Archive for the ‘Sustainable local food’ Category

What stories do you want to read on Earthward?

Monday, 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

Tuesday, 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?

 

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

Wednesday, 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?

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?

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

Friday, 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/

Feasts

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

Fundraisers

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/

Workshops

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

Thursday, 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?

 

Cultivate your food gardening skills with these spring workshops and seminars

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

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

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

Friday, 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?

8 reasons to cook at home in 2014

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Cooking at home makes it easier to eat healthier and more sustainably, save money, help your kids with kitchen literacy, and promote change in the food system.
Photo: LABabble via Flickr, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Despite the proliferation of online recipe sites and our fascination with TV shows like Top Chef, Chopped and Cake Boss, many of us are spending less time than ever in the kitchen. Whether it’s because we lack time, confidence or culinary skills, we wind up relying on convenience foods and restaurants instead of planning, preparing and cooking meals at home.

It’s a real loss. Cooking for ourselves not only allows us to eat healthier and save money, it gives us an opportunity to eat more sustainably, choosing foods that are local, seasonal, organic and fairly traded.

In fact, brushing up your cooking skills and preparing more meals from scratch could be the most important changes you make in 2014. Here are some of the benefits.

  1. Save money. Compare the cost of a takeout lunch with packing your own (60% of Canadians eat lunch out at least once a week). Figure out what you’d pay for a restaurant dinner versus   home-cooking a batch of chili or roasting a chicken that would give you several meals. Home cooking wins hands down. What’s more, planning meals each week makes it easier to stay on budget because you’ll be more likely to buy only what you’ll need to make them.
  2. Control what you eat. Whether you’re heating a frozen pizza or dining at the newest bistro, you’re consuming food that’s been defined by someone else. When you cook for yourself, you pick the recipe, ingredients and cooking method according to your taste preferences, health needs and food values.
  3. Eat healthier. Cooking at home allows you to select the cooking method that best preserves the health value of the food.  For example, roasted vegetables retain more of nutrients than boiled, while grilling chicken is a lower-fat technique than frying. In addition, by cooking with fresh, whole foods you avoid the salt, sugar and fat levels of industrial food as well as the pesticides and other chemicals used in producing them. Finally, you control portion size, which helps with weight management and reduces food waste.
  4. Throw away less food. No more supersize takeout fare: cook only what you know you’ll eat. And, equipped with some basic cooking skills, you’ll be motivated to cook with leftovers instead of tossing them out.  About  $27 billion worth of food is wasted every year in Canada, more than half of it in our homes.
  5. Reduce meat consumption. Industrial meat production consumes a disproportionate amount of natural resources and contaminates soil, air and water. If you want to eat less meat for environmental, health or other reasons, it’s easier if you cook for yourself. Restaurant, fast-food and ready-to-eat meals tend to centre on meat and poultry.
  6. Give the gift of food literacy to future generations. Find ways to let your kids participate in cooking. Even something as simple as washing vegetables or making cookies will build their sense of competence in the kitchen. Just as important, take them to a farmers’ market or a local farm so they can connect food with the people and natural resources that produce it rather than with supermarkets and burger chains.
  7. Discover a rewarding way to spend time. Providing nourishment is an essential survival skill and a meaningful activity that’s embedded in human culture. It becomes even more meaningful when you share the food you’ve cooked with loved ones, writes Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything The Basics.  After a hectic day, cooking can be relaxing and comforting, helping to bring families together around the dinner table. It also stimulates creativity: improvise on a favourite recipe, invent a new dish, or even discover a new approach you can apply in another area of your life.
  8. Vote for change in the food system.  Whether you’re concerned about health and nutrition, environmental stewardship, food security or humane treatment of animals, cooking good, clean food for yourself and your loved ones is a powerful way to promote the changes you value. It’s been said that eating is a political act: vote with your plate.

Do you cook for yourself? How has it helped you?

 

 

 

Seasonal Eats: Red Apron’s Holiday Breakfast Cranberry Chocolate Chip Loaf

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Red Apron makes its own mix for this holiday loaf.
Photo: Bonnie Findlley www.findleyfoto.com

Need a quick-and-easy recipe for festive snacks and breakfasts? Look no further than this yummy, no-fuss loaf from Red Apron, featuring seasonal cranberries.

To make the loaf, co-owner Jennifer Heagle says Red Apron uses organic spelt flour from CIPM farm near Madoc. “Patricia Hastings grows heirloom and organic grains that are milled locally and sold in a selection of retail stores in Ottawa including the Natural Food Pantry,” Jennifer says. “We source the dried cranberries from Upper Canada Cranberries near Osgoode and use fair trade Cocoa Camino dark chocolate chips.”

Ingredients

¾ cup organic spelt flour

1½ cups organic all purpose flour

¾ cups organic cane sugar

1½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp dried orange peel or 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange peel

½ cup organic fair trade chocolate chips

¾ cup dried cranberries

3 eggs

1 cup canola oil or melted butter

¾ cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs well and add milk and oil or butter. In a separate bowl, combine the dried ingredients.

Stir wet and dry ingredients together until combined. Do not over-mix. Grease two loaf pans and divide batter between them.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

 

Homestead Organics: Helping fill the gap in local food processing

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

The team from Homestead Organics, a certified organic grain processor about 50 km from Ottawa. Owner Tom Manley is in the back row, fifth from the right.

