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Raw Milk Update

I got a liter of milk today from our friendly neighborhood jersey cow, and I’m quite delighted.  I haven’t been able to get fresh milk for several weeks now, having been away, and I have missed it sorely!  I did end up breaking down and buying some organic pasturized milk (which I use to make yogurt with when Miss Jersey is not producing enough for me to both drink and turn into yogurt).  I have a thing for hot chocolate in the winter, and since you have to heat hot chocolate to make it hot, I figure I might as well use already pasteurized milk.  Still, I miss the raw stuff and was pretty  happy to get some this week.  Seasonal dependency on products is something we just aren’t used to dealing with anymore.  When a cow is relying just on hay, her production goes down considerably.  Several families get milk from this particular cow, and I am at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to priority for this hard to come-by substance.  Really, I should just go without milk  and yogurt this time of year.  Perhaps I could eat sauerkraut or kimchi for breakfast instead, and forgo my morning bowl of soaked oats, nuts, fruit and yogurt (and it’s wonderfully healthy bacterial culture) until the spring grass increases production.  Something to ponder…

In the meantime, it’s six days and counting until the verdict on Michael Schmidt’s Raw Milk case.  Apparently it is being given in a small courtroom in Newmarket, ON.  Interestingly, the police wrote a request to Michael & the “raw milk movement”, asking people showing up to support the dairy farmer to behave themselves.  The courtroom can only hold 66 people and parking is “VERY limited.”  Apparently there is “no other courtroom available with more seating.”  I have to wonder if selecting such a small courtroom was intentional, as it sounds like they expect quite a crowed of protesters.  If I were closer, I’d be one of them!  For more details on this event, Michael Schmidt’s battle to sell raw milk in general, check out The Bovine.

Southwestern Ontario Grocery Stores Turn Local

On July 03, a group of five Southwestern Ontario formerly Sobey’s grocery stores became independent.  This is an reversal of trends and leaves me wondering if we are going to see more of this sort of downsizing and localizing as our economy falters and people start thinking more communally again.

“Dale Kropf calls it Independence Day: On July 3, his five grocery stores in southwestern Ontario ceased to be Sobeys franchises.

Corporate policies prevented him from buying local products, he says, so he joined forces with four other former Sobeys franchisees and formed the independent Hometown Grocers Co-Op.

“We feel that local food, local presence is huge in our market and we wanted to take advantage of that,” Kropf says.

For the full story, click here.

Seeing GREEN!

I know, I know.  It’s snowing out.  So how can I be seeing green, you ask?  well, this week I got my first fresh, local greens from Rick Cornelissen of Eco-Logic Farm.  Rick also has fresh tomatoes.  I’m not sure how he’s producing tomatoes at this time of year, I’m guessing in a greenhouse.  I must remember to ask at next pick-up.  I do know his tomatoes are grown in soil and that he doesn’t use sprays etc.  

Over the last couple of weeks I have also collected some fresh, potted herbs from Heritage Line Herbs.  They have a booth now at Western Fair Market in south London and they bring in quite a few herbs, some seeds and some of their preserves. Of note, Western Fair Market has recently undergone a change of management and has quite a few new vendors.  I also get my cheese there, a few produce times such as some amaranth from On The Move Organics (of note, this is a small, local company that also offers a home box delivery program, soon by bike in some areas of London – do check their website for more info!), biodegradable cleaning supplies, and of course my fair trade, hand made chocolates (from fabulous Cocoa Earth).

So despite it being white outside, for lunch today I had my first salad of the year.  I tossed the mixed greens with fresh cilantro, basil, parsley and arugula.  I then chopped up a tomato and some local swiss cheese, and topped it with organic sea salt (purchased locally in France by my mother and brought back in her suitcase), fair trade black pepper and olive oil (both purchased at 10000 Villages) and balsamic vinegar.  Balsamic vinegar remains one of the only items I have not been able to either give up, or satisfactorily find a good source of.  

I love the feeling of knowing exactly where every item on my plate comes from, and picturing the person I got it from.  Heck, even the bowl I ate it in was hand made by Queenston Pottery.  Now I think it is time for a second helping.  Yum!

