Archive for November, 2012

Get back to the table with Red Apron’s comfort food

Friday, November 30th, 2012

The Red Apron’s owners, Jo-ann Laverty (left) and Jennifer Heagle

One way to enjoy sustainable food in Ottawa is to get it directly from a local farmer. Another is to buy it from a retailer like Ottawa’s The Red Apron.

Launched in 2006 by Jennifer Heagle and Jo-Ann Laverty, The Red Apron prepares fresh, eco-friendly gourmet meals in an effort to get people back to the meal table to enjoy good, wholesome food.  Menus  highlight seasonal ingredients from regional producers and dinners can be ordered by the day or the week, for pick-up or home delivery.  In the weeks before the holidays this year, customers are invited to drop by the store on Gladstone Avenue to stock up on festive pies, cakes and other treats. From the holiday menu, you can also pre-order a whole, herb- roasted turkey with all the trimmings, traditional tourtière, or bison, sweet potato and cranberry pie

Besides its meal service, The Red Apron sells ready-made foods from farms and small businesses in Eastern Ontario and Western Québec that meet the owners’ requirements for sustainable, ethical production. In the store, you’ll find Major Craig chutneys, Michaelsdolce jams and jellies, Juniper Farm sauerkraut, Clarmell-on-the-Rideau goat cheeses, Pascale’s ice cream and more.

In addition to being experienced entrepreneurs who’ve run several other businesses, Heagle and Laverty are busy mothers with strong ties to their communities. Here’s a Q&A from my interview with Jennifer Heagle.

 What motivated you to start The Red Apron?

People are so busy it can be hard for them to get a good meal on the table at the end of the day. There’s a lot of guilt around this, especially for women.  Jo-Ann’s and my goal is to help people who don’t have the time to cook to get back to the table with family and friends and enjoy delicious, healthy, well-prepared food. We also want people to have a chance to experience the high-quality, flavourful food that’s available from the producers and small family food businesses in the region.

Is there lots of demand for your meal service?

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we prepare and deliver 150 to 200 meal portions. We cook another 200 to 300 portions each day that we sell through the retail store.  These numbers are even higher on holidays and other peak times.

Why did you decide to put sustainability at the heart of what you do?

There’s such a strong connection between the health of the environment and the health of the food we eat. Before Jo-Ann and I started this business, we agreed that if we were going to spend the money and take the risk, it had to be for something worthwhile. No compromises. So we set some firm criteria for the taste, quality, healthiness and sustainability of whatever we prepare or sell.

What are your criteria for choosing suppliers?

Every ingredient we use or sell must be traceable. In other words, we want to know where it came from and how it was produced.  In season, we buy most of our fresh produce from local, usually organic, farmers. Our meat comes from producers in Ontario and Québec and as much as possible, it’s free of hormones and antibiotics. Our fish is ethically farm-raised, or wild-caught and sustainable. Our dried goods — beans, pasta, flour and sugar — are organic. We don’t use products with GMOS, artificial ingredients, preservatives, trans fats, dyes or MSG. And while we can’t accommodate dietary restrictions or allergies, all our meals are prepared from scratch with whole ingredients.

Is your food packaging sustainable?

Packaging for the food we deliver is all biodegradable, recyclable or re-usable, and we put the largest amount of food in the smallest container. As a business, we send very little to landfill. Most of our waste is either recyclable or it’s vegetable compost that our farmers feed to their cows, pigs and chickens.  

Does The Red Apron support community?

We feel a responsibility to contribute to the health and well-being of our communities as well as ourselves. Besides buying from local producers who grow delicious food in eco-friendly ways, we also donate food to certain organizations and community events. We look for opportunities to feed good food to people in need or to kids who might not have had the chance to try different foods.

Call The Red Apron at 613-695-0417 or visit them online

 Do you have enough time at the end of the day to prepare a healthy meal? Share your stories and solutions.

Great reads about food and farming

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Food safety, sustainable food, urban farming, food security, food justice: they’re all getting media attention these days. Starting with this post, Earthward will round up some of the most compelling stories about the food system in Ottawa, across Canada and around the world. While the round-ups will only represent a fraction of what’s out there, my goal will be to include a range of stories that reflect the varied ideas, people and initiatives that make up the sustainable food movement.

Access to food key to good health. The Ottawa Citizen’s Joanne Chianello looks at the possible link between health and the distance to the nearest grocery store in her coverage of the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. Ottawa Public Health wants to help with poor food access and is already doing so by assisting programs such as the Good Food Box and Good Food Markets for underserved areas. In the meantime, the Ottawa Board of Health has approved a strategy to help overcome obstacles to accessing healthy food.

