Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Farming and The Spiritual Toolbox

Hey Farm Folks,

While running a farm requires the use of a variety of farm tools, it equally requires drawing upon one's spiritual toolbox. At this time of year, most farmers are dying to get into the fields and plant up a storm. The earlier one gets seeds and plants in the ground, the earlier one can harvest the treasured spring crops. Certain crops do very well in cool weather, but not in the heat. Included in this group of cool weather spring crops are spinach, radishes, peas, bok choy turnips, and lettuce. Anyway, the limited window of time for growing these crops combined with the prevalence of cabin fever following the winter, tends to get a farmer ancy to get in the field and plant. However, this is when one needs to open up their spiritual toolbox, and pull out patience. When the soil is wet, one can damage it by stepping on it, and manipulating it. It can become compacted, clumpy, and you can really piss off the worms. The soil on my plot at the farm has been super wet thus far, due to the winter and spring precipitation. After a week of staying off the farm, I finally lost my patience this morning, and headed off to the farm at 6am, ignoring the rain. Well, I paid the price....the soil was so heavy! A job that would normally take me an hour, took me about 3! Anyway, every spring this tension, b/w wanting to plant and the need for patience, emerges...and there's no exact right way to handle it. I am glad I was able to plant a 100+ foot bed of snow peas this morning. And now that I've scratched my farming itch a little, I can get back to practicing patience.

Otherwise, the mixed salad greens seeds I planted about 2 weeks ago have germinated nicely, and so we have a gorgeous 100 ft bed of salad on the way. The onions and potatoes planted recently haven't yet emerged from the ground, but I am optimistic they will soon. AND THE GARLIC! 15,000 beauties have poked their way through the straw mulch, and look super strong and vibrant.

For those of you who are thinking about having their own garden this year, The Cutting Veg is offering a workshop called "Planning Your Organic Veggie Garden" next Sunday May 3rd, from 1:30-3:30. It will take place at 961 Eglinton Ave. West, Apt #1Toronto, ON, M3H 6A7. During the workshop, we will explore some of the core concepts of organic agriculture, such as plant propagation, plant care, soil preparation and health, pest management, and composting, while doing some gardening right in the workshop. If you are interested, let me know and I will let you know how to register.

Enjoy the Spring, and until next time "Keep Livin' on the Veg!"


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kosher for Passover Recipes --- Emily Van Halem

As someone with a lot of food sensitivities, my extended family always gets a bit stressed out when I visit. “If she doesn’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, wheat or sugar…what DOES she eat?” The problem is compounded at Passover when legumes and many alternate grains are a “no no.” If I ever want to see dessert at the end of the Seder meal, I’m left to my own devices. And necessity is the mother of invention! Here are a few stand-by recipes. Aside from the apples they don’t use a lot of locally available ingredients unfortunately. But I’m hoping to develop and post some on my own blog soon! (

Raw Apple Pie

NUT PIE CRUST2 cups raw nuts, dry (almonds, Brazil nuts &/ hazelnuts are good) plus 1/4-1/3 a cup extra nuts set aside1 teaspoon Kosher salt2 cups pitted dates

SYRUP1/2 cup pitted dates1 orange, peeled and seeded*splash of water, as needed

*if you don’t have an orange, about 1/4 - 1/3 cup orange juice should work fine

FILLING5 cups apples, quartered, seeded, thinly sliced, about 5 or 6 apples1 cup raisins 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
In a food processor, first grind up the nuts you set aside (the 1/4 – 1/3 cup) until it’s a coarse powder. Spread this around at the bottom of your pie plate so that the crust won’t stick to it later.

Now put the rest of the nuts in the food processor along with the salt and dates. Process until it’s moldable with your hands, and press it into the bottom of the pie plate, all the way to the edge. You can even make the edges a bit wavy for added flare.

Next, put all the “syrup” ingredients into the food processor/blender and blend until smooth. Add this mixture to the “filling” ingredients together in a bowl and mix it all up.

Finally, pour about half of the apple mixture into the pie crust and then with the remaining apples, using your hands, place them in ‘fan’ formation around the pie. To make the apples soften a bit, let it sit for 24 hours in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.

Gluten-free Brownies!
(Inspired by

Photo source:
1 (16oz) jar almond butter, smooth roasted2 eggs (I used 1 mashed banana)1 1/2 cups agave nectar (I think maple syrup would also work. I tried honey and it burned too easily)1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder1/2 teaspoon sea salt1 teaspoon baking soda1 cup dark chocolate chunks/chips

In a large bowl, blend almond butter until smooth with a hand blender
Blend in eggs/banana, then blend in the agave/maple syrup and vanilla
Blend in cocoa, salt and baking soda, then fold in chocolate chips
Grease a 9 x 13 Pyrex baking dish
Pour batter into dish
Bake at 325°F for 35-40 minutes (check at 20min to make sure it’s not burning…I find nut-based dishes prone to burning)

Makes about 24 brownies
Local Food Fever
- Emily Van Halem -

Spring has sprung and with that comes a buzz of excitement in the foodie circles over the arrival of local asparagus, fiddleheads and early spring greens. It’s an exciting time for locavores and any minute now the “Buy Ontario Freshness” ads will be popping up like the tulips. And it’s good timing ‘cause I have to admit I am tired of roasted root vegetable ___name a dish___ and snacking on carrots, no matter how colourful they are. Change is indeed in the air: layers come off, pounds are exposed, and I have officially banned myself from baking. Mostly, though, I’m excited to be spending a summer in Toronto, with full access to farmers’ markets, a garden of my own, and a supply of empty Bernardin jars at close reach.

