What stories do you want to read on Earthward?

November 3rd, 2014
Golden hour + pumpkins + rainbow (Photo by Jaimie McCaffrey via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0)

Golden hour + pumpkins + rainbow
(Photo by Jaimie McCaffrey via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0)

When I started this blog two years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would anyone read it or find it useful? Would I be able to post regularly while keeping up with other writing and consulting work?
Fortunately, the answer to both questions has turned out to be yes. It’s been so exciting to have people from Ottawa and across North America subscribe to Earthward and I’m grateful for each and every reader. I’ve really enjoyed putting the blog together — connecting with readers, meeting innovative and dedicated food producers, and learning more about sustainable food. And I plan to continue.
For now, though, I’m taking a short break. The past 18 months have coincided with some big personal challenges, including the death of my parents and other family members. I need to re-charge my batteries.
At the same time, I’d like to re-think the blog, what it covers and how, to make sure it meets your needs. This is where I’d like your feedback. Do you want to see shorter, more frequent posts or fewer, more in-depth ones? More articles on regional producers and retailers? Or more on local food policy and food security? Do you find the event round-ups and seasonal recipes useful?
Your comments will help me reshape and refocus Earthward for next year. In the meantime, here’s a sampling of past posts you may have missed.
Thank you for reading Earthward!

Sustainable food basics

4 reasons to care about sustainable food
How to choose a CSA
5 easy steps to seasonal eating
7 ways to dig deeper into local sustainable food
Why does sustainable food cost more than conventional?

Ottawa area producers & retailers
Pork of Yore: Pasture production means happy pigs and succulent pork
Tiraislin Farm’s Rosemary Kralik: An ambassador for food and animals
Walk on the Wild Side: Amber Westfall’s Wild Garden aims to reconnect people and plants
Get back to the table with Red Apron comfort food
The Unrefined Olive: Ottawa olive oil tasting bar fuses global food with local, sustainable roots

Recipes from Ottawa area chefs

Confit of chicken (Justin Faubert, Thyme & Again Catering, Landwaterfork)
Rutabaga & beer soup (Jaqueline Jolliffe, Stone Soup Foodworks)
Basil and parmesan gateau on oven-dried plum tomatoes (Charles Part, Les Fougères)
Cranberry chocolate chip loaf (Jo-ann Laverty, Red Apron)
Steelhead trout campfire-style (Norm Aitken, Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar)

What stories and people would you like to see covered in Earthward next year?

Who’s making a difference on England’s local food scene

September 30th, 2014
South London's Borough Market Photo: V. Ward

South London’s Borough Market
Photo: V. Ward

What comes to your mind when you think of British food?
Despite culinary stars like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, I continued to link it with all things unhealthy and unappetizing: Veggies boiled to mush. Spam. Marmite. Traditional dishes with names like Toad-in-the-Hole and Spotted Dick.
At least, those were my views until a few weeks ago, when I actually visited England to help my daughter settle in there for a year of university. Not only has British cuisine improved by leaps and bounds, so has public awareness of and support for local sustainable food. Whether we were in London or in smaller cities or villages, we enjoyed consistently good food in restaurants and pubs, and were blown away by the number of high-quality farmers’ markets, and farm and artisanal food shops.
To be sure, the UK has its share of the food system problems that afflict other Western countries, from rising obesity rates to food safety scandals. But lots of people and organizations are working to find solutions.
Here’s a snapshot of a few of them.
Producers, processors and retailers
• Laverstoke Park Farm: a 2500-acre biodynamic farm in Hampshire. In addition to fresh produce, Laverstoke raises wild boar, pigs, cows, sheep, chickens and water buffalo and maintains an onsite abattoir. It sells products through its own butcher shop, farm shop and website, as well as through the Waitrose supermarket chain and the Ocado online supermarket
• The Severn Project: This social enterprise produces the highest quality salad greens for customers in and around Bristol while also creating employment for people from socially excluded groups, such as those recovering from substance abuse, or mental health issues.
• Alara Dream Farm: Organic, fair trade muesli producer Alex Smith of Alara Wholefoods has overseen the transformation of derelict land in central London into a lush permaculture garden that produces a variety of fruit and vegetables. Over the years, he’s added a vineyard, an orchard and a community garden.
• hiSbe: how it Should be, or hiSbe, is an ethical grocery store in Brighton that specializes in local, sustainable and fair trade products. Launched last year as a pilot, hiSbe turns the old supermarket model on its head by putting people first, selling at a lower profit margin and paying staff more than minimum wage.

Borough Market (Photo: V Ward)

Borough Market (Photo: V Ward)

Food and farming policymakers
The Soil Association: A favourite charity of Prince Charles, the Soil Association campaigns for healthy, humane, sustainable food, farming and land use. Its work centres on: supporting organic farming systems; finding viable ways to tackle climate change, enhance biodiversity, improve animal welfare and promote fair access to healthy food; providing technical support and advice to farmers and businesses, and; creating consumer trust through a certification program.

The association’s partnerships projects include its Food for Life Partnership to improve school food, and the Sustainable Food Cities Network, that brings together organizations in different regions and municipalities to share challenges, explore practical solutions and develop best practice in all aspects of sustainable food.

Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming: Sustain represents about 100 national public interest organizations working at the international, national, regional and local levels to improve food and farming. It advises and negotiates with governments and other regulatory agencies to ensure that food/farming legislation and policies are publicly accountable and socially and environmentally responsible. It also encourages businesses to produce, process and market foods that are good for health and the environment, and to develop policies and practices that make it easier for people to choose sustainable foods.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA): Regardless of the political party in power, DEFRA policies recognize the importance of local producers and a more environmentally sustainable food system. For example, a recent report encourages opportunities for British producers to supply food to public institutions such as government departments, hospitals and school boards. A report on sustainable consumption outlines key principles for healthy and sustainable eating including: eating less meat and more plant-based foods; choosing fish from sustainable stocks; and valuing food by finding out how it’s produced and by not wasting it.

Places to buy and eat good local food in the UK
• For the best farm shops and delis, check out The Independent’s list top 50.
• For top farmers’ markets, try these lists from The Ecologist, The Guardian, the Independent and the VisitBritain SuperBlog.
• Choose local food producers, markets and shops in the UK’s National Parks with this guide.

Have you traveled outside Canada recently? Is there an active local food scene in the place you visited?


Seasonal Eats: Steelhead trout campfire-style from Chef Norm Aitken, Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar

September 1st, 2014
(Photo: Brian Walter via Flickr)

(Photo: Brian Walter via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0)

Steelhead trout is a variety of rainbow trout that makes its way up rivers and streams to the sea — or in the case of Eastern and Central Canada, to the Great Lakes — in spring and fall. Farmed steelhead are available year-round. Similar to salmon in appearance and taste, steelhead trout is ranked highly by SeaChoice as a fish that is abundant and caught or farmed sustainably.

Also like salmon, steelhead trout is good for you. Not only is it packed with lean protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, it contains low levels of contaminants such as mercury, pesticides, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, says the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

This recipe from Chef Norm Aitken of Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar cures the trout and pairs it with a zesty quinoa salad and a chamomile syrup for delicious late summer dining. You can change up the vegetables according to the season, Norm says, going from spring shoots to roasted or pickled beets and adding sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

The veggies listed in the recipe were sourced from producers such as Rochon Gardens, Acorn Creek and Juniper Farm.

About Chef Norm Aitken

Chef Norm is co-owner of Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar in Ottawa’s Westboro Village, dubbed one of the city’s top tables by food critics.

A native of Souris, PEI, Norm began his cooking career more than 22 years ago at the prestigious Inn At Bay Fortune under the guidance of Chef Michael Smith of FoodNetwork Canada fame. There he developed the understanding of and respect for fresh local ingredients that form the cornerstone of his personal cooking philosophy.

Over the course of his career, Chef Norm continually pushes the boundaries to create distinctive cuisine that’s also simple regional, seasonal and sustainable. He is passionate about delivering top-notch, house-made quality dishes that surprise and satisfy his customers. He is also committed to ensuring that Ottawa stays a vibrant culinary destination, supports camaraderie among his peers on the Ottawa food scene and believes in giving back to the community through fundraising. He has worked with some of Canada’s top chefs including Ned Bell, Vikram Vij, Susur Lee, Robert Clark, Michael Howell, and Anita Stewart and has been recognized in Gold Medal Plates and Food Day Canada competitions. ABC Good Morning America & LA Entertainment profiled him for bringing “Le Whaf” vaporizing innovation to North America from Europe.

Norm has appeared on FoodNetwork Canada’s Chopped Canada as a celebrity chef. Outside the kitchen, he’s an avid food activist, teacher, and devoted dad to daughters Jade and Erika.

Steelhead trout campfire style

Combined cooking and prep times about 1 ½  hrs

  1. Trout cure

½ c sugar

1/8 c salt

zest of 3 lemons

zest of 3 limes

zest of 1 orange

1 ½ lb cleaned trout

Season the filet generously with the cure and let stand in the fridge, uncovered, for 1 hour.

  1. Quinoa citrus salad

2 c cooked quinoa

2 oranges segmented

shaved fennel bulb

pea shoots / wild garlic leaves

wild fennel fronds (soft green leaves)

  1. Salad vinaigrette

zest and juice of 2 lemons

3/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp shallot and garlic, minced

1/8 c fine grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake until combined.

  1. Chamomile syrup

2 oz loose chamomile tea

2 c cane sugar

2 lemons, with peels, no pith

1 c white balsamic vinegar

Steep for an hour and strain.

  1. Assemble the plate

Season the skin of the trout filet with sea salt and place it in an oiled, pre-heated pan on high heat.

