Posts Tagged ‘certified organic’

Mike’s Garden Harvest: First-season CSA focuses on success

Monday, July 14th, 2014
Mike Milsom of Mike's Garden Harvest CSA

Mike Milsom of Mike’s Garden Harvest CSA

 

Mike Milsom is taking me around his 1.25-acre, certified-organic CSA farm in Ottawa South on a sticky mid-June day.

He carefully checks rows of sprouting carrots and radishes while telling me about his first all-nighter in the field transplanting vegetables. “The field and I are having a relationship,” he grins. “The honeymoon is over and now we’re having some issues, like high clay content in the soil. This soil will grow wonderful vegetables but it’s tender when wet so it can’t be worked, and like gravel when dry so it’s harder for plants to germinate.”

Coming through for customers

This is the first season for Mike’s Garden Harvest CSA, so he’s especially anxious to come through for the 40 families who’ve signed up to receive weekly baskets of his fresh produce. “I owe so much to their support,” he says. For example, because CSAs ask members to pay for their food share at the start of the season, he has been able to buy essentials such as irrigation equipment and organic compost.

Mike’s also eager to get into steady production to satisfy customers at the Parkdale Market, and a local restaurant that wants to source from his fledgling micro-greens operation.

The difficulty at the moment is that the season has got off to a slow start. Spring arrived late and it wasn’t until the end of May that Mike was able to till the field he leases from Greta Kryger of Greta’s Organic Gardens. Then drenching rains turned the clay soil into a no-go zone for a week.

Despite the challenges, worry and long hours, he stays upbeat. “It’s good to be swamped and consumed by something worthwhile.”

Roots in food and farming

Mike’s commitment has roots in his youth working on different farm operations and studying farm management at the University of Guelph. Through those experiences, he realized that the best farmers were those with real passion for the land and what they grew on it. He also reached the conclusion that conventional farm practices had become ecologically unsustainable and damaging to our health.

After university, Mike immersed himself in the marketing and retail sides of food production, helping his father develop and manage an apple cider mill in Collingwood, Ontario. Together, they crafted a freshly pressed, sweet apple cider that became a favorite President’s Choice product for Loblaw.

When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the business was sold and Mike took a break from food and farming to raise two sons and work in sectors as varied as carpentry, social work and licensed car repair.

He returned to growing food a few years ago, but it was his eldest son who motivated him to move into full-time farming. “I showed Tim one of my bean plants,” Mike says. “He held it, took a bite and his face lit up. Later on, he told me he just felt better when he ate my vegetables. His reactions decided me.”

Certified organic practices

In line with his concerns about health and sustainability, Mike advocates organic practices and made a point of getting organic certification.

“Growing vegetables organically is a lot more involved than just being chemical-free,” he explains. “We’ve all heard the expression, ‘you are what you eat’ – well, that’s true of the food, too. The soil isn’t just a planting medium. It should be an environment that’s rich with micro-organisms, where the plants actually feed, absorb nutrients and develop complex flavours.”

The best way to achieve that rich environment, he adds, is through measures such as applying organic compost, hand-tilling the soil beds, using carefully selected heirloom seeds, and doing planned crop rotation, companion planting, and calibrated irrigation.

We can grow our own food

Mike has lots of plans for the farm’s future. For example, he wants to be able to attract corporate customers, store root crops over the winter, install high tunnels to protect crops and extend the growing season, and maybe even set up an aquaponics operation.

If he could make one change to the food system through his efforts, I ask, what would it be? “To reacquaint people with origins of their food – the big food corporations are disabling us,” he says.

“The message I want to get out there is that we can grow our own food, and if we choose not to, at least we can learn how it’s grown and be educated consumers.”

Mike’s Garden Harvest

Produce: Fruits, vegetables and herbs, including: arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, eggplant, fennel, kale, mixed greens, potatoes, snap peas, snow peas, squash, ground cherries, melons and more

Share prices: Range from $165 for Mike’s Flex Pack to $505 for a full season share

More info: www.mikesgardenharvest.com

 

If you could make one change to the food system, what would it be?

