Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not a half-baked idea

Here it is. Linda's favourite bread recipe.

Don't worry about straying from your locavore ways to make it. There are local sources of flour. Morningstar Mill on the border of St. Catharines and Thorold has been known to grind local grains into flour.

To add a twist and some colour, there's always Vintage Flour, made of grape skins.

There is also a farmer from Campden, whose name escapes me right now (he often sells potatoes in the back corner of the St. Catharines farmers' market) who grows wheat and grinds it. And as soon as I find his name, I will post it.

If you want organic, Oak Manor Farms in Tavistock is a good source and available in most large grocery stores, including Zehrs and Real Canadian Superstore in the health food section. That's where you'll also find Hockley Valley flour, which is based in Organgeville.

No Knead Artisanal Bread
From: Friday Night Dinners by Bonnie Stern

I love this plain or made with 2 parts all purpose flour and one part whole wheat. Or add 1 cup pitted black olives, 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary and 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper. Another variation is 3/4 cup each toasted walnuts and golden raisins. Or...3/4 cup each coarsely chopped dark chocolate and dried cherries. Or 1 cup golden raisins and 1 tbsp. lightly crushed fennel seeds.

3 cups all purpose flour ( or part whole wheat)
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water, plus 1 tbsp, at room temperature.
Extra flour, wheat bran,cornmeal, sesame seeds, etc.

1) In a large bowl combine flour salt and yeast. Stir in water. Dough will be a sticky mess. Cover with plastic wrap. Cover with tea towel. Let sit at room temperature for 12 - 24 hours. Dough should double and have bubbles on the surface.
2) Lay clean towel on counter and flour heavily. Scoop out dough (it is a little messy) and pat into rough rectangle. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit 15 minutes.
3) Place another clean towel on work surface. Rub with flour and sprinkle with bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds. (Use enough flour so dough does not stick). Fold dough into thirds and brush off any extra flour. Fold into thirds again to form a rough cube. Place seam side down on second tea towel and dust top with flour, bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds. Fold tea towel over top. Let rise for 2 hours.
4) After 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 450 F. Place a medium-sized, heavy cast iron pot with a lid, empty in the oven, and heat for 30 minutes.
5) Very gently slide your hand under tea towel holding bread. Open tea towel, carefully flip bread into hot pot. Cover and bake at 450 F for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for 20-30 minutes longer or until browned. Cool on a rack. Be really careful. Bread and pot are extremely hot!

You can use nearly all whole wheat flour.
It is great, seems to work every time!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of spring, CSAs and state of the tomato address...

This is a note that I meant to write ... well, weeks ago. But it is spring and for the first time in many years, it actually feels like it. Will we get walloped with snow again? Perhaps. But in the meantime, I am a planting fiend.

First off, tomatoes. Mine are all planted, which is no small feat. People are pre-orderng in record numbers and I certainly agree with Tiffanys' article about the gardening boom. It is evident in seed sales, transplant sales and in people just calling for gardening advice.

I strongly believe that the very best food you will ever eat is the food you grow yourself. Which brings me to mention the second meeting of growers and aspiring veg growers on Wed., April 1, 6:45, at the Wildflower Market on Hwy. 20, Fonthill.

Lettuce, Turnip and Whine (wine?) — the unofficial name of our group — will hold a small seed and plant exchange, discuss where we should be in our planting, and what is going to be happening over the next month. Please come out for information, fellowship and inspiration. All free, unless, of course, you indulge in the wine.

I understand that there are two new CSA's in Niagara this year. Debbie Sexsmith, Sexsmith Farm, (905)-894-4690 in Fort Erie, and Beth Smith, Ridge Meadow Farm, (905)563-3107, in Beamsville. This is great news as demand for CSA produce is at an all time high.

Both growers attend local markets and have been growing for several years using organic growing methods. Please give them a call if you are interested in great local produce.As the season rolls along, I will highlight each of these growers on this blog.

If anyone is aware of other growers with similar programs, or who are just growing great food, please advise. My goal is to mention EVERYONE who is doing great local food, not just a select few.

Also, please write in with info about your favourite chefs and restaurants. Who really is using local food, who are they buying from ... and is the food good?

And yes, the chickens. Well, they have been relocated to their summer home. Clever Chicky figured out how to jump on the door, opening it to allow access for all. They were really enjoying the greens. It truly was greener on the other side of the fence, and they knew it.

So husband admitting defeat at the hands (claws?) of the chickens gave in and moved them. Now they are feeling the sun directly on their feathers, not through greenhouse plastic, and they seem pretty happy. Was this their true goal, an early move? Don't underestimate the chicken!

Linda and Mollie the day the culprit chickens were relocated.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recession and gardening like two peas in a pod

Turns out, the recession is good for something.

