because of the anti-fat trend. People say this woman is ahead of her time, because some day, maybe soon, that lard will be invaluable for cooking and making soap. It's hard to have a potential industry waiting in the wings, hoping that soon there'll be an opportunity for it to be profitable, while also continuing to live your life and have an income through more conventional means.

Sorry for the ramble.
 
Simon Gooder
Posts: 80
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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No apologies necessary.

I do sometimes think “someone just needs to start it...”, but in many cases many people already have —- like the lady raising led-pigs you mention, or the few with stalls at the local farmer’s market.

I do wonder if there just isn’t a sense of urgency in most folks. I don’t want to be a fear monger, but maybe there’s a way to instill some urgency in the some people. That being said, I am interested to see how Generation Z handles production of goods over the next decade, with their major understanding and concern for the earth...
 
master gardener
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I think a review of history may also help - most of BC before northern Europeans, were "semi-settled" for lack of the right word. They had regular camping areas based on seasonal tasks rather than a single home that could provide for them year-round. Hunter/gatherer doesn't cut it as they did actively impact the environment to produce crops such as camas bulbs for consumption and trade. They'd make sure they had nettle growing around their winter housing so that when they returned there, it would be ready for harvest for fiber is another example. Also, people were grouped in communities - not isolated farmsteads.

I guess what I'm saying is that our goal possibly needs to be to develop "permaculture intentional communities" as Paul is doing, rather than completely self-supported homesteads, particularly once you're *really* off the beaten path like Haida Gwai is. I have read about at least one native leader who has been actively introducing traditional skill sets to younger community members in an effort to stop the cycle you are describing.

There are several well-known permaculture activists that clearly advocate for making cities permaculture-friendly for precisely the reasons Simon Gooder outlines in the OP. (I'm sure Toby Hemenway did and I recall that Patrick Whitefield did also.)

I also know that one of our local permaculture teachers did a several year contract teaching permaculture in northern BC, but I haven't crossed paths with him to get feed-back as to whether he felt successful or whether he felt the things he started both had impact and were locally sustainable in the longer term.

When we start to feel "eco-guilt" as Simon mentions, we have to accept that the modern world has so many more things to feel guilty about that were science-fiction 200 years ago. We have to work with what we've got, and we've got a computer-addicted, short-term focused population created by mass-media and multi-national companies that can't see past the end of the next commercial or quarter. We can live and teach by example, and try to change our surroundings one tree and human at a time.

 
pollinator
Posts: 973
Location: New Brunswick, Canada
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My brother lived in Powell River for a while and that was a pain, so I can certainly understand what you're dealing with.  It took about half a day, and two ferry rides, to get to Vancouver.  When I lived in Vancouver, I found food to be about 30% more expensive than SW Ontario, and Powell River was another 30% more than Vancouver, and I think that Mac-Blo, the paper company, subsidized some of the shipping.  One suggestion would be to take the hit and buy bulk items in quantity a few times a year, filling up a truck or trailer.  Maybe you could sell bulk items and make some money on top of paying for the trip, but you have to balance that with pissing off the local stores, a real concern in small communities.  Perhaps you could partner with a store so they get a piece of the action, or form a buyer's club as it's harder, and less profitable, for a store to refuse to sell to a group than just one family.

I'm heading out to New Brunswick in about 10 days, fewer if I can get everything in order.  There isn't a lot of anything where I'm going, but I'm OK with working for a local business to keep my driving to a minimum and hopefully I'll be able to bike to work.  I'm a country guy who's had to live in cities for far too long.  I did enjoy the change when I went to university, but it's been wearing on me for years.  I won't miss what cities offer; I don't take advantage of that now, partly because I've grown to hate the press of people.  There's about 40 people per square kilometer in the county and probably only 4 where I'll be, so I'll enjoy that much more.  I am going to have to make a real effort to get to know people in the community, and I'll be the new guy for years, maybe decades, but I really relate to country people and I think those relationships can be much more meaningful.  The majority speak French, too, so I'll have to learn to understand it, but I see that as a plus.