Eastern Ontario boasts a growing number of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, local food artisans, and chefs who support sustainable local food. But there’s a gap where small- and mid-scale processors are concerned. Without nearby companies to grind grains, preserve fresh produce, and slaughter animals from area farms, scaling up the local food system will be a challenge.

Homestead Organics is one company helping to fill the gap. Located about 50 km from Ottawa in Berwick, Ontario, it’s a certified organic grain processor and feed mill with a longstanding commitment to organic food and farming.

The company started out in 1988 as a small store on the family farm. Today, Homestead Organics is a $7 million dollar a year business that handles 7,000 tonnes of grain annually. It’s also a Certified B Corporation, meaning that it has met certain standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Aerial view of Homestead Organics, Berwick, Ontario

Food processor and one-stop farm shop

Billing itself as a one-stop shop for organic farmers, Homestead Organics:

  • processes organic corn, barley, oats, soybeans, buckwheat, wheat and peas.  Grains go into livestock feed; whole grains and soybeans are destined for food manufacturers.  (Customers for the company’s soybeans include tofu makers such as Gatineau’s Soyarie and soy beverage producer So Nice.)
  • mills its own brand of organic livestock feeds for sale directly to customers or through a dealer network across Ontario, Québec, Atlantic Canada and upstate New York
  • markets individual organic grains
  • provides agricultural services and organic products such as: grain handling;  fertilizers and soil amendments; pest control; organic groceries; garden seeds and supplies,  and; professional support in livestock nutrition and farming science and technology.

Q&A with owner Tom Manley

I spoke with Homestead Organics owner Tom Manley about ways to ramp up local food processing, and invest at the grassroots level using Slow Money principles.

Q. What do you think it will take to beef up local food infrastructure?  Changes in government policy? Partnering among sustainable food businesses? More funding for small processors?

A. These are possible solutions. Above all, it requires able and willing entrepreneurs with sufficient imagination, drive, skill, and resources to get started. Various government programs are great assets: Growing Forward 2, the Local Food Act, the Local Food Fund, Foodland Ontario, and so on.

I’d also suggest a change in grassroots investment practices. Many people have investments and retirement savings, but these usually involve commercial channels in Bay Street and Wall Street.  We don’t invest in our own food chain in our own communities. People need to vote not only with their food dollar, but with their investment dollar to create the food system they want.

Q.  So you’re talking about Slow Money.

Yes. It’s a big topic, but basically Slow Money focuses on reconnecting people and their communities and using food as a pathway to fix the economy.  Slow Money aims to move the economy away from extraction and consumption towards principles of preservation and restoration. This approach fits with the fact that we’re a “triple bottom line” business that’s committed to social and environmental benefit as well as profit.

Q.  Homestead Organics is also one of about 850 Certified B Corporations in the world.  How does this status help the business?

We already knew we were a benefit corporation in principle and in practice, without being certified. But going this route allowed us to be listed on the Social Venture Exchange in Toronto, a platform that connects social businesses and accredited investors. Also, because certification is a rigorous process verified by a third party, it demonstrates to investors, customers and community that a company is doing what it says and contributing to the social and environmental good.

What do you think of Slow Money as a way to reconnect people and community?

Wrapping up 2013: Holiday farmers markets, Locavore Artisan Food Fair, forest farm workshops and more

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

 

Koko Chocolates will be one of the vendors at the 2013 Locavore Artisan Food Fair on December 7.

As Ottawa’s local food economy puts down deeper roots, we’re seeing more locavore events year-round and not just in the growing season. The next month is packed with holiday farmers markets, the Locavore Artisan Food Fair (LAFF) is back, and the Greystone Locavore In-Season Fêtes  returns with the second of its seasonal dinners. Also on the calendar are conferences, workshops and webinars on topics ranging from market gardening to reforming the food system.

  1. Holiday Farmers Markets

Metcalfe Farmers Market 

When:                 Saturday, Dec 14, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Where:                 Greely Legion, 2081 Mitch Owens Drive

More info:          http://www.metcalfefm.com/

 

Carp Farmers Market 

When:                  Friday, Dec 6, 3 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Saturday, Dec 7, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Where:                 Carp Fair Grounds, Carp

More info:          http://www.carpfarmersmarket.com/

 

Cumberland Farmers’ Market 

When:                  Saturday, December 7, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Where:                1115 Dunning St, Cumberland

More info:         http://www.cumberlandfarmersmarket.ca/home.cfm

 

North Gower Farmers’ Market 

When:                 Saturday, Dec 7, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Where:                North Gower RA Centre

More info:        http://www.ngfarmersmarket.com/calendar.html

 

Ottawa Farmers’ Market

When:                  Saturday, Dec 14 & Sunday, Dec 15, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Saturday, Dec 21& Sunday, Dec 22, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Where:                 Ernst & Young Centre, 4899 Uplands Drive

More info:          http://ottawafarmersmarket.ca/

 

  1. Locavore celebrations 

Locavore Artisan Food Fair (LAFF)

LAFF brings together 20 of Ottawa’s most creative food artisans to showcase their wares in time for the holidays. Participants include: Auntie Loo’s Treats, Barking Barista, Carolina’s Box of Goodness, CHEFX, Hummingbird Chocolate, The Flatbread Pizza CompanyKimicha, Michael’s Dolce, Milkhouse Farm & Dairy, Pascale’s Ice Cream, Seed to Sausage, Stone Soup Foodworks, The Unrefined Olive, and more.