Becoming a locavore.

Better yet, becoming a self-sustaining one.

The St. Catharines Standard reported Saturday that gardening is a growing industry in these dismal economic times as people look for ways to unearth financial savings. Growing your own food can certainly do it. Meanwhile, some businesses, including Stokes Seeds and Martin Farms in Vineland, get a boost.

There are also the environmental and taste benefits that come with growing your food. Those pesky food miles are trimmed and store-bought vegetables that are grown more for their endurance than taste get the boot from your crisper.

It also shouldn't go without mention that Lettuce, Turnip and Wine member Holly Patterson is now the recession gardening poster girl. She's in the story championing an unexpected merit of indulging in a virtually Zero-Mile Diet.

Home vegetable gardening growth industry in hard times

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Money doesn't grow on trees, but the next best thing will be sprouting in Holly Patterson's backyard garden this year.


Every Swiss chard, bean, pea, tomato, carrot or lettuce seed the self-professed gardening addict turns into supper means one less dollar she has to spend at the grocery store.

It's a joy Patterson never really thought about reaping from her garden until recently when she saw her hours as an occupational therapist cut.

"We try to grow organically, so certainly growing food in our garden that's organic and heirloom is a cost savings," Patterson said. "We're looking to scrimp and certainly the garden is one area we can do that."

With the recession firmly taking hold, there's a growing interest in gardening as a way to cut costs.

After years of flat sales in the home-gardening sector, business has spiked as people look to weed expensive grocery bills out of their budgets, said Wayne Gale, president of Stokes Seeds in Thorold.

Not only are people giving the Stokes seed catalogues a more thorough read, gardening centres are planting more in preparation for the upcoming growing season.

"I think the economy definitely has a role to play," Gale said. "Just the monetary value -- for a couple of bucks you can buy tomato seeds and get a pretty good return."

Last year, Patterson spent $20 on seeds. With a few hours of work each week, she harvested enough vegetables to feed four adults and one toddler for the growing season.

She also canned and froze some of her crop. And while Patterson's freezer is now bare, the St. Catharines resident still has some squash in storage.

"In the immediacy, we're able to feed ourselves quite well," Patterson said.

Patterson noted that eventually, her seed costs will be pared down to nothing because she grows heirloom varieties. They enable her to save seeds from every crop.

She'll also have vegetables she enjoys eating.

"I'm very excited about not having to buy crappy romaine lettuce from the U. S. anymore," Patterson said.

Even those without a yard of their own to plant a garden are looking to unearth the money savings that can come from a green thumb.

Marcy Heit, operations manager at Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, is getting calls earlier than usual this year from people interested in securing a plot in the community garden at Torosian Park that the food bank runs in partnership with the City of St. Catharines and Niagara Regional Housing.

Jane Hanlon, executive director of Climate Action Now, has also been fielding a lot of calls about the green group's new community garden slated for Centennial Park.

"It's in response to rising food prices and in response to the lack of food security issues in Canada," Hanlon said.

Bob Martin, who grows vegetable plants for Loblaws and other grocers at his Vineland greenhouse, said penny pinchers don't need a big space to plant the seeds of financial savings.

The master gardener said a pot and a plant is all you need for some vegetables, such as tomatoes and herbs.

Both he and Gale recommend a few "basics" for a garden that can be relatively foolproof and inexpensive with a little maintenance: beans, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, peas and herbs. They can also all be grown in small spaces.

"There's no question you certainly save," Martin said. "It could save you five to $10 a week by the time you go to a store and buy a basket of tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. Five or $10 doesn't sound like a lot, but that can add up to $300 over the season and it's relatively easy."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Downtowns and farmers' markets hold potential to feed off each other.

Farmers' Markets Ontario released a study with the one-line plot summary that Ontario needs more farmers' markets to meet consumer demand.

Good news, so long as a farmers' market fits into a farmer's business plan and market founders can find folks to fill stalls. (Wow, trying saying that sentence five times quickly).

Still, not only are farmers' markets a bastion of local food, they also seem to be a piece in the puzzle of downtown revitalization. Makes sense just thinking about the farmers' markets I'm familiar with — Kitchener, St. Catharines, Welland, Pelham. All are located in the city centre or close to it. And all seem to make their respective downtowns come alive on market day.

St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan clearly gets it. Below are his ideas about the potential that his city's farmers' market holds, as appeared this week in the St. Catharines Standard. For the whole story, check out

The recent resurgence in the appeal of local food has also got the minds at St. Catharines city hall thinking of ways to bolster the Garden City’s farmers’ market.

Mayor Brian McMullan said branding initiatives, including canvas bags emblazoned with information about the market to act as roving billboards, are already in the works.

Next month, he plans to bring a report to council with his ideas to rejuvenate the market.

