Posts Tagged ‘organic’

Mountain Path’s Robert Hogg: poet, farmer, miller, organics advocate

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Mountain Path mills organic flour on Robert Hogg’s farm south of Ottawa.
Photo by Mitch Lenart

 

He’s not an eco-poet, he says. Nowhere in his five books of published poetry does he rant about the contamination of natural resources or the perils of climate change.

Nevertheless, Robert Hogg — founder of Mountain Path, a specialty flour mill and food distributor south of Ottawa – has lived his life based on a deep respect for the land and a desire to protect it for future generations.

Dedicated to sustainable, organic food and farming

Since the early 1970s, Hogg has grown food organically on his 140-acre farm in North Dundas, and the small commercial flour mill he started on the property has been certified organic since 1987. The Mountain Path food distribution business he launched in the 1990s supplies exclusively organic and natural foods, and also supports regional organic farms and businesses, and fair trade.

Over the years, Hogg has been active in organizations such as Canadian Organic Growers, the Ecological Farmers of Ontario and the National Farmers Union, and has converted a number of farmers to organic practices.

Remarkably, he has managed to combine all of this with busy literary and teaching careers.  A participant in the 1960s Tish poetry movement with likes of George Bowering, Frank Davey, and former Canadian poet laureate Fred Wah, Hogg is working on his sixth book of poetry and editing an anthology of Canadian poetic theory.  From 1968 until he retired in 2005, he taught modern Canadian and American poetry and poetic theory at Carleton University.

Last November, Hogg, 71, sold Mountain Path to Signature Food Concepts but has stayed on as sales director.

Robert Hogg talked to Earthward recently about Mountain Path and his commitment to sustainable farming.

How did you get interested in organics?

It happened through my mother. When I was a child in Edmonton, she had some health issues that didn’t respond to treatment, and they became severe enough that she decided to go Vancouver to consult a naturopath. The doctor put her on a course of treatment that included a eating a diet of peeled grapes, strange as it may sound. She completely recovered. The experience turned her into a health advocate and supporter of natural foods. She founded the Canadian Health League, and some years later, when we’d moved to B.C., she opened a natural food store — the first in the Fraser Valley and probably one of the earliest in Canada.

Why did you become an organic farmer?

Once I had children of my own, I began to think about their health and how to protect it. Growing our own food organically seemed like a good way to do this. For several years, my wife and I rented land from the NCC where we planted an organic vegetable garden, kept chickens and raised goats for milk. Then, in 1973, in the midst of the back-to-the-land movement, we bought the farm we live on today. I’ve always believed in organic methods and organic certification. Farming organically and sustainably is about so much more than profit. It’s about the health of the soil and the water table, the health of people and animals.

How did you get into specialty milling?

One year I brought some Glenlea wheat I’d grown to Watson’s Mill in Manotick for grinding. The results were good so I started selling my flour to places like Herb & Spice and Rainbow Natural Foods.  When demand for the flour began to grow, I found a bigger mill – a 30-inch stone mill — to handle the volume and had it brought to the farm in 1983. We’re using it three decades later.

Stone-milling makes for better tasting, healthier flour than industrial milling. The slower process protects the grain from the high temperatures that promote rancidity and vitamin loss. Stone-grinding also maintains the original proportions of endosperm, bran and germ in the grains and preserves the nutrients that go with them.

How did the food distribution business develop?

After a while, people wanted to buy more than just flour from us so we began to source other products, like seasonings and spices from Frontier Natural Products Co-op and oils from Spectrum Organics. The business kept expanding from there.

What’s ahead for Mountain Path?

Being under the same business umbrella as Signature Foods and Natural Gourmet will benefit Mountain Path through more exposure and new customer relationships.  Just one example: there’s the potential to build on the large clientele Mountain Path already has among co-ops – rural buying clubs, basically.

What’s ahead for you personally?