When:                  Saturday, Dec 7, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Where:                 Memorial Hall, 39 Dufferin Road, New Edinburgh

More info:          http://ottawalaff.ca/Home.html

 

Greystone Locavore In-Season Fêtes

Sample fresh food from local producers, inventively prepared by Chef Darryl MacDougall of the Greystone Grill. The Locavore Fêtes take place four times a year to showcase the products of local farmers and food gardeners from within 100 miles. They’re also linked to a roster of sustainable food initiatives, such as a SPIN Farm, being planned by the Torbolton Institute in collaboration with Just Food Ottawa. The Torbolton Institute is an innovations hub whose goals include making Ottawa locally food secure by 2020. 

When:                  Wednesday, Nov 27, 6 p.m.

Where:                Greystone Grill, 179 Constance Bay Road, Woodlawn

Cost:                     $35 per person; free for children under 5

Reserve:              Call the Greystone Grill at 613-832-0009

  1. Conferences

National Farmers Union 44th Convention

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is made up of Canadian farm families who share common goals. Its is to work to achieve agricultural policies that promote dignity and income security for farm families while protecting the land for future generations. The theme of this year’s convention is “Growing Resistance” and will focus on the issues underlying food seeds, including the symbolic and real economic value of seeds, their role in food sovereignty and the debate over their ownership (farmers or corporations?).

When:                  Wednesday – Saturday, Nov 27-30

Where:                Travelodge Ottawa , 1376 Carling Ave

Cost:                      $15-$175

Register:   alexchisholmfletcher@gmail.com or cammie@waldegrave.org

More info:           http://www.nfu.ca/about/conventions

 

  1. Workshops and webinars

Torbolton Forest Farm Workshop

The Torbolton Forest Farm Project aims to create a food-producing, urban forest farm CSA in rural Ottawa, with a first planting date within three years.  Lead by the Friends of Torbolton Institute and their partners, the farm project will produce nuts, fruits and berries, vegetables, and aquaponically*-raised fish for farm gate sales as well as delivery to local consumers and farmers markets; gleaned surpluses will be donated.

This workshop will define the project and estimate start-up costs and is open to all who are interested.

*Aquaponics refers to the production of fish and plants together in a closed, mutually beneficial system.

When:                  Saturday, Nov 30, 1:30 – 3 p.m.

Where:                 3924 Woodkilton Road, Ottawa

Register:              http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/torbolton-forest-farm-           project-registration-6927234545

Fermentation Workshop, presented by Radical Homestead and Transition Ottawa

Radical Homestead will demonstrate how to make some delicious beverages and dishes such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kombucha, and kefir sour cream using the healthy, age-old technique of fermentation.  Group size is limited to five to guarantee personal attention. Each participant will leave with a jar of sauerkraut, a kombucha mother, sourdough starter, kefir grains, and recipes.

When:                  December 8, 2 – 5 PM

Where:                At private home near St. Laurent mall. (Address will be                                   provided at registration.)

Bring:                   4 jars or other containers

Cost:                      $50
More into:          http://radicalhomestead.ca/workshops/fermentation-                                     workshop/

 

Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers – Two-part Webinar with Dan Brisebois

Discusses the fundamentals of profitable market gardening, including choosing and planting the right crops at the right time.

When:                Thursdays, Dec  5 & 12, 7:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m

Cost:                   $40+HST

More info:         https://farmstart.ticketbud.com/crop-planning-english

Do you attend holiday farmers markets or food fairs? What do you enjoy about them most

?

Why does sustainable local food cost more than conventional?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

It costs more to produce food that’s tasty, healthy, safe, humanely raised, eco-friendly and that provides the farmer with a living wage.
Photo: Irene Knightley (via Flickr)

Why do we pay more* for food that’s grown sustainably – that is, closer to home, and produced using organic methods – than we do for conventional supermarket fare?

After all, some argue, if you buy an organically grown tomato or naturally raised chicken direct from a local producer, it hasn’t been shipped from hundreds of miles away. There’s no retailer in the middle to mark up the price. And the farmer you bought from didn’t have to buy expensive “inputs”, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for crops. So why aren’t these savings passed on to consumers?

Food pricing is complicated, but here’s the short answer. Sustainable food costs more because it takes more labour and care to produce food that:

  • is tasty, healthy and safe
  • safeguards the environment
  • raises animals humanely
  • protects the farmer’s  health and pays him or her a living wage.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Sustainable farming: lots of labour, management and time   

Instead of depending on chemicals and mechanized systems, sustainable farmers rely on their own labour and on their knowledge of the land and the surrounding ecosystem.

For example, to build healthy soil with plenty of nutrients, sustainable farming practices involve crop rotations, planting cover crops, and using compost and green fertilizers to discourage weeds and produce healthier plants. Crop rotations are essential to restore soil structure, but by periodically removing areas of land from cultivation, they reduce the farmer’s income.

Sustainable farmers control weeds by hand  and with mechanical tilling, and keep pests in check by encouraging a variety of soil organisms, beneficial insects and birds. When pest populations get out of hand, they set up traps and barriers, or use insect predators.

By the same token, sustainable animal production means less mechanization, and much more human care following higher animal welfare standards. In addition, sustainable livestock farmers often raise heritage breeds, which tend to be hardier, healthier and tastier than those favoured by conventional producers, but take longer to reach maturity. As a result, the farmer incurs higher costs for feed, labour and overhead and can’t raise as many animals as quickly.