Turn the heat to medium and crisp the skin till golden brown.

Flip the filet over so that the flesh side is in the pan.

Cook for 2 minutes and turn the heat off.  Add a couple of tablespoons of the syrup to the pan to glaze the fish.  Let stand at room temperature for 3 min (i.e., let it rest) while you plate.

Combine all ingredients for the salad and season with the vinaigrette.

Place the salad and present the trout skin up over the salad.  Sauce the plate with the camomile tea syrup.

What’s your favourite way to prepare fish?

Seasonal Eats: Summer pasta with purslane from Fleurs Gourmande’s Roxane Robillard

August 23rd, 2014
Summer pasta with purslane (Photo: Roxane Robillard, Fleurs Gourmandes)

Summer pasta with purslane
(Photo: Roxane Robillard, Fleurs Gourmandes)

What’s purslane, you may ask? Or at least I did, when I heard about it for the first time a few weeks ago.

In North America, it tends to be looked upon as a weed, something unsightly to be pulled out by the roots. But in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, it’s considered a tasty, nourishing herb whose crisp leaves and lemony flavour can liven up a salad and complement a sauce, filling or soup. You can even pickle the stems.

Variously called pigweed, pourpier gras, or Portulaca oleracea, purslane is a nutritional overachiever, with the highest level of heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any edible plant, say researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The same researchers report that purslane contains 10 to 20 times more melatonin (an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer) than any other fruit or vegetable tested. Nothing to turn your nose up at.

To learn more about purslane, visit the Food Literacy Center.

Here’s a simple way to prepare it, courtesy of Roxane Robillard, a horticulture and culinary consultant who works with people to help them find what they can safely eat from their own backyards.

About Roxane Robillard

Owner of Fleurs Gourmandes, and a member of Savour Ottawa, Robillard is a microprocessor who makes tisanes, jellies and pickles from edible plants that she forages, grows in her own garden or collects from her brother’s farm. Her products can be found at Cardamom and Cloves, Mariposa and other sources, and range from charred pepper jelly and cedar compote to sundried tomatoes, rhubarb ketchup and even pickled milkweed pods. “I don’t throw anything away – I transform it,” she says.

Summer Pasta

Makes 4 servings



Estimated prep time: about 10 min + time to cook pasta

2 c cooked pasta

½ c purslane (stems and leaves)

1 red pepper, julienne cut

1 orange pepper julienne cut

12 cherry tomatoes



¼  c vinegar, herbal or balsamic

¾  c olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp ground pepper

2 tsp honey or maple syrup

2 tsp Dijon mustard


  1. In a bowl, combine cooked pasta (hot or cold), purslane leaves, peppers and cherry tomatoes.


  1. Add dressing and toss. Serve immediately, or if serving cold, refrigerate first.


Do you cook with wild edibles? Share your experiences.

Late summer sampler: Ottawa events include seed-saving workshop, urban farm tours, cooking classes and more

August 13th, 2014
Seed saving Photo: Kt.ries (via Flickr) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ca/

Seed saving
Photo: Kt.ries (via Flickr) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ca/

The last Earthward post (Feast on, Ottawa) rounded up the city’s best celebrations of the local harvest, such as the Savour Ottawa Harvest Table, Canadian Organic Growers (COG) Feast of Fields, and the Harvest Noir picnic.

But there’s more than feasts to Ottawa-Gatineau’s food and farming scene. The next few months will see a variety of events offering you the chance to brush up your food skills while enjoying the last weeks of the season. Check them out.

Seed-saving workshops – Aug 20 and 27

Our food supply has come to depend on a handful of crop varieties, making it more vulnerable to disease, pests and climate change. Saving seeds promotes genetic diversity in crops and helps ensure a secure, resilient food supply. To learn more about this traditional practice and save your favourite fruit and vegetable varieties from year to year, join Just Food’s Community Gardening Network in an instructional workshop led by Greta Kryger of Greta’s Organic Gardens.

When + where:                     Aug 20, 6 -8 p.m., Dempsey Community Centre OR

August 27, 6-8 p.m. at the Bayshore Park Fieldhouse

How much:                            $5 or pay what you can

Info/register:                        email CGNintern@justfood.ca or call 699-6850 x12

8th Annual Urban Agricultural Bike Tour – Aug 23

Just Food invites you to participate in this fun, popular event aimed at increasing awareness of and support for Ottawa’s community gardens, and sparking dialogue about the importance of accessible local food.

The full 12 km bike route tours six community gardens; a family-friendly 7 km tour takes in four gardens.

When:                                  Aug 23, 10 a.m.

Where:                                Strathcona Park parking lot (off Range Road in Sandy Hill)

How much:                      $5 donation to the Ottawa Food Bank or pay what you can

Info/registration:       email Olivia at cgnintern@justfood.ca or call  613-699-6850 x12.

Just Food Start-Up Farm 2015

If you’ve ever wanted to start your own farming business, check out Just Food’s Start-Up Farm Program.  It offers a low-risk way for new farmers to test their business ideas and develop additional skills, experience, markets and networks before committing to a larger, longer-term farm operation.

Applications for the 2015 growing season will open in September, but to learn more now, call 613-699-6850 x15, or email leela@justfood.ca

Urban Element hands-on cooking classes

Urban Element is featuring three late-summer classes designed to hone your kitchen skills, inspire fresh meal ideas, and thrill your taste buds. All classes will be held at the Urban Element on Parkdale Avenue. For more information or to register, visit http://www.theurbanelement.ca/#/home.

A Berry Midnights Summer Dream with Chef Bruce Wood – Aug 19  

On the menu: Lugtread-, garlic- and chili-sautéed prawns with salsa verde; pork back ribs with beer and rye-infused barbecue sauce; summer fruit and vegetable slaw; roasted corn muffins; and chilli- and rum-grilled pineapple with fresh berries and coconut custard.

When:                                  August 19, 6 – 9 p.m.

How much:                      $120/person

Summer BBQ Series: Part IV – Resident Chef Anna March – Aug 23 

Prepare a BBQ feast of: grilled shrimp and corn chowder with coriander and corn; hot smoked planked trout with grilled potato salad, crème fraiche, fresh dill chive and parsley herb salad; flank steak lettuce wraps with butter lettuce, balsamic and soy marinade, chimichurri sauce and avocado; and much more.

When:                                  Aug 23, 6-9 p.m.

How much:                     $160/person

Late Summer Picnic – Chef Bruce Wood – Aug 26

Join the chef to prepare: Bay scallops tossed with anchovy, preserved lemon and scallion vinaigrette; Jamaican jerk chicken with a cold salad of rice and peas with spicy vinaigrette; sweet potato scones with whipped herb chèvre; and maple liqueur-soaked summer berries with lemon chiffon cakes.

When:                                  Aug 26, 6-9 p.m.

How much:                     $120/person

Celebrate Organic Week – Sept 20-28

COG’s Organic Week is Canada’s biggest celebration of organic farming, food and products. Events can include pickling workshops, recipe contests, farm tours, and organic food and drink tastings in retail locations nationwide. Every organic grower or advocate, every school, retailer and chef can participate.

Search the COG events page for Ottawa or plan an event in your community that COG can post on its website.

Just Food’s September Farm Workshop Series

Interested in learning more about beekeeping, growing mushrooms or wild and medicinal plants? Just Food will hold a series of three workshops in September, presented by some of our very own local producers at the farm. These workshops are open to the public, farmers, gardeners and anyone looking to gain new skills. No previous farm experience or knowledge is necessary. Bring your friends and come learn new, creative and tasty ways to appreciate local goods this fall! Registration is required.

When:                                  All workshops run from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

                                                Sept 13:   Beekeeping with Ron St. Louis of Radical Homestead

                                                Sept 20:   How to Grow Mushrooms with Shelly Lambert and Lukasz Wozniak of Nanabush Food Forests

                                                Sept 27:   Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plants with Amber Westfall (see my post about farmer, forager and herbalist Amber Westfall’s and The Wild Garden CSA).

Where:                                Just Food Farm, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa

How much:                     $10/workshop or $20/all three

Register:                            Send an email to startupfarm@justfood.ca with your name, email address, and indicate which workshops you would like to attend.


What would you like to learn about food and farming this fall?

Feast on, Ottawa: These harvest events celebrate the best in local food

August 2nd, 2014


(Photo: Joan, via Flickr) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ca/

(Photo: by Joan, via Flickr)


You could call it summer, or you could call it a non-stop feast that celebrates local food in the Ottawa region, the farmers who grow it and the chefs who prepare it. Here are some of the events you can sample over the next two months.

Double Dig It, Alfresco Dining in the Field – August 16

Enjoy a multi-course dinner that showcases certified biodynamic* food grown on Elm Tree Farm, prepared by the same group of Ottawa chefs who produced last year’s popular menu, and accompanied by local wines. The all-day event also includes a farm tour and tapas tastings served in the garden.

*Biodynamics refers to a method of organic farming that treats soil fertility, plant growth and livestock care as ecologically inter-connected. 

When:                                  Sat., Aug 16, 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Where:                                Elm Tree Farm, 45 min west of Perth

Cost:                                      $150 (incl. bus transportation from Ottawa, food, wine and tips)

Info & tickets:                doubledigit.elmtreefarm.ca/Double_Dig_It.html

Savour Ottawa Harvest Table – August 17

Hosted by Savour Ottawa, this is one of the city’s biggest culinary events and involves a multi-course, family-style luncheon, with ingredients from local farmers prepared by Ottawa’s finest chefs.

