Archive for the ‘Local Eating in Toronto’ Category

Blueberries, Peaches and Plums. Oh my!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Blueberries

Blueberry season is almost over in Ontario, but we certainly enjoyed it while it was here. Tanny, Ella and I went blueberry picking last weekend at Andrew’s Scenic Acres . We went again this weekend. Ella cannot get enough blueberries!! It was hard to get her to focus on putting the berries into the basket and not in her mouth. She got remarkable adept at distinguishing ripe blueberries from unripe.

One thing we learned this year is that the powdery-white coating on blueberries is called the “bloom” and is not pesticide (thank goodness).

During my high school years, my family and I would always pick blueberries in Thamesville at Park’s Blueberries . If you’re ever passing through the area they have excellent pick your own and home-baked goods. They usually have three different types of blueberries.

While we were at Andrew’s Scenic Acres we also picked some Damas plums. Personally I prefer yellow plums but these were good too. Their pears and apples looked just about ready to pick.

Damas Plums

Tomorrow we’re going to be in Grimsby and hope to stop at Two Century Farm to pick up some peaches and possibly some grapes. We haven’t been there before but my parents said it’s good.

Tanny and I have a running joke about #1 peaches. When we were in the Niagara area a few years ago we stopped at a roadside peach stand. He had two types of peaches with labels: “peaches” and “#1 peaches”. Curious, we asked him what the difference was and he remarked, pointing to one basket, “Those are #1 peaches.” Now whenever we get an obvious answer that contains no value it’s “#1 peaches!”. Anyway, for the curious here is the precise definition of #1 peaches in Canada.

Blueberry farms listed in our database (as of August 31, 2008):

Peach farms listed in our database (as of August 31, 2008):

I know there are many stands and farms with blueberries across the country. Please add them to our list so that others may feast on fresh blueberries.

Keep eating local!

The influence of the “Local Eating movement” on big business

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

You’ve probably noticed the same advertisements I have from Loblaws (and sister companies). Loblaw corporation (part of Westons ) has begun to get the word out that they support local Canadian farmers. Part of me would like to think that the groundswell around local and sustainable eating has encouraged them to buy more local produce. The cynical part of me would reference The Corporation .

Frankly, I think Loblaws, and most chain grocery stores carry a reasonable amount of seasonal, local produce – but they also carry a lot of non-local produce during seasons when it is not necessary (US and Chilean apples in the autumn?). The press release I mentioned above states that:

Loblaw purchased $750-million of Canadian produce in 2007 -
approximately 25 per cent of their total produce selection.

I guess the Loblaw group should be commended for typically moving in the right direction. The PC organic line is quite extensive. They were also quite quick with the re-usable shopping bags. They even have a more environmentally friendly concept store in Scarborough (link ). Call it good business, listening to the public opinion or sincere social responsibility, these are all good steps.

The big question for me is – do I add them here as a "local supplier"? Even though we don’t have a strict rule on the percentage of local food that must be supplied, at 25% I’m going to wait.

Keep eating local!

Aphids!

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Despite our slow start to the garden this year, everything has been growing really well. We’ve been eating fresh peas almost everyday for about a month now, the tomatoes are looking really promising, the carrots are just about ready, we’ve been harvesting the basil and even our one cornstalk has defied all odds and is producing one corn! Yesterday, while I was checking the tomatoes, I found aphids on the flowering branches!!! The aphids nearly destroyed our snowball trees earlier this year and they are not getting my heirloom tomatoes. Luckily there were only a few clusters of them and I began picking them off with my hands. Then I felt weird squishing the bugs and so I blasted them off with the garden hose. When I checked today, there were a few left on the branches still so I blasted them again with the water. Hopefully that’s enough to keep them off. Does anyone know of any other organic ways to keep them off my tomatoes?

