A garlic harvest of our own

Last weekend, we celebrated our very first garlic harvest! After eating the little scapes from our garlic last month, we were excited to see what the bulbs looked like beneath the soil. I think we harvested them a little bit later than we maybe should’ve (1 week earlier would’ve been good) but sure enough, we found fully formed bulbs! They were rather small but I’d still say we were fairly successful for a first ever garlic planting. These were from cloves that we picked up at last year’s Carp Garlic Festival. We’ll be going back to the festival this year to buy a few more bulbs for eating and for planting.

Fresh out of the soil Ready to be hung

In other news, our tomatoes are still green but there are a good number of them growing larger by the day. We also have a healthy number of flowers that will become tomatoes very soon (fingers crossed!). The peas are doing fabulously but like last year, the plant is large and unruly. I really need to work on how to grow a nicely contained pea plant. Our purple beans are beautiful as ever and the plant looks like it is doing well. The chard and kale are producing good yields, and unlike last year with a mold issue, this year’s cucumbers are looking great! We’ve got a lot of flowers and a few cucumbers already growing.

Ripen, babies, ripen Future tomatos Part of the haul Peas IMG_4481

I love seeing our vegetables doing well. It is so satisfying! But I also cannot believe that it is August!?

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Drool over Sushi in the Park

One awesome summertime activity is watching a movie outdoors. Many cities across Canada host free movies in the park or on the pier (yay Halifax!), and Ottawa is not to be left out. Centretown Movies is a volunteer-driven film fest that screens family-friendly films at Dundonald Park in downtown Ottawa, both to bring the community together for evenings of fun and to take back a park that used to be a bit rough. The films are pay-what-you-can (pass-the-bucket style) and last year, there were two food vendors who serviced the event. Enjoy a picnic dinner on a Friday or Saturday evening then enjoy the movie once dusk sets in.

Click here to see the schedule. The first movies start July 26/27. However, I did want to highlight one very enjoyable film that I saw at the local independent theatre, Bytowne Cinemas. It’s called Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the story is great, the cinematography is great, and I definitely recommend seeing it. I wrote about it here but don’t worry, it isn’t a spoiler. The film is playing on Friday August 9. A recipe for a perfect summer evening!

Fair Trade, Fair Transport Chocolate

I was listening to a podcast of the BBC’s Food Programme on Mott Green. I had never heard of him previously but was quite intrigued by his creation of the Grenada Chocolate Company. In this age of microbreweries, artisanal food production, and maker culture, the philosophy embodied by Mott Green doesn’t sound all too foreign. However, this does not diminish the amazingness of what he did:

  • Small-batch chocolate production;
  • Cocoa grown, harvested, and processed into chocolate all in Grenada;
  • Self-empowered cocoa farmers who are part of a co-operative;
  • Keeping production local;
  • Living with the land;
  • Use of sustainable means to power machines.
  • Use of sustainable transport (a wind-powered ship) to move bars to international markets;
  • Control of the fermentation process for the cocoa and of the overall supply chain;
  • Certified organic ingredients; and
  • Building all of the machinery used in the process.

In 2012, Kum-Kum Bhavnani produced a documentary about the Grenada Chocolate Company called Nothing Like Chocolate; here is the trailer.

Mott Green facilitated the creation of a true tree-to-bar sustainable organic dark chocolate bar. Very cool, very inspirational.

Sea Vegetables

Today, the bento box is a trendy lunch style. Growing up, my mom would pack me a bento box to take to elementary school, complete with onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and a few side dishes to go with it; sometimes my lunch even included warm miso soup. Sounds amazing, right?

Well, I remember the reactions I got from my classmates when I’d open my bento at lunch. Classmates would hone in on the onigiri, wrapped in nori (sweet-salty Japanese toasted seaweed), and react with disgust and ridicule. I would go home and tell my mom that I just wanted a ham sandwich, just like everyone else.