Supply and demand

The supply of sustainable food is growing, but for a variety of reasons (including soaring farmland prices that make it difficult for new farmers to get started), capacity falls short of consumer demand. This is compounded by the lack of sufficient infrastructure for storing, processing, and distributing these foods. 

The hidden costs of conventional food

Maybe the whole price discussion needs to be approached from another angle.  Industrial farming has kept production costs low, but it has added a range of long-term environmental and health costs that don’t make it onto our grocery bills. Some of these include:

  • contaminated air, water and soil from heavy use of fossil fuels and chemicals, and from the volumes of animal waste that factory-style farms produce
  • record levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other illnesses linked to the North American diet of hyper-processed foods
  • rising levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due in part to the routine use of antibiotics in industrial animal production
  • health risks to farmers from exposure to pesticides
  • a food system that makes it hard for small family farmers to earn a living from what they do.

Instead of asking why sustainable food is more expensive, maybe we should be asking why conventional food is artificially cheap.

*In this post, I’m just looking at the reasons behind the price difference, not at affordability. That said, sustainable food can’t be restricted to the well-to-do and we need strategies to make it accessible to everyone.

What’s most important to you in buying food: Price? Where it was grown or raised? Labels such as Certified Organic or Fair Trade?

Late season highlights: Cooking and gardening workshops, locavore fêtes and the Just Food Farm

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Winter may not be far away, but there’s still plenty to whet the appetite of Ottawa locavores.
Photo by Fleuret (via Flickr)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ottawa’s growing season may be drawing to a close but there are still lots of events to whet locavore appetites.

  1. Cooking, eating and growing

Savour Ottawa presents: Local Cooking Workshop with The Red Apron

Join The Red Apron’s chef/owner Jo-Ann Laverty and sous-chef Maria Henao at the Urban Element demonstration kitchen and learn how to create a simple holiday menu using only local and seasonal ingredients. Menu will include winter greens with roasted garlic; carmelized onion and apple galette with chèvre; stuffed turkey breast with barley, sweet potato and cranberry pilaf; shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple; and more.

When: November 18, 6-9 p.m.

Where: The Urban Element, 474 Parkdale

Price: $125 per person; space limited to 12 seats

Register: Online or call 613-722-3332

 

Growing a Modern Day Victory Garden

A victory gardenis a vegetable, fruit and/or herb garden in a private yard and public space that’s intended to reduce pressure on the public food supply. Popular during World Wars I and II, they’re in vogue again as more people become interested in self-sufficiency and homesteading.

Put on by the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton, this workshop on victory gardens – i.e., small-space, sustainable gardens — is intended for experienced food gardeners, and will cover permaculture (an ecological design system), pest management and pesticide regulation, and other topics.

When: Saturday, October 26, 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Where: St James Church, 225 Edmund St, Carleton Place

Cost: Non-Master Gardener members $35.00

For more information: http://mgottawa.mgoi.ca/

  1. Farmers’ market highlights

Many are closed for the season but not all! The Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market operates every Saturday year-round, and the Ottawa Farmers’ Market Brewer Park location is open Sundays (8 a.m.-3 p.m.) until November 17.

And don’t forget the Christmas markets. The Carp Christmas Market (December 6-7), and the Ottawa Farmers’ Market (December 14-15 and 21-22) are great places for holiday shopping.

  1. Activities at the Just Food Farm 

Sign up for Start-Up Farm Program until October 31

People in the region who want to start their own successful farm business have until 4 p.m. on October 31 to apply to Just Food’s Start-Up Farm Program for 2014. Offering access to land, shared equipment, and training, new farmers benefit from a low-risk way to test their business ideas and develop new skills, experience, markets and networks before committing to a larger, longer term farm.

Visit Just Food for more information or contact Leela at leela@justfood.ca (613-699-6850 x15).

Pitch your beekeeping project to the Just Food Farm

Just Food wants to add a new beekeeping partnership project at the Just Food Farm site in 2014. Apply online by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Have questions about your project idea? Contact Leela Ramachandran, Manager of Farm Programs, leela@justfood.ca or 613-699-6850 x 15

Bring your pre-schooler to Apple Blossom Mornings 

Enjoy nature walks, storytelling, puppetry and crafts with your pre-schooler (ages 3 to 6) at Just Food’s 100-acre wooded farm.

When: Winter term begins January 6, Mondays

Where: Just Food Farm, 2389 Pepin Court, Blackburn Hamlet

For more information:  www.appleblossoms.org or info@appleblossoms.org

  1. Book launch

No-Nonsense Guide to World Food

The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food by Canada’s Wayne Roberts is winning rave reviews. The book receives its Ottawa launch November 1, with Roberts on-hand to present it.

When: Friday, November 1, Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Free snacks and cash bar until 8:30 p.m.

Where: Mercury Lounge, 56 Byward Market Square

 

Marché d’Aligre: Traditional food culture on display in Paris market

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Marché d’Aligre, Paris

All photos by V. Ward

 

In this post, I’m taking a break from covering the Ottawa food scene to share with you a tour* I took a few weeks ago to Marché d’Aligre, a daily food market in the heart of Paris.

Colourful and boisterous, the open-air and covered spaces of Marché d’Aligre are packed with people (especially on weekends) and with a multitude of fresh produce and artisan foods. Vendors encourage you to taste before you buy so I had the opportunity to nibble on fresh figs and melon, and sample charcuterie and richly flavoured cheeses. I also had room for a couple of buttery madeleines from pâtissier Blé Sucré, as well as milk chocolate from Les Chocolats d’Aligre seasoned with five types of pepper, and scalding espresso from Café Aouba.  (Yes, I’m on a diet now.)