Now although the farmers’ markets won’t be springing up until May, I thought I’d write about an issue that is very local to my heart, and that is the difference between “local” and “local sustainable.” And there is a difference.

The case for local:

I get how excited we all are about local food. Picking Ontario Freshness is undoubtedly awesome, especially when you have to stand over a sink to eat it! Buying local means supporting farmers and processors who are too often excluded from the well oiled machine that is the globalized food distribution system. Most small farmers don’t have access to 18 wheelers to bring their products to wherever they’re in demand, never mind the supply to do so in the quantity that grocery chains demand of them. It’s no wonder that after decades of dismantling local distribution networks, the connections between local farmers and consumers is, well, rusty, to say the least.

Farmers’ markets, CSAs, local food delivery boxes, and farm-gate sales are all ways to reduce our carbon footprint, strengthen the local food system, support local economic development, and foster community and a connection to our food.

Local’s holes:

There’s more to local agriculture than the fuzzy picture often painted. Here are some of the issues local food fails to address (and this is just off the top of my head):
- pesticide/chemical application (and the resulting ecosystem impact)
- tillage practices and the rapid rate of topsoil erosion
- animal welfare
- livestock waste management/runoff
- genetic modification
- monocropping
- migrant labourer rights
- biodiversity and habitat preservation for native species
- the carbon footprint of the farm itself (tractors, combines, processing, barn heating, livestock “emissions”, energy use of greenhouses)

…the list, no doubt, goes on…

Enter “Local Sustainable”

It’s really the best of both worlds: all the benefits of “local” with a broader spectrum of sustainability taken into consideration. But where do you find this elusive “local sustainable” food?…what’s a locasustainavore to do? (Probably not popularize that term, that’s for sure)

Get to know your farmer:
Ultimately, the more direct your relationship with your food, the more you know about the social, ethical, and environmental context from which it came. Certification systems exist to instill confidence in the food we’re buying when we aren’t in a position to know that the product is what it claims it is with any certainty. Buying directly from farmers through markets, CSAs, or at the farm itself are great ways to connect to our food and the people who grew it. Some farms aren’t “Certified Organic” but are just as good, but it’s just that they can’t afford the fees or don’t want the paperwork. The Cutting Veg is a great example. If the farm were Certified, Daniel wouldn’t be able to use the cow manure he sources from down the road which isn’t Certified, but is grass fed and hormone-free. Which for Daniel is just as good if not better. I’m moooved to agree. Especially since the Certified Organic alternative would have to be trucked in from further afield. Now that sure smells like Ontario freshness. (Ok, my attempts at humour are getting out of hand…) Anyway, my point is that having a direct relationship with your farmer will better enable you to know if they’re the real deal. If you know what you’re looking for, you can be your own judge.

Seek out local food that is also Certified Organic:
Certified Organic in general comes pretty close to “sustainable” I’d say, as it monitors environmental practices. (Although I’d have to question the sustainability of organic lettuce from California…) There are local farms, however, that are also Certified Organic. Their products aren’t super easy to find though - more often they’re seen at the farmers’ market than at the grocery store. You may be surprised, however, at what smaller grocery stores carry, especially if they are environmentally conscientious. Small means nimble which is why some smaller grocers are able to source directly from local producers. Another route may be to look up organic farms in your area and find out where they sell their products near you (see links below).

Certified Organic has its thorny issues too mind you: these farms aren’t regulated at all for their treatment of on-farm labour. Farm workers are often migrant labourers from Jamaica or Mexico who are paid below minimum wage and don’t get the access to health care they’re entitled to. And there’s no one stopping Organic farms from mono-cropping, or hogging all the land for agriculture and leaving none for native species and habitat. Not surprisingly, these aspects are particularly hard to monitor from a consumer perspective.

Seek Out Certified Local Sustainable:
There is such a thing! In Ontario at least. Local Food Plus (LFP) is a Toronto-based non-profit that certifies Ontario farmers (i.e. local) for practices of sustainability (i.e. agricultural environmental impact, animal welfare, farm labour, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity and habitat preservation). It’s a pretty nifty little organization which, for transparency’s sake, also employs me. But I promise no one’s paying me to say nice things about it here. LFP-Certified food is generally sold in Toronto through various grocery stores, restaurants, caterers and public institutions. LFP’s website lists all the places to buy it.

That was all a bit of a mouthful eh? There’s a lot to swallow with the whole “local food” buzz. I wish it was the easy-peasy solution we’re all hungry for. Nevertheless, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Even moving towards a diet high in fresh fruits and veggies is a great first step. If you ask me, eating whole foods is totally revolutionary amidst grocery aisles chock full of low-nutrient, highly processed products. Ultimately, it’s all about starting from wherever you’re at. So don’t get stressed out about always needing to make the perfect decision. This is, after all, an imperfect food system.

So, if it came down to local conventional carrots and packaged, processed organic baby carrots from California, I’d Pick Ontario Freshness.

Click here to check out Emily’s blog, Feel Good Food: Ethical eating for the sensitive stomach.

Ontario Local Farm Resources

Organic Council of Ontario
Canadian Organic Growers directory
Ontario CSA Directory
Pick Your Own farms in Ontario