Personally, I think the economy peaked years ago and that we're going to see it tank in the future to the point that it will be much different than we've all grown up with.  I don't know if there will be any sudden change, but I think we'll find that food gets more expensive, crop failures more frequent, and having the ability to grow an appreciable amount of food in a sustainable way, with far fewer inputs, will be quite valuable.  I've had to move around a fair bit in the last few years and my experience is that it takes about 3 years to get good productivity from a new garden and to get the systems in place that make for easier management.  That's what I'm focusing on now.  I want to keep my costs as low as possible, and leverage my knowledge and experience to get work that pays better.  

To start, I'm going to get a job as local as possible.  I might be able to get $5 more an hour in the city, but driving an hour each way would negate the extra pay and wouldn't account for the time.  When I get set up to sell, that drive once a week will be worth it.  I'd love to have a small farm on the edge of a large town but I can't do that right now, so I'm doing what I can and I'll see where that gets me in a few years.  At best, this small property will serve as a nursery for a better property in 3-5 years, but I think I'd be OK with it long term and either leasing land or buying more down the road.

edited for speeling
 
pollinator
Posts: 204
Location: Gulf Islands, Canada
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James Landreth wrote:
It's hard to start cottage and local industry back up. We are in an odd transition zone right now, living in a time before this kind of production is critical. It is hard to lay the groundwork for a sustainable future without being "ahead of your time." An example of this is a local woman who raises a really neat variety of lard pig that she bred herself. These pigs are hardy, disease resistant, adaptable, and full of fat. But almost no one wants them, because of the anti-fat trend. People say this woman is ahead of her time, because some day, maybe soon, that lard will be invaluable for cooking and making soap. It's hard to have a potential industry waiting in the wings, hoping that soon there'll be an opportunity for it to be profitable, while also continuing to live your life and have an income through more conventional means.



Has she reached out to any small-scale artisan soapmakers about this? I know there are many out there who would love to find a local, cruelty-free, sustainable source of lard for soapmaking. Vegan soaps are trendy to sell right now but in order to get a good vegan soap formula you need to use multiple different plant oils, otherwise you end up with a soap that's too soft, not bubbly enough, too harsh, etc, and some of the most commonly-used plant oils (like palm oil) are absolute crap for the environment. Lard is one of the few fats that makes a perfect bar of soap on its own and it's already the favourite oil of a lot of small-scale soapmakers. Some are both selling it and making it for personal use while others are selling vegan formulated soap and keeping the good stuff for themselves, at least until people are more open to buying lard soap again. www.soapmakingforum.com is a popular soapmaking forum that has a free advertising section. It might be worth it for her to post in there to see if there's any local-ish soapmakers interested in her lard.
 
James Landreth
gardener
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Meg Mitchell wrote:

James Landreth wrote:
It's hard to start cottage and local industry back up. We are in an odd transition zone right now, living in a time before this kind of production is critical. It is hard to lay the groundwork for a sustainable future without being "ahead of your time." An example of this is a local woman who raises a really neat variety of lard pig that she bred herself. These pigs are hardy, disease resistant, adaptable, and full of fat. But almost no one wants them, because of the anti-fat trend. People say this woman is ahead of her time, because some day, maybe soon, that lard will be invaluable for cooking and making soap. It's hard to have a potential industry waiting in the wings, hoping that soon there'll be an opportunity for it to be profitable, while also continuing to live your life and have an income through more conventional means.



Has she reached out to any small-scale artisan soapmakers about this? I know there are many out there who would love to find a local, cruelty-free, sustainable source of lard for soapmaking. Vegan soaps are trendy to sell right now but in order to get a good vegan soap formula you need to use multiple different plant oils, otherwise you end up with a soap that's too soft, not bubbly enough, too harsh, etc, and some of the most commonly-used plant oils (like palm oil) are absolute crap for the environment. Lard is one of the few fats that makes a perfect bar of soap on its own and it's already the favourite oil of a lot of small-scale soapmakers. Some are both selling it and making it for personal use while others are selling vegan formulated soap and keeping the good stuff for themselves, at least until people are more open to buying lard soap again. www.soapmakingforum.com is a popular soapmaking forum that has a free advertising section. It might be worth it for her to post in there to see if there's any local-ish soapmakers interested in her lard.




