Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

The Homesteading Retreat Weekend

(or more specifically the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome weekend!)

Michelle and I have had great success with our one day workshops over the years. We are grateful to the many people who’ve come for the day to learn about our experiences and outlooks on energy systems, food production, the economy, security and the reality of living the homesteading dream.

People have often traveled great distances to get here, and then they have to travel home on the same day. Some, especially our American guests, have stayed in nearby motels. I’m sure this allows them a chance to wind down before they head back to the city, and so Michelle and I have often discussed allowing people to stay overnight here to avoid this.

One of the reasons we don’t usually offer an overnight stay after a workshop is because of my voice. For many years I did workshops at colleges where I’d have a morning workshop followed by an afternoon workshop which meant 6 hours of talking loudly, as well as the whole before/lunch/after informal chatting. I believe in keeping people awake, so I talk loudly (and much to Michelle’s consternation …’quickly’) and spend a lot of time shouting and cajoling and doing my best Sam Kinison imitation which ends up with me collapsing on the floor … just to make sure that people are paying attention to the part on … energy efficiency, or the basics of home security, or the world according to Cam in general.

Anyway, my voice was usually gone by the end of the day and I would have to spend most of the following day (usually a Sunday) not talking. Michelle LOVED IT!

The result is that I’ve learned I need to be more careful with my voice and it seems to be working. I do way less yelling and friends say they miss the old ‘angry Cam.’ Alas.

So we have decided to offer our first “Homesteading Retreat Weekend.”

I’m also calling it the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome ‘this must be just like livin’ in paradise’ weekend. I have never been one who believes in being short and concise. Long-winded and convoluted is more my style.

For this workshop our guests will be able to arrive on Friday night, which means they won’t have to get up really early and commute to our place. We’re excited about that.

The weekend will include three meals on Saturday, beginning with our totally awesome Sunflower Farm breakfast, which I rave (and blog) about constantly because it’s my favorite meal of the day. Then we’ll do the workshop as we have in the past. We focus on energy in the morning – all elements of it including solar, wind, wood heat, solar hot water, hot water production in general, propane back up, geo-thermal, etc. After lunch we focus on food – first on production with extensive tours of our gardens, then discussions of all areas of food preservation and storage. Then after the afternoon break we talk about all those things most people at the workshops seem to want to talk about most – economics..i.e. alternative currencies, security, and how do I tactfully put it…ah….er…sensible preparation for potentially temporary disruptions to those modern luxuries…i.e. electricity, water, heat.. that we often take for granted.

At our past one-day workshops, it was at this point in the day that this seemingly divergent group of people in our home would begin to find out what they have in common and that is when the best sharing would take place. So this time at our weekend-long retreat, the discussion gets to go right into dinner and beyond. I’m very excited about that. At our lunches once people get talking I often find it hard to drag them away from their conversations with complete strangers who they are now the best of friends with, to get out to the gardens to talk about important stuff … like horse manure.

On Sunday morning, we’ll enjoy another utterly fantastic life-altering Sunflower Farm brunch (OMG Michelle absolutely hates it when I build stuff up and create unrealistic expectations) … did I mention you’ll use this brunch as the standard for which you’ll compare all other brunches for the rest of your life, none of which will be up to scratch? Nope, no pressure here.

And after that you can do what you want on Sunday. Hang out and chat. Get the hell out because you are soooo tired of hearing me drone on that you feel that you’ll need some sort of brain cleanse to ever think clearly again. Go for a bike ride, canoe on Fifth Depot Lake, help me weed the garden, load a box up with vegetables to take back to the city … you name it. I think what I’ll do is offer a long walk on the property. People only get to hear me wax poetic about the magic of being temporary custodians of our 150 acres of paradise, so this weekend I’ll have the chance to take guests out and explore it themselves. If you’re desperate for bird watching or hope to see deer or otters, we’ll leave Jasper the Wonder Dog at home. Or we can take him and he will sprint miles ahead of us and sprint back to us and bound and leap with the joy that a border collie just seems happy to spend his day doing.

So there you have it. How’s that for a sales pitch? Two nights, 4 meals & refreshments, the undivided attention of 2 individuals who have lived the homesteading reality for 2 decades and will give you their honest assessment of what’s realistic and what’s not, and time for reflection by a pond and recreation in the heart of “Land O’Lakes.”

The cost for the weekend is $700/couple. We’re saying ‘couples’ because so often at our workshops people say, “Oh I wish I’d brought my spouse because ‘they’ need to hear this…” This way you both experience it so you lose the personal bias when get home and say “Homesteading is totally awesome!/totally unrealistic!”

We offer home cooked meals, peace and quiet, infinite perspectives on your retirement goal of moving to the country/quitting your job and moving off-grid/getting out of suburbia and earning an income away from the rat race, etc. It’ll be a blast.
We’re doing this the weekend of August 18-20th. The lakes will be swimmable (i.e warm enough.) The garden will be at its prime which means much of your food will be picked hours before its cooked. Hopefully it will be great weather for your bike ride or walk in the woods and to hear the loons on Sixth Depot Lake at night so you can you turn off your white noise machine. That weekend falls just before a new moon which means if there aren’t clouds you can spend the night in complete darkness realizing just how puny and insignificant you are in comparison to the expansiveness of the universe and its billions and billions of stars you see from our front yard. And you’ll be able to pick a box of veggies to take home with you to enjoy all week long.

