Archive for the ‘Sustainable local food’ Category

Let’s start planning for food

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Photo: Flickr tcd123usa

The way governments plan — or don’t – for food affects everything fromfarming and economic development to health and the environment.

 The importance of planning for food is one of the key themes to emerge from Policies from the Field, a series of working papers released last week by local food advocacy group Sustain Ontario. The papers discuss ways that governments can use policy to support a healthier, more sustainable food system. An earlier Earthward post looked at the new papers on food policy councils, local food procurement, and planning among different government sectors.  In this post, I’ll cover the fourth paper in the series, which focuses on the role of land use planning in making local food more accessible.

What’s land use planning?

Land use planning refers to the way land and resources are managed. It sounds pretty abstract but it has a big effect on our communities. For example, it shapes things like neighbourhood design; the location of homes, businesses, roads and public transportation; how open spaces can be used; and to what extent farm land is protected.

So what’s in the Sustain Ontario paper on land use?

Called Increasing Land Access to Local Food, the paper was put together by Burgundy Dunn from the Canadian Environmental Law Association. It looks at land use planning strategies in support of a healthier food system that’s structured to:

  • provide space and infrastructure for local food activities such as farming, processing, distribution and retailing
  • be economically sustainable for small- and medium-sized farmers and local food businesses
  • make healthy food available to all communities, including low-income and remote communities, and
  • operate in environmentally sustainable ways.

The paper provides examples of what other cities in North America have done to plan more effectively for healthy food.

What changes does the paper recommend?

  1. Plan for food. Unlike issues such as health, water and housing, only food has been sidelined as a planning issue, seen as a private sector activity rather than an essential community need. This has to change, the paper argues. Besides preserving farm land, local food production and infrastructure should be integrated into provincial and municipal policy, plans and legislation. More mixed use zoning should be encouraged to ensure that food sources like supermarkets, farmers’ markets, community gardens and restaurants are integrated into or near residential areas. Food and transit planning should also be integrated to improve food access.
  2. Increase the availability of healthy food in all neighbourhoods. Change policies and regulations to encourage retail food sources – farmers’ markets, small processing facilities, distribution centres for regionally produced foods. Municipal governments could recognize farm stands and markets, and urban agriculture as desirable land uses by providing space and transit and offering incentives for infrastructure.
  3. Create more opportunities for urban and peri-urban (land that adjoins urban land) farming. Farming should be formally recognized as an appropriate use of urban land. Governments should create and protect urban farm lands, offer up lands they own for urban farming and support urban agriculture as an economic venture.

Where can I find out about land use in Ottawa?

As with many things in Canada, jurisdiction is split among different levels of government. For example, as part of the National Capital Region, certain spaces in Ottawa come under federal/National Capital Commission jurisdiction.

The Ontario government Planning Act provides a land use planning system that’s intended to promote sustainable economic development and a healthy natural environment throughout the province. Within that framework, municipalities have leeway to tailor their decisions to local needs.

The City of Ottawa Official Plan outlines broad land use policies, as well as land use designations that specify what is or isn’t permitted in a given area. The City has designations for urban, expanding urban, rural, Greenbelt, open space and other land types, which are implemented through detailed zoning by-laws.

Is Ottawa doing any of the things Sustain Ontario paper suggests?

The City of Ottawa helps to support the work of Just Food which covers a variety of local food initiatives, including new farmer training, community gardens and development of a food hub. The city will also be represented on the soon-to-be-launched Ottawa Food Policy Council. However, at this point, the Official Plan does not explicitly plan for food.

What changes to Ottawa land use policies would you like to see to improve access to local food?

4 ways Ottawa’s new food trucks can boost sustainability

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Ottawa’s street food scene will soon start to sizzle, thanks to the City’s Friday announcement that 18 new food trucks and carts with creative menus had the green light to start serving customers in May. Instead of having to settle for fries and dogs, Ottawans will now have the chance to sample fresh seasonal dishes, seafood, Southeast Asian snacks and Cajun specialties from 11 trucks and 7 carts in dedicated spots across town. The new vendors will bring the total number of licensed food trucks and carts in the city to 62.

 A cult following for food trucks

In recent years, food trucks have developed a cult following in North America, with devotees using smartphone apps such as Eat Street, Roaming Hunger and Food Truck Fiesta to track down their favourites. In this city, aficionados stay up-to-date with Street Food Ottawa. But are these kitchens on wheels eco-friendly? After all, we’re talking about vehicles that often rely on some form of fossil fuel to get around and to run their onboard stoves and generators.