I'm not sure where she is now actually. She was a bit erratic, especially later, and moved with her pigs to the eastern part of my county, which then had bad flooding. A friend speculates that she lost her pigs in the flood. I'll keep in mind the ideas, though. Pigs are a great choice around here for the conditions we grow in
 
pollinator
Posts: 1418
Location: Denmark 57N
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To be honest I think that ONLY townies can go zero waste, or people who live near big urban centers. I'm not exactly remote well I'm as far as it is possible to get from the capital of Denmark, but that only leaves me 5 hours drive away,(and a $78USD toll for the bridge) but to shop anywhere in "bulk" is impossible there is no Amazon here if you want Amazon you have to use Germany or Britain but then you have to pay import tax on everything that wasn't taxed in that country which includes food. now paying the 25% danish tax is one thing but there's a $25 fee for EVERY SINGLE ITEM. The largest bag of flour/sugar I can get is 4lb rice 2lb occasional lidl has 10lb bags perhaps once or twice a year. everything is in plastic.

For you if it is just "eco guilt" you would have to run the numbers, how much does your rainwater/toilet/passive solar save compared to your shipping usage? Could you have a once a year holiday for picking up clothes and other small items you can't get?
Also have you spoken to the store? They might be able to order you items in bulk with their normal order even if they don't carry them normally. Or is there anyone fishing who goes into port on the mainland?

Local food.. is all well and good but it cannot provide what you can't grow or out of season items and that is what people want. There are no farmers markets where I am, there is one two hours drive away in the summer and that is the closest I believe there is an organic one about 2.5hours away that is held FOUR times a year. There are road stands they sell potatoes peas onions and strawberries occasionally you will find a bigger one that does more veg I know of two, one is my own and the other my parents in laws! You can buy meat direct from the farm but it will be vacuum packed in plastic, that's how it come back from the slaughter house. Eggs are available if you know someone, Fish can be gotten unpacked by hanging round on the beach until a boat comes in. and milk is also possible if you know someone who milks. (all legally)

I suppose my point in the ramble above is that it would be possible to be very low carbon here, but it would not be fun or easy and it would be very easy to become deficient in something, much the same as where you are despite my not being remote at all.
 
Meg Mitchell
pollinator
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I think it's also useful to remember that zero waste isn't always low carbon and vice versa. Zero waste is a movement that involves working to produce minimal amounts of trash as a household, and it doesn't take into account trash produced upstream or activities that have a high carbon cost but don't produce household waste. The two correlate usually but if you're switching from urban living to self-sufficient rural living then you're going to be taking a lot of activities that were previously upstream and moving them into your household. E.g., if you start growing all your own food, all the waste generated in the production of your food didn't "count" for zero waste purposes before, and now that you grow it yourself, it does. So it's possible for a household to get further from zero waste even as its carbon footprint is going down.
 
gardener
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Concepts like zero waste and carbon neutrality don't make much sense to people who live in a rural, isolated and profoundly natural environment.  When all around them are tall, living, growing carbon-sinks (giant old trees), and these forests stretch for hundreds of miles, the idea that I might be adding a little bit of carbon into the environment is laughable compared to the billions of tons being sequestered by these living giants.  Even logging them off every 30 to 40 years seems like a drop in the ocean.

Trash has a way of just being covered by nature . . . eventually.  You go out into the woods and you'll find the decaying remains of homes, old rusted cars and other vehicles, rusted out 55-gal drums, etc.  So for rural people living out on the edge of a wilderness, the mentality is, "Nature will take care of it all eventually."  I'm not saying that this is good, but it's the mentality that you face.  Old tires, old refrigerators, old water-heaters, old boats and campers . . .this crap piles up out there on the fringes of peoples homes.  And then gradually, the forest seems to reclaim it and it disappears under a layer of biomass.  First pine-needles, blackberry canes and moss, and then later, trees themselves grow up and through and over the junk.  100 years later, not much remains.  Even old tires and the rims that once held them decompose to nothing.

But the soil still holds many of the toxic ingredients that the junk was once made of.  That takes considerably longer to degrade, if ever.

Gross, isn't it?  But that's the mentality.  

Two thoughts.  First, you can't change everything, so don't wear yourself out thinking that you have to.  Its a cultural mindset and culture can be tremendously difficult to change, if it's even possible.  Second, do something and model change in your own life, even if others don't want to accept it  . . . at first.  I like what someone suggested above: buying in bulk and then providing that as a resource for the community.  There are most likely others who share your mindset, but don't have the vision or resources to do anything about it.  But if you offer leadership and bring people together, they might go along with a plan for bulk acquisition of food stuffs and other resources.  

