Archive for May, 2013

Volunteer with Ottawa’s Community Harvest program this season

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Community Harvest volunteers
Photo: Courtesy of Ottawa Food Bank

A few months ago, I wrote about the inspiring work of Community Harvest,  a program that provides fresh local produce to about 48,000 people who use Ottawa Food Bank services every month. In 2012, the program supplied 56,130 lbs of fresh fruit and vegetables to the food bank’s 140 member agencies, and the goal for 2013 is 75,000 lbs.

To supply the food, Community Harvest grows a variety of organic crops at Tom Black farm in Stittsville. It also gleans unpicked produce that would get thrown out otherwise or plowed under at the end of the season. Finally, it solicits donations of fruit and vegetables from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and partner farms.

Program relies on volunteers

To get all this work done, Community Harvest depends heavily on volunteers.  Last year, 285 individual volunteers and 10 corporate groups spent more than 1,200 hours planting, weeding and harvesting, says Jason Gray, the program’s coordinator at the Ottawa Food Bank.

Beginning the week of June 3, there will be a push for more volunteers, he adds. There’s lots of weeding to do in the already-planted rows of cabbages, broccoli, carrots and beets, as well as many more vegetables to plant, including peppers, okra, eggplant, squash and cantaloupe.

Why it’s rewarding

There are many good reasons to help out.

For starters, you get to work outdoors in peaceful farm fields. For another, all that bending and stretching is a great workout. You also have the chance to meet other volunteers and socialize a bit as you work alongside them.

Above all, you have the sense of well-being that comes from knowing that you’re helping to raise healthy food for people in the community (many of them children) who are in need.

What to expect

Typically, you’ll work a two-hour shift – weeding, planting or harvesting with other volunteers, with Jason Gray’s guidance. If you’re new to the work, allow yourself time to find your own rhythm.  I discovered this for myself when I did a stint planting potatoes earlier this week.

I fumbled at first, planting the potato pieces too close together, then too far apart, before getting the hang of it. But by the end of the morning, two more experienced volunteers and I had somehow managed to plant 3,400 pieces of four different varieties of potato.

What to bring

Always dress for the weather. Work will be cancelled if there’s heavy rain, but be ready to persevere through showers and summer heat. Choose clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and wear boots or shoes with closed toes. Pack water, snacks, sun screen and a hat.

 How to sign up

Just contact Jason and ask him to add your name to his volunteer listserv. Then, each time Community Harvest needs volunteers, you’ll receive an email with dates and times for upcoming shifts and directions to Tom Black Farm.

Have you volunteered on a farm before? What was your experience?

Field of potatoes at Tom Black Farm
Photo: Valerie Ward

 

Keeping the farm in Hendrick Farm

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Hendrick Farm: a community development in Old Chelsea, Québec, with a working organic farm as its centrepiece.

We all need food to survive, but the work of actually growing it usually takes place out of sight, far from the urban areas most of us live in these days. Hendrick Farm in Old Chelsea, Québec, is one of a handful of developments around the world* that aim to make food and farming an integral part of a thriving, sustainable community.

The first of its kind in Canada, Hendrick Farm is a conservation community located about 15 minutes from Ottawa, between Old Chelsea Road and Gatineau Park. Designed to offer an alternative to urban sprawl, it balances housing and village-scale business with abundant green spaces. At the heart of the development, say founders Carrie Wallace and Sean McAdam, is an organic vegetable farm. “Urban sprawl makes it tougher for farmers to protect their land so we wanted to support farming right here and give residents the chance to benefit from living close to a working farm,” Wallace says.

For her and McAdam, the decision to place a farm at the centre of the development made perfect sense: after all, the land they’re building on was farmed for more than a century by local residents, the Hendrick family.

New ruralism

Wallace and McAdam have made the land their priority ever since they began work on the project 10 years ago. “Good community planning means listening to the land,” McAdam explains. “Since World War II, land use planning has focused on car use rather than on how people live on the land.” The idea of respecting the history, ecology and culture of a place, while ending the divide between urban life and sustainable farming, has been dubbed “new ruralism.”

“We want what gets built here to be informed by the natural, agricultural, small-scale business and recreational environments of Old Chelsea,” Wallace says. It’s an approach that has the full support of the community, she adds. “That’s not something you can say about many developments.”

In line with their vision, she and McAdam will develop fewer than half of Hendrick Farm’s 107 acres. Clusters of energy-efficient homes and a small commercial area with village-scale restaurants, artisans and boutiques will blend with green spaces and trails that promote walkability, link up with Gatineau Park and seamlessly extend Old Chelsea. The green spaces will include a 35-acre nature preserve, parks, and the seven-acre vegetable farm launched in 2012.

60 vegetable varieties

This year, the farm will grow 60 varieties of organic vegetables, including 10 types of tomatoes, 10 types of lettuce, three each of kale, peas and beans, and seven of herbs, along with carrots, beets and bush fruit.

Produce will be distributed through a small CSA, but most of it will be sold at the Old Chelsea Farmers Market, and at the farm gate where it will reach customers direct from the field and the washing/packing station, or from the 10’ x 14’ cold cellar.