France’s traditional food culture is under stress these days, but the variety and quality of what’s available at Marché d’Aligre shows that fresh, carefully produced food remains at the heart of French life.

How does the market work?

Parisians don’t rely on them as they once did, but fresh food markets still abound in the city. Marché d’Aligre is the only market that’s open six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday mornings) and also one of the cheapest.

What can you buy?

Anything and everything: fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, game, fish, poultry, charcuterie, cheeses, herbs and spices, breads and pastries, dry goods, chocolate, jams, coffee, tea, and wine. There’s also an open-air flea market whose quirky offerings range from knick-knacks to vintage china and rare books.

Where does the food come from?

The food at Marché d’Aligre comes from the Rungis International Market just outside Paris. The world’s largest wholesale food market, Rungis is part of a network of 19 food hubs across the country that organize the supply of all fresh produce –local and imported, traditional and industrial — to France’s urban areas. You can tour Rungis, but to buy food there, you must be an accredited food professional such as a chef or retail food business.

Is market food sold by the producers?

At Marché d’Aligre and other French markets, stallholders rather than the producers do the sales, calling out to shoppers and singing (sometimes literally) the merits of their food. This may be their own produce, but more often it comes from a variety of local and non-local suppliers.

Do the vendors know what they’re selling If they don’t produce it themselves?

Vendors are extremely knowledgeable so it pays to cultivate them. For example, tell a vendor that you want to buy a handful of plums or a head of cauliflower and he (I didn’t see any female vendors at Marché d’Aligre so I’ll use “he”) will tell you exactly when to eat them – e.g., by 4 p.m. tomorrow – for maximum flavour and freshness.  He’s also the person to ask for tips on storing and cooking what you’ve bought.

 How local is the  food  at these markets?

In the case of Rungis which supplies the Paris street markets, food is imported from all over the world. However, according to its website, Rungis promotes regional food and niche products that don’t make it to big retail outlets. For example, 82 farmers from Ile-de-France (the region where Paris is located) sell their fruit and vegetables in a dedicated 2200-square-metre building at Rungis.

How is a place like Marché d’Aligre different from a Canadian farmers market?

For me, one of the most striking differences is in the way fresh meat, poultry and game are displayed.  For example, fowl such as chicken, duck, pheasant, quail and geese appear with their tail feathers, head and feet still on. Some say that leaving more of the animal intact demonstrates its freshness, others that it shows pride in the quality of the product and respect for tradition.

How is traditional French food culture surviving in the face of industrial production?

It’s under pressure: the number of family farms is declining, and supermarkets and fast food chains have become accepted parts of the landscape.

That said, the French concept of terroir — the idea that a region’s soil, climate and culinary heritage results in food with specific, unique characteristics — continues to hold sway. Many producers remain committed to traditional, artisan methods; there is widespread public mistrust of GMOs, and; CSA farms (or AMAPs, as they’re called in France) are thriving.

The French have also pioneered certification programs that encourage farmers to produce high-quality foods in traditional ways. Back in the 1960s, France launched the Label Rouge program for poultry which has since become an international gold standard. For example, Label Rouge chickens must be: traditional breeds that mature slowly and produce top-quality meat; suited to pastured, small-flock production; fed only natural grains and other vegetable proteins; slaughtered when they’re older to ensure better flavour and texture, and; raised and processed according to strict hygiene standards. Today, the Label Rouge program extends to a variety of other French products.

*My tour of Marché d’Aligre was organized by Context Travel.

Have you visited food markets in other countries?  Share your experiences.

 

Best of Ottawa’s fall harvest: agricultural fairs, Beau’s Oktoberfest, Organic Week workshops & Just Food Farm events

Friday, September 20th, 2013

 

Learn how to preserve your tomato bounty at a Just Food workshop this fall.
(Photo: Susy Morris, Chiot’s Run via Flickr)

Shorter days and sharper air signal the last weeks of another growing season. It’s time to celebrate and preserve the bounty, and to save seeds for the spring.  Ottawa offers many fall harvest events to participate in, from agricultural fairs to food and farming workshops.

Agricultural fairs

The Richmond, Carp and Metcalfe fairs continue a long tradition that blends farm and livestock exhibits, local produce, and preserves and crafts with live music, contests and midway rides.

  • Richmond Fair, Sept 19 -22, Richmond Fairgrounds, 6121 Perth Street
  • Carp Fair, Sept 26-29, Carp Fairgrounds, 3790 Carp Road

Beau’s Oktoberfest, Oct 4-5, Vankleek Hill

Beau’s All-Natural Brewing raises money for United Way Ottawa, Just Food, Rethink Breast Cancer and other organizations at their annual signature bash.

Beau’s Oktoberfest 2013 will showcase well-known musicians (Kathleen Edwards, Sloan, The Sadies), highlight local organic food and drink, and feature activities such as a malt sack race, a sausage-eating competition and even a spouse-carrying contest.

Note:  Just Food is looking for volunteers for its Just Food Midway at Beau’s Oktoberfest.  Register at http://justfood.ca/midway-volunteer-oktoberfest-2013.php and receive a Beau’s Volunbeer Package that includes: admission to the festival for the weekend, a ticket to the exclusive volunbeer party, a drink token, transportation to and from Ottawa, and more. Contact Heather at admin_intern@justfood.ca for details.

