Posts Tagged ‘Just Food Start-Up Farm’

Walk on the Wild Side: Amber Westfall’s Wild Garden aims to reconnect people and plants

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Weeds: they’re eye sores, right? Problem bits of green that blemish lawns and run riot in food and flower gardens.

Photo: Courtesy of Amber Westfall

All photos courtesy of Amber Westfall

Not so for Amber Westfall. An experienced forager, wild crafter and owner of a wild food and herb CSA farm called The Wild Garden, Amber regards everything from plantain to stinging nettles as valuable sources of food and natural medicine. “Wild plants extend the food season so we don’t have to rely on traditional crops with shorter life spans,” she says. “Learning about wild edibles and medicinal plants has really changed how I think about the environment. What I used to see as random greenery now stands out because I know it has an important role to play in the ecosystem.”

Besides growing wild edible and medicinal plants for her CSA members, she leads plant walks and workshops. This year, she’s offering a 10-session course that will include the basics of plant identification, harvesting, and post-harvest handling and processing.

Amber sat down with Earthward a few weeks ago to talk about her workshops, her farm and her love of the wild plant world.

How did you get interested in foraging and wild crafting?

I’d been dabbling in natural approaches to health since about 2005. At the same time, I was becoming concerned about the depletion of the planet’s natural resources and our tendency as a species to over-consume. To reduce my own footprint, I decided to start eating locally but there weren’t a lot of options for that at the grocery store. The more I learned, the more I realized that wild foods offered the variety I wanted, extended the season for fresh produce and offered a more natural and sustainable approach to health care. I was hooked.

How did The Wild Garden come into being?

I took a wild edible plant course with Ottawa educator and naturalist Martha Webber and did an apprenticeship near Wakefield. In the process, I began accumulating more plants than I could consume and wondered if I could turn my new-found passion into a livelihood. For a few years, I held workshops and led walks on wild edibles. Then, last year, I was thrilled to be able to launch The Wild Garden, stewarding a quarter-acre of land on the Just Food Start-up Farm.


Tell me more about The Wild Garden CSA.

It’s an herbal CSA, which is a relatively new type of CSA in Canada but has caught on in the U.S. The goal of an herbal-focused CSA is to take subscribers into herbal healing, wellness and learning.

Members can build their supplies of medicinal plants, support local organic agriculture (I’m in the process of getting organic certification for The Wild Garden), eat more nutrient-dense wild foods, and learn about wild plants that grow in the greater Ottawa bio-region. They also benefit from free Wild Garden walks and workshops.

Can you describe what a typical delivery from The Wild Garden contains?

Members receive quarterly deliveries which include herbs for infusion, dried tea blends, herb-infused honey and vinegar, wild seasoning blends, wild food preserves, herbal liqueurs and more.

What does it cost to be a member?

The spring (April to June) CSA is available in 2 versions: the large CSA costs $225 (6 products a month for 3 months), the small CSA costs $160 for 4 products a month for three months. Both are sold out!

Tell me about the walks and workshops you offer.

This year, my plant walks will be set up more like a course, with 10 classes over four months. Classes can be taken individually but will build on previous classes and cover themes and content in more depth.

By the end of the course, participants will have the knowledge and skills to recognize more than 45,000 species of plants by family, as well as to correctly identify many local, edible and medicinal plants and incorporate them into their daily lives. They’ll also learn about harvesting plants in a beneficial way for the environment, and about post-harvest handling, processing and storage.

What kinds of wild plants would people be surprised to learn are edible or medicinal?

Dandelion, for example, is a culinary vegetable in the Middle East. The stinging nettle’s early spring growth contains iron, vitamins and minerals and makes a tasty soup once the prickles have been removed by crushing or drying the plant. The early shoots of the common orange daylily can be used as salad greens and the plant’s tuber tastes like water chestnut.

Many local plants can be used to support health.  Red clover and raspberry leaf make nourishing teas, elderberry is effective against H1N1 flu, plantain and calendula make good salves for cuts and bites, and camomile, blue vervain and cat nip are good for stress.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

It’s such a joy learning about plants. We’re connected to them – and to the environment in general — in a deep, transformative way. I feel honoured to work with plants and to send them out into the community which can then benefit from them.

Amber Westfall’s 2014 Wild Edible & Medicinal Plant Course begins May 7. Register online for 10 ($165) or five ($85) classes. 

Have you ever foraged for wild food? 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 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 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:

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

  • 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


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?