We are going to limit this to 3 couples. We think this is the most workable. I’m thinking from the interest we’ve had in the past it will be booked quickly and I think we’ll only offer this once this year. Send Michelle an email at m.d.mather at to ask questions and reserve your spot. I’ll give our blog readers a few days to respond before we put it out there to the rest of the ‘interweb.”

Hope to see you soon! For some photos of our place be sure to check out

(If you are interested, but that particular weekend isn’t good for you, let us know and we might be able to change the date.)




The Pace of Change is Just Too Much

I read my local ‘day-old’ newspapers the other day and learned about the closing of The Guelph Mercury (in Ontario) and the “Nanaimo” Daily News (in British Columbia). These are newspapers that for more than 100 years provided local residents with independent news and editorial about issues of importance and relevance to them. The Mercury’s readership had dropped from 22,000 to 9,000 and they could no longer afford to print and publish it.

This follows a trend throughout North America of our traditional news organizations laying off staff and reducing service as they struggle to remain profitable. I love reading a local, hard copy, printed newspaper, but I don’t buy them. I just read out of date copies I salvage from friends and family. So apparently I’m not helping the cause. The one thing I’m not doing is getting my ‘news’ on-line. If I can’t find a newspaper I’m just as happy to be on a news blackout. Michelle would prefer a permanent news blackout for me, as it would result in way fewer ‘rants’.

So in the space of what, 10 years, we’re seeing the whole news providing model turned upside down. I know some people have switched to get their news on-line, but in most cases traditional news organizations have had trouble “monetizing” or making money from their on-line efforts. It’s tough to charge for something if there’s the perception that you can get it for ‘free’ somewhere else. Whether it’s as good remains a highly debatable issue.

When you start looking at “disruptive technologies”, things that radically change an existing way of doing things, you have to kind of wonder. Capitalism is ‘creative destruction’, which tears things down and builds new things, and we’ve all benefited from that. But now things seem to be happening at a faster pace than ever before, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Everything just seems a little out of whack for me right now.

Economies apparently are ‘hanging in there’, but oil is ridiculously cheap. If we hit ‘peak conventional oil’ in 2005 as the IEA said we did in 2005, how is it possible that the very life-blood of the world economy can be so inexpensive? Something’s not right here.

I mentioned in a recent blog about the perception from someone who took our workshop here that most of us didn’t use the internet for banking a decade ago. And now, many of us have shifted everything on-line. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to use a large financial institution and not do everything on-line. Banks seem intent on punishing luddites like me who like to have a ‘passbook’. I say it’s because I like to have an ‘audit trail’ of my transactions, but really it’s just something that started when I had a paper route when I was 10 and got excited every time I made a deposit and my bank book got updated. Man, not only will kids today not be able to get a passbook updated, there probably isn’t a local paper for them to deliver anyway!

Let me be the first to acknowledge that this just sounds like a rant from an old, first world male about how everything ‘was better in my time.’ I DID walk a mile out to the road in my subdivision to get the school bus. I DID ride my bike 12 miles to high school some days, without a helmet, on roads without paved shoulders. The fact that I made it past adolescence seems like a miracle some days. I understand that ‘nostalgia’ can get you longing for the old days. Heck, I long for the days when I could cut firewood in the bush all day a decade ago, and not wake up with my hands clenched in a permanent arthritic curl from the chainsaw and axe handle.

But I believe the pace of change today is unprecedented and unhealthy. I think our basic gravitational grounding is becoming unglued and it’s difficult to stay balanced. There is no one to blame, it’s just how humanity has chosen to evolve. The problem is now that those who want it to slow down, who want more balance have trouble getting there. The system requires 110% focus and devotion, and if you want to get off the train, it seems there aren’t any doors for you to jump out. Oh, and the windows are locked.

As we continue to discuss sources of income here at Sunflower Farm, I just keep coming back to growing food. It just seems to be an amazing, low tech, simple way to eek out a living. Big farmers spend the winter attending shows and training seminars on the latest technology from seeds to planters. They are awesome and I am grateful to them for growing most of our food. I spent the winter cutting firewood and organizing my tool shed, which ends up in a jumbled heap of disorganization by the end of each growing season. At some point I end up stepping on a rake that had been thrown in at an impossible angle, with the resulting blow to my unprotected head, which rapidly declining reflexes don’t allow me to prevent. I mean really, can I be that stupid? I’m just grateful to see what a great NFL color commentator Troy Aiken is, even after his numerous concussions. It gives me hope that I’ll be coherent several years (or months) from now.

If you enjoy this blog you have Michelle to thank. If it had been left to me I’m sure it would have been abandoned long ago. With the number of different platforms we have used, and the number of times each one of those has gone through a major upgrade which has forced a complete relearning of the basics, I just would have walked away. I remember selling computers in 1985 and finding that customers who came into the store inevitably had more expertise than me on their particular product, because I was trying to stay current on the 5,000 products in our line. I started my own electronic publishing business in 1987 and stayed on top of the software that I used for the better part of 3 decades. But I am now advancing towards simplicity in every way I can. Whether society as a whole chooses to follow me voluntarily or otherwise remains to be seen.