Organic Week workshops from Canadian Organic Growers

September 21-28 is Organic Week in Canada. It’s your chance to find out more about this chemical-free approach to farming that supports a cleaner environment, better treatment for animals, improved conditions for farm workers, and healthier food for consumers.

Here are just two of the events the Ottawa chapter of Canadian Organic Growers (COG) is putting on:

  • Winterizing your Organic Garden & Extending your Growing Season, Sept 24, 7 – 9 p.m.
  • Growing Garlic Organically, Oct 17, 7 – 9 p.m.

Where: Heartwood House, 400 McArthur Avenue (near St. Laurent Blvd.)

Cost: $15 for one workshop, $25 if you register for both. Discounts for students and seniors.

To register: http://cog.ca/ottawa/organic-gardening-workshops/

Just Food Start-Up Farm Program

Just Food’s Start-Up Farm Program supports new farmers in the Ottawa region by offering access to land, shared equipment and training.  This gives new farmers a low-risk way to test their business ideas and develop skills, experience, markets and networks before committing to a larger, longer-term farm operation.  In the coming weeks, Just Food is holding several events in connection with the program:

  • Just Food Farm Tour, Sept 25, 6:30 – 8 p.m. 

Of interest to anyone who follows urban agriculture, community food programming, conservation in the Greenbelt, farmer training, community gardening or education, this free tour is your chance to find out what’s happening at the Just Food Farm.

  • Open House & info session l Sept 18, 7 p.m.

The Start-Up Farm Program will accept applications for 2014 starting this fall. The open house provides a chance to tour the Just Food Farm, meet with program staff and participants, and learn more about the application process. Everyone is welcome, and pre-registration is required.

  • Exploring the New Farm Dream – Is Starting an Agricultural Business Right for You?

Sign up for this three-session workshop if you’d like to apply to the Start-Up Farm Program, or are considering other farming options in the region. The sessions are held Sept 28, Oct 8 and Oct 22 and cost $225, including manual and farm tour.

To sign up for any of these Just Food Start-Up Farm events, register online or call Leela at 613-699-6850 (x15). The farm is located at 2389 Pepin Court.

Tomato preservation workshops 

Learn to preserve your tomato harvest at one of these workshops. Space is limited, so register soon.

  • October 3, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m:  Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, 88 Main Street; $5 or pay what you can

To register: Call 613-699-6850 x12 or email communitygardening@justfood.ca

  • October 21, 5 – 7 p.m.: Centretown Community Health Centre, 420 Cooper Street; Free

To register: Contact Julie at 613-233-4443 (x2108)

Seed saving training

Learn how to save seeds with this two-day session from Tucker House and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.

  • Basics of Seed Saving: October 6, 9 a.m. –  5 p.m.  l $80 (includes lunch; reduced cost if you register for both days); Tucker House 1731 Tucker Road, Rockland
  • Seed Cleaning: October 20, 12 – 5 p.m.
    $40 (reduced cost if you register both days); Greta’s Organic Gardens, 399 River Road, Gloucester

To register: Contact Nathalie Mathieu at 613-446-2117 (x8) or community@tuckerhouse.ca

 

Markets and farm stands

  • Farmers markets

Many markets remain open until October/November so this is your opportunity to stock up on fresh local food!  Here’s a full list of the Ottawa region’s urban and village markets.

  • Just Food Farm Gate Vegetable Stand, 2389 Pepin Court, Blackburn Hamlet

Just Food’s Start-Up Farm Program includes a farm stand where farmers who belong to the program can sell their organic vegetables, fruit, wild foods and herbs.  Stop by on Sundays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., until October 6.  There will be a special Thanksgiving sale on the farm stand’s last day, Saturday, October 12. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

What do you like best about the fall harvest?

Pork of Yore: Pasture production means happy pigs and succulent pork

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Pork of Yore owners Ida Vaillancourt and  Gary MacDonell raise heritage pigs on their  200-year-old farm northwest of Renfrew.

The  animals – about 100 mostly Berkshire or  Tamworth-Berkshire crosses – have access to  large mobile houses where they can take  shelter from the weather or farrow their  young. But mostly, they’re out in the fields,  foraging for grasses and leaves, and grazing on apples and wild plums from the fruit trees that dot the 110-acre property. They benefit from exercise, fresh air and sunlight. They can root, dig and wallow to their hearts’ content, and they aren’t subjected to the painful tail-docking and tooth-clipping that take place at factory farms. In other words, they get to express what high-profile American farmer Joel Salatin calls the “pigness of the pig”.

Better life, better taste

Raising the animals in a healthy, stress-free environment not only gives them a better life, it results in safe, richly flavourful pork. After years of eating ultra-lean, dry-textured supermarket cuts, customers are bowled over by the succulence of naturally raised meat, Ida says. To prove it, she lets me sample a slice of roast butt chop as well as squares of pork terrine prepared by Chef David Cooke of Arowhon Pines. I found the meat to be addictively tasty, with the colour and umami of dark turkey meat. It’s a hit with area chefs, too: Pork of Yore is a regular supplier to The Black Tomato, Thyme & Again, Indulge Kitchen & Cocktails and Arowhon Pines.

“What you feed an animal affects the taste, and stress hormones affect the texture,” Ida says. “We don’t expose our pigs to artificial growth stimulants or chemical additives, and we don’t feed them animal by-products. They eat chemical-free pasture and hay, in addition to a twice-daily mixture of locally milled grains and soy.” The pigs certainly seem healthy and happy,  following Ida and me as we tour the paddocks and gently  nuzzling the backs of our legs.