Fairmedow Farm Winter CSA

Thanksgiving marks the end of Orchard Hill CSA’s season, a season that felt like it just got started!  Not, I’m sure, for Ken and Martha and their working team at Orchard Hill.  I’ll bet the summer has been quite long enough for them!  But it seems to me that it was only last week that we received our first big batch of greens from the farm.  Every week since then has been an adventure, and Saturdays have taken on a new meaning: food day.  Every Saturday since May several bags of fresh produce has been delivered to my doorstep by one of my carpool friends.  And every Saturday has brought something new and interesting: tomatillos, red carrots, yellow beets, Scarlet Queens (a type of turnip), and so on.

Being a member of this CSA has been great on so many levels.  The food has been extraordinary and beyond abundant.  The people have been delightful.  The farm is always gorgeous and fascinating to visit, and the social ties that have emerged have been deeply meaningful.  Orchard Hill also does a wonderful job of adding a special touch.  Fresh cut-your-own flowers ever week, often supplemented by sun-flowers (sometimes red!) and gladiolas cut for us; fresh berries with pick-your-own for free as the season winds down; and just yesterday, a beautiful, huge pumpkin.

I really can’t say enough good things about this experience.  It’s been wonderful.

So wonderful, in fact, that I’ve decided to join a new CSA for the winter; Fairmedow Farm.  This CSA is run by Michelle Jory, who has apprenticed at Orchard Hill and now is running her own garden on land she is leasing from them.  Michelle apparently has a wonderful root cellar for keeping potatoes and such nice and fresh, and will also be including dried beans and other interesting items to help make the winter months more palatable.  I am really excited about this as last winter I tried to root cellar my own veggies – without a root cellar – with really dismal results.  Finding this CSA has been a real bonus as a locavore!

If you are interested in joining this CSA, I believe there may be a few spots left.  It doesn’t start up until the end of October, with bi-monthly pickups until around mid-January.  The cost to join is $250.

Only one household from my summer CSA carpool has joined along with me.  Fortunately, two more households we know have decided to joint the Winter one, so we are up to four.  Having the carpool arrangement really makes all the difference as much as I love going to the farm, the round trip is nearly 2 hours and I think would get a bit tiring if done weekly.  The winter CSA only has a pick-up every two weeks, so with four cars that means everyone only goes once every two months.  That’s about on par with what we did this summer, although I found excuses to go to the farm a few more times than that.  This Sunday will be another such trip as they are holding their autumn pot-luck, complete with a garden tour put on by Michelle.  I sure hope this gorgeous sunny weather holds until then!

Canning Season

Oh dear, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted yet again!  My dearth of regular posts, however, have no relation to my dedication to eating local.  Quite the opposite in fact.  This time of year I am busy trying to keep on top of my garden, looking for recipes and finding ways to preserve summer’s bounty and keep myself from going hungry this winter.  Plus it’s too nice to be sitting at a computer any more than I have to!

One of my current endeavours is trying to find naturally raised (i.e. pastured and grass finished) meats to feed my dogs (and myself for that matter).  This is really a challenge!  I am looking for cheap cuts of meat to feed them: scraps, organ meats, bones and so on.  What I am finding is that most people who sell meat get their meat already cut.  Even butchers only get certain cuts and don’t get the parts I’m looking for.  Some are able to get them for me by special request, but most cannot.  So I continue to search for these products, and in the meantime am feeding my pets far too much factory farmed food (even if it is local).  My best bet is to buy directly from a farmer, but that’s not easy either as they tend to use these parts, or feed them to their own dogs!  I’m working on it, and will be sure to detail what I come up with when I’m finally successful.

Regarding my own culinary regime, last week I made pickles for the first time.  That was an exciting adventure.  It was actually very simple, albeit took the most part of an evening to complete.  I am a little worried that the cucumbers were a slightly wilted by the time I got around to it (I bought them 2 days earlier) but I just couldn’t do it any sooner.  I am also a bit worried that I didn’t boil them long enough.  I expect since they are pickled in vinegar that there is little concern about botulism, but I still worry.  Typical city slicker canning newby (and product of capitalist industrial brainwashing) concerns I’m sure.