Each day I grow closer to unplugging from ‘the matrix’. Shovels and hoes don’t crash. You plant seeds. You water them. You weed them. They nourish you. They don’t need upgrading to the latest version for them to work on your current browser. Then you read books when the sun goes down.

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And now some reminders from Michelle! Don’t forget to sign up for our spring workshop. The date is Saturday, May 7th and we still have some spots left. Or, if you can’t come to our workshop but appreciate the work that goes into this blog and the costs associated with it, feel free to leave a tip in the jar at the top righthand side of this page. Your donations are very much appreciated! And Jasper thanks you too!

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Stop Making Sense

I think Stop Making Sense was the Talking Heads album with “Once In a Lifetime” about a dazed and confused guy, which is how I feel after spending a weekend in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and more specifically at The Survival Expo (August 8 & 9).

The GTA is like this death star monstrosity of humanity that keeps growing and expanding by the day. It’s where I left to move to the middle of no-where and after 17 years away it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to go back. Oh sure, I have a grandson there now, so there will be more trips, but I’m beginning to find the madness of a big city overwhelming. The traffic and pace of life is horrific, and how people behave in it often surprises me.

I’m also left to analyze “The Survival Expo” itself which was great. It wasn’t what you’d expect; at least it wasn’t what I had expected. The attendees seemed to be people who just wanted to make themselves less dependent on essential infrastructure. Both of my ‘off-grid’ workshops were full and many of the 100+ people who came to them, along with many others, stopped by my booth to discuss their plans.

We had made posters of the covers of our books, “The Sensible Prepper” and “Little House Off The Grid.” Little House Off the Grid features an aerial photo of our house taken by our neighbor Mike while he flew overhead in a helicopter. Mother Earth News always uses this photo when they post our off-grid story and I can’t tell you how many people stood at my table at Survival Expo and said, “That’s what I want to do!” You know sometimes it’s really nice to hear that. Especially in the middle of the summer heat when the weeds are winning the war in the garden. I can never be reminded enough that I’m ‘livin’ the dream.”

While there were guns and ammo dealers and potential customers, there was a real cross section of people I didn’t expect to see. I spoke to 4 doctors who were getting started on their path to independence. That made me take pause.

As so often is the case in my life multiple themes converged and I had just started reading a book by Michael Lewis called ‘Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World.” It’s his take on the economic collapse and a really great perspective on what went on in Iceland and Ireland and Greece and Germany. I kept reading stuff and saying “Yes, that’s exactly what I thought was going on.” It really seems amazing the mass delusion from 2000 to 2008 when people across the world thought this easy money bubble and growing wealth based on money for nothing would never end.

It didn’t end well and the only way we got out of the mess was by printing a whack of money. Magic money. “Quantitative Easing” we called it so it sounded more official. But it was still money for nothing. And now we’ve used up that trick and there’s really nothing left in the arsenal. So what do we do next time?

I asked a lot of the people who stopped at my table what had brought them to the show and many talked about this low level of anxiety they had that something was up. Something was amiss. The inflated stock market was artificial. Something was about to happen, like there was a glitch in the matrix.

Which brings me to my final intersecting and seemingly unrelated theme, which was “The Matrix”, the movie by the Wackowskis whose latest endeavor is “Sense 8” on Netflix. I won’t try and explain the series, but the opening theme is fabulous. It has that House of Card’s coolness factor with great music and fast changing images.

Every time I watch it I think of what a marvelous and diverse place this earth is. I think of how amazing the variety of geography and humanity is. And then I start thinking about how when I was born in 1959 the planet had 3 billion people. And then in 2000 the planet had 6 billion people. The population doubled in 4 decades. And now it’s 7 billion plus.

And this gets me thinking that’s an awful lot of people added in an awfully short amount of time. Each one of those individuals needs to be fed and kept warm and employed and there are just billions of transactions and interactions everyday. And there’s no template for the whole thing because we’ve never had this many people before. Not even close. Which begs the question, how can we possibly keep this all organized in any logical, smooth running way? Which was the other response I got when I asked people why they were at the expo. They would say things like, “Well with all the stuff you see going on in the world right now makes you kind of think that maybe we can’t keep a lid on it much longer.” I certainly hope they’re wrong, but I respect their point of view.

Which makes me wonder if someone has this all figured out, how it might all play out, and if governments might be thinking that things could conceivably go off the rails at some point and that they need a plan to deal with it. Heavens knows the American military seems to be awfully concerned about climate change and the wars that could erupt because of food shortages and water shortages and a myriad of other potential results from a warming planet.