Regular admission includes lunch and two drinks from some of the region’s best, newest craft breweries and wineries. Locally sourced non-alcoholic beverages will also be available.

Tickets can only be purchased in advance — not at the door – and buy them now because this event always sells out!

Savour Ottawa is looking for volunteers to help on the day of the event. If you’re interested, contact info@justfood.ca with the subject line: Volunteer for Harvest Table 2014.

When:                                  Sunday, Aug 17, 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.

Where:                                Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Brewer Park

Info:                                     savourevents@justfood.ca

Ttickets:                           www.eventbrite.ca/e/savour-ottawa-harvest-table-2014-tickets-11590131395

Saunders Family Farm Dinner No. 2 – August 21

This is the second of several local dinners being organized by Saunders Family Farm. The all-local menu will include a classic pig roast, corn on the cob, fresh salads and seasonal fruit grumble with ice cream, as well as local craft beers and craft VQA wines from Ontario.

When:                                  Thursday, Aug 21 -5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Where:                                Saunders Farm, Bleeks Road, Munster

Cost:                                      $25 for adults; $15 for kids

Info & tickets:                www.saundersfarm.com/summer/events

Barns, Farms and Wicked Chefs – August 23

Stroll the grounds and historic barns of the EcoTay Farm and sample food prepared by renowned Lanark County chefs at 10 different stations.

The event is a fundraiser for Perth’s The Table Community Food Centre, an innovative food bank that brings people together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food.

When:                                 Saturday, Aug 23, 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Where:                                EcoTay Farm, 10 min west of Perth

Cost:                                     $100 (incl $70 tax receipt but no beer or wine)

Info:                                      http://thetablecfc.org

Tickets:                              www.ticketsplease.ca

Feast of FieldsSeptember 21

Presented by the regional chapter of Canadian Organic Growers (COG), Feast of Fields 2014 will showcase Ontario and Québec’s organic foods, wines and beers. Three top chefs will join forces with local organic producers and growers to create delicious tapas-size tastings you can pair with organic wines and beer. While you’re there, chat with chefs and organic producers, and enjoy live music.

Feast of Fields 2014 is a key fundraiser for COG Ottawa’s flagship programs Growing Up Organic (see my recent post

on GUO) and Senior Organic Gardeners.

When:                                  September 21, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Where:                                Moulin Wakefield Mill, Wakefield, Québec

Price:                                    $80/person; tickets go on sale Aug 13, 2014

Info/tickets:                    www.feastoffields.ca

Harvest Noir Secret Picnic – September 27

This edgy harvest ball extravaganza combines a pop-up picnic and dance party to celebrate local farms and food in the Ottawa/Gatineau region. Dressed creatively in black, people assemble at a secret urban location in Ottawa for the picnic, then dance the night away at a top venue. Harvest Noir includes a participatory fashion show, flash mobs and more. In the process, it raises funds for BioRegional North America, an initiative that promotes low-carbon lifestyles in existing city buildings.

When:                         Saturday, Sept 27, 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Where:                        Undisclosed for now

Cost:                            TBA

Info:                            www.harvestnoir.com

Tickets:                    Not yet on sale


What local harvest events are you attending this season?



Raw Mountain: Ottawa startup develops celery root snacks from scratch

July 23rd, 2014
Candace Tierney uses Ontario-grown celery root to make Raw Mountain celery root chips. (Photos: Courtesy of Raw Mountain)

Candace Tierney uses Ontario-grown celery root to make Raw Mountain celery root chips.
(Photo: Courtesy of Raw Mountain)

Entrepreneur Candace Tierney wanted to combine her business smarts with her love of gardening, food preservation and plant-based eating. Since the 22-year-old U of Ottawa graduate already had two business ventures under her belt, it seemed like a natural step to start a new one, this time focused on developing and marketing local, vegan snacks.

Called Raw Mountain, the company recently launched the first of Candace’s products, a line of celery root chips she developed herself through months of trial and error. Besides Ontario-grown celery root (literally, the root of the celery stalks we’re more familiar with), the chips contain virgin coconut oil, organic apple cider vinegar and sea salt. “The response to the product so far has been incredible,” Candace says.

Why celery root?

It’s a tasty, nutritious vegetable that’s popular in Europe but not so much here.  The root’s low profile in North America was an attraction for Candace, whose goal is to challenge the way people think about food. She asked herself: “Why not use celery root to make a delicious, more sustainable alternative to potato chips?”

How are the chips made?

Candace washes the celery root, slices and chops it, adds the other ingredients, dehydrates the mixture and puts the finished chips into bags. One medium-size celery root yields three or four bags. A batch of 50 bags takes about two days to make.


Are they healthy?

Celery root is a good source of many nutrients, such as vitamins C and B6, potassium, magnesium and fibre. Health benefits attributed to apple cider vinegar include lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar and aiding digestion. Virgin coconut oil (i.e., without hydrogenated or trans fats) contains lauric acid that boosts HDL or “good” cholesterol and lowers LDL or “bad” cholesterol. While sea salt contains as much sodium as table salt, it’s usually unprocessed so it retains traces of minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium.

How “local” are the product ingredients?

The chips are made from scratch in West Ottawa. The celery root is Ontario-grown in-season, and Raw Mountain has a call out to farmers in Ottawa and across the province interested in partnering to supply celery root. At this point, the product’s organic apple cider vinegar, sea salt and virgin coconut oil are not or cannot be sourced locally.

How do Raw Mountain celery root chips taste?

They taste like celery – no surprise — but with an earthier, more substantial flavour that’s rounded out by the apple cider vinegar and hint of sea salt.

Where can I buy them?

They can be purchased online or through retail outlets and restaurants, including: Rainbow Foods and Herb & Spice Shop (Bank and Wellington stores) in Ottawa; Natural Food Pantry in Kanata; Dandelion Foods in Almonte; and Alice’s Village Café in Carp. Come fall, the snacks will also be available at the Carp Farmers Market.

What do they cost?

In a retail store, they cost $3.97 for a 20g bag. Online orders are priced lower, at $2.80 per bag, because they come in packs of 6, 16 or 24.

I’ve tried the chips and want to give Raw Mountain my feedback. How do I do that?

Send Candace an email at info@rawmountainfoods.com, post your feedback on Facebook or send her a tweet @rawmountain.

Do you preserve seasonal fruit and veggies by dehydrating them? How do you use the end product?

Ottawa’s Growing Up Organic asks public’s help to continue popular school garden program

July 20th, 2014


Grade 1 students at Featherston Drive Public School harvest radishes for the first time. (Photo: Canadian Organic Growers Ottawa

Grade 1 students at Featherston Drive Public School harvest radishes for the first time.
(Photo: Canadian Organic Growers Ottawa)

A popular healthy food program for children and youth called Growing Up Organic (GUO) faces an uncertain future in Ottawa unless it can raise $25,000 by August 31. Its core funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation is set to run out soon, jeopardizing the garden- and farm-based education it delivers to area schools through the Ottawa chapter of Canadian Organic Growers (COG).

“We’re making an urgent appeal to the public,” says coordinator and regional manager Alissa Campbell. “The program will go on hiatus if we can’t reach our fundraising target by the end of the summer. And if that happens, a lot of schools will be disappointed because they count on our food programming.”

Working with what Alissa describes as a shoestring budget, GUO reaches 50 classes across Ottawa, representing over 1,100 students, and creates brand-new garden spaces at 6 to 8 schools each year.

Hands-on food education for kids

Since it began in 2007, GUO Ottawa has:

  • partnered with schools to set up 42 organic school gardens
  • provided hundreds of workshops — linked to curriculum — on organic food gardening; 180 workshops were delivered in 2014 alone;
  • organized activities such as farm field trips, farmer visits to the classroom and cooking workshops
  • helped connect farmers in the region with schools and other urban institutional markets for organic food

Planning for financial sustainability

“We know we can’t rely on grants to deliver our programming,” Alissa points out. “In fact, non-profit organizations are steering away from them these days.”  Instead, she says GUO Ottawa is developing a new strategy to promote its immediate survival and long-term sustainability. Under the strategy, funds would come from multiple sources, such as:

  • a re-focused and reformatted September harvest event,  COG’s Feast of Fields
  • a fee structure for schools that use GUO programming (services have been free since 2007), similar to the structure other cities use
  • corporate sponsorships
  • individual donations

How to donate

For more information about GUO Ottawa’s farm- and garden-based education, or to make a donation, visit the COG website. All donations over $20 will receive a receipt for tax purposes.

Should there be more garden- and farm-based education in schools?

Mike’s Garden Harvest: First-season CSA focuses on success

July 14th, 2014
Mike Milsom of Mike's Garden Harvest CSA

Mike Milsom of Mike’s Garden Harvest CSA


Mike Milsom is taking me around his 1.25-acre, certified-organic CSA farm in Ottawa South on a sticky mid-June day.

He carefully checks rows of sprouting carrots and radishes while telling me about his first all-nighter in the field transplanting vegetables. “The field and I are having a relationship,” he grins. “The honeymoon is over and now we’re having some issues, like high clay content in the soil. This soil will grow wonderful vegetables but it’s tender when wet so it can’t be worked, and like gravel when dry so it’s harder for plants to germinate.”

Coming through for customers

This is the first season for Mike’s Garden Harvest CSA, so he’s especially anxious to come through for the 40 families who’ve signed up to receive weekly baskets of his fresh produce. “I owe so much to their support,” he says. For example, because CSAs ask members to pay for their food share at the start of the season, he has been able to buy essentials such as irrigation equipment and organic compost.

Mike’s also eager to get into steady production to satisfy customers at the Parkdale Market, and a local restaurant that wants to source from his fledgling micro-greens operation.

