Long before the great hunger, the Irish knew they were in trouble. Most of their working population were unemployed, the country’s religion had been torn apart and the Catholic church, which had acted as their social services, had been outlawed. In addition to the general lack of a governing body at the time the Irish aristocracy, most of whom lived in England, had no desire to be in Ireland and thus were unaware or ambivalent of their subjects’ plights. Long before the disaster Britain’s government had commissioned many studies on the Irish economic situation and while they were all different as to the cause of the mess, the conclusion was the same, Ireland was headed for disaster. In 1845 the disaster descended and Ireland was plunged into what is now known as the great hunger. Over the course of the next 7 years 1 million people starved to death and another million emigrated out of Ireland for a loss of between 25 and 30 percent of the population. It was the worst human catastrophe, not caused by war, that the world had seen in that period.
How is it possible Ireland could have escaped their fate for so long? Ireland’s agriculture had become completely dependent on one vegetable for the production of food, the potato, and potatoes were so easy to grow and so plentiful that the government was able to mask their other socio-economic troubles. Potatoes are nourishing enough so that even the poorest people could subsist on a diet of only potatoes, indeed Irish peasants were considered to be better off than their British counterparts who were living on lentils, corn, and grain at the time. The crown repeatedly warned the Irish that they were close to a disaster but the potatoes were so easy to grow and their yield was so plentiful that even though the country had a 75% unemployment or underemployment rate the government did not have to deal with the effects of its impoverished situation because there was enough food for everyone. The day of reckoning came in the spring of 1845 when the potato crop had a total failure and continued to fail for the next 7 years.
The fallout for Ireland during and after the disaster changed their course of history. There was huge civil unrest during and after the great hunger with 19 of the 21 counties breaking away from the United Kingdom. The disaster affected Anglo Irish relations and created a rift that continues to this day and Catholicism, once outlawed, came back to Ireland as a direct consequence of the great potato blight
Today we are again being funnelled into one type of food for nourishment but unlike the Irish we believe we are at the table of cornucopia because the food industry has masked its importance in our food system. The crop we are so heavily reliant on is corn, genetically modified, heavily fertilized, and heavily subsidized by the government it grows faster and produces more than at any other time in the world. We put it in everything, from animal feeds, to cosmetics, fuel for our vehicles, and we even eat it right off the cob. When you shop at the supermarket there isn’t one can or bottle or box of food that doesn’t have some form of corn in it. There are about a hundred different products that factories can make out of corn which is then used as sweeteners or fillers or eaten straight. What would happen to our way of life if all corn was suddenly wiped out? Prices of all foods would sky rocket as there isn’t a processed can of food today that doesn’t have some form of corn in it. Processed food which is designed to be cheap for people who can’t buy fresh would become unaffordable. Animal feeds would triple causing meat prices to go up.
If corn crops were to suddenly fail our society would look a lot like the Irish during the time of the great hunger, hungry people would not sit idly by and let their children starve and social upheaval would occur as the cheap food people depended on would become too expensive for people to buy. Governments which are notoriously slow to respond to these types of disasters would be hiding behind the free market and telling people that the next year would be better.
The cause of the Potato disaster remained a mystery for over a hundred years. Some people blamed the English for destroying their crops while others said the Crown stole the potatoes although I’m not sure how the King could have stolen 8000 tons of potatoes a year for 7 years. Food supplies can be fragile especially when you become too dependent on one type as the Irish found out in 1845, when, an unknown fungus which killed nightshade plants was unknowingly transported from the new world on British ships back to the UK and touched off one of the largest humanitarian disasters of all time.
Our baby large black pigs are growing and looking fantastic. We think we will be able to process them late October or early November. We want to make a number of old style country hams ready for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and these pigs look great. The large black piglets are being moved from their large pen to the small pasture where they will begin their new work lives of guarding the estates sheep. We took one of our pigs to the love Winnipeg festival where it was a big hit. Apparently no one knew that pigs could be black. Reuben and Dawn are doing a great job raising these little guys for us. Townsend made its first sell-able pancetta and we would like to thank Earl’s meat market for producing our pancetta and Crampton’s market in Winnipeg for purchasing it.
We just purchased 2 horned Dorset ewe lambs and Sophia will be going to the all Canada classic to purchase another. We received 5 bottle babies and will keep two ewes back for our flock this year and the rest will get fed and go to customers for Christmas season.
Hyrum processed his first batch of 300 chickens and is working on the second batch. Hyrum sold his poultry to Crampton’s in Winnipeg and Natures farms in Steinbach. Also for the first time Hyrum has taken his free ranged chicken and cut it up into pieces. You can now purchase chicken legs and backs or chicken supreme (breast and 1/2 a wing)Hyrum is also raising 100 pheasants this year. Hyrum is getting his egg incubator running and it appears that we may have some eggs hatched in July