And so I was pleased to be able to provide these individuals with a framework for a path they may want to take to have a “Plan B” for some of these scenarios. I’ve spent a lot of time working through the process here at Sunflower Farm and I think we’ve got it down fairly well. And when I suggested that they purchase my book, “The Sensible Prepper,” I had no problem, after listening to their concerns, suggesting it might we worth the investment on their part. I am, after all, a salesman. You don’t have to live off the grid to have a strategy for an unknown future. We know there will be turbulence. Heck, there’s often turbulence with just a couple of us interacting … ramp that up to 7+ billion and what else could you possibly expect?

I believe you should just put a lot of love out there into the universe and towards all the other travelers on spaceship earth as we navigate an exciting, challenging future. And have a “Plan B”.


Here are the links to the books I mentioned;

Best Workshop Results … EVER

We had our spring workshop at the end of April and it was awesome. I find that I enjoy these workshops more and more. It’s not that I ever didn’t enjoy them; it’s just that as we refine the workshop I spend less time worrying about getting through everything and more time getting to know the cool people who come to them.

This spring we had international guests! They came from Baltimore, which is quite a hike from our place and it was very flattering. It’s also fun for us Canadians to have Americans at events like these so we can give measurements in metric to trick them … “No, I said 17 kilometers an hour not miles!” or gloat about how having our Thanksgiving in October is just so much better than having it at the end of November only 4 weeks before Christmas. Like come on, who thought that up?

I really like having lunch and asking our guests to introduce themselves and share their background and why they came (if they feel like it). Dave, our international guest, mentioned that he works for Agora Financial, a financial publisher that I have used as a resource for years. It was cool because Dave had spotted some of Agora’s books on my bookshelf. One of the principals in Agora is Bill Bonner whose books I have enjoyed and in fact I quoted in my book “Thriving During Challenging Times.” I remember specifically emailing them to ask permission because it was a fairly long quote, but one that I thought was quite brilliant.

I think it sums up how I feel about fiat currency and where we might be headed in the future. I’m hoping Mr. Bonner won’t mind if I quote it again here. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to read his book, “Empire of Dept.”

Once people were able to create money at virtually no expense, no one ever resisted doing it to excess. No paper currency has ever held its value for very long. Most are ruined within a few years. Some take longer.”

Some paper currencies are destroyed almost absentmindedly. Others are ruined intentionally. But all go away eventually. By contrast, every gold coin that was ever struck is still valuable today, most have more real value than when they first came out of the mine. – William Bonner. Empire of Debt.

It is a simple and brilliant concept. If it speaks to you, you may want to become more familiar with Agora’s books and services. It is hard for many people to accept this concept that those paper dollars that are no longer backed by gold could one day lose their value, dramatically. But history has shown us that this is always the case. And hence, my emphasis on hard assets in my books, along with precious metals.

While Dave from Baltimore was up here at Sunflower Farm, the event leading all the newscasts was the rioting in Baltimore, not far from his home, as it turned out.

Dave is the editor of Agora’s “5 Minute Forecast,” which I’ve been reading for many years. It was like having a rock star at Sunflower Farm! A financial rock star!

Dave wrote about coming to the workshop a few days later. That was even cooler!

It was quite amazing because there was a whole new group of people exposed to our website and our books. And when I see how accurate Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin have been in some of their commentary about how things unfold financially over the years, I think it’s a really good idea for our readers to be familiar with their information.

In the meantime, Michelle and I got to meet some more great people. They got to discover that living off the grid today is well, pretty normal. Indoor plumbing including flushing toilets! Television. A fridge and freezer. High speed internet. Pretty typical for a North American home. Oh, but no electricity bill. But really, who doesn’t love their electricity bill?

If you are interested in attending our next workshop visit for more details and to register.

Here’s a link to the book I mentioned;


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Special thanks to our thoughtful and generous readers A.M.S. and G.B. for their recent donations and to R.H. for his monthly contribution to the tip jar!



THE Workshop you NEED to Attend!

I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken about some of my former illustrious and numerous careers, especially in sales. I sold advertising in my uncle’s used farm equipment paper, radio advertising in Peterborough, television advertising in Kingston, computers in Hamilton, desktop publishing systems in Toronto, and then my own business in Burlington & Tamworth for 25 years. So hold onto your seat, ‘cause this is gonna get ugly!’ Because I want to fill up our spring workshop early. We sold out our fall one and it helps us to get a spring strategy the sooner it’s booked. Soo… long inhale… here goes…

So, this is… THE BEST WORKSHOP…. EVER! No, it really is. No exaggeration. No hyperbole. This is a fact. You can look it up.

We call it “The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop” and that doesn’t even begin to explain how totally awesome it is.

It started many years ago as an offshoot of the renewable energy workshops I was giving at colleges. I focused on energy in the morning, then expanded on the independence theme in the afternoon to talk about food production and storage, transportation, water, alternative forms of monetary exchange … that sort of thing.

Eventually I began calling it “Thriving During Challenging Times” and one time at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton a few years back we had 75 people attend the workshop.

In those days it was all PowerPoints, and there were probably 300 photos in it, but I don’t always think that has the same impact. So we decided, hey, if we really want people to see how this is done, and know that you can really do this, then we need to have them come to the house to show them.