The difficulty at the moment is that the season has got off to a slow start. Spring arrived late and it wasn’t until the end of May that Mike was able to till the field he leases from Greta Kryger of Greta’s Organic Gardens. Then drenching rains turned the clay soil into a no-go zone for a week.

Despite the challenges, worry and long hours, he stays upbeat. “It’s good to be swamped and consumed by something worthwhile.”

Roots in food and farming

Mike’s commitment has roots in his youth working on different farm operations and studying farm management at the University of Guelph. Through those experiences, he realized that the best farmers were those with real passion for the land and what they grew on it. He also reached the conclusion that conventional farm practices had become ecologically unsustainable and damaging to our health.

After university, Mike immersed himself in the marketing and retail sides of food production, helping his father develop and manage an apple cider mill in Collingwood, Ontario. Together, they crafted a freshly pressed, sweet apple cider that became a favorite President’s Choice product for Loblaw.

When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the business was sold and Mike took a break from food and farming to raise two sons and work in sectors as varied as carpentry, social work and licensed car repair.

He returned to growing food a few years ago, but it was his eldest son who motivated him to move into full-time farming. “I showed Tim one of my bean plants,” Mike says. “He held it, took a bite and his face lit up. Later on, he told me he just felt better when he ate my vegetables. His reactions decided me.”

Certified organic practices

In line with his concerns about health and sustainability, Mike advocates organic practices and made a point of getting organic certification.

“Growing vegetables organically is a lot more involved than just being chemical-free,” he explains. “We’ve all heard the expression, ‘you are what you eat’ – well, that’s true of the food, too. The soil isn’t just a planting medium. It should be an environment that’s rich with micro-organisms, where the plants actually feed, absorb nutrients and develop complex flavours.”

The best way to achieve that rich environment, he adds, is through measures such as applying organic compost, hand-tilling the soil beds, using carefully selected heirloom seeds, and doing planned crop rotation, companion planting, and calibrated irrigation.

We can grow our own food

Mike has lots of plans for the farm’s future. For example, he wants to be able to attract corporate customers, store root crops over the winter, install high tunnels to protect crops and extend the growing season, and maybe even set up an aquaponics operation.

If he could make one change to the food system through his efforts, I ask, what would it be? “To reacquaint people with origins of their food – the big food corporations are disabling us,” he says.

“The message I want to get out there is that we can grow our own food, and if we choose not to, at least we can learn how it’s grown and be educated consumers.”

Mike’s Garden Harvest

Produce: Fruits, vegetables and herbs, including: arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, eggplant, fennel, kale, mixed greens, potatoes, snap peas, snow peas, squash, ground cherries, melons and more

Share prices: Range from $165 for Mike’s Flex Pack to $505 for a full season share

More info: www.mikesgardenharvest.com


If you could make one change to the food system, what would it be?


The season for strawberries: Facts about the world’s favourite berry

June 27th, 2014



Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Farmers' Market

(Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market)

Strawberries are the most popular seasonal berry fruit in the world, and it’s not hard to understand why: they’re sweet, juicy, refreshing and their punchy pink-red brightens fruit dishes, jams, salads and baking.

But they’re much more than the pretty faces of the fruit world. They’re health-protecting powerhouses with a long history of cultivation.

Why they’re healthy

(All data in this section comes from www.whfoods.com)

  • Among commonly eaten (U.S.) foods, strawberries rank 27th among the 50 best antioxidant sources, based on a serving size of 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces. (Antioxidants are nutrients and enzymes which inhibit the oxidation — and decay — of other molecules and are believed to play a role in protecting against disease.)
  • When only fruits are considered, strawberries come in fourth, behind blackberries, cranberries and raspberries.
  • When common servings sizes for all commonly eaten foods are taken into account (100 grams is too big a serving size for spices and seasonings, for example), strawberries rank third in total antioxidant capacity, behind blackberries and walnuts.
  • One cup of strawberries contains: over 112% of your daily required intake of vitamin C, 28% of manganese, 11.5% of fibre, 8.6% of folate, plus other minerals and nutrients.
  • Research suggests that strawberries: support the cardiovascular system and prevent cardiovascular diseases; help regulate blood sugar and decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, and; play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, including breast, cervical, colon, and esophageal cancers.

How to buy, handle and store strawberries

  • As much as possible, buy organically grown strawberries. The conventionally grown fruit routinely lands on the Environmental Working Group’s yearly Dirty Dozen list for pesticide contaminated produce.
  • Strawberries are highly perishable, so store them unwashed and use them quickly. Studies show that strawberries kept longer than two days lose significant amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants.
  • To freeze strawberries, gently wash them and pat dry. Arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, put the berries in a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they’ll keep for up to a year.
  • Strawberries can be frozen whole, cut or crushed, but they’ll retain more vitamin C if left whole. What’s more, commercial processing can dramatically lower the fruit’s nutrient content. Fresh or carefully frozen strawberries are more nourishing – and tasty.
  • Choose berries that are firm, mold-free, and deep red with their green caps attached. Under- or over-ripe strawberries contain fewer antioxidants and other plant nutrients.

Where they come from, how they grow

Information in this section comes from Edible: An Illustrate Guide to the World’s Food Plants, published in 2008 by the National Geographic Society.

  • Wild strawberries have been around for more than 2,000 years.
  • Most commercially grown strawberries available today come from Fragaria ananassa, which resulted from a South American species brought to Europe from Chile in the 1700s and hybridized with a North American variety.
  • Because they’re so perishable, strawberries remained a luxury food for the wealthy until the the advent of rail transportation in the mid-19th century.
  • The fruit part of the strawberry is actually the seeds on the outside; the flesh is part of the flower.
  • Strawberry plants have a life span of five or six years, but after the third year, their fruit is less tasty and they’re more prone to disease. New plants are bred from seed and spread by runners that take root and produce clone, or daughter, plants.
  • It’s not clear how the strawberry got its name. A popular view is that it derives from the practice of using straw as mulch to keep the berries clean and off the ground, but the name predates actual cultivation of strawberries. Another theory is that wild strawberries grew near hay fields and were found in the straw after the hay was harvested.

For more on strawberries, check out my guest post Strawberries from field to fork on the Ottawa Farmers’ Market website.

What’s your favourite way to eat strawberries?

Food Read Round-up: slave labour in the fish trade, small farm takeovers, the rise of unsustainable coffee, and more

June 23rd, 2014
(Photo: By Lettuce, via Flickr) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

(Photo: By Lettuce, via Flickr)

The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

I’ve been remiss in not having covered sustainable fish and fishing on Earthward before. This post touches on just a few of the issues: Canada’s lack of protection of its own coastal areas and marine life, and the use of slave labour in global shrimp production. On a more positive note, I’ve included an item on Community Supported Fisheries (like CSAs, but for fish). Other items this week? Concentration of farmland ownership around the world, and why shade-grown coffee is no longer the norm.

Canada behind in protecting oceans (and fish). Oceans play a key role in the food supply, so it would make sense for Canada to protect coastal areas that shelter and nurture marine life. However, a report released earlier this month by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) shows that this country ranks last in efforts to protect ocean biodiversity from human activity. Among countries with the longest coast lines, Canada lags behind China, Indonesia, Russia and six other nations.  In fact, Canada has protected only 1.3% of what’s known as “ocean estate”, compared with 30.4% for the U.S. and 33.2% for Australia. As far back as 1992, Canadian federal governments have set targets and deadlines for marine protection but never followed through. More recently, the government has declared that marine-protected areas will cover 10% of ocean estate by 2020, but as CPAWS notes, work must start now if this target is to be reached.

The emergence of Community Supported Fisheries. A recent article from Food Tank featured Vancouver-based Skipper Otto, a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) whose goal is to encourage consumers to buy direct from local fishermen. As you might guess, CSFs are a variant of CSAs, the community-supported farms we’re more used to seeing provide fresh produce, meat and dairy to their members. There are 35 to 40 CSFs in North America, according to the North Atlantic Marine Alliance; Skipper Otto is the first in Canada.

In an interview, Skipper Otto’s owner Shaun Strobel says that the biggest threats confronting global fisheries these days are large-scale extraction of fish and regulations that have been designed for larger corporations. By contrast, CSFs promote smaller-scale fishing, sustainable consumption and better prices for fishermen. Besides connecting consumers and fishermen, Skipper Otto is working on developing consumer education workshops on topics such as how to cut fish, sushi cutting, and canning and smoking fish.

Southeast Asian slave labour produces shrimp for Walmart, Costco, others. A six-month investigation by the Guardian has revealed that slave labour is widely in Asia to produce shrimp sold by Walmart, Costco, Aldi, Tesco and other US and UK retailers. Companies such as Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods buy fishmeal for their farmed shrimp from suppliers that own, operate or buy from slave-manned fishing boats. The slaves work 20-hour days and are beaten, tortured and even killed. Rights groups say that the need for cheap labour has been fueled by increased demand from North America and Europe for cheap shrimp and by labour shortages in the Thai fishing sector, and have called on consumers and retailers to demand action from the Thai government. For their part, the US and UK retail chains affected have condemned slavery and pointed to systems they have implemented to track labour conditions.

