STEVES. The Dean of the ALR

harold steves

Harold Steves’ unwavering passion for the land

Rod Mickleburgh

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Forty-five years after Harold Steves’s first election to Richmond council, the legendary, perennial politician still relishes the whiff of the barn, the lure of the land.

Along with his wife, Kathy, he continues to farm what’s left of his family’s historic Steveston property, growing heirloom vegetables for the seeds and raising a dozen purebred Belted Galloway beef cattle.

Mr. Steves cleans out the barn every morning, and lately, for the first time in half a century or so, he’s been milking, too, forced to “empty” one of the cows that suddenly began producing too much milk.

“It’s fine,” he says, of his new daily chore, “as long as you’re agile enough to avoid the kicks, and you don’t get stuff on your shoes. We’ve come to enjoy having raw milk again for breakfast. I grew up on it.”

It’s all in a day’s work for the remarkable Mr. Steves. A fixture on council since 1968, broken only by a brief win-loss foray into provincial politics, he says he’s as busy now, at the age of 76, as he was back in his heady, activist days of the 1960s.

That’s when his greatest legacy took root. Without Harold Steves and a surreptitious municipal decision to zone his father’s dairy farm for housing, British Columbia might not have its cherished Agricultural Land Reserve, which has protected provincial farmland from development for the past 40 years.

It’s a story Mr. Steves never tires of telling. The residential rezoning meant his father could not get a permit to build the modernized barn he needed, and that was the end of the dairy farm. “It seems like yesterday. I’d just milked the cows and come in for breakfast. That’s when dad gave us the news.”

The calamity galvanized the young Steves. With houses already rising on rich farmland throughout the region, he began pressing his party, the NDP, to endorse the then radical idea of an agricultural land bank. It took three conventions. When the NDP took office in 1972, the basic thrust of Mr. Steves’s farmland preservation policy was implemented.

“I don’t think it would have happened without me getting angry when my dad was turned down for his barn,” he says.

All these years later, Mr. Steves’s passion for the land, for farming, and the environment is undiminished.

“I’m like Rip Van Winkle. I was an activist in the early days. Then, I had a very nice long nap. Now, I’ve woken up. I’ve become a re-activist.”

Mr. Steves keeps on chugging.

Besides his regular council duties, he is organizing an anti-Monsanto protest in October, he is in the forefront of the drive to restrict coal shipments along the Fraser River, he remains involved with the first university-based urban farm school in North America, centred in Richmond, and, for the past six years, he has spearheaded a regional food security strategy as chair of Metro Vancouver’s agricultural committee. “There’s still so much to do,” Mr. Steves says.

He is also forging new paths on the home front.

The Steves’s seed business began when they decided to recreate vegetables grown on their land 100 years earlier. Over time, however, many heritage seeds have disappeared. “Suddenly, what we’ve been doing for 30 years is in demand,” Mr. Steves says.

Their prize is a rare variety of tomato called Alpha. “We’ve got the only seed I know of on the entire planet.”

As for beef, the Steves have been raising grass-fed animals on their own patch of land and their son’s spread near Cache Creek for some time. They sell it directly from their home in Steveston. Orders are booked up until December, 2014. Their success is changing the marketing of produce in B.C., exults Mr. Steves.

His council tenure, meanwhile, is so lengthy, he’s one of the few municipal politicians to be bestowed not one, but two long service awards, as his career goes on and on. When Mr. Steves received his second notation, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie marvelled that Mr. Steves’s electoral victories have now touched six separate decades.

Will he run for another three-year term? “Oh yeah,” Mr. Steves replies, in a flash. “If I just sat at home on the couch, I’d probably start to deteriorate.”



Brian Knappenberger on capturing the life and death of Aaron Swartz in The Internet’s Own Boy

Aaron Swartz.
Noah BergerAaron Swartz.

In 1986, the U.S. Congress, spooked by the fictional film War Games — in which a hacker unwittingly almost kicks off the Third World War by breaking into NORAD’s supercomputer — enacted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Nearly three decades later, that same anachronistic law became the basis of an overzealous prosecution and ultimate suicide of one of the online world’s most prodigious sons. In Hot Docs opening gala film The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, director Brian Knappenberger recounts this tragic tale, painting a sympathetic portrait of a technological wunderkind whose remarkable intelligence and benevolent intentions are cowed by a world governed by special interest groups and myopic bureaucrats.

“What I found so moving about Aaron’s life is that he was engaged in so many interesting big picture struggles that I think we’re all dealing with now. He was just a little ahead of us,” Knappenberger explained during a recent phone interview. “Being on that edge is not a comfortable place to be.”

Hot Docs
Hot DocsDirector Brian Knappenberger.