Now we’ve been offering it here for a number of years and every one gets progressively better. I appreciate the first people who came and we have used their feedback to continuously improve it. At the beginning I used some of my PowerPoint slides to set the stage for ‘why’ you may want to become more independent and resilient. I quickly noticed that people would start dozing off as early as 9:30 am during the PowerPoint presentation, and duh, they were here already, so obviously they got the “why” thing.

And now every time I present my workshop I further refine it so that people are just getting the essentials. You know how when you used to write essays in school the more you reread it, the more extraneous stuff you could take out and make it shorter? Well that’s what I’ve been able to do and so now there is less to absorb, just the essentials. I have lots more information if people want it, but I won’t put it out there if it just puts extra pressure on everyone’s brain synapses … because at 55 I now realize there’s only so much ‘stuff’ you can file up there. Now the daylong workshop consists of visiting various areas of our house while I explain the how’s and whys of our various systems and then allowing time for people to ask questions that are directly related to their own situation. I stay on message and answer quickly and if I think I haven’t got them what they want, I revisit it with them at lunch or during the breaks. ‘No one leaves with questions unanswered’ is my mantra.

You learn only the essential stuff and not some esoteric, theoretical concept you see on a screen, you see ‘IT.” You see what a kilowatt of photovoltaic panels looks like and what sort of lifestyle you can live depending on how many hours of sun you receive. You see what an acre and a half of cultivated gardens looks like and how much food it can produce. You see what’s involved with backyard chickens and what you need for a proper root cellar.

Michelle prepares wonderful food and people really seem to love sitting down for lunch at our dining room table and having a chance to talk to everyone else. I love meeting all these cool people. It’s a blast. It’s fantastic! I love these days! I’m totally pumped when they’re over!

This year our spring workshop will take place on Saturday, April 25. The cost for the whole day, which includes coffee breaks and lunch, is $120/per person. This includes two of our books, one of which will be “The Sensible Prepper,” hot off the press. We’re 2 ½ hours from Toronto, less than 2 hours from Ottawa, less than 6 hours from Boston and less than 11 hours from New York City. So there’s no excuse to miss it. Book a plane. Book a train. Fill up your gas tank. It’s an incredible value! The knowledge is priceless! Bring your parents … bring your adult children … bring your neighbor … tell your co-workers, tell your baseball team, let your homesteader wannabe group know about it, put it on your local bulletin board, post it on your Facebook page. It’s a really big deal! It’s that awesome!

Thanks for listening. If I have any blog readers left two days from now I’ll be shocked!

 For more information click here. To sign up for this workshop, email michelle at gmail dot com.


That Whole Quantitative Easing Thing

I found another great book at a thrift shop called “The New Good Life” by John Robbins. He wrote a book that we read a few decades ago called “Diet for a New America” which got us thinking about the food we eat. He was heir to the Baskin Robbins’ ice cream empire and walked away from it all, lived in a cabin on the coast of B.C., grew his own food and lived on next to no money. Eventually he moved to California and wrote some books and earned a reasonable living promoting living a sustainable life.

He has two grand children with health challenges because they were born prematurely and he was concerned about having money put aside for their care. He was doing well with an investment adviser he trusted, so he took a mortgage on his house to increase the nest egg he was building.

In early January PBS’ “FRONTLINE” re-aired a broadcast about the ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff. And low and behold, I happened to watch the show on the same day that I read the section in John Robbins’ book where he talks about the call he got from his investment adviser that the reason they had been getting such good returns was because their money was invested, indirectly and through various layers of fog, with Bernie Madoff. So John was broke, had a mortgage, no source of income and wasn’t getting any younger.

Here’s the Frontline documentary which you can watch online.

This is a heart-wrenching story, for everyone who got scammed. There’s no way to not sound like a cold heartless monster when I say this, but I will anyway. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the best you can do in a GIC is 2% and the best you might do in the market is 5 – 7%, and someone is offering you 12% or whatever it was, year after year, whether the market was up or down, run screaming.

Which leads me to the news that European Union central banker Mario Draghi has decided to start a massive round of quantitative easing of $86 billion a month. Quantitative easy is the fancy-schmancy word for money printing. The U.S. Federal reserve starting calling it this around 2008, thinking we wouldn’t know it was money printing. They printed oh, about $85 billion a month. Doesn’t it seem kind of strange that central bankers keep using an arbitrary, random amount that doesn’t seem to have any grounding in anything real? But then again, it’s just made up money, so really, who cares about the amount?

I took several economics courses at university, and never finished my degree, so I am not in line to take over control of the Bank of Canada. But here’s how I perceive the money supply. It should have some basis in reality. It should be linked somehow to the general productivity of the economy. Otherwise just throwing $85 billion a month out of a helicopter is going to be hugely inflationary. With interest rates at historic lows over the last 5 years one wonders what people did with all the extra money, being dropped from helicopters. In October 2007 the DOW was at 13,900. In February 2009, just as quantitative easy was starting it was at 7,000. The day I wrote this blog post it was at an all time high of 17,800.

Some would argue that this figure has little grounding in the actual performance of the U.S. economy. Don’t get me wrong, for all those people who have retirement plans based on this amount, it’s a good thing. But if it has been achieved artificially, well, then, one shouldn’t have much confidence in its long-term viability. In fact I’d have way more confidence in the stock market if it actually had some logical link to the state of the world economies after the economic collapse of 2008.