 

Goodbye, frozen pizza: These local businesses deliver healthy, sustainable food to your door

Friday, December 20th, 2013

 


Photo courtesy of Eating Well Ottawa

Most of us are so busy these days that shopping for and preparing healthy food often gets caught in the crunch. Big food corporations make lots of money on our appetite for convenience, catering to it with everything from frozen pizza to meal replacement shakes to soups you can sip while driving.

But food doesn’t have to be hyper-processed to be convenient. As demand ramps up for local and organic foods, Ottawa chefs and entrepreneurs are finding ways to provide the convenience people want without compromising on food quality, nutrition or environmental sustainability.

Several services in Ottawa allow you to order healthy, sustainably produced food online and have it delivered to your door. Depending on the service, you can get organic groceries, fully prepared gourmet meals, or boxes of recipes and ingredients to make chef-designed dinners.

The newest of these services is Eating Well Ottawa, an organic grocery business that started taking online orders last month.

Eating Well Ottawa

With the service, you sign up for a box of fresh, certified organic fruit and vegetables to be delivered to your home or office each week. Harvest and Office boxes are available year-round, and during the growing season there’s a Local box for customers who want produce from local and regional farms. Depending on the size and type of box selected, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $55.

The company’s emphasis on organic and local reflects its commitment to sourcing foods in an ethical, eco-friendly way, says president Brendan Gorman. “We believe in local, regional and Canada first, and we support fair trade practices and environmental responsibility.”

Another important goal is to show that eating well can be simple and affordable, Brendan adds. “Grocery stores mark up organic foods by at least 40%. We’ve chosen to cut back on the mark-up so that good, sustainable food can become a more mainstream choice.”

Come mid-January, Eating Well Ottawa plans to launch new options such as a “detox” box with juices and other products to get people healthy again after holiday excess. In addition, customers will be able to add to their regular orders with items from organic/natural food businesses in the region including Mountain Path, Signature Foods  and Natural Gourmet.

In the longer term, Brendan says he hopes to offer meat and dairy products as well.

Ottawa Organics and Bryson Farms

At least two other businesses are already on Ottawa’s organic food home delivery scene. Ottawa Organics and Natural Foods works along the same lines as Eating Well Ottawa.  Bryson Farms is a certified organic CSA near Shawville, Québec, that delivers its own fresh heirloom produce, its own line of flash-frozen vegetables and prepared foods, and organic beef.

Chefx

Chefx is a new service geared to people who enjoy cooking but don’t have the time for meal planning or grocery shopping. Sign up and receive everything you need to prepare a gourmet dinner in about 45 minutes: a chef-designed recipe, step-by-step instructions, and fresh, portioned ingredients (local and seasonal whenever possible). Prices for weekly boxes with supplies for two dinners range from $59 for two people, to $139 for six.

Featured chefs include Chris Deraiche (Wellington Gastropub), 2013 Gold Medal Plates winner Marysol Foucault (Edgar), Marc Lepine (Atelier), Patricia Larkin (Black Cat Bistro), Matthew Shepheard (Mariposa Farm), among others.

Red Apron

Heading into its eighth year in Ottawa, Red Apron prepares fresh, eco-friendly gourmet meals for pick-up or home delivery.  Menus  highlight seasonal ingredients from regional producers and dinners can be ordered by the day or the week.

For the holidays, you can pre-order a whole, herb-roasted turkey – (locally sourced, antibiotic- and hormone-free) with all the trimmings, as well as other seasonal dishes such as tourtière, or bison, sweet potato and cranberry pie.

For more info on Red Apron, read my 2012 post.

Scratch Kitchen

Scratch Kitchen cooks, freezes and delivers healthy gourmet meals. Food is prepared in small batches in a commercial, health-inspected kitchen, using locally sourced and organic ingredients when possible. All meals are low in sodium and free of additives and preservatives. Order online from menus that include vegan dishes, soups, salads, pastas, ragouts and curries.

Read about Scratch Kitchen’s 2014 menu sourcing here.

What would make it easier and faster for you to prepare healthy meals?