Global farmland ownership concentrated in a few hands. A UN studysays that the world’s food supplies are at risk because ownership of farmland is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few corporations and other wealthy interests. Small farmers grow as much as 70% of the planet’s food but mega-farms and plantations are squeezing them onto less than 25% of the farmland available. According to the UN report, the main reason for the shift is the global expansion of industrial-scale commodity crop farms. In fact, the land area occupied by oil palm, rapeseed, soybeans and sugar cane alone has quadrupled in the past 50 years. This is especially worrisome given that small farms are often more productive and more sustainable than big ones, the report says. “Beyond strict productivity measurements, small farms are…much better at producing and utilizing biodiversity, maintaining landscapes, contributing to local economies, providing work opportunities and promoting social cohesion…”

More coffee beans being grown with fertilizer and pesticides. Despite what looks like a proliferation of shade-grown, organic and other eco-friendly coffees on retail shelves, more and more of our coffee supply is made from intensively produced, sun-grown beans that require synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

As this article from OnEarth magazine describes, just 50 years ago most coffee was shade-grown, a method that doesn’t rely on chemicals and promotes healthier ecosystems that include plenty of pollinators, natural pest control and soil conservation. Today only about 2% of the world’s coffee is shade-grown. Vietnam has become the world’s second largest coffee producer, growing 75% of its beans on unshaded plantations; meanwhile, volatile prices are driving shade-growers out of business in traditional growing regions such as Africa and South America.

What can concerned coffee drinkers in Ottawa do? Buy shade-grown coffee from Bridgehead or Farm Boy. Or help raise money for the Ottawa School Breakfast program by purchasing a bag locally roasted, fair trade, organic, shade-grown, South American artisan coffee from more than 25 retailers, including Rainbow Foods, Thyme & Again, and the The Whalesbone.

What food stories have you been following in the media?

Tiraislin Farm’s Rosemary Kralik: An ambassador for food and animals

June 6th, 2014
Tiraislin Farm's Rosemary Kralik with some of her Tibetan yaks and Highland Cattle. Photo by V. Ward

Tiraislin Farm’s Rosemary Kralik with some of her Tibetan yaks and Highland cattle.
(Photos by V. Ward)

Among the things I’ve learned in writing Earthward: Ottawa Seed to Table is that producers of sustainable food in this region are extraordinary people – energetic, creative and resilient, with a deep sense of responsibility to others and to the natural world. Organic livestock farmer Rosemary Kralik is no exception.

A trim, vigorous woman in her late sixties, she raises, single-handed, about 100 Tibetan yaks, as well as Highland cattle, sheep and goats at Tiraislin Farm, her 722-acre operation in the craggy Lanark Highlands near Perth. She sells meat from her animals at the farm gate and  the Ottawa Farmers’ Market, and also supports local food through memberships in Savour Ottawa and Lanark Local Flavour.

Articulate, forthright and wryly funny, Rosemary is a self-described ambassador for food and animals. “If we have to eat meat, there’s no reason to disrespect the animals who die to feed us,” she says. “We must feed them well, make them happy and minimize the horror of their deaths.”

To supplement her income from the farm, she draws, paints and sculpts, specializing in portraits and studies of animals and people. Art and farming go hand-in-hand, she says. “Agriculture is the mother of all art.”

Born in Cairo and raised in England and Ottawa, Rosemary began farming in the 1990s, after a career in the public and private sectors that encompassed everything from scientific illustration and photography to graphics and fashion design, systems analysis and management consulting. Farming harnesses her skills and knowledge, she says, and satisfies her love of variety.

I spoke with Rosemary at Tiraislin Farm on a rainy, wind-whipped day in late April. After a long chat at her kitchen table, she took me to meet some of her beloved yaks and Highland cattle who were foraging in pastures near the house. Here are highlights from our conversation.

What do animals need to live a happy life?

As much as possible, they need to live as they wish. For my animals, that means being able to roam over much of the property at different times of the year instead of living in confinement. It also means foraging freely on buds, bark and leaves rather than being fed corn and soy which are hard for them to digest. It’s a life that seems to suit them. My animals are never ill and have never been given antibiotics.

When it’s time for an animal to die, I go with him to the local abattoir. I make sure he’s lying comfortably in a bed of hay and that there are no loud noises to frighten him. I stroke him and talk to him. When the end comes, there’s no trauma: it’s quick and painless.

What are the benefits of eating meat from happy, humanely raised animals such as yours?

The meat tastes better: it has a sweetness to it and people tell me they feel so good after they’ve eaten it. The meat is more digestible, too, at a molecular level. The less you cook it, the better.

Yaks and other grass-fed ancient breeds tend to be very lean and high in omega 3 fats which help reduce cholesterol levels and inflammation. They’re also high in conjugated linoleic acid which is said to protect against cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

I believe the benefits go further. We’re all bags of chemicals, so if we’re constantly eating the meat of stressed, unhappy animals, it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of depression in our society.

Kralik 1 IMG_0092

Running a livestock farm single-handedly would scare a lot of people off. What keeps you so committed?

It’s always fascinating. Farming spans biology, zoology, medicine, engineering, chemistry and many other disciplines. You continuously have to build and fix things, to solve problems on the spot and learn as you go.

There’s also great freedom that come with knowing you can feed yourself. That’s something we’re losing as our society becomes more urban. We’ve increasingly dependent on bosses of different kinds and rely less on ourselves. When you’re farming, you’re a slave to nature, but I don’t mind that slavery. In fact, I often find myself smiling as I shovel the shit.

If you could change one thing about the current food system, what would it be?

Stop preventing people from producing their own food! Open up more small abattoirs, let people grow food and trade it. No one ever died from eating a carrot their neighbour gave them and the more people who grow two bags of carrots, the better. Economies of scale may be fine for cars or widgets but they don’t work for living things. Having many more small farmers is the only food security we have.

Learn more about Rosemary’s organic meat at the Tiraislin Farm booth at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market. Check out her art at A Brush with Immortality.

Savour the season’s best: feasts, fundraisers and more

May 30th, 2014
Photo: Vicki (via Flickr) Creative Commons 2.0 Generic https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Photo: Vicki (via Flickr)
Creative Commons 2.0 Generic https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/


Savour Ottawa Harvest Table – August 17

One of the culinary highlights of the summer, the Savour Ottawa Harvest Table returns for its fourth consecutive year. You won’t want to miss this multi-course, family-style feast prepared by Ottawa’s finest chefs in partnership with local farmers. It always sells out, so get your tickets now! (All tickets are sold in advance – you can’t buy one at the door). Regular admission includes a ticket to the Harvest Table lunch, and two drink tickets so you can sample some of Ottawa’s best craft breweries and wineries. Locally sourced non-alcoholic beverages will also be provided.

A limited number of Cream of the Crop VIP tickets are available for those who want the full foodie experience including a guided market tour, appetizers and cocktails, plus admission to the luncheon.

When:                 Sunday, August 17

Where:                Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Brewer Park

Cost:                     $75/person ($90/person Cream of the Crop VIP)

Info:                     savourevents@justfood.ca.

Tickets:              https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/savour-ottawa-harvest-table-2014-tickets-11590131395


Ottawa Foodie Challenge – June 1

Calling all foodies! If you’re up for a fun scavenger hunt, join the Fourth Annual Ottawa Foodie Challenge and help out the Ottawa Food Bank at the same time.

The morning of the event, you’ll receive a list of foodie destinations, along with tasks to perform at each. The more tasks you complete the more points you receive and the better your chances of being crowned Ottawa Foodie Challenge Champion. All proceeds go the Ottawa Food Bank.

When:                  Sunday June 1, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Where:                Starting at Shopify Inc, 126 York St; ending at The Albion Rooms, 33 Nicholas St.

Cost:                     $50 per person – teams of two

Info:                      http://ottawafoodbank.ca/2014/06/ottawa-food-challenge/

Food Aid BBQ and Breakfast with Mayor’s Rural Expo – June 6

This annual event raises funds for the Ottawa Food Bank’s Food Aid program, where all money raised goes to purchasing local ground beef, which is distributed to member agencies to give to people in need.

This year’s Food Aid Day welcomes the Mayor’s Rural Expo for the second year in a row, showcasing the businesses of Ottawa rural communities.

Activities will include a $5 pancake breakfast, a BBQ with hamburgers from The WORKS, live entertainment, and more.

Where:                1) City Hall front lawn; and 2) NHCAP-Skyline Building by Tower 2, corner of Baseline and Merivale

When:                  June 6, 7 a.m. at City Hall; The WORKS BBQ 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at both locations

Info:                      http://ottawafoodbank.ca/2014/06/food-aid-bbq-breakfast-with-mayors-rural-expo/


Permaculture Institute of Eastern Ontario Workshops – May & June

Ecological Design & Gardening: Introduction to Permaculture

May 31- June 1
Perth, ON

Retreat for Permaculture Practitioners

June 21-22
Rockland, ON

Information:      http://eonpermaculture.ca/

Farmer Training Workshop: Post-Harvest Handling for Vegetable Producers – June 23

Find out why post-production activities are key to successful small-scale vegetable farming at this workshop, presented by horticultural scientist and postharvest physiology specialist Dr. Shamel Alam-Eldein. The session will cover the gamut of harvest-to-sale activities, identifying ways to maintain quality and freshness at each step. Topics will include produce maturity, storage conditions such as temperature and humidity, and preventing pests and pathogens. You’ll also get tips on how and when to harvest, as well as advice on containers and packaging, storage conditions, produce transport and presentation for sale.

When:                  Monday June 23, 6-9 p.m.

