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Harvesting your Backyard; A Bountiful Experience

July 21, 2011

The latest trend in urban agriculture is farming in your own backyard. This low impact style to agriculture is beautifying our neighbourhoods and those getting involved are literally eating up the bounty.  By turning lawns into gardens, cities like Detroit, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Toronto & Vancouver are seeing positive results. Farming in our neighbourhoods ensures that our communities eat well and that home-owners are becoming more involved in solving food security issues.

The greatest effect of this trend of backyard farming is that sub-urban areas, where lawns are highly available, are becoming some of our greatest agriculture landscapes, helping to raise awareness of food security & reduce pesticide use.

Yesterday I vacationed to Guelph’s “Backyard Bounty” where a team of urban farmers have renovated un-used front & back yards into resources of pleasure. Tomatoes, beans, potatoes, brassicas, lettuce & squash are now easily available as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to 80+ families in the Guelph area.

Backyard Bounty, a small for-profit, social mission based, food-growing business, consists of employees, CRAFT interns & multiple volunteers. This team of leading edge gardeners is influential in the Guelph food movement as they have been able to turn 20 backyards into high-volume production gardens.  Along with this they have turned 2 acres of land, which is currently owned by a development company and is destined to become sub-urban sprawl within the next 3-5 years, into the “Peri-Urban” GMO-free, food site.

Some photos from yesterday:

To read more about this garden trend check there is a library of different resources and do-it-yourself manuals. I suggest the classics: Food Not Lawns by Heather C. Flores or Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemmingway. As a side-note, if you are interested in urban chickens check out the book Backyard Chicken’s Guide to Coops & Tractors: Planning, Building & Real-life Advice.

A visit to The Stop, Toronto’s Community Food Centre

July 3, 2011

As I walk down Christie Street to the Wynchwood Barns, The Stop’s Community Center location, I am amazed to find a city treasure that until that moment I had no idea existed.

That evening I am meeting new friends, interns of The New Farm, who are volunteering at a black-tie fundraiser event. This 300 person gourmet dinner is hosted by The Stop’s chef Chris Brown & crew.  Its 9pm and The New Farm interns are serving tables desert, wine is flowing & people are smiling wide – they have already eaten a two course meal plus canapés made from fresh local food  including Rowe Farms chicken & The New Farm salad greens.

As I wait for new friends I can’t help to explore this food security wonderland.

Walking around the building I find a series of culturally diverse small plot gardens. Each garden is labeled with signs like “Latino America” and “Italia Garden” that showcase where the season’s vegetables were originally harvested. These gardens are not only educational but edible & cute– my favorite three things combined.

The Latino-American Garden

My next stop is into the greenhouse in Barn 5. As I walk in I meet one of The Stop’s greenhouse interns. I am surprised to find such a dedicated greenhouse worker and she is happy to spend half an hour (of her “off” time & possibly miss her bus home) to show me around the greenhouse where lemons, limes & bananas, along with seasonal varieties of fruits and vegetables, are growing in this green warehouse.

The Greenhouse in Barn 5

What impresses me most is that under each table are stacks of vermiculture boxes made out of Rubbermaid blue containers. With all of their community kitchen fruit & veggie remnants, The Stop is able to make enough compost to supply all of their needs, and no longer need to purchase soil from outside sources. Their technique seems very technical as there is a 3 step process before the compost actually reaches the vermiculture boxes – and each step is written down with date & time.  Again, I am impressed.

50 Vermiculture boxes are all it takes to create soil for the greenhouse, community garden & cultural gardens.

This reminds me that I haven’t even spoke of their community kitchen yet – one of the most fundamental parts of The Stop. Twice a week The Stop prepares a free lunch for low-income Torontians. This meal is unlike community kitchens throughout the city as The Stop’s focuses on organically grown produce that they get from their own gardens and purchase from local farms. This approach is similar to the “teach a man to fish” approach to food as The Stop’s community kitchen educates people on how to eat, how to cook and how to grow healthy food.