It somehow seems “too good to be true.” It’s funny, I just checked to make sure that you could watch that Frontline on-line and you can. And the first line is “It was too good to be true.” But nobody wanted to ask questions.” There was a ‘willful ignorance.’ ‘Where was the due diligence?’ ‘Where were the regulators?’

So today you have to ask yourself, is the state of the stock market a realistic representation of the true state of the economy, or is it the logical result of years of money printing, err … quantitative easing, where this magical money was created at a time of historic low interest rates where it had no place else to go. And if you think there’s a link, then you have to ask yourself, is it ‘too good to be true?”

If you do think that, then you should be taking proactive measures in your financial management and your personal resilience.

Michelle and I have been busy getting our latest book “The Sensible Prepper, Practical Tips for Emergency Preparedness and Building Resilience” ready for printing. We think it’s an important book that our readers may be interested in. We think there may never be a better time to take action than now, when things look pretty good.

It’s easy to say ‘well, that whole Bernie Madoff thing, that would never happen to me.’ Unless of course it was happening on a much grander scale, so grand it wasn’t apparent to everyone participating in it that in fact there was a lack of due diligence and there was a willful ignorance, and that the government means well, they just want the shiny happy endless economic growth train to keep rolling along forever. Even if the way they achieve this may be, well, not exactly an honest, hard-working way of doing it.

In the meantime, woo hoo, let’s all party like it’s 1999! Don’t worry, be happy! It’s allllll good! Until it’s not.

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Michelle’s Note: Two book reviews in a row! Here is the amazon link for both of John Robbins’ books mentioned by Cam.

The Price of Oil is Scary

So have you noticed the price of oil lately? Pretty great eh? Cheap gas! Yee ha!gaspistol

I think not. I don’t think this is a good thing. I guess I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy but I think something is amiss and I don’t think it’s going to end well.

A barrel of oil has stayed above $100/barrel for quite a while now. Then last summer it started this crazy nosedive to its current level of about $50. And it frankly just doesn’t make any sense to me, on so many levels.

First off, it is just such an amazing commodity; it shouldn’t be this cheap. The potential energy in a barrel of oil is mind-boggling. Three tablespoons of oil is the equivalent of a human working manually for 8 hours. If you spent your whole life toiling in the fields (which I lovingly do every summer) your whole life’s energy expenditure would be equivalent to 3 barrels of oil. 3 barrels. So if the world is burning through 80+ million barrels of oil everyday, you can appreciate just how much work that fossil fuel is accomplishing for us.

Now some (like me) would argue that much of it is wasted commuting long distances or flying to exotic places. Some would argue (like me) that we have to burn less of the stuff because when you use a liquid hydrocarbon like this, it releases sequestered carbon from under the ground into the atmosphere, and on a large scale that’s not a good thing. Some organizations like or even the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that if we want to have any hope of stopping the planet from warming more than 2°C we basically need to leave three-quarters of the known fossil fuel reserves that energy companies have on their balance sheets, in the ground.

And that’s one of the biggest problems with cheap oil. Some countries seem to be pumping it likes there’s no tomorrow, to generate cash, and this stuff is too precious to sell at a discount.petrol-pump-icon

There are lots of great theories as to why the price has collapsed the way it has. One is that countries are trying to punish Russia, which relies heavily on oil revenue, for it’s incursion into the Ukraine. I tend to take the more classic economic perspective and that is that demand is simply not there. The media loves to remind us of how great the economy is doing and why we should be so confident and get out there and run those credit cards up making ourselves happy. But I don’t things are as rosy as we’re being told. And I think the plummeting price of oil is the proof.

There is a hard cold reality of cheap oil and that is that many North American producers are no longer profitable. Fracked shale oil and Alberta tar sands oil are really expensive to get at. At $120/barrel there is an economic incentive to do this. At $60/barrel, well, not so much. And some of these investments we’re talking about are long term. So if you take drill rigs out of the fields and scale back investment in looking for new supplies, eventually you’ll have a drop in supply, which should bring the price back up. But I don’t think you can replace lost supply that quickly which means a huge price spike later on. More pain after the short-term gain we’re experiencing.

In a perfect world the price of oil would have just kept going up indefinitely. This would destroy demand and get consumers to switch to alternatives, many of which use free energy, like the sun and wind. A high price of oil is good for the environment. But economics being what it is, this whole supply and demand thing doesn’t seem to fit with an ever-increasing price of a commodity. Sooner or later the bubble bursts and prices come back down to earth. And customers shopping for new cars see cheap gas and buy big honking’ vehicles that will be on the road for 15 or 20 years. (These same consumers will be on the nightly news when gas goes back up in price complaining at the cost of filling up their inefficient vehicles!)

I may be out in left field on this one; in fact I’m sure I am. I simply can’t understand how such an abrupt price drop in oil can be a good thing over the long haul. Something’s up. I just can’t get my head around exactly what that is. But I don’t think it’s a good thing. Or, quoting the title of my friend Joe Ollman’s book “This will all end in tears.”