There are also plans for the farm to play a bigger educational role, for example, bringing in local school children to learn about food and sustainable farming. Looking ahead, Wallace says the farm could one day serve as the foundation for a small local food hub with a commercial kitchen and other resources to foster relationships among local farmers, food sellers and eaters.

By establishing and supporting the farm, Wallace and McAdam say they have brought the production of local food back to Old Chelsea. They have also taken an important step to bridge the gap between the neighbourhoods we live in and the places where food is grown.

* Examples include Serenbe in Georgia and Prairie Crossing near Chicago.

What do you think of Hendrick Farm’s idea of developing a community around a vegetable farm?

8 ways to shop smarter at farmers markets

Friday, May 17th, 2013

 

Photo: Kristopher Fritters, from Flickr

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 and are disappointed if the ingredients they want aren’t in season.  Instead, it works better to 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.

  1. 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.”

  1. 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 better prices, you reward farmers for their hard work and motivate them to keep improving.

  1. Come early.

Fruit and veg that sit out in the weather deteriorate 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.

  1. Call ahead for big orders.

Need bushels of produce for canning or preserves? Don’t try to buy them at the market. Call the farmer ahead of time to negotiate a price and arrange for delivery.

  1. 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 or meat.

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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 into 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.”

The May 16 Ottawa Citizen offers a rundown of what’s new and exciting at area markets this season. To find the market nearest you, check the Ottawa Farmers Market Guide.

What’s your favourite farmers market in the Ottawa area? What do you enjoy about it most?

CSA Ferme Lève-tôt: Showing that small family farms can succeed

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Ferme Léve-tôt’s Richard Williams transplanting seedlings in the greenhouse. Photo: Brian Kinzie

Charlotte Scott and Richard Williams are part of a new crop of young, idealistic family farmers dedicated to high-quality food, eco-friendly cultivation, and doing the right thing for their customers and community. “We want to do our best and show that small-scale, sustainable family farming is a viable business,” says Charlotte.

The couple own and operate Ferme Lève-tôt, a certified-organic CSA farm in Low, Québec, where they grow 150 vegetable varieties for their CSA members, as well as for farmers markets (Ottawa Farmers Market Byron Park in Westboro and the Wakefield Market) and eateries such as 42 Crichton Fine Foods, Union 613, Stone Soup Foodworks and others.

Here are highlights from my interview with Charlotte.

You and Richard lived in Montréal for 10 years and have backgrounds in media and culture. What sparked your desire to become farmers?

Richard wasn’t satisfied with his career at an independent record company and decided to apprentice with Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm near Montréal.  After two hours, he knew this was what he wanted to do with his life. Farming connects with his love of nature while the planning that’s required to farm successfully taps into his analytical, engineering mind. I’d been involved in community gardens and community radio in Montréal and had become aware of the food system’s social and political issues.

Starting a farm can be a struggle financially. How did Ferme Lève-tôt manage?

For our first two seasons, we rented land at the Plate-forme agricole de l’Ange-Gardien, an incubator farm run by the Centre de recherche et de développement technologique agricole de l’Outaouais (CREDETAO) and the Municipality of l’Ange-Gardien. The incubation was essential to our success and made it possible for us to buy our own land and launch an independent business.

Why did you choose the CSA model?

All of our farm education has taken place on CSA farms. It’s a very efficient way of getting food to people. For example, because CSA members pay for their vegetable share at the beginning of the season, we know exactly how much to grow. And having a CSA allows us to connect directly with our members and educate them about food and farming.

Charlotte and Richard’s son, Emmett, in the greenhouse next to chard, arugula and onion seedlings. Photo: Ferme Lève-tôt

What’s your long-term vision?

There are many things we want to do, from increasing our local presence to building the viability of the farm as a business. Our big dream is to farm with horses – not only for basic cultivation but eventually for mowing and other farming tasks in summer and for logging in winter.

Why horses?

Farming with animals is a more holistic way of doing things because you don’t have to bring in external nutrients to fertilize the soil. Instead you recycle them within the farm. Working with horses also requires you to use all your faculties and to be a better human being. There’s been a renaissance of interest in horse farming among small farmers — publications such as Small Farmer’s Journal feature the practice and there are workshops on farming with draft horses. Last month, I attended one of these workshops at Orchard Hill Farm near London, Ontario.

What do you see as the challenges and rewards of small farming?

You need lots of physical and emotional endurance.  It’s not a life for everyone, but the rewards are great. There’s a profound sense of accomplishment and you’re always learning new things. There’s also a meditative quality to the work and a feeling of independence that comes from making all your food from scratch and maintaining your own life.

Do you think that policy changes are needed to promote a healthier, more sustainable food system?

We’d like to see more businesses offering incentives for people to eat better. For example, one of our members receives a break from her employer on the cost of CSA sign-up because the company sees organic food as a way to improve health. At a government level, major policies are still focused on export rather than on growing food for local consumption and that needs to change.

Find out more about Ferme Lève-tôt on their website or Facebook page, or sign up for one of 20 new CSA spots they’ve added this year.

 

Have you joined a CSA this year? What prompted you to sign up?