Think closing down James Street between King and Church streets on Saturdays and using the road as space for vendors or outdoor concerts.

“At this time, it’s extremely busy (at the market) on Saturdays and it’s bursting at the seams,” McMullan said. “If there’s a demand — and I’m seeing that on Saturday there’s a huge demand for space at the market — why not expand it?”

Though a challenge, given the space in Market Square, McMullan is also looking at ways to add refrigeration units to the building to attract a wider variety of vendors.

Also on the radar: tightening rules on the amount of local content in the goods sold at the market and using the former Honest Lawyer building as a market cafe.

“We have to find a way of adding to it to make it a destination,” McMullan said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Putting agriculture on the map

If you've needed someone to draw you a map to local food, here you go. The Niagara AgriTourism Centre just released it's long-awaited food and farming tour of the Region. The baskets on the map mark the spot for some of the tastiest and most unique finds in Niagara with a food, farming and entirely local connection.

Here's the story.

The Welland Tribune, March 13, 2009.

The coloured map was so fresh you could smell the ink when Yvette Plentai handed it out to Pelham Business Association members this week.

“It’s hot off the press,” she said about the Niagara AgriTourism Circuit map during a PBA showcase event at Sweet Thoughts, a Ridgeville chocolate shop identified on the map.

The map identifies and promotes farmgate operations and businesses that use local food products — including Mathias Farms Ltd., which offers picked and pick-your-own fruit, and Chez Fromage Etc., which sells cheeses from Niagara, Quebec and around the world.

“We feature farmers and businesses that are transformers,” Plentai in an interview Thursday. “They take local materials and transform them, such as an artist who uses local clay.”

The map took a year to put together. It is divided into four circuits or tours: Gateway, a circuit along the shore of Lake Ontario; Picturesque, around Niagara-on-the-Lake, Thorold and St. Catharines; Rural, pulling together a large number of places in Pelham, Welland, Wainfleet and West Lincoln; and South Shore, for Port Colborne and Fort Erie.

“It’s intended for both local residents and tourists,” said Plentai.

Locals and visitors will want to try different parts of the region at different times.

For residents, it’s a way to explore rural Niagara and a way to show guests another side of the peninsula.

For visitors, the map gives an experience beyond seeing Niagara Falls and playing in the casinos.

“They can go to a pick-your-own blueberry patch and talk to a Niagara farmer. They can take away a real experience of Niagara,” Plentai said.

The map is in French and English. It will be used to promote Niagara tourism in Ontario, Quebec and the United States. It shows outlets that provide services in French.

For each of the 56 farms, stores and services mentioned on the map — such as Paso Fino Niagara, a horse stable in Fenwick, or Zeta Farms Ltd. in Welland with its organic-fed lambs — the map lists address, phone number, owner website and provides a short description.

Plentai said she has found a crying need for such a map as rural businesses try to reach out to both residents and tourists.

“It’s all about buying local and building our local economy,” she said. “We are in a new business world. We have to learn to work together.”

Maps will be available at tourism information centres, at outlets featured on the map such as The Cafe on Main in Welland and de la terre Cafe and Bakery in Fonthill, and at the Niagara AgriTourism Centre at 76 Division St. in Welland.

Businesses wishing to be part of future maps or wanting more information can call Plentai at the Niagara AgriTourism Centre, 905-714-0491.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CSA — Cook Something Amazing

Turn the clock back 10 years and there's a good chance I was ripping into a bag of Safeway potato and onion perogies and turning on the stove in my Regina apartment.

I also would have been prepping my fancy, schmancy side dish: Harvest brand farmer's sausage.

I know this because a meal of perogies and sausage was a staple during my university days. I ate them at least once a week, occasionally changing things up by using potato and bacon or sauerkraut perogies. Call it an homage to the many Ukrainian settlers who roamed the Prairies before me. Or, you can call it lazy, though I'd argue uncreative is better. But that's what industrial food and a world that only includes a big-chain grocery store will do to a person. It's easy to get stuck in a meal rut.

The dinner tables started to turn when I became a vegetarian three and a half years ago. Suddenly the meat-as-a-centrepiece, bracketed-by-a-carb-and-veggie meal wasn't going to do me, easy as they were to fix. (Boring to eat, mind you). So, if I wasn't going to wind up anemic and with even less muscle mass than what I had, I had to get cooking. And cooking I did. Tofu, legumes, faux meat — there was a lot of experimenting going on in the kitchen. Creativity was crucial to my survival.

Eventually, I fell into a meal rut again. Veggie Pizza. Pasta. Chana masala. Asian noodle soup with tofu. Those were my new staples.

Enter an intriguing e-mail from a colleague a few months later telling me about a local CSA. For those who don't know what a CSA is, it's almost like buying shares in a local farm. You make a commitment to buy vegetables, for example, from a farmer for a season and the farmer plants accordingly.