Grass-fed, natural beef? It’s likely no safer. In her November 21 feature in The Globe and Mail, author and locavore Sarah Elton explodes the myth that grass-fed, naturally-raised, local beef is necessarily safer than mass-produced hamburger meat. While there are lots of great reasons for buying meat raised without antibiotics and using low-impact farm methods, the risks of contamination remain, Elton says.

Large urban farm to take root in Windsor. In this latest example of farms transforming decayed urban space, Windsor, Ontario businessman Van Niforos plans to turn an old trolley yard into an integrated urban farm and restaurant. Already a restaurant owner, Niforos and his business partners will build a 3,000 square-foot greenhouse to grow tomatoes and other produce for the restaurant. In the longer term, they hope to expand and include an outdoor farm and a rooftop orchard.

Obama’s Game of Chicken. The November-December issue of Washington Monthly features an outstanding piece of journalism by Lina Khan on how the Obama administration tried to stand up for independent poultry, cattle and dairy producers but retreated in the face of Big Agriculture.  As the article shows, weakened anti-trust laws and the return of monopolies in food production and processing have reduced independent farmers to the status of sharecroppers – if that. The story focuses on the U.S., but similar forces are at work in Canada.  A long article, but worth it.

CIW vs Publix: Remembering Farmworkers on Thanksgiving. This year, Thanksgiving in the U.S. was marked by a week of grassroots action to urge grocery chains such as Publix to work towards a Fair Food Agreement. Fair Food activists, along with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based organization working with immigrants in low-wage jobs, want the abolition of field slavery (yes, it still exists), payment of a living wage and fair treatment for tomato farmers in Florida. The CIW and Fair Food have made big strides since they began more than a decade ago, signing agreements with brands such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Aramark and others. As a major buyer of Florida tomatoes, Publix has refused to work with the CIW on an agreement that would pay farmworkers a penny more per pound and establish fair labour practices.


Have you read any stories about food you’d like to share?

Best places to find local sustainable food

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Whether you buy it from a farm or a small food business, sample it in a restaurant or to grow it yourself, there are many ways to enjoy local, sustainably produced food in Ottawa. What works for you will depend on your needs and budget, as well as the amount of time you have. Here are some options.

1.  Visit a farmers market: The Byward Market may be one of the oldest and largest in Canada, but there are many other farmers markets that serve the region (typically from May to October).  Besides fresh produce and locally raised meats, you’ll often find preserves, baked goods, flowers and crafts. Ask vendors if the food they’re selling was grown in the area and whether it’s chemical-free. For the market nearest you, consult Just Food’s Buy Local Food Guide or Farmers Markets Ontario.

2.  Join a CSA. When you subscribe to a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) farm, you pay a flat rate for a share of what it produces that season. In return, you collect a weekly basket of fresh-picked produce from the farm gate or a drop-off spot. You also have the chance to visit the farm, get to know the farmer who grows your food and meet other CSA members. The farmer benefits by knowing how much he or she must produce and by having the money to grow it at the start of the season. Visit Just Food for a list of area CSA farms.

3.  Buy at the farm gate (or on-farm store if there is one) or PYO: If a farmer in your area grows for the local market, ask if you can buy from their farm.  Pick-your-own (PYO) operations are also available throughout the region.

4.  Grow your own. There’s nothing more satisfying than growing – and eatingyour own food and you don’t need much space to do it in. Raise herbs and veggies in traditional containers or use structures that allow you to grow up vertical surfaces like walls or railings.

5.  Join a community garden. A community garden is a piece of land worked collectively by a group of residents. Just Food lists new and existing gardens across Ottawa, and provides support that includes workshops on organic vegetable gardening, food preservation, and starting your own community garden.

6.  Buy from businesses that sell or use local foods. Savour Ottawa lists restaurants, caterers, hotels, B&Bs, retailers and microprocessors in the region who source a certain percentage of food from local producers. In addition, some local products, such as Heavenly Honey and Hummingbird Chocolate, are available from, an online storefront that features products from artisanal food businesses across Canada.

7.  Sign up with Ottawa’s Good Food Box program. The Ottawa Good Food Box is a non-profit, community-based program that distributes fresh fruit and vegetables, at wholesale prices, to people who may not have access to them for income, health, or other reasons.  Operating as a community buying club, the Good Food Box purchases items in season and grown as close to home as possible.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy local sustainable food in Ottawa?

