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With All of this Rain We’re Still in Need of Water

May 15, 2011

As the rain comes down, stretching across our landscape, our world seems like its coming to a breaking point. Now, more than ever, our world is experiencing major floods. Like the doom that transcribed across Australia this December, North America has been experiencing major floods in the US state of Tennessee and just a few days ago in rural Manitoba. With all of this downpour, ironically enough, we as a species are experiencing a water crisis.

This is partially due to the dirtiness of our urbanized environments. Let’s face it, people are dirty. Unlike other earthly species, most of our waste is not truly “recyclable”. It doesn’t naturally break down. And a lot of our human “necessities” like motor vehicles & gasoline, pollute our ground with heavy metals like lead, cadmium, chromium, silver & mercury.

Let’s follow a raindrop on its journey through a regular urban water system:

1. The raindrop drops onto a rooftop and drips into an eaves trough and rushes through the drainage pipe into your grass.

2. Maybe this raindrop will absorb itself into your lawn or garden, but he & many of its friends may continue the journey to the sidewalk and then onto the road. And as I mentioned before, the sidewalks of our cities, streets & parking lots are filled with heavy metal pollutants.

3. This water will drain into our sewer system, flow through contaminated sewer pipes until it reaches our city’s sewage treatment center, also known as our “waste”-water treatment facility, to be filtered into “drinking” water.

4.Some of our water will continue its cycle into our household pipes, but much of our water is seen as “waste” and will drain into our rivers, lakes or the ocean.

As you can see this system is not sustainable but there are methods to conserve our water.

Sure, we hear about water conservation all of the time. The basic rules like “Turn off the tap when you aren’t using it” or “Take shorter showers”, but this is so small in comparison to the larger issues.

Cities, like the Portland, are taking water conservation into account and funding initiatives to rebuild their city with natural water cleaning systems.

Bio-swales or Bioswells: Water treatment isn’t all that technical. When we look at the natural systems of the earth itself we can see that there are reasons for our stone covered beaches and for our wetland marshes — they filter water.

By creating “false” wetlands, we are ensuring that contaminants are removed as water is filtered through a series of wetland plants before reaching the sewer system. Companies like Sustainable-water Management LLC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, create bio-swells that help reverse the adverse effects of storm-water including pollution, erosion & flooding.

A beautiful "false" wetland bio-swale in Portland, OR -- with educational signage

Rainwater Harvesting is probably the most well-known type of water conservation. These barrels have become more and more popular amongst city-folk, especially with the price of household water gradually increasing.

Instead of wasting water, rain-water gathers in an  inexpensive water barrel that can be attached to your home’s downspout. Or, like any good design system, this method can be increased & rainwater can become the main source of water at your home or business. Riversides, Toronto Home-Owner’s Guide to Rainfall, has a great article on harvesting in inter-urban environments. If you can harvest your own water in an urban center, you can do it anywhere.

Another education sign in Portland, OR

Eco-Rooftops or Green-Roofs: Imagine filtering water as soon as it hits your house, garden shed or 27-story office building . Not only does a building have the opportunity to look cool, it also acts as a major water conservation tool.  Check out Green Roofs for Healthy Cities for more information on the bio-technology of green-roofing.

Yet another education sign in Portland, OR-- gosh I love Portland

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Top Ten Reasons to Support Community Shared Agriculture (CSA).

May 12, 2011

Who doesn't like hand-picked tomatoes, zucchini & herbs, delivered straight to your door.

The importance of food security hits home — literally. More and more people are getting on board to share the wealth of the harvest by signing up for a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA).

With farms starting these initiatives close to most cities, and some inter-urban roof-top & backyard farms, there are many reasons why a family would want to become a CSA member.

Top Ten Reasons to Support Community Shared Agriculture (CSA)

1.Saving $$ – Within our own family circle of 7 people, we were able to save approx. $3000 this summer by purchasing CSA shares and chicken/beef from a local, ethical farm. Take a look at the breakdown on the post Saving Money by Supporting Local Farmers

2. Support your Local Economy – Your money goes directly into the soil close to your home, helping local farmers to continue their work & then, in a cyclic pattern, give back to local companies & businesses.

3. Saving Oil – By farmers delivering your food to your home or to your local farmer’s market oil usage is cut. As you know, most of our grocery store food is shipped from other regions of the world, which creates higher oil usage & food cost.

4. Perpetuity of your Local Ecology – Most CSA’s are collectives of 2 or more local farms — which helps to support the ecological growth of your area, which helps smaller farms to continue their mission to farm in an organic manner.