This party is bustling & looks pretty fun! Guests mingle while sipping on Burgundy & Sancerre

As the night goes on, the event finales and I finally get to sit down with my new friends. We are offered canapés and beer left-over from the evening’s event and Nick Saul, The Stop’s CEO, sits down with us to chat about The New Farm and their upcoming events. Nick, who has personally greeted each and every guest that evening, finds time to ask me questions about myself and my own personal interest in farming, urban agriculture and my so-called “career”. And again, like my meeting with the greenhouse intern, I am shocked that so much personal attention is being given.

And so, to conclude, I like this place – and I am sure that I will be writing much more about The Stop as time goes on.

To read more about the Stop and Toronto’s food culture I suggest picking up the book “The Edible City: Toronto’s food from farm to fork”, which combines articles about Toronto’s community food initiatives, gourmet restaurants, green buildings & (my favorite) secret city bees.

A Beginner’s Guide to Farm Education; A Resource Guide

June 18, 2011

You may think of farm education as a series of theoretical subjects like “The Sweet Potato within the Uprising of Corporate Industry” or “The Liberation of Carrots in Western Culture”.  However hands-on farm education is nothing like university courses. Practice out-weighs theory in every dimension.

In my opinion, there is no other way to learn about farming except to get out in the field. Its the do-it-yourself approach to learning!

Its a hard-call to decide to educate yourself in farming. Living on a farm can be seen as uncomfortable and to become a farmer means drastic change from regular urban living. However, with community initiatives starting world-wide that incorporate urban living with agriculture there is a big range of possibilities that a farm internship or farm program can help you get started with.

So, where do you go to find out about these programs? Well, let’s get dirty.

California

Oh, California. How is it that one US state ignites with flavor in every season? And even more, how does one state grow up to 98% of North America’s food. Just for those reasons alone California is one of the best places in North America to learn about organic agriculture.

Regenerative Design Institute, Bolinas, CA – RDI, operated by Penny Livingston and her partner, is one of the country’s best schools on earth living. Courses are offered on everything from animal tracking to permaculture to natural building.

Occidental Center for Arts & Ecology, Occidental, CA. This center is situated in Northern California and has courses focused on permaculture training.

Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA. Esalen offers 3-6 month apprenticeships in permaculture design and bio-intensive farming.

Washington & British Columbia

The Bullock Brother’s, Orcas Islan, WA. The Bullock Brother’s bought their property 25 years ago and have expanded a water-logged wetland into a diverse and ethical garden and learning institute.

Linnaea Farm School, Cortes Island, BC, is a beautiful farm school that opens its doors to 6-8 lucky students to teach growing, natural building and more, all within a 8 months season.

Ontario

Everdale Organic Farm & Environmental Learning Center, Hillsburgh, ON.  Everdale offers a 6 month program a learning institution focused on environmental education, farming and urban agriculture.

Fleming College in Peterborough, ON has a Sustainable Building Design & Construction program and a 1 year Agriculture program.

C.R.A.F.T Ontario – Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training in Ontario. Is a collective of farms throughout Ontario who are focused on farm education and training. Within this network I promise that you will be able to find the Ontario farm that focuses on what you want to learn…there are hundreds of them.

The Almost 30 km Meal — Ontario Grown Corn Salad with Wild Boar Berkshire Sausage

May 23, 2011

Its been a good growing season so far and Ontario is reaping the harvest. This week I have been able to purchase local, organic and pesticide free, red leaf and romaine lettuce, corn & green onions. And let’s not forget the wild boar Berkshire  sausage from Boar & Chick, a free-range, organic, wild boar & chicken provider in Millgrove, ON,  just an hour (by bike) from the city.

I’ve picked up only 2 non-local items — mango & Roma tomatoes. Both of these items feel pretty guilt-free as I’ve picked them up from the 50% off crate at my local supermarket. The 50% off crate, in my opinion, is the best place to buy supermarket produce. Veggies & fruit are still fresh and by buying, instead of trashing, we are making a small dent in food security while saving money.

The sausage has been cooked on medium heat in a cast iron pan, to emphasize flavor. The greens have been torn into bite size pieces and drizzled with sunflower oil.