4 reasons to care about sustainable food

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

When I tell people I write about sustainable food, they often look puzzled. Do I mean organic food, they ask? A 100-mile diet where you can’t eat oranges or drink coffee? A fad for hipster foodies?

 Explaining what sustainable food is and why it’s important can be challenging because food itself touches on so many other issues, from energy consumption to health to social and political issues. That said, there’s general agreement that a sustainable system is one that produces food on a smaller, less invasive scale than the industrial system most of us grew up with.  Sustainable food is produced closer to home, without using genetically modified seeds or crops, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or — in the case of animals — antibiotics and synthetic hormones.  Increasingly, a sustainable system is also viewed as one in which everyone has access to a stable, adequate supply of nutritious food (food security) and all participants are treated fairly (food justice).

 There’s growing demand for food produced this way. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. The food tastes better.

Because locally produced foods haven’t travelled thousands of miles to reach you, they keep their basic flavours better. In addition, varieties of local produce, meat and poultry are more likely to have been grown or bred for their taste rather than for characteristics such as uniform appearance or long shelf life.

  1. It helps protect the environment.

Producing and transporting food accounts for about 30% of the world’s fossil fuel production and 20% of its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a heck of a carbon footprint. Much of the food we eat is grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, processed in factories that run on non-renewable fuels, and then trucked or flown an average of 1,500 miles (2,414 km) to consumers.  Producing food closer to home reduces the distance from farm to table, cuts greenhouse gas emissions, and keeps toxins out of soil and water.

  1. It strengthens the local economy.

How? By supporting endangered family farms and creating opportunities for new businesses. In Ottawa, as demand for local has food risen, new family farms have sprung up, farmers markets and small-scale food retailers have multiplied, and area chefs have kicked culinary tourism up a notch by building their menus around fresh local ingredients.

  1. It’s better for your health.

Despite the recent kerfuffle about whether organic food is better for you than conventional, it’s clear that eating whole, unprocessed, chemical-free foods is a healthier choice. Conventionally produced food tends to be highly processed, and contains more salt and sugar than we need, not to mention additives and artificial flavours. Our convenience-food diets and sedentary lifestyles have contributed to record levels of obesity and type II diabetes among adults and children, and are also implicated in heart disease and certain cancers.

 What problems do you see in our food system? How do you think they could be solved?

New blog explores sustainable food in Canada’s capital

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Photo by Comprock

Welcome to Earthward, a blog about sustainable local food in Ottawa, Ontario.

It delves into the way we produce, distribute and consume food in the Ottawa region, focusing on the people, places and policies behind the area’s local food movement.  I’ve started it to spark new conversations about food in this city and to encourage you to share information, experiences and ideas for change.

There are many definitions of a sustainable food system, but most of them centre on producing, distributing and consuming food in ways that shrink our environmental footprint, nurture community and build the local economy. Growing numbers of people and organizations also define a sustainable food system as one that ensures that everyone – not just a privileged few – has access to an adequate supply of healthy food.

 Ottawa’s local food scene

Ottawa has plenty of potential for food production. Nearly 80% of its land is rural, and about half of that is farmland. The city has a vibrant local food scene that includes farmers’ markets, CSA farms you subscribe to for a share of fresh produce, microprocessors, small family food businesses, chefs who showcase local ingredients, and advocacy groups working to increase food security and food justice.

 What will Earthward posts cover?

I’ll profile the key players – the innovative farmers, entrepreneurs, chefs, and policymakers who are making their mark on the city’s sustainable food scene. What drives them? How are they working to engage people?  What changes do they want to see in the way the region feeds itself?

I’ll also bring you:

  • recipes and tips from Ottawa chefs on how to eat seasonally
  • guest posts from movers and shakers in the sustainable food movement
  • round-ups of local and international news, covering topics such as urban farming, green roofs, organics, school food, and much more, as well as
  • snapshots of what sustainable food activists are achieving elsewhere in Canada and around the world

Above all, I’ll be listening to you to learn what you want to hear more about.

 How can readers comment on the blog?

It’s easy.  Just fill out the comment form on this page, or send me an email or a Tweet. Whether you’d like to suggest topics for future posts, share your experiences with sustainable food or talk about the future of Ottawa’s food system, I look forward to hearing from you.

 What are my qualifications?

I’m a freelance writer who covers topics such as urban farming, food security and food policy. I graduated from the Sustainable Local Food program at St. Lawrence College and have volunteered with organizations such as Sustain Ontario and the People’s Food Policy Project. You can find more about me on my website. 

 What sustainable food topics do you want to read about on Earthward? Share your ideas in the reply box.