Archive for July, 2014

Raw Mountain: Ottawa startup develops celery root snacks from scratch

Wednesday, 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.

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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

Sunday, 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

Monday, 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?