I used a very simple pickling recipe (which I will post if it turns out well), but as always had to modify it somewhat.  I did use pre-packaged pickling spice (left over from before I was a dedicated locavore) and skipped the mustard seed (I didn’t have any).  The cucumbers and dill were local and organic, and the garlic came from my own garden.   And instead of using white vinegar, I used apple cider vinegar which I purchased last fall from an apple farm not far from where I live.  I read somewhere that apple cider vinegar is ok to use for pickling (it has the same percent acidity).  I guess I’ll find out in a couple of weeks when I sample my pickles!

Now I want to try making pickled beets, bread and butter pickles, and canned peaches and pears.  I am presently visiting my family in Niagara – not entirely coincidentally the week that the baby gold peaches are now ready for harvest – and will bring back as many peaches as I can to stock my pantry and freezer for the winter.  The memory of how good my friend’s canned peaches tasted last January remains as a driving force to get me to do all of this.  That and my food budget – I spent far too much on other people’s preserves last winter and hope to change that for 2009.

First Day at Orchard Hill

Today was the first scheduled pick-up day for Orchard Hill CSA.  As I’ve mentioned, four other households I know decided to join along with me.  I am thrilled by this, and was quite confident that this CSA was a good idea . But I have to admit there was a little part of me that was worried.  I mean, what if we get there and all they have for us is a head of wilted lettuce?  I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I felt responsible for having convinced my friends to cough up $500 each to join.  After all, I’d never been there before, and never even met anyone who’d been there.  I based all of my assumptions on theory – i.e. that CSA’s are a good thing – and one or two positive comments I found on the internet.  So joining was somewhat a leap of faith, and I had convinced my friends to jump along with me.

Fortunately there was absolutely no reason for concern.  Today’s experience was wonderful.  Two of my friends chose to come with me and the other two households sent along containers for us to bring back their produce.  The sun was shining, the air was warm; the day was perfect for a nice drive in the country.  And drive it was.  I’m really glad I’ll be sharing the carpooling with 5 or 6 other cars as it was a bit of a hike to get down there.  I think it was a solid 40 minute drive each way, which somewhat defeats the zero emissions of naturally raised food.  Of course it is better than having it shipped from China, but driving 60km once a week with today’s gas prices will certainly add to the price of the food.  Fortunately I will only have to drive my car once every 6 weeks or so, and each trip will feed 5 households, which – if divided equally – makes for a 12km diet.  Now that is something to be happy about!

The drive is beautiful so it really wasn’t a hardship, especially with pleasant discussion among friends. When we arrived at last, the property was beautiful.  I look forward to wandering around and seeing more of it, but today we didn’t have time.  We were too busy figuring out how it all works!  Basically, the pick-up went as follows.  We parked and went into the distribution room.  There, there was a list with all the member’s names and a list of what you get today.  You scratch off your name and then move around the room and collect the week’s allotment:

12 stocks or rhubarb
8 green onions
8 radishes
1 bunch of asparagus
1 Pok Choi (sp?)
1 head of lettuce
A wide variety of herbs: oregano, sage, chives, sweet cisely (sp?), lovage, orange something or other (borage?), and several kinds of mint.
Fresh cut flowers (cut your own – this week we brought home bleeding hearts and lilacs)

Considering that my garden presently has mint, catnip, a few leaves of sage and a sprig of thyme, this haul is pretty impressive!  My roommate and I made up a very tasty salad and she baked a batch of the maple rhubarb pudding I posted about before.  Coupled with the stew I made yesterday, I think we ate very well!  Ironically neither of us like radishes, but we felt obliged to put some in our salad, and it actually was tasty.  Now to find something to do with the other seven… 

The flowers and herbs are a really nice touch.  The drive home was wonderful as the car smelled so good!  Unfortunately a number of things were wilted by the time we got them out of the car, so we will have to find a way to keep things cool as the summer heats up.  Fortunately everything perked up nicely when popped into water, and now our house smells like lilacs and lovage (which smells like celery).


