Posts Tagged ‘Community Harvest’

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

Community Harvest grows fresh local produce for Ottawa’s hungry

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

What comes to mind when you think of food bank food? Canned goods, probably. Processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat.

The Ottawa Food Bank and Community Harvest Ontario are challenging that stereotype. Together, they’re transforming emergency food relief in this city by making fresh, local fruit and vegetables available to those in need.  In 2012 — its third year of operation –Community Harvest grew and sourced 56,130 lbs of fresh produce for the Ottawa Food Bank to distribute to its 140 member agencies.  The goal for 2013 is even higher, at 75,000 lbs.

The Community Harvest program gives the estimated 48,000 people (37% of them children) who use Ottawa Food Bank services each month the chance to eat more nutritiously.  At the same time, it helps strengthen community by building relationships with local farmers, recruiting local volunteers and soliciting in-kind support from local businesses.

“The whole program is very rewarding,” says Jason Gray, Community Harvest coordinator for the Ottawa Food Bank. “The community benefit gives you a real sense of wellbeing.”

Ontario Association of Food Banks

An initiative of the Ontario Association of Food Banks, Community Harvest Ontario got started in 2009 in response to the global recession, declines in Ontario’s food manufacturing sector, and rising demand for food bank services.  Successful pilot projects in the Toronto area led to expanded programs in partnership with regional food banks in Ottawa, Hamilton, London and Thunder Bay the following year.

The push to provide nutritious fresh food is consistent with other Ottawa Food Bank practices, Jason points out. “Many people aren’t aware, but we distribute a lot of fresh food, and for after-school programs it’s all fresh.  Through our annual Food Aid event, we raise money to purchase beef from a local sale barn that we can process locally, freeze, and supply to our member agencies.”

Grow, glean, give

To provide fresh local fruit and vegetables, Community Harvest uses three main strategies:

  1. It grows its own crops at local farms, using organic methods.
  2. It gleans unpicked produce that would otherwise be disposed of or ploughed back into the soil at the end of the season, and
  3. It promotes giving – that is, donations of produce from partner farms and farmers’ markets (in Ottawa’s case, from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market).

These strategies are clearly working. For example, last year’s growing projects at Black Farm in Stittsville and Roots and Shoots Farm near Manotick Station yielded a total of 15,017 lbs of vegetables, up 83% from 2011. Gleaning from partner farms yielded nearly 17,000 lbs, while produce donations added more than 24,000 lbs. As the program grows, so does the variety of produce; in 2012, it included potatoes, carrots, corn, squash, beets and apples, as well as small crops of broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, Swiss chard and other vegetables.

To meet its 2013 goal of 75,000 lbs of fresh produce, Community Harvest plans to consolidate its growing projects and search for a new one closer to Ottawa Food Bank’s warehouse in Gloucester. There are also opportunities to add new crops, depending on the needs of member agencies.

 Volunteers at the heart of Community Harvest

None of these successes would have been possible without the hard work of volunteers, Jason Gray notes. “They’re at the heart of what we do.” In 2012, 285 individual volunteers and 10 corporate groups spent 1,219 hours planting, weeding and harvesting.

Jason says he’s always interested in signing up new volunteers, and wants to engage more corporate groups this year. He’s also looking for donations of equipment to streamline the farm work and money to expand the program. Contact him if you’d like to help.

 What other ways can Ottawa make fresh local food available to those in need?



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.