What to say about a day where the theme was “Fields”? To start with, we did go visit a field or two or three at the Sweet Clover Farm with the farmer as our guide. It was an interesting example of small scale organic agriculture. It is still early in the season so some of the fields – potato and bean mostly – didn’t look like much. There were also a couple chicken coops and a Clydesdale names Phoenix. The collection of people living on the farm, including two couples from outside the island there to learn hands-on about small scale organic farming and a professor from UPEI, served up fresh salads from the greenhouse, an excellent bean soup, rhubarb crisp, and homemade iced tea. We got to see the land and eat what it produces.
However it would have also been nice to take a look at the farming which dominates the PEI landscape – large scale farming and the renting out of fields to corporations to grow produce for industrial food processing. The value of such a comparison was made all the more apparent since the farm adjacent Sweet Clover is one such operation. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before going to Sweet Clover there were the requisite panel sessions about agriculture and PEI as a model for sustainability in the 1970s and possibly again today. The second session – PEI as a sustainability model – touched on the Institute of Man and Resources, the back to the land movement, and energy consumption and conservation on islands. There was excellent discussion of back to the land and the ideology and activities of various approaches to environmentalism on the less crowded bus on the drive to Sweet Clover and while wandering the farm itself. I found the discussion was made richer by the presence of Sharon Weaver, who was part of Cape Breton back to the land movement, and two graduate students who are children of people involved in the original movement.
After Sweet Clover we headed for the Orwell Corner Historic Village – for lunch and tea number 2 of the day – and then to Macphail Homestead to look at the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project. The forestry project began working in 1991 to restore ecological integrity to the reforested areas of PEI by returning species diversity to the landscape and educating the public about forests. The project is inspiring in its ability to connect with children and foster interest in understanding and helping ameliorate the negative consequences of human use of forests. It was also refreshing to hear the head of the project, Gary Schneider, the need to know and learn about forests not from a scientific forestry perspective but from hands-on and in the field observation of the complete ecology of the forests of PEI. The project also maintains a nursery on the grounds to provide the tree species needed to return diversity, balance and health to replanted one-species forests. But what I really liked about the nursery is that the trees and other plants grown there are also available for sale to the public. A practice that generates revenue for the project, helping them continue their work, and also educates the public about native PEI species and gives them easy access to the plants should they want to include them in gardens and other landscaping projects.
Dinner was at the Alexander Macphail Homestead, served by local high school students, and all the rooms looked out over the nursery of the forestry project. Then we headed back to Charlottetown for the keynote address from Harriet Ritvo, titled “Silent Partners: Animals, Domestication, and Environment.” May of the overarching themes she discussed were familiar from her presentation at CHESS in Montreal, but brought to bear on the topic of eighteenth century breeding of domesticated animals – mostly sheep, cattle, and pigs in the examples used. A great deal of work and marketing has gone into the science of selectively breeding various domestic animals for desirable traits; which made it all the more entertaining when those leading the science were unable to get animals to produce the desired qualities – be it better quality meat, or a more pleasing aesthetic. The aspect which seemed to stick out to most of the people I talked to after was the phrasing of some approaches to breeding as incest. It should be added much of that discussion happened much later in the evening among the graduate students enjoying a night out in Charlottetown at the Gahan House – where they brew Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale.
Thursday was probably the lightest day in terms of sessions and talks. This gave us a chance to start reflecting on the experience of “Time and Place”. Overall the comments have been very positive, but you will have to wait a little while for me to devoulge a grand summary of the conference. That is something one usually does when the event has wrapped up and my plan is to get that post written while sitting on the plane back to Edmonton later today.
Anne Count: 5! It was a big day for spotting Anne of the Island…