5. Get out to the Farm – Most farms are happy to allow families to volunteer on their farms, assisting more people to have the knowledge on how to grow their own food sources. Taking your children to farm is the easiest way for them to get involved. Its amazing how much kids LOVE playing in dirt — and its fun for adults too.

6.  Your Money Supports Worthwhile Initiatives –  By paying in advance for your food it allows farmers in your area to continue farming in a viable, sustainable, organic way. This sustains the land and allows your farmers to afford to pay workers, have interns and farm your food.

7. Community events, dinners & fundraisers – Getting to know the land doesn’t mean getting your hands dirty. Most CSA involved farms open their doors for community dinners, fundraisers, kid oriented events or weekend farm tours.

8.  Supporting young people to get involved in the land. Many of your local organic farms now offer  internships or educational farm programs. With money going straight into local farms it ensures that these programs will continue. In the long run that means that a new generation of farmers will be able to reach their farming dreams.

9. Home Delivery. Who doesn’t like hand-picked tomatoes, zucchini & herbs, delivered straight to your door.

10. Feel the Land – Most CSA farmers say that by mid-season most of their members start referring to their land as “Our Farm”. As you get involved with your food, you get to know the land, you get to know your neighbors and you get to support the ecological systems of your region — I’d buy that any day.


Saving Money — YES $$ — by Supporting Local Farmers

May 11, 2011

Zucchini...Fresh on the Farm

Our communal family is large. It consists of 7 people . Myself & 2 room-mates live in one home and our “den mother” and her family of 3 in another.

Most of us, until recently, were buying individual groceries. This method of living was costly on all of our pockets, however I am sure that our grocery store was LOVING us.

But after assessing our individual needs we found out that we could save $3000 + collectively this summer.

Our Farmers are:

1. Simpler Thyme Farm, in Hamilton, ON, who’s vegetable CSA is $550 for 20 weeks. They offer 10 items per week for a full CSA share. We’re also able to purchase a 1/2 CSA share or another full share if we find that there aren’t enough veggies to feed all of us. A 1/2 share is $275 for 20 weeks.

2. Plan B Organic Farm, in Flamborough, ON, offers a seasonal Fruit Share, which includes berries & orchard fruits for $300 for 20 weeks. We’re able to purchase more than 1 share if we find that we need more fruit. We also have the option to order once per week or bi-weekly.

3. Fenwood Farm in Ancaster, ON, sells organic and naturally-grown chicken, turkey, beef & pork. By ordering in bulk the farm offers a $0.60 per lb. savings. For 16 pounds of chicken we are looking at an approx. cost of $115.00. As for beef we are looking at an approx. cost of $3.95 per lb. I have never ordered 1/4 of cow before but I believe that it would be approx 50lb. making the total cost $197.50.

We’ve decided to purchase  1x CSA, 1x Fruit-Share + chicken & beef and divide it amongst the crew.

$$ Breakdown:

CSA $550 per share = $78.50 per person for 20 weeks (divided by 7x)
Fruit CSA $300 per share = $50 per person for 20 weeks (divided by 6x)
Meat — Approx $315 = $52.50 per person (divided by 6x)
Total = $1165, $181.00 per person for approx. 20 weeks (except for our one room-mate who is interested in the vegetable share only. He would pay only 78.50)

Total for 4 person Household = $724.00
2 Room-mates = $362.00
3rd Room-mate= $78.50

With this option keep in mind that we’ll still be buying things at the farmer’s market + breads/carbs/stuff at the grocery store.

You may ask,  “what about all of that excess food?” Well, written into our draft is a plan for communal cooking. At the end of the week we will bring together all of the excess food and as the house-hold chef I will have an small part-time job of cooking and preserving our food. This means that our family will be eating healthy all winter long. And this also means that there will be many more recipes on this blog in the near future.

If you are located in Southern Ontario check out Green Venture’s CSA Guide.

Recipe: Ethical Beef Stew

May 6, 2011

Black Walnut Lane Farm-Stand at The Hamilton Farmer's Market

Once a week I visit my local farmer’s market and stop in to speak to the farmers of Black Walnut Lane Farm. The ladies at Black Walnut Lane are brilliant. Each one is a farmer, farm manager, farm owner or family member. Their lamb, beef, boar & bison are raised in an ethical, grass-fed, free-range method. And at their stand they offer delicious & nutritious home-cooked meals.