As director of sales for Mountain Path, I’m still very involved in the company and excited about its future. But at 71, I’m happy with a somewhat smaller role than I had when I was the owner.  I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to farm, write poetry and spend time with my five grandchildren.

 

 

Aubin Farm on their non-standard CSA, no-waste policy and the future of family farms

Friday, January 11th, 2013

 

Photo: Aubin Farm

Like many family farmers in the Ottawa region,   Tim Aubin and his wife Roshan are hard- working, innovative DIYers.  And like most local food advocates, they’re committed to producing food in ways that minimize waste, protect soil and water, and reconnect people with good-tasting, healthy food.

A certified organic operation, Aubin Farm grows vegetables and raises grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as chickens, turkeys and ducks on 160 acres near Spencerville, south of Ottawa. Besides selling at the farm gate and local farmers’ markets, the Aubins offer a non-standard CSA program which provides 30 to 35 members in Ottawa and across the region with regular home delivery of fresh produce. In 2013, the Aubins hope to expand the program to about 60 members.

Tim Aubin talked to Earthward about his and Roshan’s farm practices and their concerns about the future of family farming.

How did you and Roshan start farming?

I was born in England and farmed in Australia, western Canada and Africa before settling here in 1997 with Roshan, a former teacher and a native of Tanzania. Having seen big commercial farms up close, we knew we wanted to farm organically. We started out growing flowers, but kept an organic vegetable garden for ourselves, partly because we’d had one in Africa, but also because we hated the taste of supermarket produce. When we took our surplus garden vegetables to market with the flowers, we watched demand for them take off. This turned us toward full-time food production, although we still grow roses, mostly as a hobby.

How does Aubin Farm’s box delivery program work?

Beginning in early May, program members receive a weekly box with 10 to 12 items of the farm’s best seasonal produce, much of it heirloom varieties.  Because we use naturally heated greenhouses to extend the season, we can deliver well into the fall. For example, in 2012, we delivered the last boxes in early November, and in 2013, we plan to continue into December. Customers can add other farm products to their boxes, such as eggs, chicken or Roshan’s preserves. There’s more information about the program on our website and, starting this year, we’ll provide updates on our Facebook page.

 Are you a standard CSA?

Unlike traditional CSAs, we don’t ask for payment at the beginning of the season.  Instead, we charge a flat rate of $40 per box delivered. This offers flexibility for subscribers who go on holiday and evens out our cash flow.

Tell me about Aubin Farm’s no-waste policy and why it’s important to you.

It’s strenuous to produce whatever you produce so why throw it away? In fact, not wasting what you grow can be as important to revenues as growing more.

Everything we produce is sold or made into something else or we use it ourselves.  For example, Roshan makes her specialty chutneys, pickles and cooked-to-order Indian cuisine with unsold farm food. If we have surpluses, we provide them to The Branch Restaurant and Texas Grill or donate them to local fundraisers such as MarketPlates.

We compost vegetable remnants to fertilize the soil or feed them to our animals.  Every year, we take wool sheared from our mixed breed sheep to PEI for processing into yarn and blankets. After our sheep go to the butcher, their skins are processed for sale. Customers can order blankets and sheepskins by contacting Roshan or me.

What challenges do you see for small-scale, family farms these days?

One issue is the many rules and regulations to follow, a number of which favour the big players.  For example, a small chicken farmer in Ontario can’t have a flock larger than 300 birds. If you want more, you have to buy quota, which is 14,000 birds. There’s nothing in between. 

Another challenge is that there are fewer and fewer abattoirs left in Ontario. Mobile abattoirs have been under discussion for some time. They’d offer a sensible, fuel-efficient solution that would save farmers long trips to the nearest facility.

For all farmers there’s a legacy problem. Many of us are in our 50s and 60s: who’s going to replace us when they retire? Young people are interested in farming but money remains an real obstacle: the capital requirements are huge. We must all pay more attention to the future of our food system. As a society, we tend to look at health at the level of hospitals and drugs, but health really starts with food.

Photo: V.Ward

 

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?