My Redneck Green Side Turning Blue

or Why Debt Matters

Debt. It’s kind of a big deal, but governments don’t seem to think so.

It was interesting to discover that during our recent election I was tending more towards the ‘conservative’ side of the political spectrum than the ‘liberal.’

The “Liberals” have governed our province for more than a decade. They have hired about 300,000 civil servants since they took office, many after the economic collapse of 2008. From a Keynesian economic perspective, I get the whole governments needing to spend during downturns to keep things rolling along. It’s one thing though to invest in infrastructure programs, which create jobs for the short term, versus hiring permanent civil servants, because once you hire a full time employee it’s hard to get rid of them. And it would be great if we could all work for the government and have their awesome benefits and pensions, but in all of the places where this has been tried, it hasn’t worked out that well in the end. George Orwell really nailed it in his book, “Animal Farm”… ‘All the animals are equal… but the pigs are a little more equal.’

My Conservative opponent in the All Candidates Meetings carried around a government regulation book that was as thick as the New York City phone book. He liked to quote the number of regulations that the book now included versus a decade before and it had grown a lot. It just kind of follows that if you hire civil servants they’re going to come up with new regulations.

Now I understand why we have regulations. Civil society needs them. Workers need them. We want clean water coming out of our taps and governments can try and ensure this. My problem with the current ruling Liberal government is that they really have no idea how they are going to pay for all the money they spend. They have a $12 billion deficit this year (they are spending $12 billion more than they are taking in through taxes) and that will be added to an accumulated debt of $280 billion, or quarter trillion dollars. That is a crazy number. When you see it calculated out on a per capita basis it’s comparable to some of the worst-case countries in the Euro-zone like Cyprus and Spain.

So at what point does a responsible government say, “Houston we have a problem” and get their fiscal house in order and have a balanced budget and start whittling away at the debt? We’re 5 years past the economic collapse. Some would suggest things are more stable economically so we should start to get our house in order.

But we have an “activist” premier. This is how she has been referred to. That’s great, there was a time for that. Like the 1960s and 1970s when money just poured into government coffers. It was easy to do cool progressive stuff because the economy was generating enough excess that the government would siphon some off and it would keep growing. But now we have this stagnant economy. In Ontario our manufacturing sector has been decimated, so we’re losing those high paying middle class jobs. Governments are competing with each other for companies to come and open so they all keep reducing corporate taxes, so that source of revenue is dropping.

At what point does a government get mature about the situation and say “you know what, we have to start living within our means”? We have to start spending money that we actually have. We need to have some money in the bank for a rainy day. Heck, we need to stop spending a third of the money we take in paying interest on the quarter trillion dollars of debt we took on borrowing money to live a lifestyle we can’t afford anymore. You can be an activist all you want, but sooner or later the cold cruel hand of reality is going to slap you upside the head and say ‘ENOUGH!”

I guess what concerns me the most is that the Liberals came out of the election with a majority. This means that most people voted to keep a government around that loves to spend money and really doesn’t seem to care about ever paying off their credit card. Is this how most households work so they’re comfortable with a government that behaves the same?

The Conservatives said they would eliminate 100,000 jobs from the government. First it was just a broad statement but when they got blow back they said they’d eliminate them over time through attrition, as people retired. Too late. The damage was done. The Liberals jumped on this and got everyone scared about the scary Conservatives. Really? How is reducing the number of civil servants by 30% of what was hired in the last half decade such a scary thing for people? It seems we were doing pretty well with the number of civil servants we had before we hired 300,000, so why would it be such a scary thing to say we’ll only keep 200,000 of those new hires?

Remember, I have nothing against civil servants. I have been very left on the political spectrum for a long time, but frankly I’m tired of governments that have no intestinal fortitude and are unable to make tough decisions. Personally I have no debt. I spend only what I make. (And as I have willingly shared in many previous blogs, my income is below the poverty level, so it isn’t like I have a slush fund of money to play around with.) That’s the way it should be for governments.  And they should have a rainy day fund for the next economic crisis that comes our way, not have some massive debt that will make them incredibly vulnerable to interest rate hikes or other nasty consequences of a world gone mad about credit.

The Green Party believes in a balanced budget. This was one of the reasons I was comfortable running for them. We also believe that you have to be honest with people. May, 2014 was the hottest May ever, worldwide.  Houston we have a problem with the climate, a huge one that threatens EVERYTHING else. But we keep electing governments that can’t seem to stand the idea of being the least bit unpopular. Or giving up power. Or doing what’s right rather than what keeps them in power.  I think the Liberal Party of Ontario that governs this province should be ashamed of itself rather than patting itself on the back for buying its way back into power with debt.

Debt catches up to you. I’m going to buy the Liberal government a DVD copy of “The Sopranos” and show them what happens when Tony Soprano lends you money and you can’t pay him back. It ain’t pretty.