I like the idea that I can speak to the farmer while buying their product.  I get to know the family who I am supporting. When I buy their products I am ensured that their farming methods meet my own personal beliefs. Plus, they always ask if I would like to come tour their farm one day.

This is unlike buying meat in the supermarket. This meat isn’t saran wrapped. I know that there are no chemical or hormonal injections. Instead, their product is fresh, unlike so much of our grocery-store bought food.

Ethical Beef Stew

Everything you need for a great beef stew can be found at your local farmers market.

Items that you will need are:

1 fennel root, 1 white onion,  3 carrots, 4 potatoes, 1/2 head cabbage, 1 package ethical beef tenderloin or stewing beef, cumin, cayenne pepper, sea salt, fresh pepper

  • Chop all vegetables & beef into cubes
  • Saute chopped Fennel & Onion on medium heat in Sunflower or Safflower oil
  • Toss in approx. 1 Tbsp. each of cumin, cayenne pepper, salt & pepper (go easy on the cayenne & pepper if you would like a more mild flavor).
  • Add 5 cups water.
  • Allow water to heat & add beef
  • When water is to a boil add vegetables
  • Turn to medium heat & continue cooking for 45 min-1 hour.
  • TIP: You may need to add more water during the 45 min-1 hour cooking period. Add 1 cup at a time.

Other inspirational ethical meat farms to check out:

Tara Firma Farm, Petaluma, CA offers beef, chicken, eggs, turkey & pork that are raised in an free-ranged, grass-fed method on their environmentally-friendly, family run farm.

Polyface Inc. which is managed by Joel Salatin, who has been acclaimed as America’s most influential farmer after being featured in Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. To view a great video on Ted Talks by Joel Salatin press here

Sustainable Cereal Boxes are Keeping our Forests Alive!

May 4, 2011

Trees in Hesquiat Peninsula Provincial ,Park, Clayoquot Sound, BC

Living in rural communities over the years I have seen first hand the necessity of our forests. In the current state of the world, trees, forests, birds, wolves, cougar, bear and all of our forest friends, are in need of protection.

Its hard to fully understand the cost of logging, especially when we live in urban environments where our connection with nature doesn’t seem as important.

Almost every moment in our lives has to do with paper nowadays. When I buy something I receive a paper receipt, I buy everything in boxes, I write, I print articles, I use toilet paper. I can’t get away from using paper in this world, but I do have the choice on what paper products I buy.

Today I picked up a box of Puffins, a natural cereal made by Barbara’s Organics in Petaluma, CA, and I was impressed with the information on the label of their box. By using Green Choice 100 paper products by Strathcona Paper in Ontario, they were able to save 5,499 trees, 111,854,709 litres of water and reduce 933,773 kgs of landfill waste.

Its a simple feat for Barbara’s Organics. Like any other company they sourced their product, designed their label and have boxes shipped to their factory. The more difficult feat is to get companies on-board of the sustainability/resiliency movement.

NGO Forest Ethics has been working since 2000 to protect Endangered Forests, wildlife and human well-being by getting companies/corporations to offer sustainable solutions. Former Forest Ethic’s Campaign Director, Tzeporah Berman, once explained at the Bioneer’s conference that Forest Ethics team members started their work by following BC logging trucks — this sounds like hard work but well-worth their efforts. (To stream this influential presentation by Tzeporah on Eco-Shock radio press here).

Through the work done by Forest Ethics, and other similar initiatives, Forest Stewardship Council of Canada Certified, (FSC Certification) products are now available through many corporations such as Staples Business Depot, Home Depot and other companies.

By purchasing products that are FSC Certified you are ensuring that our Canadian forests continue to provide clean water, purify the air, maintain biodiversity & provide habitat for species.

The truth of the paper industry is that many BC forests are in jeopardy due to unsustainable forest practices in Canada. With only 8% of our original growth forest left in Canada its detrimental to our health as a species to make sustainable choices in paper products.

Its a little challenging to think of — but if your cereal box, Kleenex box, favorite magazine or newspaper, was clearly labelled  “Made from the Ancient-Growth trees from the Boreal Forest, Clayoquot Sound & Great Bear Rainforest“, would you buy it? Unfortunately, there are no such statements and that is why its important to look at the label.

They say that with knowledge comes responsibility and I concur. Often times, if I like a certain product, I call the company to introduce new ideas. I’m ecstatic when I pick up a product that’s FSC Certified or Green Choice 100. I like the idea that I am buying a product that is more sustainable than another — although I have NO expectation that you will do the same.

If we all chip in and do a little piece we can ensure that our original growth forests continue to stand. Our future depends on it.