Where:                Just Food, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa
Cost:                     $30, payable at the door (cash or cheque)
Register:            startupfarm@justfood.ca or call 613-699-6850, x15

Volunteer opportunities

Just Food Farm

The Just Food Farm in Blackburn Hamlet is looking for experienced volunteers available weekdays to help with general farm maintenance and property work – particularly over the spring.  This could include lawn mowing and weed trimming, painting, construction and building repair. Get in touch if you have skills to share and are interested in being a part of a growing farm project

Contact:               leela@justfood.ca or 613-699-6850 x15

Torbolton SPIN Farm

Want to try your hand at food gardening? Or turn your backyard veggie plot into a revenue producer? Join the small plot intensive, or SPIN, garden at the Torbolton Institute, just 20 minutes north of Kanata. Benefit from access to SPIN learning resources, such as grower’s guides and marketing aids, and practice food-growing techniques in the SPIN farm’s outdoor classroom. SPIN farming is a market garden system geared to producing high-revenue crops on as little as half an acre.

The Torbolton Institute is an innovations hub whose goal is to make Ottawa locally food secure by 2020.

When:                  Saturdays, 1-4 p.m.

Where:                Torbolton Institute, 3924 Woodkilton Road, Woodlawn

Info:                    https://m.facebook.com/TorboltonCommunityGarden or contact retovell@gmail.com

Opportunities for farmers, landowners

Partnering organic farmers with Wholefoods

This is a great wholesale opportunity for local organic farmers and processors to work directly with Wholefoods Market, and there’s no deadline.

Contact:               Stuart.Coleman@wholefoods.com

New funding available

New funding is available to farmers and rural landowners who want to protect water quality. The Rideau Valley Rural Clean Water Program has introduced new project categories to its existing grant program. As a result, eligible landowners can receive funding for up to 90% of project costs and grants of up to $7,500.

Info:                      http://familyfarmingconference.wordpress.com/


 Are there any food events coming up that you’d like to share with Earthward readers? 

6 ways to get kids excited about cooking and healthy eating

May 15th, 2014
May 14 is Food Revolution Day, a Jamie Oliver campaign to get kids turned on to cooking healthy food from scratch. Photo: LilyWhitesParty (via Flickr) Creative Commons License 2.0

May 14 is Food Revolution Day, a Jamie Oliver campaign to get kids turned on to cooking healthy food from scratch.
Photo: LilyWhitesParty (via Flickr)
Creative Commons License 2.0

May 16, 2014 marks the third international Food Revolution Day led by iconic British chef, TV personality, restaurateur, author and healthy food activist Jamie Oliver. Celebrating the importance of cooking good food from scratch, the campaign aims to inspire kids and adults with a love of food and an appreciation of cooking as a fun, life-altering skill that makes us healthier and happier. It’s also a catalyst for local cooking events and activities around the world, such as the cooking demos for kids slated for the Ottawa Farmers Market on Sunday, May 18.

Because of overreliance on hyper-processed convenience foods, many people lack the basic skills and confidence to prepare their own food and their health suffers as a result, Oliver says. He points to soaring rates of obesity among young people which in turn increase their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses.

To mark Food Revolution Day, Earthward talked to Judi Varga-Toth, an Ottawa chef and local food activist who has held workshops on healthy eating with kids and adults and turned her own five children on to good, fresh food. For a number of years, she owned and operated an eco-catering service called Credible Edibles that prepared tasty, healthy, plant-based meals for meetings, schools and daycare.  (Try one of her recipes.)

Here are her tips on getting kids excited about eating and cooking good food.

  1. Get them involved! Whether you forage for fiddleheads with your kids or take them to a farmers’ market, find ways for them to connect with food – where it’s grown and who grows it. They’re more likely to eat and enjoy what they’ve prepared themselves, so involve them in the process from start to finish. Have them choose a few fresh ingredients and google recipes; then help them pick something simple like a salad or snack that they can put together with just a few utensils. Preparing food from scratch offers lots of teaching moments, Judi says. For example, kids get to practice using basic math skills (measuring ingredients) and making more conscious choices about food. They also benefit from the chance to do research on the foods and recipes they’re working with. For example, what vitamins and minerals are in these ingredients? Where are they grown? What’s the cultural background of this food?
  1. Turn healthier eating into a game or contest. A blind taste test is a great way to motivate kids to move outside their comfort zone. Let’s say your kids like cucumber but won’t try zucchini. With a blindfold on, they may not be able to taste a difference between the two vegetables and will have discovered for themselves that there’s no reason to shun zucchini.
  1. Surprise them. Get kids excited about broader food issues, such as eating in ways that are gentler on the planet, by piquing their curiosity. For example, in one of her workshops, Judi Varga-Toth asked children where the garlic in the grocery store came from. They were surprised when she explained that most of it is from China, and even more surprised when she added that Eastern Ontario is a prime garlic-growing region. One of the children asked: “If we grow it here, why do we get so much from China?” Kids get it, Judi says – sometimes better than adults do.
  1. Walk the talk. Don’t expect kids to eat healthier or dabble in cooking if they see you scarfing down fast food most nights. As much as possible, try to eat fresh whole foods, cook with your kids, and eat together as a family.
  1. Check out online resources. For example the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) developed the Freggie™ Children’s Program as part of their overall efforts to encourage consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Elements include an in-school program to help children understand the benefits of choosing fresh fruits and veg and other healthy foods.
  1. Don’t give up. It can take a while for kids to change a habit, just as it is for us. Give them time and be patient – odds are good they’ll grow to appreciate good food and to value the cooking skills you’ve helped them develop.

For more on Food Revolution Day, visit FRD event pages on Facebook, or follow the campaign on Twitter: @foodrev, Youtube or Instagram: @foodrev 

Tweet about your own FRD activities, using hashtag #FRD2014.


Do your kids like to cook? How did you encourage them to get started?


Elizabeth Kilvert’s recipe for spring slaw with baby kale, carrot, apple and cabbage

May 12th, 2014


Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kilvert, The Unrefined Olive

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kilvert, The Unrefined Olive

Warmer weather means luscious salads made with fresh local produce. This recipe for spring slaw comes from Elizabeth Kilvert, owner of The Unrefined Olive, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar in the Glebe (read my interview with Elizabeth here).

“This slaw makes a lovely side salad, an accompaniment to pulled pork, and a topping on sandwiches,” Elizabeth says. “You can also simmer any leftovers with chicken broth for a tasty soup.”

Local suppliers

A believer in local food and local partnerships, Elizabeth sourced the kale in this recipe from Jambican Studio Gardens, the apples from Hall’s Apple Market, and the olive oil and balsamic vinegar from – of course! – The Unrefined Olive.

About Elizabeth Kilvert 

Elizabeth was working comfortably as a civil servant at Environment Canada when she decided to take a risk and open an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar. The business is the culmination of her passion for food and travel, her life experience and her deep-rooted work ethic. At The Unrefined Olive, Elizabeth strives for a local approach, integrating partnerships, developing networks, and co-promoting as much as possible.

Spring slaw with baby kale, carrot, apple, and cabbage


2 large carrots

2 medium apples, peeled and cored

1/4 purple cabbage

1/4 regular or Napa cabbage

2 cups chopped baby kale

1 tbsp coarse black ground pepper

1/2 cup Serrano Honey Vinegar

1/4 cup Robust Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil

salt to taste


Coarsely grate the carrots, apples, and cabbage or run them through a food processor. Place in a bowl and toss with chopped baby kale.

Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, pepper and salt. Drizzle onto the rest of the ingredients and toss.

This makes a lovely side salad, an accompaniment to pulled pork, and a topping on sandwiches. If there is still salad after a few days simmer with chicken broth to make a soup.

What your favourite spring salad?

The Best of Earthward: 8 ways to shop smarter at farmers markets

May 4th, 2014

With so many Ottawa farmers markets opening this month, I thought I’d re-run this popular post from last year on how to shop them smarter.

Photo by Justin Sewell (via Flickr)  Creative Commons license 2.0

Photo by Justin Sewell (via Flickr)
Creative Commons license 2.0

Shopping at farmers markets is one of the joys of the Ottawa growing season. Just-picked produce, newly baked bread, homemade preserves, cooking demonstrations, specialty festivals and fairs: what’s not to love?

You can enjoy the experience even more and shop smarter at the same time by following a few simple steps, says Andy Terauds of Acorn Creek Garden Farm in Carp.  A regular presence at the Ottawa Farmers Market and the Carp Farmers Market, Terauds and his wife, Cindy, grow over 2,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowering and vegetable plants. They also sell Cindy’s preserves under the Naturally Cindy’s label.

1. Buy what you like and what looks good.

It may sound obvious, but Terauds says many customers come to the market with a specific recipe in mind and are disappointed to learn that the ingredients they want aren’t in season.  Instead, buy good-looking produce you know you’ll enjoy and then look for a recipe to go with it.  Most vendors can offer suggestions on how to prepare their produce.

2. Sample the food.

If five vendors are selling asparagus, which one do you buy from? According to Terauds, taste should be the clincher. “Try the samples vendors provide. That’s true for corn, too. If it’s not good raw, it’s not good. Better taste is why people buy local food.”

3. Don’t buy from the cheapest vendor.

Selling cheap can be a sign that the taste or quality isn’t up to snuff. What’s more, when you pay farmers a better price, you reward tehm for their hard work and motivate them to keep improving.

4. Come early.

Produce that sits out in the weather deteriorates through the day, so come early for the freshest, most varied selection. If the market opens at 8 a.m., be there at 8 a.m., Terauds counsels. But don’t come earlier because vendors will be setting up and won’t be able give you their full attention. Besides, every vendor has something that’s in short supply; having to sell it before the market opens means less for people who come during business hours.

Rainbow Heritage

Photo by V. Ward

5. Call ahead for big orders.

Need bushels of produce for canning or preserves? Instead of buying them at the market, call the farmer ahead of time to negotiate a price and arrange for delivery.

6. Bring bags and pay cash.

Depending on the weather, bring waterproof bags for breads and cheeses, or a cooler for anything that deteriorates in warm temperatures, such as soft fruit, dairy products or meat.