I’m reminded of this memory as I listen to an episode of the BBC’s Food Programme on seaweed. Many cultures around the world have incorporated sea vegetables into their diets over hundreds of years. Growing up, my experiences told me that I was the odd one out, eating various seaweed products (nori, kombu, hijiki)…but now, I feel like North America and parts of western society are the odd ones out by not eating any seaweed.

Interestingly, seaweed use is becoming trendy, recognized for its vast flavours (including umami), mineral and trace element content, potential for supporting sustainability in energy (for humans and beyond), and – I’m assuming – because it still has that exotic pull. I’m noticing friends who really enjoy eating Korean or Japanese nori as a snack, eating or even rolling their own sushi, adding dulse or kombu to soup. Seaweed can be a condiment, a base, a main dish.

The future is bright for seaweed!

Mer Bleu in Spring

This past winter, right after a heavy snowfall, we went snowshoeing at Mer Bleu Bog. The boardwalk was nowhere to be seen and it was a serene white all around us. We decided to venture back there on a beautiful sunny late Spring afternoon to see what it looks like when the snow has disappeared.

Welcome to Mer Bleu bog boardwalk in late Spring
Welcome to Mer Bleu bog boardwalk in late Spring
Cattails in the water
Cattails in the water
Beautiful reflections
Beautiful reflections
Bog - apparently Mer Bleu's pH is around 3.5...wonder what happens to you if you accidentally fall off the boardwalk....
Bog – apparently Mer Bleu’s pH is around 3.5…made me wonder what happens to you if you accidentally fall off the boardwalk….
The tree needs a hair cut!
The tree needs a hair cut!
Such beauty!
Such beauty!

Now that I’ve seen the bog in the dead of winter and in late spring, perhaps this means I’ll need to take a visit later this year during fall as well. Hmmm.

Stimulating Saturdays: Food culture in a food desert

The value of turning land in the middle of a city into a garden is amazing. People who do the gardening and nurture the plants and the land find great joy in the activity, the people passing by and interacting with the garden are affected by their experience with nature, and slowly, food deserts disappear.

Local Food Act: Good things grow in Ontario

With the Legislative Assembly of Ontario back in action after a prorogation by the previous premier, the Local Food Act (Bill 36) has once again been reintroduced by the Minister of Agriculture and Food. The Minister explained that the Ontario government will lead by example in the support of local food systems by setting policy direction such as “requiring ministries to consider local food for procurements under $25, 000”. Also, the week leading up to Thanksgiving, which is the first Monday of October in Canada, will be Local Food Week, overlapping with the already existing Agriculture Week.

The bill definitely has a catchy title that is very with the times. However, all of the discussion that I have heard around the Local Food Act raises questions in my mind about what the government is trying to achieve. The phrase ‘local food’ is thrown around a lot. In the Act, local food is defined as:

(a)    Food produced or harvested in Ontario, and

(b)    Subject to any limitations in the regulations, food and beverages made in Ontario if they include ingredients produced or harvested in Ontario.

But I don’t think all local food is equal. And not all local food should automatically be considered to be superior to non-local food. “Local food” is more complex than just naming the borders of production. We need to think more critically about what it means to buy local, eat local, and support local.

  • If we do the ‘local’ thing, what factors do we want to prioritize? Is it eating more seasonally? Increasing funding and decreasing red tape to support the infrastructure necessary for local food systems?  Encouraging farmers to work with the land with sustainability for generations in mind (meaning less harm done to the soil and to plant diversity)?
  • What are the implications of decreasing your food mileage? How could this impact the farms countries away that have been shaped to supply some percentage of our food? Is a local food system more efficient or sustainable than a global food system?
  • For the public sector organizations that would be impacted by any targets set under the Act, what effect would local food procurement targets have on their overall operating budget? For example, hospitals receive decreased provincial funding to provide services, which result in cuts to staff and services; will local food procurement be affordable?
  • By using more of the food produced in Ontario within Ontario, will this have any effect on the availability of Ontario produce elsewhere in Canada?
  • Where does education fall into this picture? There is IMMENSE value in teaching children from pre-school through high school about food production and cooking through school gardens and kitchens. We need to educate kids and folks in general about making decisions related to their food. We also need to seriously address food security.
  • Even if the supermarket has signs indicating that this product was made in Ontario, what does this mean to consumers? Do they notice? Does this factor into their decision-making? Does it make a difference?