Putting Waste to Taste: Fruit Tree Projects

May 3, 2011

I see those apples, cherries, figs, apricots & berries in some of your yards. They’re just starting to bloom spring flowers & soon enough they’ll be ready to eat.

If you are like many home-owners, you may feel over-whelmed with other tasks this summer and gardening may not be a priority. You may not be able to afford a landscaping team but you don’t want that fruit to go to waste.

So what can you do with those edibles?

Well, in Victoria, LifeCycles Project,  in Richmond Hill, The Richmond Fruit Tree Project and in Toronto, not far from the tree, will take care of your fruit for you.

These initiatives are grown from the same idea; People need good food to restart their lives. Each initiative has their own set of volunteers ready to pick your fruit, which will then be donated to local food banks. These projects, although very similar, each have separate projects to make them even more viable to the urban landscape.

LifeCycles Project has been able to network with several Victoria businesses to fund the tree pick program. Sea Cider, an organic cider house in North Saanich offers “King & Spies” cider; a cider made exclusively with LifeCycles apples. All profit is returned to further the development of the fruit tree project.

Lifecycles also offers a series of inexpensive food-security courses, such as verma-composting & rainwater harvesting, along with a school garden program and a backyard sharing service (which connects urban farmers with home-owners).

The Richmond Fruit Tree Project operates ‘Terra Nova Sharing Farm’, an educational facility that donates their harvest to Vancouver/Richmond Hill food banks and other charitable services. And also the ‘Apple Tree Orchard’ that operates with help from the Richmond Farm School.

not far from the tree, splits the fruit amongst home-owners, volunteers and 25 Toronto shelters & food banks. And with the phenomenal 19,695lbs. of fruit picked in 2010 I’m sure many Toronto residents were well fed.

If you live in a city that doesn’t have a project already started, visit your local community garden or farmer’s market. You may meet someone who would be interested in starting something like this up or they may be interested in volunteering their time to pick your tree.

And if you have the time, local food banks would be more than happy to accept bushels of fruit.  Just think of the low-income family who would be able to put your excess fruit to use.

Container Gardening: Its Kinda like Being a ‘Closet’ Farmer

May 2, 2011

As soon as dawn breaks, like any good farmer, I am hard at work with my plants. Container gardening is a lot easier than real farming, I know, but it still takes dedication and a keen ear to hear what your plants are needing.

My set up isn’t very technical. There’s no  hydroponic lighting but there is a space heater and a window with good light. Unlike many April/Mays in southern Ontario, where I am currently located, it is still cold and a touch rainy. As for sunlight its minimal.

On warm days my friendly plants, like pets, are able to go outside. The UV rays received on those days help their leaves lift and after a good, sunny day these plants are usually a 10th of an inch bigger than before.

I have several varieties of tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant & pepper. These plants do well in warmer temperatures and inside of my well heated/well ventilated laundry room they seem to be doing quite well. The greens, rainbow chard and a selection of herbs, which do well in a cooler temperature, seem to be growing a little slower — but still it is amazing how resilient these seedlings are.

All of the above plants were started as seeds in egg cartons. With a little dirt (a mix of grocery store bought top soil & potting mix) & some kelp meal, these seeds grew faster than I thought they would. Once they were more than an inch high I transplanted them into cups, yogurt containers and/or plastic containers (that originally were boxes for grocery store mixed greens).

Once these plants become 1/2′ high and have good root systems I will finally plant them. The ideas are endless as for container gardening. I’ve been able to find great books to inspire ideas. Check out “Organic Crops in Pots” by Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell or “Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening” by Black Dog Publishing. Both of these titles are available on www.PaperbackSwap.com, a website run through Amazon.com where you can, you guessed it, swap paperbacks.

Another container project is a Beet/Carrot Box, which is a box about the same size as a recycling bin, filled with the top-soil/potting mix & some kelp meal. I’ve drilled about 8 holes in the bottom of the box for drainage. The carrots seem to be doing great. Their tops are about 2″ high just after 2 weeks. Tips that I’ve learned from this project are: 1) To germinate beets. They need to be soaked in water for about 1 hr as their seed-shell is quite tough. 2) Dirt becomes quite dense within a plastic box . To ensure good drainage it is a good idea to place stones at the bottom of the container.

Another good food-growing system is a living food box — which will be explained in another post.  But for now, happy spring & make sure to take advantage of these easy ideas for food-security.  There’s an abundance of options — just buy some seeds & soil then rummage your recycling bin to find the rest.

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