By the time of his suicide in January of 2013, the 26-year-old Swartz had already been a founder of the popular community message board site Reddit, helped create the ubiquitous syndication tool RSS and achieved figurehead status in the online free speech movement by leading the fight to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill. He was also facing 13 felony charges and 50 years in prison for copying 4.8 million academic articles from the JSTOR database at MIT.

Knappenberger’s personal interest in Swartz began soon after that dour January day, when the director sat on a panel with several of those affected by the Internet activist’s passing. “It seemed really unusual to me that (Swartz’s suicide) hadn’t gotten the kind of public attention that a lot of notorious hackers had gotten,” he recalled.“I started filming right then. It was just at the beginning of the tsunami of outpouring for Aaron.”

The film begins with Swartz’s origin story: Reading at an early age, coding clunky but impressive programs and forming an indelible moral code of logic. With the help of internet anonymity, a young Swartz argues his way into the good graces of many of his older peers. As he ages, this same unwavering logic leads Swartz to force Reddit (by then owned by Conde Nast) to let him go when the office’s laid back work style frustrated his active mind, leading Swartz away from the prevalent start up culture and towards the fight for freedom of information.

“Aaron seemed to be after a kind of truth of the universe, in a way — science, research and knowledge and how that could help us better understand how to govern ourselves,” Knappenberger explained. “And yet, his famous line from his “Guerrilla Manifesto” (later used by prosecutors to prove his nefarious intent) is ‘Information is power, and like all power there are those who want to keep it for themselves.’ In some ways that’s the battle we’re in — the battle for science and research that is often stained by corporate greed or political power.”

Told through a series of talking head interviews with Swartz’s family, friends and allies including Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) and Harvard free-speech activist Lawrence Lessig, the majority of The Internet’s Own Boy details Swartz’s political aspirations as he confronts government inefficiency. Swartz himself occasionally expresses his own frustration with the system in a series of archival interviews in which he appears confident but rarely boastful.

“He didn’t want to be the centre of attention,” Knappenberger said of Swartz. “There was a reluctance to feel better than other people. Even with SOPA, in which he certainly played an important role, he didn’t call a lot of attention to himself. He got attention because people gave it to him but he certainly didn’t eat it up the way Steve Jobs did.”

When he was caught scraping MIT’s servers, Swartz’s freedom fighter ambitions took a dark turn as prosecutors, weary of the freshly exposed WikiLeaks scandal, hoped to make an example of him. The film doesn’t feature interviews with government representatives since, as Knappenberger pointed out, they continually refused to comment.

“The hardest part of this film was getting answers about the case itself from the government,” he stated. “Why were they going after him? Why this person when we went through an entire economic meltdown without even a token prosecution? I tried for a really long time to get answers and they shut me down; they shut everybody down, they haven’t really talked about the case.”

Of course, Swartz saw to it that these questions would never be answered.

Knappenberger’s film doesn’t dwindle on the reasons for his suicide, focusing instead on its effect on Swartz’s friends, family and mentors. But for all the sadness, The Internet’s Own Boy closes with a glimmer of hope as Aaron’s Law, which aims to amend the CFAA to avoid recreating what happened to its namesake, appears to be headed to the congressional floor.

When asked for a status update Knappenberger sighed, “It ended up stalled in committee,” he said. “The reason why, we found out a few weeks ago, is because Oracle [the second largest software company in the world] uses it to go after their competitors.”

Aaron Swartz.

Hot Docs

Time to Remake your Soil

Current soil tests are designed by fertilizer sales groups who want you to buy more potash. We need real tests that demonstrate how good (or not) your soil is. Especially if we’re going to add sewer sludge to farms.

Microbes Will Feed the World, or Why Real Farmers Grow Soil, Not Crops

By Brian Barth on April 22, 2014

Out on the horizon of agriculture’s future, an army 40,000 strong is marching towards a shimmering goal. They see the potential for a global food system where pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are but relics of a faded age.

They are not farmers, but they are working in the name of farmers everywhere. Under their white lab coats their hearts beat with a mission to unlock the secrets of the soil — making the work of farmers a little lighter, increasing the productivity of every field and reducing the costly inputs that stretch farmers’ profits as thin as a wire.

The American Society of Microbiologists (ASM) recently released a treasure trove of their latest research and is eager to get it into the hands of farmers. Acknowledging that farmers will need to produce 70 to 100 percent more food to feed the projected 9 billion humans that will inhabit the earth by 2050, they remain refreshingly optimistic in their work. The introduction to their latest report states:

“Producing more food with fewer resources may seem too good to be true, but the world’s farmers have trillions of potential partners that can help achieve that ambitious goal. Those partners are microbes.”