Since most vendors don’t take credit or debit cards, bring cash, preferably small bills and change.

7. Dress for the weather.

You’ll have a better time if you’re dressed for the weather so make sure you have the proper gear, including suitable footwear.

. Make the market an event.

Shopping at a farmers market is a social experience and one that appeals directly to the senses. Soak it all in. Make your market visit an event. Have a snack, talk to the vendors, watch a chef demonstrate a new recipe. “It’s a different experience to shopping at a supermarket chain,” Terauds says. “Take advantage of the differences and enjoy them.”

To find the market nearest you, check the Ottawa Farmers Market Guide.

How do you shop at farmers markets? What works for you?


Walk on the Wild Side: Amber Westfall’s Wild Garden aims to reconnect people and plants

April 28th, 2014

Weeds: they’re eye sores, right? Problem bits of green that blemish lawns and run riot in food and flower gardens.

Photo: Courtesy of Amber Westfall

All photos courtesy of Amber Westfall

Not so for Amber Westfall. An experienced forager, wild crafter and owner of a wild food and herb CSA farm called The Wild Garden, Amber regards everything from plantain to stinging nettles as valuable sources of food and natural medicine. “Wild plants extend the food season so we don’t have to rely on traditional crops with shorter life spans,” she says. “Learning about wild edibles and medicinal plants has really changed how I think about the environment. What I used to see as random greenery now stands out because I know it has an important role to play in the ecosystem.”

Besides growing wild edible and medicinal plants for her CSA members, she leads plant walks and workshops. This year, she’s offering a 10-session course that will include the basics of plant identification, harvesting, and post-harvest handling and processing.

Amber sat down with Earthward a few weeks ago to talk about her workshops, her farm and her love of the wild plant world.

How did you get interested in foraging and wild crafting?

I’d been dabbling in natural approaches to health since about 2005. At the same time, I was becoming concerned about the depletion of the planet’s natural resources and our tendency as a species to over-consume. To reduce my own footprint, I decided to start eating locally but there weren’t a lot of options for that at the grocery store. The more I learned, the more I realized that wild foods offered the variety I wanted, extended the season for fresh produce and offered a more natural and sustainable approach to health care. I was hooked.

How did The Wild Garden come into being?

I took a wild edible plant course with Ottawa educator and naturalist Martha Webber and did an apprenticeship near Wakefield. In the process, I began accumulating more plants than I could consume and wondered if I could turn my new-found passion into a livelihood. For a few years, I held workshops and led walks on wild edibles. Then, last year, I was thrilled to be able to launch The Wild Garden, stewarding a quarter-acre of land on the Just Food Start-up Farm.


Tell me more about The Wild Garden CSA.

It’s an herbal CSA, which is a relatively new type of CSA in Canada but has caught on in the U.S. The goal of an herbal-focused CSA is to take subscribers into herbal healing, wellness and learning.

Members can build their supplies of medicinal plants, support local organic agriculture (I’m in the process of getting organic certification for The Wild Garden), eat more nutrient-dense wild foods, and learn about wild plants that grow in the greater Ottawa bio-region. They also benefit from free Wild Garden walks and workshops.

Can you describe what a typical delivery from The Wild Garden contains?

Members receive quarterly deliveries which include herbs for infusion, dried tea blends, herb-infused honey and vinegar, wild seasoning blends, wild food preserves, herbal liqueurs and more.

What does it cost to be a member?

The spring (April to June) CSA is available in 2 versions: the large CSA costs $225 (6 products a month for 3 months), the small CSA costs $160 for 4 products a month for three months. Both are sold out!

Tell me about the walks and workshops you offer.

This year, my plant walks will be set up more like a course, with 10 classes over four months. Classes can be taken individually but will build on previous classes and cover themes and content in more depth.

By the end of the course, participants will have the knowledge and skills to recognize more than 45,000 species of plants by family, as well as to correctly identify many local, edible and medicinal plants and incorporate them into their daily lives. They’ll also learn about harvesting plants in a beneficial way for the environment, and about post-harvest handling, processing and storage.

What kinds of wild plants would people be surprised to learn are edible or medicinal?

Dandelion, for example, is a culinary vegetable in the Middle East. The stinging nettle’s early spring growth contains iron, vitamins and minerals and makes a tasty soup once the prickles have been removed by crushing or drying the plant. The early shoots of the common orange daylily can be used as salad greens and the plant’s tuber tastes like water chestnut.

Many local plants can be used to support health.  Red clover and raspberry leaf make nourishing teas, elderberry is effective against H1N1 flu, plantain and calendula make good salves for cuts and bites, and camomile, blue vervain and cat nip are good for stress.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

It’s such a joy learning about plants. We’re connected to them – and to the environment in general — in a deep, transformative way. I feel honoured to work with plants and to send them out into the community which can then benefit from them.

Amber Westfall’s 2014 Wild Edible & Medicinal Plant Course begins May 7. Register online for 10 ($165) or five ($85) classes. 

Have you ever foraged for wild food? Share your experiences.

Cultivate your food gardening skills with these spring workshops and seminars

April 18th, 2014
Photo by Hazel Owen (via Flickr)  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Photo by Hazel Owen (via Flickr)

Spring in Ottawa brings a feast of workshops, seminars and other food and farm-related events, all geared to getting people to start growing their own food or thinking about it. The events run the gamut from vegetable gardening and tree propagation to seed-saving and food security.

Here’s a sample of what’s happening over the next few weeks.

Food gardening

  • Beginner organic vegetable gardening workshops

This Just Food workshop is designed for the total novice and presented by David Hinks, from Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton. Choose from 3 different dates and locations.

When &               Wednesday April 23, 6-8 p.m.

where:                 Dempsey Community Centre, 1895 Russell Rd.

Monday May 5, 6-8 p.m.

Lowertown Community Resource Centre, 40 Cobourg St.

Wednesday May 21, 6-8 p.m.

Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre, 2339 Ogilvie

Cost:                      $5.00 or pay what you can

Register:              e-mail communitygardening@justfood.ca or call 613-699-6850 (x12) to reserve a spot on your preferred date

  • Organic Gardening in the City seminars

Put on by Canadian Organic Growers, upcoming seminars include:

Designing an Urban Organic Garden to Support Pollinators, Pest Eaters, and Pest Deterrents, April 22

Prolonging and Winterizing an Organic Garden/Herbs & Edible Flowers, April 29

When:                  7-9 p.m. (both seminars)

Where:                Ottawa City Hall, Colonel By Room, 110 Laurier St. W

Cost:                     $20 per adult; $14 per seminar for seniors and students with valid photo ID. Register for 6 or more and get 1 free

  • Permaculture workshops & courses

Permaculture refers to ecological design principles that can be applied to agricultural, architectural and other systems. In terms of food production, permaculture is often associated with food forests that mimic natural ecosystems and integrate multiple layers such as trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, cover crops, green manure, root crops and vines. The Permaculture Institute of Eastern Ontario delivers a variety of workshops on permaculture design, including:

Design: Your Life and The Outer Landscape (April 26) and Ecological Design & Gardening: Introduction to Permaculture (May 31, June 1).

Visit http://eonpermaculture.ca for more information on prices and registration.

  • Urban fruit and nut tree propagation workshop

Learn about the abundance of food that hardy fruit and nut trees provide and how you can grow them here.

When:                  May 3, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Where:                Ecclesiax Church, 2 Monk Street

Cost:                     $65 – $125

Info:                      http://ottawa.hiddenharvest.ca/featured/spring-workshop-series-2014

  • Wild edible and medicinal plant course

Amber Westfall of The Wild Garden has been leading plant walks and workshops for several years. In 2014, she’s introducing a 10-class program, spread out over four months. Classes can be taken individually but are structured to build on one another.

Each session contains a short theory portion, learning activities, and hands-on experience with a select group of plants. By the end of the course, you’ll have the knowledge and skills to recognize more than 45,000 species of plants by family, correctly ID dozens of local, edible and medicinal plants, and more.

When:                  10 Wednesdays and Saturdays, May 7-Sept 6

Where:                 Various Ottawa South locations, and Amber’s CSA at the Just Food Farm, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa

Cost:                    $165 for 10 classes, $85 for 5 classes

Info:                     http://thewildgarden.ca/weed-walks-and-workshops/2014-wild-edible-and-medicinal-plant-course/

Food security

  • Back to Our Roots: Parkdale Food Centre Gala

Support the work of the Parkdale Food Centre while enjoying delicious food and drinks courtesy of  the Urban Element, The Merry Dairy, Stone Soup Foodworks, Supply & Demand, Beyond the Pale and Stratus Vineyards. Each ticket includes three complementary drinks, with a cash bar also available for the duration of the event as well. The event will also feature a silent auction and live music.

Tickets are limited, so don’t delay if you’d like to attend!

When:                  May 1, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Where:                Urban Element, 424 Parkdale Ave

Cost:                     $150 (with a $65 tax receipt)

Info:                      http://www.parkdalefoodcentre.org/2014/04/01/uepresentspfcgala

Seeds and seeding saving

  • Seed justice: A talk with Tesling Andrews of Aster Lane Edibles

Presented by Transition Ottawa, this talk by Telsing Andrews of Aster Lane Edibles will cover the different reproductive strategies of plants, germination requirements of seeds, plant selection, and ways to share your seeds including swaps, seed libraries and public domain plant breeding.

When:                  April 30, 7-9 p.m.

Where:                Jack Purcell Community Centre, Room 201, 320 Jack Purcell Ln.

Cost:                     Free; donations are encouraged and go towards room rental fees, guest speakers, and other Transition Ottawa initiatives.

