By John Dressler–
Canadian journalist Chris Turner wrote a book about his global search for sustainable practices, calling it The Geography of Hope, a Tour of the World We Need. He does not recount a visit to Williams Lake, but he does describe in detail the way of life he found on the island of Samso off the coast of Denmark—a farming community completely self-sufficient and free of the costs of utility providers. He also tells of the achievements of the Maverick Farms co-op in North Carolina and of the Watershed Organic Farm in New Jersey. He made numerous stops in his year of searching for hope.
In Williams Lake he would have found a resource extraction community that is primarily focused on industrial jobs and a blue collar way of life. He might very easily have missed the fact that there is much more to Williams Lake, and other communities such as Horsefly and Soda Creek. He might have missed the evidence of a new economy at work, a green economy. A little like walking through a forest and not seeing the wild flowers. He might have heard a city politician uttering the plaintive whine: “This city is dying. We need another mine.” He would have had to look further than the dusty surface.
TheGreenGazette does a good job of revealing the activities that are devoted to the search for sustainable energy sources such as solar power and wind power—new technologies that are making it possible for more and more people to escape the necessity of reliance on a provincially established and regulated energy grid. TheGreenGazette also has information about sustainable waste management and land management issues. Water management issues are there for the scrutiny. Chris Turner would have found that policymakers have agreed to expand the industrial practice of railway tie burning in the community and, in the process, continue to allow the extraction and consumption of pure aquifer water for this mode of producing electric power. Whether the aquifer will be able to sustain this kind of industrial consumption is unknown. Aquifer mapping is not the first priority of the government ministry responsible for water resources. It’s not really part of the geography of hope.
The pages of TheGreenGazette devoted to stories of the local producers that contribute their food production to the Cariboo Growers Farmers Co-op Store are the most hopeful. Here are individuals and families who live and practice a sustainable existence while producing food for the wider community. Each of these producers has chosen the Cariboo as the geographical location to live and make a living. They are easy to miss in a drive through the communities that are so heavily reliant on a carbon economy. In terms of sustainability, this will be the greatest challenge for a green economy: how do we move goods and receive necessary services without relying on air-destroying energy sources?
Complementing the economic activities of the food producers and the water, land, and waste managers is the wide range of cultural and social activities that make for an interesting and vibrant community. Bringing people together for meaningful interactions and exchanges is difficult in an industrial existence; the green economy thrives on the sharing of ideas and enjoyment.
Even the city core of Williams Lake has felt the influence of the green economy of food production. Puddle Produce has built on the principles of sharing and resourcefulness to show that food can be grown without the reliance on machinery and chemical fertilizers and right within the city. The Havana example of city food production is becoming more widely known. In Williams Lake, the Potato House Society has contributed to the education of many of its citizens. To return to Chris Turner he says, “The city, long maligned as the antithesis of environmental health, might prove Jane Jacobs right after all: it has ample room to birth an agrarian revolution. It’s an idea that arrives just in time. Because the modern business of agriculture, like the majority of economic activity as currently practised, is a rapidly unravelling, unsustainable disaster.”
There are many signs of hope in the Cariboo, but like the wild flowers of the forest they need to be searched out. The geography of hope includes the geography of the Cariboo.
John Dressler is a retired educator who devotes some of his time to social justice concerns. He and his wife Claire have four children and seven grandchildren. They all live in the Cariboo and enjoy the special features it has to offer.