Monday, October 08, 2007


I recently had a bit of an epiphany. I was visiting a local garden, wondering at the diversity of flowers and fauna available, when I realized that despite the endless variety of tastes, colors and textures basically all growing things come from four thing: seed, sun, soil and water. When you further consider that most living species share about 90 percent of the same DNA, how these four variables could produce such an infinite number of possibilities should have even the most sage mathematician scratching his or her head. It is nothing short of a miracle.

What's interesting is that the greater the diversity of living things that we have access to, both edible and beautiful, the more blasé we become. A couple of centuries ago when our ancestors first settled this brave new world, having enough grains and root vegetables set aside for the winter and enough seed for the spring was all anybody could possibly ask for. Mere survival was considered an extraordinary blessing. Excess was a luxury that was virtually unheard of.

In the 21st Century we live in a world of such endless bounty that we rarely look beyond its immediate source. Years ago when a local developer wanted to pave much of the farmland that surrounds our tiny homestead, my husband asked our regional councillor where he intended to get his food once all of the farmland was gone.

His sincere and blatantly arrogant answer will haunt me forever.

"Loblaws, of course," was his reply. Today that very same Loblaws is just one of host of major food retailers that can provide consumers with more that 30,000 different products. Rather than celebrate this remarkably diversity, we become enraged when a particular product isn't available in a particular size, color or package, "at the lowest possible price." We are spoiled beyond comprehension.

Perhaps that it is why the celebration of Thanksgiving is little more than another opportunity to overindulge. True thankfulness, by its very definition, involves a feeling of indebtedness toward another and is often accompanied by a desire to reciprocate the favor. In the impersonal world where our every consumer desire can be fulfilled by a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart and a faster swipe of the debit card, the idea of gratitude seems strangely arcane. The pervasive attitude is that we earned it, we bought it, and have no one to thank but ourselves. This shallow sort of narcissism offers little comfort.

More to the point, it bears little resemblance to the truth. Our existence on this planet is about as tenuous as the gossamer strands of a spider's web that collect the early morning dew. In relative terms, that thread is one of the strongest materials known, and yet it cannot stand up to the gentlest morning breeze.

We are much like those silvery threads. Deadly, arrogant and infinitely fragile. Anyone who has read this column on a regular basis will recall that I often quote the words of my dear friend and mentor Dr. Rosalie Bertell. When asked what the purpose of the environmental movement was, she said,

"The whole purpose of the environmental movement is to save the seed. Everything that's ever going to live in this world, whether it's a tree, or a plant, or a fish, or a baby, all into future time, is present right now in the seed. And if we damage that seed, there is no place else to get it. It is our most precious possession, and we have got to think in terms of the seed, because that's the future."

This weekend, as you celebrate the miracle of the harvest, think of Dr. Bertell's words. Remember that regardless of how exotic, how beautiful, how diverse life is, the bounty that we celebrate is always the result of seed, sun, soil and water, and the work of the farmers who nurture these elements together. Give thanks for their labors and remember that our entire future lies in the miraculous rebirth of the tiniest seed.


To find out more about the work of Ontario’s farmers, visit

Celebrate the bounty of the season by purchasing locally grown produce. It’s fresher and tastes better. Buying locally makes farming more profitable and benefits local economies. To find the nearest farmers’ market or local food stand nearest you, visit


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