Aside from that, our local eating has been going really well in the summer. We go to Fresh from the Farm to stock up on meats every few weeks and we have our CSA from Plan B . We only got a half share and we find it challenging to finish all the veggies each week. We’re not salad people and we just can’t keep up with all the lettuce we’re getting! We tried purple beans for the first time last week. Did you know that they’re green inside and that they turn green when cooked?They taste similar to green beans with a stronger bean taste.

Since we were away for a few weeks in July, we traded those weeks for fruit shares. I decided to get the fruit shares in August thinking of all the peaches and plums that are in season. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I didn’t get any local fruits in the fruit share. There were bananas, oranges, grapes and plums, mostly from California. Apparently, it’s risky to grow peaches and plums organically in Southern Ontario, due the high risk of fungal disease in the fruit. Most farmers can’t afford a crop failure. Here’s an except from an email from Melanie ofPlan B Organics explaining the situation:

Why is there so little fruit being grown organically in Ontario?

While the climate in Southern Ontario is warm enough to grow tender fruit crops, the high humidity in summer leads to a high incidence and spreading of fungal diseases on tender fruit crops. To combat these fungal diseases on conventional farms tender fruit crops are sprayed with chemical fungicides as many as 15 times or more each season to keep these diseases at bay and ensure a crop for the farmer. These sprays are why we at Plan B feel the need to provide an organic alternative, but for that alternative to also be local is a bigger challenge. Most of the certified organic tender fruits you have been getting in your fruit share are grown in arid, semi-desert zones in California where disease pressures are much lower and it is more conducive to organic growing. The cooler and drier weather in more northern parts of the province where we get our organic apples from is also helps lower disease and pest pressures for the farmers there. We also feel that very few local growers are in the position to risk losing their crops as there is little or no financial security in making significant changes to the food system, unless people are guaranteeing their costs and a a living wage. Things most of us take for granted, but that’s not how it is for farmers in our society.

Why can’t we get more farmers in Ontario to grow their fruit organically?

We at Plan B Organic Farm began offering the fruit share with hopes that having a good market for local organic fruit would help convince some local growers to convert to organic production. So far we have only been able to find a few farmers who have taken this step, we hope to find more in the future. Our goal is to have everything we handle be local and organic, but this is a goal for us when it comes to fruit, not the reality of where organic agriculture is at right now in Ontario. We want to build this system for the future, if you know of anyone with a fruit farm that’s not being used or is retiring please let us know and we will contact them with info about organic production.

So, if you know of anyone interested in organic fruit production, drop them a line at info@planborganicfarms.ca.

p.s. We’ve been getting some local organic melons in our fruit shares in the past two weeks.  Yay for melons!

Sweet Corn Sweet Peas Carrot tops Black Cherry Tomatoes Blanche Beaute Tomatoes McMullen Tomatoes Red Zebra Tomatoes

 

Garden Update – July

Monday, July 28th, 2008

It’s been too long since I’ve written an update of our garden.  We were lucky to have lots of rain while we were away, the garden was just thriving when we got back.  Everything got huge!  Our peas, basil and tomatoes have grown so tall.  The carrots are looking more promising.  The parsnips are officially dead – well, I don’t think they sprouted.  We planted two corns for fun, and they’re about a foot and a half tall, I don’t think we’ll get any corn, though.  We were very happy to find the raspberries just about ready for picking.

We’ve been picking the sweet peas and raspberries daily, I don’t think any of them made their way back to the kitchen.  I’ve never had fresh sweet peas before – it’s fun to pick them and eat the peas right out of the pod.  I had plans to make some raspberry tarts, but we haven’t been able to save them from Ella yet.

Here are some pictures from our garden.

The tomatoes plants are looking wild.  They are starting to flower.  I can’t wait for fresh tomatoes.

Sweet Basil

We’ve harvested some basil for pesto already.  

The peas look so overgrown. 

Sweet Corn

Our two stalks of corn.

Carrots

The carrot patch.