A lot depends on the choices vendors make about the type of energy to use (gasoline, propane, biodiesel, solar, etc.), as well as whether to source ingredients locally, and use recyclable or compostable packaging and utensils. But the consensus seems to be that — besides spicing up the urban foodscape — food trucks have the potential to contribute to sustainable communities and neighbourhoods. Here’s how.

  1. They support the local economy. When you buy from a locally owned truck or cart, you’re putting money into a small business in your community, not into the pockets of a national or international fast food chain.  A local owner may also be more likely to spend money locally and purchase local ingredients.
  2. They offer some environmental pluses over the bricks-and-mortar restaurant. For example, they use less water and don’t need to light, heat, cool or ventilate a full-service dining area.  In Ottawa’s case, the new trucks and carts will have assigned spots so they won’t be on the move.
  3. Local ingredients are showing up on more and more food truck menus, meaning fewer food miles, more support for local farmers and fresher, more seasonal food. Of the 18 new vendors approved by the City of Ottawa, at least five will create their menus around local ingredients. They include:
  • Benjamin Baird (of the Urban Pear restaurant): OttawaStreatGourmet – fresh, local, seasonal and ever-changing menu; to be located north side of Queen, west of O’Connor
  • Peter G. Bowen: Epicurean Munchie Truck — health-conscious, foodie-friendly, locally sourced cuisine; east side of Olmstead, south of Montreal Road
  • Jacqueline Jolliffe: Stone Soup Foodworks — local soups, tacos and sandwiches; east side of Spadina, north of Wellington. (Check out Chef Jacqueline’s recipe for potato and leek soup on Earthward.)
  • Tim Van Dyke: LUNCH – fresh, local ingredients in wholesome soups, salads and sandwiches; north side of Albert, east of Lyon
  • Gavin Hall: BOBITES – Best Organic Bites – organic baked potatoes with seasonal toppings; east side of Metcalfe, south of Sparks
  1. Customers can enjoy more diverse cuisine, better quality and healthier choices as street food continues to reinvent itself.  In the case of Ottawa’s new food truck vendors, the priority placed on quality cuisine and healthy ingredients is reflected in the makeup of the volunteer panel that chose the winning applicants. The panel represented Savour Ottawa, which promotes Ottawa as a culinary destination with an emphasis on local foods;  the sustainable food advocacy group Just Food; Ottawa Public Health; the Canadian Culinary Federation, a national association for cooks and chefs, and;  the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, a hospitality industry group.

You can find a list of Ottawa’s new food truck vendors on the City’s website.

What do you think of Ottawa’s decision to let new food truck vendors in on the action?



Smart ideas for Ontario food policy

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

They may not be sexy, but smart, well-crafted food policies, rules and programs play a big part in building a more sustainable food system.

On February 11 and 12, Sustain Ontario unveiled Policies from the Field, a series of working papers on policies to boost healthy eating and local food production. Sustain Ontario is an alliance of provincial stakeholders – including Ottawa’s Just Food — that advocates for healthy, sustainable food and farming.

The first four papers in the series consider national and international food policies that Ontario’s municipal and provincial governments could adopt in areas such as:

  1. food policy councils
  2. local food procurement
  3. inter-sectoral food agendas, and
  4. land planning to improve local food access

A paper about food hubs will come out February 19, 2013.

In this post, I’ll cover the highlights from the first three papers. Next week, I’ll look at the reports on land use planning and food hubs. Sustain Ontario has posted Policies from the Field online.

Ontario: The Case for a Provincial Food Policy Council

Authored by U.S. community food activist and writer Mark Winne, this paper argues that there’s a lack of common focus to food policy at the provincial and state government levels in North America. While for-profit and non-profit groups have stepped into the void, they may lack the capacity or clout to deal with challenges such as food insecurity, rising obesity rates, and the decline in family farms.  Food policy councils can help bridge the gap by bringing citizens, stakeholders and governments together to actively plan and manage food systems. Examples of successful food policy planning include Toronto and Edmonton at the city level and Nova Scotia, Connecticut, Michigan and New Mexico at the provincial/state level. Given the uncertain future of global food, Winne concludes that cities, provinces and countries that don’t actively shape their own food systems will be at the mercy of forces they can’t control.

As far as Ottawa is concerned, we will soon have our own food policy council.  Slated for launch in the near future, the council will include representatives from the City of Ottawa, citizens and other food system stakeholders.