Info:                      http://transitionottawa.ning.com/events/seed-justice-tesling-andrews-of-aster-lane-edibles

  • Seed-saving workshop for farmers and serious gardeners

Learn about the benefits of seed saving, selecting seed crops and varieties, how to plant and produce crops for seed, when and how to harvest, seed cleaning and storage, and record-keeping. The workshop will focus on producing peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and brassica greens for seed and is part of Just Food’s new regional seed bank program being developed in partnership with Seeds of Diversity. The workshop will be facilitated by Greta Kryger of Greta’s Organic Gardens which specializes in certified organic, open-pollinated, heritage varieties of vegetable seed.

When:                  April 28, 6-9 p.m.

Where:                Just Food Farm, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa

Cost:                     $30 (payable at the door)

To register:       Contact mailto:startupfarm@justfood.ca or 613-699-6850 (x15)

Info:                      http://justfood.ca/start-up-farm-program/farmer-training-workshops

Starting a farm business

  • Is starting an agricultural business right for you?

The course is designed to help aspiring farmers learn what is involved in starting and managing their own farm business and also looks at other possibilities to participate in agriculture. Course content reflects agricultural trends and opportunities in the Ottawa region.

When:                  Course is held over 4 Wednesday evenings: May 14 and 28, and June 11 and 25. All sessions run from 6 to 9 p.m. and cover different content.

Where:                 Just Food Farm, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa

Cost:                      $225 (includes manual and visit to an area farm. Reduced cost for a second person from the same potential farm).  Pay when you register.

To register:       Contact Leela at leela@justfood.ca or 613-699-6850 x15

Info:                      http://justfood.ca/start-up-farm-program/farmer-training-workshops


What food will you grow in your backyard or on your deck this year?

Why a diverse local seed supply is key to a secure food system

April 11th, 2014
Photo: peppergrass (via Flickr) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Photo: peppergrass (via Flickr) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Having reliable access to local foods, in Ottawa or anywhere else, depends on the ability to cultivate crops from a wide variety of seeds grown in the region and adapted to its soils and climate.

The problem is that the genetic diversity of seed is declining worldwide, thanks to industrial farming and industrial seed production. For example, in Canada, we now rely on four plant species (wheat, maize, rice and potato) for nearly two-thirds of the calories we eat.

According to National Geographic, in the early 19th century, 302 varieties of sweet corn were grown in the U.S.  By 1983, there were just 12. Over the same period, the 408 varieties of tomato, 497 types of lettuce and 341 strains of squash available for cultivation dwindled to 79, 36 and 40, respectively.

“About 75% of the world’s crop diversity has disappeared,” says Aabir Dey of the Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre and Ontario’s regional coordinator for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. “Of the remaining 25%, only 10% are available to farmers.”

Industrial agriculture has also eroded the age-old practice of saving, exchanging and passing on ecologically grown seed – a practice that’s essential to conserving varieties that thrive in local conditions.

If we want a secure, resilient food supply that’s able to withstand climate change, Dey insists, we need to nourish local seed capability.

Seed diversity under pressure

Many factors are taking a toll on local, national and global seed supplies:

  • a handful of companies dominates global seed production, producing high volumes of uniform seed for a narrow range of crops and crop varieties
  • 95% of the seeds that produce Canada’s major food crops are bred for uniformity
  • most vegetable seeds that Canadian farmers buy have not been bred for our soils or climates
  • the lack of diversity makes food production more vulnerable to pests and disease, as well as to the extreme weather events that go hand-in-hand with climate change
  • habitat loss and environmental exploitation put further stress on plant biodiversity; as a result, about 100,000 plant varieties around the world are now at risk

USC, Seeds of Diversity and Everdale

In response, efforts such as seed banks and libraries, and seed exchanges (Ontario’s Seedy Saturdays are a good example) have sprung up to help farmers and food gardeners preserve ancient and heirloom varieties of key food crops.

In addition, USC Canada launched the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security last year in partnership with Seeds of Diversity. The initiative works with farmers, researchers, businesses, governments and others across the country to boost production and conservation of high-quality Canadian seed that’s regionally adapted and ecologically grown.

Everdale acts as the initiative’s regional hub for Ontario. The Guelph-based teaching farm offers hands-on food and farming education, operates a CSA, hosts an on-site seed library managed by Seeds of Diversity and provides workshops on seeds and seed-saving. It also works with regional growers on variety trials and conducts “grow-outs” for Seeds of Diversity.

“Let’s say you have bean seeds in a seed library,” Aabir Dey explains. “You need to plant them periodically, and grow them out to create a crop of back-up seeds. It’s an important way to scale up the seed supply.”

But don’t think you have to be a farmer or seed specialist to help develop a diverse local seed supply for the Ottawa region. There are several easy ways you can make a difference, Dey says.

Buy local, save and swap

  • Buy from local seed providers who grow out a lot of their own seed, such as Greta’s Organic Gardens which specializes in organic fruit and vegetable seeds, and Castor River Farm, a small-scale diversified operation that focuses on different types of wheat, buckwheat and other grains.
  • Attend a Seedy Saturday event to swap seed with local growers, meet local vendors and attend seed workshops. Ottawa’s 2014 Seedy Saturday is over but, as with seed-saving workshops, you can put one together yourself.

“Seed skills are very valuable and we’ve lost touch with them,” Dey notes. “If we want more local, organic food, we need more local, organic seed.”

Where do you buy your seeds?

The Food Read Round-up: GM alfalfa launch delayed, plus — food insecurity in the Far North, regional food hubs, and why food sustainability matters to consumers

April 2nd, 2014
The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is one of a growing number of food hubs that aim to make healthy, sustainable and fair accessible to all. Photo: Toban B. via Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is one of a growing number of local food hubs that aim to make healthy, sustainable and fair food accessible to all.
Photo: Toban B. via Flickr


The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

Farmers and consumers force delay in introduction of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa in Canada. Opposition from farmers and consumers has forced Forage Genetics International to delay its plan to release GM alfalfa seeds in Eastern Canada this spring, according to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

If launched, the seeds would have been the latest in a line of GM products sold in this country. The list includes corn, canola and soybeans and could eventually include GM varieties of apple and salmon. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved five types of GM alfalfa for sale, deeming them to be safe for people, animals and the environment.

The GM alfalfa from Forage is engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup, a herbicide farmers spray on their crops to kill weeds. Since alfalfa is a perennial that’s pollinated by insects, the GM varieties would be guaranteed to spread, contaminating non-GM alfalfa and hurting the livelihoods of conventional and organic farmers.

Alfalfa is Canada’s most widely grown forage crop. Besides feeding livestock and dairy animals, it helps enrich the soil and represents $80 million in exports to other countries, many of which don’t accept GM foods.

Visit www.cban.ca to find out more about GM alfalfa and how you can help stop its sale in Canada.

Food insecurity affects a disproportionate number of Aboriginal peoples in Northern Canada. A new report on food security* from the Council of Canadian Academies urges Canadians to deal with the disproportionately high levels of hunger and malnutrition among northern Aboriginal peoples. Entitled Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada: An Assessment of the State of Knowledge, the report provides data on the different rates of food insecurity among Indigenous populations, outlines the factors that contribute to it, and explores the health implications, which can include anemia, heart disease, diabetes, child developmental problems and more.

Among the data it presents, the report points to the results of:

  • the 2007-2008 International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey showing that Nunavut had the highest documented levels of food insecurity for any Indigenous group living in a developed country
  • the 2011 Canadian Community Healthy survey indicating that off-reserve Aboriginal households across the country experienced rates of food insecurity more than double those of all non-Aboriginal households

Given the many factors involved, from climate change to cultural and economic realities, the report recommends that Northern communities, governments, business and institutions work closely together to find solutions.

The report uses the widely accepted definition from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Food consumers are making sustainability a priority.  Good news: new research suggests that more North American consumers are making sustainability a priority when they buy food. While safety and nutritional value remain the biggest considerations, the survey shows that at least two-thirds of Americans also take sustainability into account, placing importance on where the food was produced as well as on eco-friendly production and packaging, animal welfare and  GMO-free. About 66% would pay more for food produced closer to home. In Canada, consumers demonstrate similar concerns. According to a 2011 survey from Vision, an agriculture research panel, 95% of Canadians reported that buying locally grown food was important to them while 43% said they would pay more for it.

Regional food hubs catch on. Regional food systems practitioners, supporters and food hub developers gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, last week for the sixth National Good Food Network (NGFN) conference. It’s another sign of the growing popularity of food hubs. According to a March 22 piece in Food Tank, hubs are the key to scaling up the system for food that’s healthy, eco-friendly, fair and affordable.

What’s a food hub? There are different definitions, but basically hubs are managed locations that bring together food producers, distributors, processors, consumers and other buyers. Food that’s been verified at source as local or regional can aggregated, stored, processed, distributed and marketed. Hubs may also provide space for wholesale and retail sales, social service programs, community kitchens and other food-related activities.

There are an estimated 200 food hubs across the U.S. and many have sprung up in Canada as well. For example, the Toronto’s The Stop Community Food Centre works to increase access to healthy food   through a comprehensive program that includes a food bank, food and community gardens, a greenhouse, bake ovens and markets, education on sustainable food systems, community cooking, and more. Closer to home, Ottawa’s Just Food Farm is being developed as a community food and sustainable agriculture hub. In Ottawa West, the Torbolton Institute is planning a multi-purpose hub that would combine a community SPIN garden with a food storage facility, farmers market, forest farm, and space for food and recreational activities such as cooking demonstrations.

What food stories have you been reading?