Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Rural Alberta field visits

Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.

Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.

Great to be here in Alberta and finally getting boots on the ground at some Canadian farms using Holistic Management or its variants. Tuesday we met farmers Steve and Amber Kenyon at Greener Pastures near Busby, at their custom grazing operation, as well as their farming friends from Athabasca, Rusty and Agnes. Steve calls what he does ‘sustainable grazing’ and combines ideas from a range of thinkers including Allan Savory, as well as running his own training. Later that day we met former HM trainer Noel McNaughton, and the next day one of his star students, Don Ruzicka at Sunrise Farms, over near Wainwright. The weather is apocalyptic, but there is nothing like getting into the field, talking to people and looking at landscape to help you shape research so it really matters.

Announcing BioLOG 3.0

The masthead of BioLOG 3.0

The masthead of BioLOG 3.0

Announcing the third version of our farm extension website, BioLOG (Biodiversity Landowners’ Guide), a reboot funded by the ECCC SARPAL funding to the NSFA for the new Wood Turtle Strides (WTS) program. Nova Scotia DNR originally funded this project to supplement their Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation program after our evaluation of it. Thanks to WTS program manager Simon Greenland-Smith for shepherding the process.

Welcome, Sarbpreet

Sarbpreet Singh, summer research associate with my lab.

Sarbpreet Singh, summer research associate with my lab.

Happy to have Sarbpreet Singh, MREM candidate 2017, joining the sustainable grazing project for the summer as a research associate. Sarbpreet is from Punjab, India, and has a BSc Agriculture as well as a thesis-based MSc in Plant Pathology. He worked for a few years after his MSc in farmer extension for the local Department of Agriculture. He won me over in the interview by describing farmers as scientists, and I’m looking forward to exploring that more with him over the summer.

Third report from grazing project

The cover of the third RHoMPAS report, led by Carlisle Kent.

The cover of the third RHoMPAS report, also led by Carlisle Kent.

Carlisle and I are happy to finally release her third report for my sustainable grazing project, which is based on research she undertook in winter 2016, The View from the Farm Sector: Discourse in Producer Organizations around Climate, Science and Agricultural Policy, 2010-2015. We were interested in looking for the farmer’s voice in Canadian discourses around grazing and climate change. We decided in the end to do so via producer organizations who give voice to widely distributed individual producers. This report describes the discourse by farming organizations around climate, and resulting hardships, as they are expressed to a range of audiences, across different scales (Canada and Alberta) and commodity groups. We collected almost a hundred documents that represented the climate-related public and policy engagement of Canadian and Albertan livestock producer organizations from 2010 to 2015. We did not seek to track any trajectory over that time, because of small and/or uneven numbers of documents in any given year, but rather use those documents to take a snapshot of discourse. Interesting patterns arose around which organization types are talking about climate versus weather, and to whom, and what sorts of interventions they thought might help the farming sector.

The Cultivated Wilderness (1997)

Architect Paul Shepheard's (1997) volume, The Cultivated Wilderness.

Architect Paul Shepheard’s (1997) volume, The Cultivated Wilderness.

I was in Fredericton over Easter, for the usual egg-related festivities, and got a little time with my partner in its endless second-hand bookstore, Owl’s Nest. On and on we hunted, picking things up and putting them down. I had Feyerabend in my hand for awhile, and decided I’d never read it. Finally, way upstairs in a corner on natural history I found architect Paul Shepheard‘s (1997) volume The Cultivated Wilderness. Or, What is Landscape? I was not familiar with his name, but the title suggested it might be useful for my new project on climax landscape thinking. Another serendipitous discovery.

Shepheard writes conversationally but with great insight, and thankfully little tragedy, about “the ways in which we humans tussle with the wilderness and change it to suit ourselves” (p. 1).  Like many scholars he sees all landscapes as ‘cultivated’ to greater or lesser degress: as reviewer Christine Bucher observed, even the natural largely survives today “because of zoning, government regulation, and temporary and benign neglect”.

Unapologetically utilitarian, Shepheard reminds us that it is “easy to forget how beautiful utility can be” (p. 127). He reads in landscape – and describes for us –  a patchwork of shifting strategies at large scales: e.g. survival, reason, defense, economic exploitation, restoration. His epilogue is worth quoting at length (p. 233):

Cultivation—the work of humans—has a different sort of beauty [than Wilderness]. There is nothing else under the sun than what there has always been. Cultivation is the human reordering of the material of the wilderness. If it is successful, the beauty of it lies in the warmth of your empathy for another human’s effort.

Landscape is a huge subject, as big as the earth and its atmosphere and reaching out to the edge of the universe. The big moves in landscape happen very rarely. You will be lucky to see one during your lifetime and even luckier to be in the right place at the right time to be involved in the making of it. Incremental changes happen all the time, however. They gradually accrue to big changes in what there is in the world, and whatever you are up to, you will be involved in these already. My epilogue is: be aware of the strategy that governs what you do.

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