You gather a group of friends for a cookout, and then after dinner to sit back and say, "You know, I've been thinking . . . what would it look like for a group of people to come together to purchase food and basic household supplies in bulk, and then have that shipped up here in a container by ferry?  Yes, it would cost a lot of money initially, but would it be possible to share that expense and we'd all come out ahead in the end?  We could buy extra and sell some of that to defray the cost of the venture and maybe even make some money on it.  Do you guys think that would be possible?"  

Plant a seed.  Water it.  Step back and see what comes of it.
 
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Meg Mitchell wrote:Zero waste is a movement that involves working to produce minimal amounts of trash as a household, and it doesn't take into account trash produced upstream or activities that have a high carbon cost but don't produce household waste.



This is really important to keep in mind. I remember once when a local chain started selling "bulk" soap: unwrapped bars of slightly fancy soap in a nice stack with just a little paper wrapper for the price tag. We were so excited to see positive movement! Then, someone (forget whether it was me or my spouse) went in to the store during restocking hours and saw someone unwrapping each bar of soap from its shrink wrap before adding it to the stack.

You've got to really look at the full lifecycle of everything before deciding whether or not your eco-guilt is warranted. Marketing experts are great at making you *feel* how they want you to feel; doesn't mean it's true.
 
pollinator
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Very good points by the OP and others.  We currently drive 8 and 10 miles respectively to get to our jobs and the stores where we do most of our shopping.  We drive about 20 minutes to get to my Dad's place and church.  For at least a couple years after moving from town to our homestead we will be driving approximately 50 miles to and from work until we both are able to retire.  In the short term, that is a huge increase in our carbon footprint, and one we have spent considerable time discussing.  There is also a long term increase because we will increase the distance to my Dad's and church, as well as distance to shopping.  Our answer to that will be to combine trips to work with other trips.  Once we both retire, we will be making very few trips, but those will be longer than the trips we make now.

At the risk of offending people, I do NOT include the emissions from my Harley when I consider my carbon footprint.  It is my therapy ride and vital to my sanity.

 
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I'm considering much of this with my new venture in the philippines. Whenever I'm here we will be able to live on almost no fuel. I expect that very soon I will reduce the carbon footprint and other environmental footprints where I buy , because of planting forest , recycling plastics in a real way and using cheap and labor to replace petroleum.

I expect my primary footprint to be the fuel involved in flying back to Canada at least once a year. It would be interesting to calculate how not heating a home in Canada compares to the fuel expended on an annual trip before the cold season begins.

One of the main businesses that I'm investigating is salvaging many tons of banana fiber that are currently not utilized. It's a byproduct of fruit production. To get any sort of real answer on what is being saved , I would have to find out what is currently being used to produce the cotton and polyester that it is meant to replace.

As to saving fuel in rural areas , it's really about just not getting in the car for that big trip very often . My brother lived in Haida Gwaii and went more than a year without leaving. Fish and deer meat were staples. I may eat the occasional imported apple or orange while living in the tropics. Almost all necessities of life are available within 1 km of any given spot.
 
Simon Gooder
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I do understand “zero waste” can be achieved, and a carbon footprint can be negated by doing other such activities. It’s still hard to swallow that fact that the majority of the rural population don’t have the option to “vote with their wallets”.

I know the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they are two goals myself and my partner strive to be aware of, as permies do!

And I know by growing my own food, and regenerating my own little piece of nature, I can do my part — and I do as much as I possibly can. We spend money bringing waste to the transfer station, while many locals are happy to dump it in the forest.

I do believe the “community bulk-buys” could be successful here, especially with people seeming to go to the mainland at differing times and intervals.

I know small changes over time will eventually make a difference, but it’s hard to watch — in this especially magical natural place, how quick to abuse so many people are (those that do have the economic means).


 
Dale Hodgins
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A big caravan sort of thing where a bunch of people share a bus or rv might be the answer . But also better networking to see what is actually being produced where you or what could be produced.

Sometimes big vehicles containing Americans come to Canadian border towns to save approximately 90% on insulin supplies. There is a bit of networking, but well worth it .
 
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