Mingling with Microbes

Linda Kinkel of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Pathology was one of the delegates at ASM’s colloquium in December 2012, where innovators from science, agribusiness and the USDA spent two days sharing their research and discussing solutions to the most pressing problems in agriculture.

“We understand only a fraction of what microbes do to aid in plant growth,” she says. “But the technical capacity to categorize the vast unknown community [of microorganisms] has improved rapidly in the last couple of years.”

Microbiologists have thoroughly documented instances where bacteriafungi, nematodes — even viruses — have formed mutually beneficial associations with food plants, improving their ability to absorb nutrients and resist drought, disease and pests. Microbes can enable plants to better tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, saline soils and other challenges of a changing climate. There is even evidence that microbes contribute to the finely-tuned flavors of top-quality produce, a phenomenon observed in strawberries in particular.

“But we’re only at the tip of the iceberg,” says Kinkel.

In the Field

Statements such as, “There are 10 to the 6th fungal organisms in a gram of soil!” and, “This bacterial biofilm has tremendous communication properties!” are breakroom banter among microbiologists, but what does it all mean for farmers? The answers reach back into the millennial past of agriculture, back to the dawn of life on earth.

Whenever a seed germinates in the wild or a crop is planted by a farmer, the microbial community that helps that species to grow and thrive is mobilized. Chemical signals enter the soil via the exudates of the plant and a symphony of underground activity commences. Genetic information is exchanged; the various microbial players assume their positions on the tissues of the plant; often, one microbe colonizes another, providing a service that helps the first microbe to assist the plant whose roots it is embedded in.

Though this elaborate dance takes place without any input from humans, we have been tinkering with it for a long time.

For example, the process of nitrogen fixation in plants of the legume family (which includes beans, peas, peanuts and many other crop plants) is one of the little bacterial miracles that makes our planet habitable. Anyone who has ever observed the roots of a legume knows that they are covered in strange white or pinkish growths, about the size of ants, which appear to be an infection of some sort. Undoubtedly, ancient farmers had an intuitive understanding that these warty protuberances had something to do with the noticeable ability of legumes to improve the soil, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the mystery began to unfold.

While Louis Pasteur was discovering how to preserve milk and becoming famous as the father of microbiology, a relatively unknown colleague of his with a penchant for plants was making another discovery, of perhaps even greater historical importance. In 1888, Martinus Beijerinck, discovered that tiny bacteria called Rhizobia infect the roots of legumes, causing the swollen nodules. Rather than an infection that weakens the plant, the nodules are the fertilizer factories of the plant kingdom, disassembling atmospheric nitrogen — which plants are unable to use — and refashioning it in a soluble, plant-friendly form.

Rhizobia are key ingredients of the earth’s verdancy and harnessing the bacteria to improve soil fertility has long been one of the cornerstones of sustainable agriculture. Yet, modern day microbiologists are now aware of scores of other equally profound plant-microbe interactions, discoveries they believe will have a big impact as human populations continue to soar on a planet of finite resources.

Making the Translation

In her lab at the university, Kinkel experiments with antibiotic bacteria that suppress plant pathogens and tests various soil management strategies to see their effects on microbial communities. In Colombia, microbiologists have learned to propagate a fungus that colonizes cassava plants and increases yields up to 20 percent. Its hyphae — the tiny tentacles of fungi — extend far beyond the roots of the cassava to unlock phosphorus, nitrogen and sulfur in the soil and siphon it back to their host, like an IV of liquid fertilizer.

Though microbiologists can coerce soil to produce extraordinary plant growth in their labs and test plots, transferring the results to everyday agricultural practices is not a straightforward process.

“Connections to farmers are a weak link,” Kinkel laments, alluding to a “snake oil effect” where farmers have become leery of salesmen hawking microbial growth enhancers that don’t pan out in the field. “The challenge of [these] inoculants,” she says, “is they may not translate in all environments.”

Though researchers continue to develop promising new microbial cocktails, there is an increased focus on guiding farmers to better steward the populations that already exist in their soil. Kinkel is working on an approach she believes will help farmers sustain optimal microbial communities by ensuring they have the food they need — carbon — at all times. She calls it ‘slow release carbon’, but it’s not something farmers will see in supply catalogs anytime soon. Kinkel says she has access to resources for her academic research, but lacks a “deliberate pipeline for product development.”

It Takes a Global Village

The 26 experts from around the world convened at the ASM colloquium concluded their discussions with a bold goal for the future of agriculture: They’ve challenged themselves to bring about a 20 percent increase in global food production and a 20 percent decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use over the next 20 years.

With an indomitable belief that science will do its part to make this dream a reality, the scientists are looking to their corporate and regulatory counterparts to build a pipeline of information to farmers. They’re hoping that top-down investments in research and technology will meet directly with grassroots changes in the culture of farming — without all the snake oil-vending agribusiness interests in the middle. Ultimately, they envision a future where farmers again trust in the unseen forces of the soil — instead of the fertilizer shed — for answers to their challenges.