 

Pastured heritage pigs at Pork of Yore

More eco-friendly

Rotating the pigs through the paddocks – each paddock is at least of 2.5 acres — also helps keep the land healthy, Ida says, by stimulating new growth and returning nutrients to the soil.

Although sustainably raised meat is more expensive than what’s  in supermarket cases, its superior taste and more humane and eco-friendly production make it worthwhile for a growing number of consumers.

Industrial pork

Pork of Yore’s approach stands in stark contrast to the industrial meat system. It’s no secret that most pigs in Canada and the U.S. are housed in crowded, contaminated surroundings, and given daily doses of drugs, including ractopamine, a controversial substance to promote leanness that’s been banned in the EU, Russia and mainland China.

In the past few weeks, the Humane Society International/Canada has made headlines by calling for a complete ban on gestation crates for breeding sows. The crates are too small for the sow turn around or to lie down in comfortably, yet most breeding sows in Canada are confined to them throughout pregnancy. Not surprising, the confinement promotes anxious, repetitive behaviour in the animals, and results in sores,  abrasions and other injuries. The sows are moved to slightly larger cages to give birth, then re-impregnated and returned to the gestation crate for the next cycle.

The National Farm Animal Care Council has drafted a new code of practice calling for gestation crates to be phased out by July 1, 2024, but the Humane Society is pushing for faster action to bring practices in line with Canadian public opinion (more than 84% oppose the use of gestation crates, it says) and with the direction major food companies such as MacDonalds and Costco have already committed to.

Write your MPP about local abattoirs

As a culture, we’ve become so used to industrial farming we tend to see pasture production as a relic of the past. Not so, Ida Vaillancourt says. “In fact, it’s the historical norm and the best way to protect people, animals and the land.”

Besides buying pastured pork, she urges people to support small meat producers by contacting their MPPs and demanding a stronger local abattoir system including mobile abattoirs where those make sense. Today, most animal processing is carried out by a handful of big facilities. Consequently, producers must transport animals to slaughter over longer distances, a more time-consuming, costly process that stresses the animals and racks up extra food miles. Licensing local abattoirs, as the B.C. government has done with the Salt Spring Abattoir, would go a long way to encouraging small-scale meat producers, Ida says.

Where to find Pork of Yore products: At the farm gate, the Carp Farmers Market and the Ottawa Valley Food Co-operative. You can also call 613-649-0076 or order online from heritagepork@porkofyore.com

What’s most important to you when you buy pork or any other meat: price, taste, eco-friendly production, or ethical treatment of the animal?

7 ways to dig deeper into local, sustainable food

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Brushing up your cooking skills is one way to deepen your appreciation of fresh, local ingredients. Photo by Amarpreet K via Flickr

 

You care about healthy food and protecting the environment. Maybe you’re a regular at the neighbourhood farmers market or you’ve joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.  But you want to do learn more, and do more, to support the growth of a local, sustainable food system in the Ottawa region.

Where to start? Here are some ideas.

1. Grow some of your own food. Whether you plant a backyard vegetable  garden or tend a solitary pot of basil on the windowsill, you’ll develop greater respect for the work involved and the harvest that results. You’ll also enjoy edibles straight off the plant or in your kitchen steps away – that’s about as local as it gets.

2. Brush up your cooking skills. Getting culinary basics under your belt, or honing the skills you already have, will deepen your appreciation of food and reinforce the importance of fresh, quality ingredients.   Knowing some simple techniques will also make it easier to prepare no-fuss, nutritious alternatives to fast food and other convenience fare.

Check out The Urban Element’s schedule of cooking workshops this fall. C’est Bon! Cooking also emphasizes local, seasonal food and offers gourmet tours of Ottawa farmers markets and local food artisans.

3.  Help bring healthy fresh food to low-income people who may not otherwise have access to them. Volunteer to plant, weed and harvest organic vegetables with Ottawa Food Bank’s Community Harvest program or glean seasonal fruit with Hidden Harvest Ottawa.

4.  Eat less meat. Not only is it better for your health, it’s easier on the environment. Meat production – mostly industrial — is set to double by 2020 due to a growing global population and increased meat consumption.

Why is this a problem? Large-scale livestock production accounts for 18%-25% of greenhouse gas emissions. More than two-thirds of all agricultural land grows livestock feed compared with just 8% that grows food for direct human consumption. And there are other downsides to industrial meat: it depletes already declining supplies of fresh water; damages forests and grasslands; erodes soil, and; produces runoff from fertilizers and animal waste that creates dead zones in coastal areas. In addition, the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production has been linked to rising levels of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Eating a bit less meat is a simple, effective way of making a difference. Check out Meatless Monday for more information and ideas   for meat-free meals.

5.  Dining out? Choose restaurants that source from local, sustainable producersSavour Ottawa lists restaurant, hotels, caterers and B&Bs that source a set minimum of food from local farmers. Some of Ottawa’s new food trucks also serve local, seasonal food.

6. Read more about the food system and ways to change it. Dip into these books from Canadian writers:

Margaret Visser’s Much Depends on Dinner, the pioneering 1986 classic that explores the history and mythology of a basic meal, touching on the environmental, economic and political implications of food

Sarah Elton’s latest book Consumed: Sustainable Food for a Finite Planet, or her 2010 best seller Locavore: From Farmers Fields to Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat

Jennifer Cockrall-King’s Food and the City, which looks at the rise of urban agriculture in Vancouver, Toronto and other urban farming hubs in Europe and the U.S.