Green Eggs & Ham

As you may have noticed,  my blog has once again changed colours.  As I type, I am sitting at my kitchen table with the back door wide open.  This gives me a view into my tiny little back yard, which opens into a much bigger lawn space that is communal to my housing complex.  As I look out, all I can see is green, green, GREEN!  Spring is definitely here, despite the chill still being in the air, especially at night.  So I thought it was time for me to change my blog background again, from the earthy colours of early spring to the one that I see as I look out the door.  Everything is bursting into life and I’m getting pretty excited about what the season will bring us.  Indeed, tomorrow is our first pick-up at Orchard Hill Farm CSA.  I can’t wait to go out there and visit the farm, and see what goodies I get to bring home!

Yesterday I drove to Waterloo to pick up my brother.  He was doing a guest lecture at the University of Waterloo (he’s a theoretical physicist) and then planned to spend the evening in London with me before heading home to Toronto.  Since public transportation is so terrible between here & Waterloo (the barely 100 km would have taken 3+ hours by bus!!) I opted to go pick him up. I recently ran into a dear friend from years ago who lives in Waterloo and had been looking for a good reason to visit.  So off to Waterloo I went.

This friend of mine – Heather – is a keen local food and farming advocate.  She is also a good friend of Janet Cox, who owns Stone Meadow Farm, an organic and naturally raised poultry farm.  Of course I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit, and visit we did.  They have all sorts of ducks and chickens and even some turkeys!  My favourites were the Indian Runner Ducks, who were very comical.  There were some newly hatched ducklings that we were allowed to pet, as well as a few other varieties of chicks.  I was kicking myself for not having a camera but I will definitely be going back!  In the meantime, here is a fantastic blog entry full of photos and descriptions from the delightful blog Seasonal Food Ontario.

I came home from Waterloo with an arm full of fresh rhubarb from Heather’s garden, and two dozen farm fresh eggs from Stone Meadow.  Many of these eggs were duck eggs, and instead of being brown or white, these eggs are…you guessed it – GREEN!  And as luck would have it, I happen to have some ham.  I now must sign off to make the breakfast of my childhood dreams.  Thanks for a wonderful evening Heather and Janet!

A Seedy Long Weekend

In celebration of the start of spring, I decided to get working on my garden.  Even though most of my yard is still frozen solid and covered in snow, apparently I’m actually late getting started!  This is because I plan to grow as much as I can from seed.  One of the presenters at the Seedy Saturday event I attended a couple of weeks ago starts his seeds in February and gets them into the ground by April.  In this way he has an earlier and longer harvest.  Considering the number of green tomatoes I still had in October (which therefore never ripened), his approach is very tempting.  But it’s also a lot of work!  The seedlings need a lot of protection and TLC to be in the ground in April around here, and I just don’t have that in me this year.  So I am starting now with the intention of planting on the traditional May 24th weekend, and then hoping for the best.

I learned quite a bit at that seed event and really enjoyed my afternoon.  It was the day of the big blizzard and we barely made it there and back, but inside we forgot about the snow and enjoyed lectures and slideshows about flowers and fresh food.  They had some wonderful vendors, a seed exchange table and a simple but tasty lunch.  The event was quite well attended despite the weather, making it clear that my friends and I were not alone in longing for spring and looking forward to gardening season.

This morning I sat down to review my notes and start thinking about what I need to do this.  I already have my seeds – saved from last summer or purchased at various farming events over the winter (See my Resources page for heritage and organic seed sources).  So what else do I need?  Well, according to the lectures I attended, I need soil-less mix to plant them in, growing trays, heat pads, growing lights, labels and a number of other things.  As I made up my list, I started to get depressed by how much this is going to cost.  While I’ll be able to use this stuff for a few years, it will cost at least $100 to get even a basic set-up together.  Have I mentioned that I’m a grad student still begging for funding in order to keep my research going?  Spending a hundred dollars on seed growing is just not in my budget. 