The Resilience Workshop

People always surprise me. We recently offered tours of Sunflower Farm for our CSA members so they could see where their food was being grown. After the first tour we invited everyone in for some tea and some of Michelle’s chocolate zucchini bread and someone made this humorous/tongue-in-cheek/joking comment, “Maybe you could sell me a couple of acres in your woods for when it all goes wonky…”

This surprised me because I would never have expected the person who said it to have any concept of things going “wonky.”  This person seems fairly traditional, has a good job and the usual pursuits, and yet this person was entertaining the notion that things might not always go on the way they’ve been unfolding.

I think that there are more people out there who share these concerns than you might imagine.  I suppose it’s not a good trend because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or maybe people are on the right track and there really are too many things at a critical point and something has to give.

We scheduled our fall workshop and it’s already fully booked.

We used to call this workshop the “Solar Powered, Off-Grid, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times” Workshop to cover all the bases and not sound too scary. But now I guess we should just call it a ‘prepper’ workshop. We never set out to be preppers, but by trying to become independent in our food and energy production, we seem to have become “accidental preppers.”

We have had more interest in our workshops and so we have scheduled a second workshop for Saturday October 26th. If you or anyone you know are interested in developing some strategies for increasing your independence and personal resilience please pass this date along. Our workshops are a lot of fun with great food and great people. I have met some really wonderful folks. I’m always impressed by the sense of humour that most “preppers” have. I think it’s one of the keys to being resilient. You really just have to be able to laugh about some of this stuff!


Apocalyptic Times in Canada

Sometimes I envy people who stay on a permanent media blackout. It must be blissful to be unaware of the catastrophes affecting the human condition. This summer seems to be a particularly bad one for Canada in terms of disasters, natural or otherwise.

It started with the flooding of Calgary, Alberta in June. As the climate change models had predicted would happen, a weather system parked itself over that part of the world and dumped a couple of months’ worth of rain in a couple of days. Rivers overflowed. Neighborhoods were evacuated and flooded. The downtown was shut down for days.

Toronto got a similar dumping a few weeks later when about130 mm or more than a months’ worth of rain fell at the airport in several hours. Storm sewers were overwhelmed. Roads were flooded. A passenger train was stranded for hours and people had to be rescued. Power was out.

We experienced a horrific heat wave that ended with some powerful storms and tornado watches throughout Ontario. Afterwards hundreds of thousands were without power, some for days.

This is the new norm. These “100-year floods” are now happening regularly. And of course we will continue to rebuild in the same flood plains as if they’ll never happen again.

Then on July 6 there was a horrific train derailment and fire in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed close to 50 people. The train, loaded with crude oil, was left unattended, miles from town after a fire in the engine, and somehow started to roll. Eventually it barreled into town, derailed and exploded.

The timing was bizarre. We are in the midst of a huge debate over building new pipelines, which seem to keep rupturing and leaking of late. A huge amount of crude is now being shipped by rail and suddenly we’re faced with the hazards of this.

We’re all implicit in this. We all use or benefit from fossil fuels. They make our lives infinitely easier and yet, they carry this huge risk. And these risks like leaks and fires are just the easy-to-see, in-your-face consequences. The far more dangerous, far more insidious risk they pose is the carbon they release when we burn them. The buildup of carbon is what’s triggering these other weather events. And yet we still aren’t having a conversation about our reliance on them.

Andrew Nikiforuk, a writer for the Globe and Mail (newspaper) from Calgary, was helping with the cleanup of the floods, as so many people did.

He heard the expression “tar sands karma” in several households. Calgary is the financial center of our oil industry, where financing for things like the tar sands happens. Apparently some of the people who owned the homes that were flooded “get” the connection and are willing to talk about it.

The logical course of action for Canadians, and the species at large right now, is to call on our federal governments to take a leadership role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, not just hand out money after the disasters hit. Instead they continue to be committed to pushing through new pipelines and increasing oil production from the tar sands. For what? Good jobs of course! So we can all buy nice houses that get clobbered by climate change. Yup, no shortsighted behavior happening here.

The species has a choice. End our addiction to fossil fuels or perish. One option is to be in control of the process of de-carbonizing our lives and our economies. It won’t be easy. It will be jarring, but it will be by choice.

The second option, if we choose not to take the first one, is that these events will become the norm, and we’ll all just hope ours isn’t the house that gets blown down by high winds or gets flooded. We’ll just buy a generator and pretend like all these events aren’t really happening. Go on a media blackout and cross our fingers.

This is not a human trait I quite understand. After living off the grid and creating my own energy for 15 years, starting while the technology was in its infancy, I learned that it was far better to be proactive and correct a potential problem before something catastrophic happened and plunged us into the dark.

I’d love to think climate change might go away if we ignore it, but I don’t think it will. A mature, rational government would engage its citizens in a discussion of the risks we face and the tough choices we have to make. Our government is like one of those “jelly fish” parents who just give the kids what they ask for, keep ‘em happy, even if it turns them into spoiled brats with bad outcomes later on. To tell citizens what they want to hear may keep you in power for a while, but it’s cowardly and will not be a legacy you look back on with pride. What our species requires is a debate about this. A vigorous, honest debate about consequences … and soon. We have the technology to deal with. I would hope we have the maturity to deal with it. I am grateful there is a Green Party to keep this discussion going in the public arena.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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