Possibilities for Local Food Procurement in Ontario

Procurement policy is key to a thriving local food system. As the U.K., Italy and the U.S. have learned, when governments and publicly-funded organizations (e.g., school boards, hospitals, universities) start sourcing local food, it ramps up supply, along with the infrastructure to process and distribute it.  But there’s a stumbling block. Ontario’s ability to procure local food is restricted by a slew of trade agreements – NAFTA, the agreements Canada is negotiating with the European Union (CETA) and Pacific nations (TPP), and others. These agreements prohibit the countries involved from choosing suppliers based on geographic location.  As a result, limiting bids on a food contract to local suppliers would be seen as discriminatory. That said, there may be some wiggle room, according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).  For example, following the lead of several EU nations, Ontario could craft requests for proposal with “technical specifications” to favour foods based on seasonality, freshness or local organic certification.  It might also be possible to set policies that are exempt from trade agreements altogether, such as measures that would apply to contracts below a certain dollar value or that would support non-profit organizations.

Health in All Policies

This paper from food policy analyst Wayne Roberts describes a strategy called Health in All Policies (HiAP) that’s endorsed by the World Health Organization and has been adopted in Finland, the EU and South Australia. In a nutshell, HiAP is an inter-sectoral approach to health issues that connects them to all government agencies instead of just health departments. Roberts suggests that Ontario could implement a HiAP approach to food issues instead of scattering responsibility for them among different bureaucracies such as employment, the environment, health, agriculture and fisheries. This approach would allow people from the various food sectors to understand how interconnected their issues are and what they could achieve by collaborating on an integrated agenda.

What municipal or provincial policy would you change to make local food more widely accessible?

10 ways to cut household food waste

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Photo: Nick Saltmarsh

When it comes to wasting food, I’m as guilty as anyone. My weakness is to forget about odds and ends in the fridge: half a lemon, say, or a nob of cucumber.  Months later, I find them again, wizened or semi-liquid, and very, very nasty.

One way or another, most of us waste food. A study released earlier this month by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers made headlines with its estimate that 30%-50% of the world’s food never makes it to our plates because it’s damaged or discarded somewhere along the food chain.  In Canada, about 40% of the food we produce each year  — some $27 billion worth – winds up in the garbage bin, says a November 2012 report from the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ontario.  To boot, more than half of this waste takes place in our homes. 

While waste happens for different reasons in different parts of the world, the studies say that in North America, it stems mainly from consumers who demand cosmetically perfect produce, misunderstand best-before dates, and get carried away buying in bulk.

But whatever the reasons, when we waste food, we waste money and reduce what’s available for people in need.  We also squander the land, water, and energy resources required to grow, harvest, pack, ship and sell food. We can’t afford waste on this scale — especially in the face of climate change and a world population that could reach 9.5 billion by 2075, according to mid-range UN projections.

Since so much food waste occurs at home, here are 10 ways to start paring it down.

  1. Plan your menus ahead of time. Take stock of what you already have. Pick recipes that you’ll have time to prepare and will use up leftovers and perishables. Make a shopping list and stick to it.
  2. Use common sense about best-before dates. Most of us believe we should throw out anything that has reached its best-before date because it’s no longer safe to eat. But we’re wrong. According to the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the best-before date on a Canadian product is the date before which it’s freshest and most nutritious. That’s different from the expiry date some foods carry. Items that have passed the expiry date should be discarded, the CFIA says.
  3. Buy produce that doesn’t look perfect. It may not be the standard size or shape or have a uniform colour, but it will taste fine.
  4. Don’t buy in bulk unless you’re certain the food will get eaten. Otherwise you’ll end up throwing it away, along with the money you think you saved.
  5. Pre-portion foods sold in quantities larger than you need. Most foods – including herbs, bread and milk — can be frozen, so package your purchases into smaller servings and freeze them.
  6. Use up as much of a food item as you can. Instead of pitching those broccoli stalks, slice them for a stir fry; prepare stock from chicken bones; enhance the flavour of a tomato sauce by adding Parmesan cheese rind.
  7. Be creative with leftovers. If you’re not going to eat it in the next 4 days, freeze it. Otherwise, think outside the box: toss over-ripe fruit into a smoothie or stir wilted veggies into soups and stews. Find recipes for specific ingredients by checking out online resources such as Love Food Hate Waste or Love your leftovers.
  8. Be mindful when dining out. Restaurants often serve more than we can eat, so ask for a half portion or bring leftovers home for the next day.
  9. Donate non-perishable items to your local food bank, shelter or pantry (some organizations may accept perishable foods).
  10. Compost. The City of Ottawa provides a green bin program that collects and composts all types of household food waste.  If there’s no program where you live, consider composting your own food scraps to return nutrients to the soil and divert organic waste from landfill.