These are just some of the questions that floated into my head after reading the Local Food Act. The Minister (and numerous critics) has publicly acknowledged that the content of the bill is vague, but I suppose the idea is to create a framework to which more detail can later be added…?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it would be great if places like hospitals place real value on the quality of the ingredients that they use in their food; after all, ingredients do make a big difference. But the issue is complex and we just need to make sure that we’re having active discussions on what we want to focus on and prioritize.

You can read the short bill here: http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=2754

A side note on food security: I was listening to a podcast that was discussing this topic and someone made a very good point that hadn’t consciously occurred to me. It isn’t just about teaching people how to cook from ‘raw’ ingredients (vegetables, meats, etc). Some people don’t have access to cooking implements. No stove, no oven, maybe no microwave or toaster. We can’t just think of a lack of access to affordable good ingredients. It’s access to the whole package.

Stimulating Saturdays: What is “sustainability” again?

There’s a lot of green-washing nowadays, with marketing moving towards green this, natural that, local this, sustainable that. So I thought it would be good to take a step back and remind ourselves of what ‘sustainability’ means as well as what some of the core principles that we should be using for guidance are. It’s a complex topic once you start getting into the weeds (the details) and there are different ways of interpreting and integrating principles of sustainability into your life and your business. It’s also easy to get swayed by effective marketing….

http://youtu.be/B5NiTN0chj0

Sustainability: Everything is connected. Allowing for a good quality of life for us now and for the future generations, all around the world.

A film fest, a food market and some permaculture

A few interesting things happening around town over the next 2 weeks:

The biannual Reel Food Film Fest is happening on Thursday March 14 starting at 6:30pm at the Main Ottawa Public Library. This time, they will be screening a short on Tim Baker’s Visit to Honduras and a feature-length film called Tapped. I’ve been to the Reel Food Film Fest for the past 3 offerings (see here, for example) and have really enjoyed seeing different films on various aspects of food.

Trailer: http://youtu.be/_vyu07JM78M

After a bit of a dead time in markets, there will be a Westboro Easter Food Market (@taste_of_ottawa) on Saturday March 23 from 10am to 3:30pm in Westboro. Admission is free and there will be a number of local vendors, including some of my faves Hummingbird Chocolate and Koko Chocolates. Relish, the food truck, will also be on-site…a great warm-up for what will prove to be an exciting summer of food truck fare in Ottawa. We’re also about two months away from the farmers’ markets opening around town!

Lastly, if you’ve been curious about permaculture or an urban food forest, there is a two-day event happening on March 23 to 24 from 9:15am to 4:30pm in central Ottawa. It’s called the Eastern Ontario Permaculture Convergence and they have multiple workshops on what permaculture is and how it can be applied to food production. Admission is a suggested donation of $10 per day.

Stimulating Saturdays: How do we feed the world?

In the previous Stimulating Saturdays post, I shared a video that explains the concept of food security. This week, I’m following up with this video on the ‘global food crisis’, which is a combination of inequitable food and resource distribution, a rising demand for food as the population increases, and building or maintaining sustainable resource systems (food production, environment, lifestyles).

It’s interesting that a picture of corn is used to represent food in quite a few of the animation frames. I recently watched the documentary, King Corn, which follows two relatively young guys who go to middle America to grow corn because they learn that their body is essentially corn. A testament to how much corn products make their way into our foods. A substantial amount of food is grown to be fed to animals, not people, so that countries that crave a large amount of cheap meat can be satisfied. Corn is a common feed element for animals but it is also processed into various corn-derived substances. A lot of the corn that you see driving through the countryside is not meant to be eaten directly by humans but you end up eating a lot more corn than just corn-on-the-cob if you buy pre-packaged or pre-prepared foods.

If you’re interested in these topics, a great book to read is Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System by Raj Patel.