7. Go to Netflix or iTunes to download some of the best food documentaries to come out in recent years. Although these films cover the U.S. and Europe, the issues they explore apply to Canada, too.  A few examples:  King Corn, Our Daily Bread and Food Inc. probe the effects of industrial food and high-tech farming. Farmageddon shows what happens when small-scale farmers who produce safe, healthy food run up against government bureaucracies. Dive! demonstrates the scale of North American food waste by following a group of friends as they dumpster-dive behind L.A. grocery stores.  The Harvest investigates the use of agricultural child labour. For other ideas, try sites such as First We Feast and Organic Authority.

Share what you’re doing to  learn about local, sustainable food. 

Related posts: Hidden Harvest Ottawa; Community Harvest grows fresh produce for Ottawa’s hungry; 8 reasons to grow your own food; Ottawa’s new food trucks boost sustainability; Join a CSA in 2013

Food read round-up: GM alfalfa, endangered bees and misleading food claims

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Butterfly gathering pollen from flowering alfalfa
Photo: C. Wainwright, via Flickr

 

Genetically modified (GM) seeds, the wholesale use of herbicides and pesticides, deceptive product marketing and labeling: however you look at it, the industrial system that supplies much of the world’s food doesn’t  inspire confidence.

What can consumers do? Support local food producers. Push for more effective regulation. Above all, keep asking questions about how food is produced, and hold food companies, retailers and politicians to account.

Farmers seek environmental assessment of GM alfalfa from Ontario government:  The Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) approved genetically modified (GM) alfalfa back in 2005, but it wasn’t legal to grow it until recently.  In April 2013, federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz allowed registration of one variety of GM alfalfa, leaving the door open for biotech companies to put their seeds on the market.  Forage Genetics International is already pushing to introduce the seeds in Eastern Canada.

Many farmers and other groups oppose GM seeds, citing risks such as contamination of non-GM crops and the loss of exports to markets (EU, Japan) where GM crops are not accepted. Given the federal government’s stance, two Ontario farmers have asked the provincial government to conduct an environmental assessment of the seed before it’s sold here.  They made the request under the under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, which allows residents to request an assessment if they believe a new commercial activity could have a negative effect on the environment and economy.  It’s the first GM-related request made under the bill and was prepared by individuals and groups concerned about the risks of GM alfalfa, with supporting evidence from the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund, the National Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).

The request argues that the GM crop would irreversibly contaminate the environment, promote herbicide-resistant weeds, encourage more herbicide use, and hurt farms, farmers and the food supply. A widely planted perennial, alfalfa flowers several times each season and is pollinated by a variety of insects, significantly raising the risk of contamination from GM varieties.

Ontario forms new working group to support bee health: As reports of declining bee populations continue to make headlines, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced that her government would form a working group to study bee health. Made up of beekeepers, farmers, representatives of food agribusiness, scientists and government officials, the group is to develop and release a plan to protect the bees by spring 2014.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the EU has banned several insect nerve agents known as neonicotinoids,  which have been linked to the decline in bees and other pollinators. Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is re-evaluating neonicotinoid use but won’t issue a report until 2018. Given the urgency of the problem, Premier Wynne has asked the report date be advanced “significantly.”

Labels often hide food fraud: Despite the trend toward a more farm-to-fork transparency, it’s almost impossible to control the amount of food fraud that goes on every day, writes Clare Fischer Guajira in Food Fraud: Labels on What We Eat Often Mislead. Whether it’s done to persuade consumers to buy, or to increase the producer’s bottom line, food adulteration – passing food off as higher quality than it is – occurs on a global scale.  (Think last year’s horsemeat scandal in Europe, the arrests earlier this year of Chinese traders selling rat meat as lamb, and a U.S. report stating that one-third of the fish sampled in a national survey was mislabeled.) Given limited resources and a complex global food system, more stringent regulation will only do so. In the meantime, experts advise consumers to ask lots of questions, buy from reputable sources and be suspicious of rock-bottom prices; if retailers can’t give you satisfactory answers, go elsewhere.

How food companies use nutritionism to sell more products: We’ve seen them on grocery shelves: heart-healthy chocolate chip muffins, probiotic ice cream, and water with added vitamins. Known as functional foods – they’ve been engineered to offer what their manufacturers claim are health benefits.  The functional food trend is rooted in an approach called nutritionism, described by food policy expert Marion Nestle in as reducing “the value of a food…to its single functional ingredient. This logic…fails to consider the complexity of food composition and the interactions amongst food components.”  In other words, vitamins added to a bottle of sweetened water aren’t going to give you the same benefit as consuming them as part of whole, unprocessed food.

In “That’s not natural or organic: How Big Food misleads,” author Gyorgy Scrinis digs into the way Big Food uses nutritionism to sell products and how product labeling helps or hinders consumers in making informed food choices. Scrinis argues that not only have food corporations become the main promoters of nutritionism, but, since the 1980s, they have come to control the nutritional agenda, pouring millions of dollars into political lobbying and directly funding scientific studies on specific foods and nutrients.  In addition, by engineering back into food the nutrients that processing removed in the first place, the industry sidesteps questions about the fundamental quality and value of its products.

What food stories have you been reading lately?

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?