RelatedPlants and AnimalsmicrobesSoil



Juan de Fuca Scale


This measuring system has a lot of unknowns, but it covers some of the main factors in evaluating a town’s process for dealing with waste. Nature has no waste and many ways of turning one entity’s waste into another’s food.


As a society, the industrial world has been characterized by an extraordinary human plunder of stored “assets” and a parallel destruction of the possiblity of growth or even survival for other forms of life.

Juan de Fuca, who is certainly not an invented character, was one of the first European visitor to the Salish Sea. He was Greek, however, from a displaced family of earlier upheavals and the Spanish never rewarded him for his explorations.

The goal of this scale is to show what an ideal, truly sustainable system for “waste” would accomplish. There are models all along the scale, but many systems (old, new and planned) fail utterly when using this scale.


Norm. $1,500 per capita. 10 points. Lose points down to $3,000 which is zero.


Norm. 5% of capital costs per year.

5 points if less than 5% of capital costs.

Lose 1 point for each 1% increase above that.


Norm: Better than average the population now drinks.

35 points for norm.

Some scale that takes it down down to zero for water than can only be used for irrigation.

Irrigation needs to be defined. Irrigation for human food crops? Or for pasture for cows that produce milk?


Norm: capture some percetage of potential available heat.

10 points for capture and reuse of at least 70% of potential available heat.

Zero if all heat wasted.


Same as above.

20 points for capture and reuse of at least 70% of potential available methane.

Zero if no methane captured. Although this may. Up to negative ten points if methane created and flared or allowed into atmopsphere.

Norm: everything back into the natural world.

20 points for recyling of all biosolids in a fashion that does no damage to health or the environment.

Down to zero for landfill that generates leachate.

No Limits to the Power of an Educated Public

Township of Esquimalt rejects rezoning for sewage plant, aims to block construction at seashore location

Bill Cleverley / Times Colonist April 7, 2014 08:51 PM. With edits. Since this article fails utterly to note WHY the Township turned down the plant, for a large variety of sound reasons and because their citizens were adamantly and intelligently opposed to its construction at this location.


Esquimalt councillors didn’t just turn down the Capital Regional District’s requested rezoning for a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point Monday, they rubbed the CRD’s nose in it.

Not only did councillors unanimously reject height and buffer zone encroachments necessary to build the plant, they asked township staff to prepare a zoning amendment that would prohibit a sewage treatment plant from being built at McLoughlin.

“We have faced Goliath before. We are doing it again,” Mayor Barb Desjardins told a chamber filled with about 50 people.

“For me the answer is: ‘No.’ One more time just so it is very clear, because the CRD has trouble accepting answers from this community. The answer is: ‘No,’ ” said Coun. Tim Morrison.

Councillors received a standing ovation when they officially rejected the CRD’s application.

The decisions leave the CRD in a tough spot said Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, who chairs the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee. “We’re caught between the requirement that we carry out sewage treatment — a requirement imposed by both the federal and provincial government — and the unwillingness of Esquimalt to host a treatment plant,” said Young.

Of course, he slept through every public hearing, so he was probably the only individual surprised by the outcome.

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Asked whether the CRD would ask the province to intervene, Young said that will be up to CRD directors who will discuss the decision this week. IF ENOUGH OF THEM ARE AWAKE!!

Young conceded McLoughlin would be a tight fit for the plant but said: “Our engineers and advisers have suggested this is the best site we have. We’ve done enough looking and I really don’t think we’re going to find a better one.”

The CRD has been seeking to locate a $230-million sewage treatment plant at the site of a former oil tank farm at McLoughlin Point for more than a year. The site is zoned to allow wastewater treatment, but the CRD is seeking encroachments — a maximum of four per cent — into a 7.5-metre shoreline buffer and to increase the allowable height.

After public hearings in July, the municipality passed an alternative rezoning bylaw and began working with CRD staff to develop an amenity package to compensate for hosting the plant. Esquimalt was offered about $13 million in amenities, including oceanfront walkways, a million-dollar bike and path system on Lyall Street, public art, bike lanes, road improvements and $55,000 a year for at least five years.

But several councillors dismissed the suggestion that the amenities total $13 million.

Coun. Meagan Brame said Esquimalt shouldn’t be held ransom for mistakes make by the CRD. “They asked for these setbacks so they could fit the project into the site. Is it Esquimalt’s fault that the CRD bought a piece of property that does not suit its needs?”

An Esquimalt staff report noted that selection of any option other than approval means the province could be asked to intervene and there would be no guarantee the amenity package survives.