How do you reduce your home food waste?

5 gifts that support local food

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Still have holiday shopping to cram into the next few days? Whether you’re buying for the locavore on your list or simply want to show your support for Ottawa’s local food economy, here are five sure-fire gift ideas.

  1. Food and drink from Ottawa artisans

Many Ottawa food artisans handcraft unique, tasty products using local ingredients.  I list several here, but you can find lots more by checking out websites such as Savour Ottawa, the Ottawa Farmers Market, the Ottawa Specialty Food Association, and the Ottawa Locavore Artisan Food Fair (LAFF).

Carolina’s Box of Goodness: artisan brownies, custom cakes

Gourmet Sauvage: jellies, syrups, marinades, condiments

Heavenly Honey: gourmet honey, beeswax candles

Hummingbird Chocolate: small-batch artisanal chocolate from ethically sourced cocoa

Kawalsa Salsa: spicy, low-sodium salsas

Major Craig’s: aromatic chutneys

Pêches & Poivre: desserts, handcrafted cheeses

Tea & Ginseng: 120 types of tea

ThimbleCakes: organic, nut- and egg-free custom cakes and cupcakes

2.    Home-cooked meals

Know someone who doesn’t have time to cook or who needs a break from cooking? Here are two meal service businesses that source ingredients as locally and sustainably as possible:

The Red Apron (read the Earthward profile):  Menus feature sophisticated, seasonal comfort food. Dinners can be ordered by the day or the week, for pick-up or home delivery.

Scratch Kitchen: A local Ottawa family-owned and operated business, Scratch Kitchen prepares gourmet frozen meals for home delivery.

  1. Restaurant dining and catering services

Visit Savour Ottawa for a list of restaurants and caterers who use seasonal local ingredients. Many of them sell gift certificates, including Absinthe, Beckta Dining & Wine, John Taylor at Domus Café, Eighteen, The Urban Pear, Thyme & Again Catering and Take-Home Foods and Zen Kitchen.

  1. Hands-on cooking classes

Knowing some cooking basics is key to healthier, more seasonal eating. And besides that, cooking can be fun. A gift certificate for a workshop at either of these learning kitchens would please an experienced cook as well as a beginner.

Credible Edibles: Provides eco-catering and hands-on, plant-based cooking workshops. Discounts on classes are available for kids, students and seniors.

The Urban Element: This cooking and culinary event studio supports local chefs, producers, farmers and restaurants.

  1. Make a donation

Everyone should have enough to eat, yet many adults and children in this city do not. For example, each month, 45,000  people – about 37% of whom are children — turn to the Ottawa Food Bank.  Instead of buying more stuff for a friend or family member, make a donation in their name to one of the many organizations out there that feed people in need. Here are two possibilities:

Ottawa Food Bank: Did you know that, in addition to food donations from individuals, supermarkets and restaurants, the OFB grows and gathers an impressive amount of fresh, local food? Its Community Harvest program grows vegetables, gleans produce from farmers’ fields that would otherwise go to waste, and collects donations of fresh food from local farmers and Ottawa farmers’ markets. In 2012, food from Community Harvest’s combined sources totalled more than 56,000 lbs.

Hidden Harvest Ottawa: This organization plants food-bearing trees in backyards and community spaces, and picks and shares fruit and nuts that would otherwise be wasted. Buy a tree for a friend, family member or community group.

What local food gifts are you buying this year?

Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for 2013! Earthward will be back in early January.


Best places to find local sustainable food

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 reasons to care about sustainable food

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

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

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

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

  1. The food tastes better.

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

  1. It helps protect the environment.

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

  1. It strengthens the local economy.

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

  1. It’s better for your health.

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

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

New blog explores sustainable food in Canada’s capital

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Photo by Comprock

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

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

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

 Ottawa’s local food scene

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

 What will Earthward posts cover?

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

I’ll also bring you:

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

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

 How can readers comment on the blog?

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

 What are my qualifications?

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

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

About Earthward

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Earthward is a blog about sustainable food in Ottawa, Ontario.

It looks at the farmers, entrepreneurs, chefs, eaters and policy-makers in the city and across the region who are growing a local food economy that respects the earth, nurtures community and strengthens our appreciation of good, healthy food.

The goal of Earthward is to spark conversation, and to engage people who want to know more about sustainable food and help bring it to their neighbourhoods.