There’s only one recipe involved in this meal. The corn salad is simplistic but the taste is amazing. Here is the recipe:

Ontario Grown Corn Salad (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cob Organic Corn
  • 1 Roma Tomato (chopped)
  • 1 Green Onion (chopped)
  • 1 Mango (chopped & peeled)
  • 1 tsp Lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 pinch Salt (preferably a natural salt like pink or gray)

Directions:

  • Boil approx. 3 cups of water, add cob of corn. I usually cut the cob in half as it takes a smaller pot, which means less time, energy & water. Cook until the corn is ready (approx 15 min). TIP: To check the preparedness of the corn poke with fork.
  • When corn is finished remove kernels from cob.
  • In a bowl toss corn kernels, tomato, green onion & mango
  • Drizzle vegetables with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar & salt.

Wisdom for our Children: The Loving Kindness Tree

May 22, 2011

Becoming truly resilient includes the education of our children. I felt that I would share this story, The Loving Kindness Tree, that I wrote and illustrated years ago. The idea behind this book came to me when experiencing a deep, spiritual awakening. The character is based on my Grandmother who patiently modeled facial expressions. This story, which is currently unpublished, is a beautiful story based on the Buddhist practice of Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation. Today, more than ever, its important that we teach children how to love and to be loved in return.


The Loving Kindness Tree

  The Loving Kindness Tree sat lonely in the forest. The darkness of the forest made her feel cold, damp and weak.  She was sad and she didn’t have the strength to reach out her limbs to touch her friends.

The Loving Kindness Tree closed her eyes and felt the wind cascade around her. She felt the cold breeze but she imagined that the wind was warm and the day was sunny. “I love you Loving Kindness Tree” she said to herself and she instantly felt warmer.

She then imagined her friend Grandfather tree in the forest, the sun warming his leaves, his branches, his trunk and his smiling face. “I love you Grandfather tree” she said.  And in return she heard Grandfather Tree say “I love you too Loving Kindness Tree.”

She then thought of her friends the birds who sang beautiful songs to her. She heard the birds singing magical notes that danced amongst the wind.  The Loving Kindness Tree smiled at their beauty and she said “I love you birds”. And in return she heard the birds say “We love you too Loving Kindness Tree”.

She then thought of all of the forest animals who lived near-by. She saw the fox chasing his tail through the trees. She saw the rabbit inside of her den cuddled up with all of her baby bunnies. She saw the squirrel stuffing his mouth with his collection of nuts. And The Loving Kindness Tree said “I love you animals”. And in return she heard the animals say “We love you too Loving Kindness Tree”.

She then thought of the children who played on sunny days in the river close-by. She heard them laughing as they splashed each other and imagined them jumping, chasing each other, from rock to rock. “I love you children” said the Loving Kindness Tree. And in return she heard the children say “We love you too Loving Kindness Tree”.

She then thought of the sea creatures who lived within the river. She saw her friend the turtle basking in the light reflecting from the glistening rocks. She thought of the many schools of fish swimming quickly through the water. She saw the frog hopping lively from one spot to the next. “I love you sea creatures” said the Loving Kindness Tree. And in return she heard the sea creatures say “We love you too Loving Kindness Tree”.

The Loving Kindness Tree then thought of everything that lives in the whole wide world,. She thought of the insects who help the plants to grow. She thought of the trees that help the animals to live. And she thought of all of the people who live on the earth. And Loving Kindness Tree shouted out  “I love you world!”. And in return she heard every insect, every plant, every tree, every animal and every person in the whole wide world shout back “We love you too Loving Kindness Tree”.

Loving Kindness Tree opened her eyes. The forest was no longer dark and a beautiful blue butterfly had landed on her nose. She was no longer alone. The sun had come out and light was beaming on her face. She felt happy and loved. And the Loving Kindness Tree realized that everything in the world shared so much with her and that she had shared everything with the world.

The End

Holy Food Security Batman we’re in Crisis

May 19, 2011

We all want to be healthy & happy, but not all people live on farms where food is freshly available

Let’s face it, in North America we waste 40% of our food resources, so as I walk through a grocery store in an upscale neighborhood I am grasping my chest — an anxiety attack has come on — this is ridiculous!