Then it hit me how ridiculous this is.  I mean, the whole point of growing from seeds I saved from last summer was to avoid having to buy things this year.  To be more self- sustaining.  How did the pioneers do it?  I’m quite sure they didn’t have heating pads and grow lights.  What’s wrong with a sunny window?  Doesn’t that work anymore?  And do I really need all that fancy equipment?

I’m going to find out.  Here’s my plan: I washed all my south facing windows to get them as clear as possible, and rearranged some shelves so that they now sit in front of them.  I then went to the recycling depot near my house and routed through the plastics bins to find a whole bunch of take-out containers with clear lids.  These look an awful lot like the plastic covered trays I was to purchase.  I also have several milk cartons and juice jugs that I cut in half for planting when they get a little bigger.  

As it stands, it looks like I will still need to buy one thing – the soil-less growing medium.  I’ll do a little internet research to see if I can avoid this, but it seems to be a big deal in terms of both having the right nutrients and avoiding disease.  I successfully grew some flowers from seeds planted right in soil from my garden last summer, but perhaps I was just lucky.  I don’t want to put my whole crop at risk until I know more.  There’s a lot to know about soil, and I don’t know any of it (other than soil is a living organism and needs to be treated accordingly). 

Otherwise I plan to grow everything 100% organically, with a long-term goal of having a bio-dynamic garden (and eventually a bio-dynamic farm…).  I’m joining the bio-dynamics society to learn how to do this, a learning process which will take years I know.  These little seeds are the first step though, so wish them well!  Now I’m off to clean up the take-out containers and egg cartons that will soon be their home. 

Orchard Hill CSA

Just a quick note to spread the word that Orchard Hill Farm is expanding its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  They are located close to St. Thomas ON, just south of London.   

The idea behind a CSA is that city people share in both the bounty and the risks of the farmer.  We (city slickers) buy a food share at the beginning of the season, and in return, receive a box of fresh, organic produce, once a week for the entire growing seasons.  This guarantees the farmer a fair salary, keeps them on their land with cash up front to buy inputs and equipment as needed, and allows them to grow healthy local food and serve as stewards of the land and the environment.  This CSA even farms with draft horses, so other than gas to pick up your food (have a few friends join and car-pool!) your food will have no carbon footprint.  Unless you count the CO2 passed by the horses!

The shares works out to about $22-5 a week (depending on how long the season lasts), which with the way food prices are predicted to go, will be a very good investment.  I easily spent that at market every week last year.  The shares are enough for two adults with a small child or two, so quite generous.  One option they offer is a “working share” where you pay a reduced price in return for 5 hours of volunteer work over the summer.   This is the option I have chosen as I think it will be a wonderful learning experience to spend some time there. 

All information is available on their webpage

Say Cheese!

I made a pleasant little discovery today.  Remark Fresh Market – an independent grocery store on the west side of London – now carries Monforte Dairy sheep milk cheeses.  I first came across Monforte at McCully’s fabulous Common Ground harvest celebration in September.  I have made a point of looking for these delicious local artisan sheep milk cheeses ever since! 

So far Remark only carries their unripened soft cheeses but that’s a start!  They carry four varieties, inlucing my favourite: lavendar, garlic and herb – a unique combination of flavours that is really something special.

The last time I went to Remark – before Christmas – I asked their manager if they carried local cheese.  She searched their display case, but couldn’t find any despite the large selection.  I’m very happy to see that has changed, and made a point of buying some to support the trend.  I probably should have said something too.  I’ll be sure to do so next visit.  Hopefully this will pave the way for other local cheeses in their display case.  

I am now finding an growing number of local products – and fair trade organic options for items not produced locally – in an increasing number of stores around town.  This is making my ‘eat local’ endeavour much easier, especially this time of year.  Produce is still pretty much non-existent, but meat is abundant, and local, organic dairy is almost becoming mainstream.  Combined with a freezer still fairly full of last summer’s veggies, I might just make it through the next 2.5 months after all.