Raspberries

Raspberries


Local Eating Hawaii style

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Local fruits


It’s been a few weeks since we’ve updated the website since we were vacationing on the beautiful island of Kauai in Hawaii. It’s the furthest accessible island (the furthest is off-limits) and the least developed. Lots of hiking, kayaking, beaches, etc. Surprising there are a lot of chickens! They’re as populous as squirrels are here (but at least squirrels don’t crow at 3am!).

We rented a cottage in the midst of farmland and plantations and a long walk to the beach. It was blissful.

Ok, so what does this have to do with local eating? Well, we maintained (and probably improved) our local eating habits on this vacation. The property we were on had mango, papaya, banana, orange and breadfruit trees. There is at least one farmer’s market on the island every day which rounded out our kitchen with pineapples, lettuce, corn, cucumbers, eggs and more. Local meat was a little harder to confirm. We ate pork chops, chicken and fish. The fish was definitely local but the poultry and pork was origin-unknown. The oddest thing we saw was a tomato from Canada!!! How can that be economical?

Papaya Trees

We were fortunate to be given access to a local organic fruit farm for a quick tour and saw pineapple bushes. We learned that it takes 20 months to grow a pineapple and you only get a single fruit from each plant. It’s no wonder we don’t see Hawaiian pineapples in Canada – they would be ridiculously expensive given American labour rates and the cost of shipping from Hawaii. It’s too bad because they have a special variety (Sugarloaf) which is exceptional! Low in acid and very sweet.

Sugarloaf Pineapple Bushes

We really wanted to bring a pineapple home with us but expected to need to purchase it from an inspected market (for export). We just missed the location from which we planned to buy them and ended up buying them from the airport for far too much money. Unfortunately they were from Maui! Again, why fly them from Maui when they grow on Kauai? Regardless, once we bought the pineapple I realised there was no “export approved” type label on the package. Since every piece of luggage leaving Kauai for the mainland is inspected by the US Dept of Agriculture we asked them if there was anything special about these “airport pineapples”…. no! So, for anyone flying to Hawaii, pick up pineapples anywhere and bring them home! We were cautioned that pineapple is the only fruit allowed back.

Our Local Eating Experience: a reflection

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

We’ve been trying to eat locally since the beginning of the year, and since June, our meals are mostly local.  We’ve been getting our meats from Fresh from the Farm and The Healthy Butcher, and our fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets and our CSA share.  We’re not your hardcore locavores, but we try to eat locally when it’s affordable and convenient.  Let’s face it, we’re very busy with both of us working and taking care of a toddler.  Time and money are precious commodities around here.  With that in mind, I’ve compiled lists of our experience so far:

What’s local in our kitchen:

  • all meat
  • all fruits
  • all vegetables
  • eggs
  • most cheese
  • some spelt flour
  • yogurt
  • maple syrup
  • wines
  • most beer

What’s not local in our kitchen:

  • rice
  • pasta
  • cereals
  • olive oil
  • vinegars
  • milk
  • flour
  • spices
  • condiments
  • baking ingredients
  • dried herbs
  • bread

New foods we’ve made since we’ve gone local:

  • cream of asparagus soup
  • strawberry bread
  • roasted roots vegetables
  • homemade burgers
  • parsnip mash
  • maple syrup pork chops
  • rhubarb sauce
  • strawberry jam

New foods we’ve tried:

  • rhubarb
  • green garlic
  • garlic scapes
  • parsnip
  • kale
  • odd sprouts
  • rutabaga
  • and all the heirloom tomatoes that we’re growing
  • the best chocolate milk – Harmony chocolate milk

This is just the beginning.  I’m sure we’ll be trying lots more different fruits and veggies as they’re harvested.  I’m really looking forward to the harvest of our own little garden.

More Strawberries!

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Having tasted the local strawberries from my CSA share, I was eager to get more.  Lots more.  I searched the web for a local organic farm and found a small family organic farm not too far away.  So on Sunday, Josh, Ella and I went for a drive and went to Organics Family Farm, a small local organic farm for some fresh strawberries. 