With societal issues like poverty and child hunger you’d think that we would figure out how to share. But, unfortunately that’s not the case with our major grocery providers. And that said, many people are still unaware that we as a species are in a food crisis.

I am lucky that for the majority of my 20’s I have lived in rural communities where harvesting my food — wild blackberries, herbs, oysters, native plants, mushrooms — was an option. But now, being newly urbanized, I am meeting more and more young artists who turned to dumpster diving to keep them alive.

I remember years ago reading an article in Jane Magazine about Montreal divers. I was living in Vancouver at the time and as a regular sub-urban 20 year old I was kind of disgusted. But now, as a young artist with high overhead (bills, rent and the like) who chooses to work on non-profit and charitable projects, I am grateful that people have figured this out. And I am even more grateful that people are able to subtract their ego from equation when embarking on dumpster diving missions. Hell, if you’ve never thought about this concept before, you would be surprised what you can find in there.

Check out the trailer for Dive!, a documentary about food security issues in the US, for more information. Artist Jeremy Seifert has been able to capture the real issues of our food crisis. People are in need everywhere and North America is a major resource buster.

Some people use the term “free-ganism” to define people who choose to extract major resources from the environment that would otherwise be wasted. I’m unsure of this term — to me this is just smart.

This method of cultivation isn’t easily done either. Its not like someone can just walk up to a dumpster and take things out in the light of day. This method of food security is illegal and grocery stores often pad-lock their dumpsters, as if these products (even though in the trash) are royal gems. In my opinion, these people should get awards, not handcuffs, for working so hard.

Check out My Dumpster Diving Adventures for photos of what can be found in US dumpsters.

Let’s Talk about Seeds Baby!

May 17, 2011

An Inter-Oakland, CA, garden created by Natural builder & friend, Gonzalo H.

This morning as I checked into my email I found a really exciting message. A local person had seen my advertisement for “Living Food Boxes”, an initiative that I am trying to start in Hamilton, ON. Its kinda like a windowsill CSA — a person can purchase a bin with an installed drainage system, soil & grown seedlings. And within a space about the same size of a large recycling box you can grow an indoor garden. This idea was inspired by Toronto’s Big Carrot Living Food Box program. Take a look at Zora’s informative video on the program.

Now, back to the original topic, I got an email this morning asking “where can I buy non-GMO seeds in Canada?” This is a question that is so inspiring to me — thanks for asking new friend.

So let’s talk about seeds baby!

In Ontario I know of a couple of options:

Greta’s Organic Gardens — owned and operated by 70-year-old Greta — is located in Gloucester, Ontario. They feature 377 species of tomatoes, 40+ herbs, 40+ flowers, 25+ species of  cucumber & 25+species of lettuce. Orders can be done on-line or through a selection of stores & farmer markets throughout Ontario.

Urban Harvest, Toronto’s inter-city seed harvesters, have a great selection of vegetable, herb, fruit & flower seeds. Their selections even includes rare flowers like the black hollyhock — a wonderful selection when creating your flower garden of death — just joking. Orders can be done on-line or you can purchase their seeds from their store located close to Lansdown (between Dundas & Queen), The Big Carrot or from a selection of markets in the GTA.

And from Canada’s west coast I know of 2 organic, GMO-free & heirloom seed providers:

West Coast Seeds features untreated, non-GMO seeds for organic growing. This provider is definitely one of the largest & most well known seed providers in Canada and sells a selection of books, supplies & other resources on their website. West Coast Seeds facilitates gardening courses & classes at their retail shop in Ladner, BC including container gardening, gardening for beginners & beekeeping. Orders can be made on-line or by mail-order catalog.

However, the most inspirational seed farm that I know of is located on Saltspring Island, BC. Saltspring Seeds has been promoting safe & sustainable agriculture for 20+ years and has been run by Saltspring’s Dan Jason since the beginning. This seed provider, although Canadian, also sells seeds through US seed providers Bountiful Seeds & Fedco — good work Dan. Canadian orders can be done on-line & through their mail-order catalog.

Saltspring Seeds is also the purveyor of The Seed Sanctuary a charitable organization “dedicated to the health & vitality of the earth through the preservation & promotion of heritage seeds.”

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