Organics Family Farm

At the farm, there was a small farm stand with some ready-picked strawberries and organic strawberry and strawberry-rhubarb pies, freshly baked in the outdoor wood-fired oven.  We promptly picked up a strawberry-rhubarb pie (there were only a few left and we were NOT leaving without a pie!) and a basket for some strawberry picking fun.  They grow two varieties of strawberries: Veestar (a small and ugly but very sweet variety) and Honeoye (perfectly shaped but not as sweet).  We filled our basket with strawberries (mostly the veestar) while we sampled the berries.  They were so sweet and juicy, even better than the ones we got from our CSA share. 

Strawberry picking

Afterwards, we had a chance to talk to the owner/farmer.  We learned that you can only grow strawberries on a piece of  land for a maximum of two years before you have to rotate crops, and that the veestar variety of strawberry is losing its vigor and showing signs of being genetically drained.  The plants are not as strong as they used to be and this is probably the last year they’ll grow them.  That’s really too bad because they are the sweetest berries I’ve ever tasted. 

Our strawberries

We ended up with 6(!) quarts of strawberries – way more berries that we know what to do with.  Perhaps we (I) were a bit overzealous in our berry-picking.  We made strawberry loaf and muffins, strawberry smoothies and I think I’ll make some strawberry jam for the very first time.  I’ve never made jam before – we’ll see how that goes.

Strawberry Bread Recipe

My kitchen smelled heavenly while this was baking.  This bread tastes a lot better once it’s cooled.  The recipe originally called for 1 1/2 cups of sugar, I thought that was a bit much and since the berries were so sweet, I reduced it to 1 cup and it was just sweet enough for us.

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup salad oil
1 tbsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup quick oats
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups crushed strawberries

Beat eggs and sugar; add oil and vanilla. 

Mix in flour, oats, cinnamon, soda, salt and baking powder. Add strawberries and mix well.

Pour into two greased and floured 4 x 8 inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.  For muffins, bake for 15 minutes.

Strawberry!

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Today, Ella and I, with special guest star Josh, had our weekly stroll to pick up our CSA share.  In that green box, amongst all the green vegetables, sat our first (of many) pint of organic Ontario strawberries! Naturally we had to try them right away.  mmmm…they were so fresh, sweet and juicy. Ella had the most, she kept asking for more.  More than half the pint was gone by the time we got home. That prompted me to search for organic strawberry farms to visit  this weekend.  

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

The Pick Your Own website has a huge list of strawberry farms.  I’ll be adding them to our website, so that they’ll be included in our searchable database.  In the meantime, click here for more berry farms.

 

 

Rhubarb!

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Rhubarb on the stove

Tonight I cooked up a little rhubarb sauce for Tanny and I. Delicious! My Mom used to make it for us when I was a kid and I haven’t eaten it for a long time. I called her up for the "recipe". Based on what I made tonight, here it is:

  • five stalks rhubarb, chopped
  • 3 tbsp sugar

Heat the rhubarb in a saucepan on low heat with a tiny bit of water. Stir as the rhubarb cooks until the rhubarb gets to a stringy, saucy consistency (see picture). Stir in sugar. That’s it.

We eat it on toast.

Tanny made rhubarb-apple muffins with our first load of rhubarb and they were also excellent. Anyone have a good strawberry-rhubarb pie recipe they’d like to share?

Garden Update

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Tonight, I transplanted all four of the tomatoes – the Red Zebra in the garden, and the rest (black cherry, blanche beaute, McMullen) in a large planter box on the back patio where it’s the sunniest. 

Here’s the status of all the plants:

  • black cherry tomato – only 2 inches tall, the smallest of all the tomato seedlings
  • blanche beaute tomato – 4 inches tall, transplanted into a large planter box
  • McMullen tomato – 6 inches tall, transplanted into a large planter box
  • sweet basil – 2 inches tall, still too small to transplant
  • carrot – many have sprouted from the ground
  • parsnip – still no signs of sprouts
  • pea – six have sprouted
  • golden midget watermelon – all died  🙁