For me, that farmer was Wellandport veggie grower Linda Crago. Here was my tip-off that my weekly baskets of veggies weren't going to be a yawn: the woman was growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes at the time. (A previous blog entry shows she's up to 700 now).

I told Linda the veggies I like — Swiss Chard is my one true love — but each week and every basket, I was exposed to something new. Ever had eggplants the size of chick peas? How about white carrots? Eat a mangel recently? Dino kale? How about a tomato covered in peach fuzz? Or garlic scapes, the flower from the garlic plant? Mustard greens anyone?

Here I thought veggies were orange carrots, peas, potatoes, lettuce, a handful of tomato varieties, yellow, green or red peppers and my chard thrown in for variety. And I considered myself a bit of a foodie.

There were also the veggies I knew existed — take beets as an example — but had the preconceived, unshakable notion that they were ... gross.

Getting fresh, unique vegetables forced me to get even craftier in the kitchen. I got a few recipes from Linda but each week, I'd come home and also search recipe websites for tasty ways to use what was in my CSA basket. I've never eaten — or cooked — better.

Linda even plied me with beets in all shapes, sizes and colours, like the guys in the photo to the right. Forgot to mention to her my feelings about the beet before signing on to her CSA. Given that some weeks they had a big presence in my basket, I didn't want to just chuck them. A few reincarnations later of the lowly root vegetable and I figured out I actually really love beets. I even get cravings for them now.

CSA stands for community supported agriculture. But it should stand for Cook Something Amazing.

And as a tribute to the clearly misunderstood beet, here is a recipe I discovered that is enough to turn beet doubters into beet believers. There are still plenty of local beets around ready to convince you of their merits and be fodder for the following:

Baked Grated Beets

5 beets shredded
1 small onion finely chopped
1 potato, grated
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Place beets in a greased 1-quart casserole dish. Add onions and potato. In a small bowl, stir together oil, vinegar, sugar, water, salt and pepper. Stir into vegetable mixture, cover tightly and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Stir once or twice during cooking. *** I like to take the lid off at the end for a couple of minutes to brown the top.
(source: (photo source: Tree and Twig Farm)

Plant and Rant

I think planting and ranting are becoming my life. Fortunately for everyone, I have very little to rant about today; that seems to be more of a winter weather activity. But today, despite what the calendar says, it was spring!

So today, was serious planting. Lots of tomatoes planted, indoors of course. The top 100 on my list are in! Absolutely essential tomatoes for the garden from this list are: Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Green Doctors (fabulous!), Franchi Red Pear, Dr Carolyns', and of course good ol' Aunt Rubys' German Green. The other 94 on the list are pretty special, too, as are, of course, the other 600 varieties I still have to plant.

Then, after this marathon seeding session, out to the hoop houses. Hot? Oh yeah! It was about 25°C. The ground was nice and warm, so I snuck some arugula, Red Mustard, and salad mix in around other crops that are currently producing.

I am always amazed when people say chickens aren't very smart. I think that is said by people who don't know chickens. My gals on the other side of the fence in the hoop house were peering at the lovely chard and greens, hopping up on the straw bale hut to get a better view. What is she doing? they wonder.

My husband Gary has tried multiple times to thwart their efforts at getting through this fence. But alas, they have managed and today was no exception. When I returned to the house to get a drink, I could see them as I glanced out the kitchen window, grazing to their hearts content on the green side. Out I ran, shooing them through the gate and back to their side. I'm not sure how long it will take them to figure out how to get through again, as I set up some new roadblocks, but I'm sure as they roost tonight they are considering their options. I LOVE MY CHICKENS- they are outsmarting my MBA husband!

And tomorrow the adventure begins again. More flats of tomatoes to seed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Something for the tastebuds, the wallet, and the locavore

Slow-braised short ribs with chipotle blue cheese, mashed potatoes and beet chips.

Wild mushroom and goat cheese strudel on greens.

Knodeling with venison.

Roasted vegetable puree infused with coconut milk and citrus.

Hungry yet? I am and half this stuff I can't eat as a vegetarian. Nonetheless, I know an amazing menu when I see it. I also know a good bargain. And all of the above can be described as both.

They're just a few examples of what some of the up-and-coming talent being trained at Niagara College plans to serve up, starting Thursday, March 26.

Called 5on5 chef showcase, five different culinary students will whip up a five course meal each Thursday between March 26 and April 9. The cost is $35 per person plus tax and gratuity, which is amazing when you look at what's on the menu. There is also a wine reception before dinner.

Most impressive, though? Many of the students are creating their culinary delights using ingredients from local farms, including Grimo Nut Nursery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, White Meadows sugar bush in Effingham, and Fonthill bakery De La Terre.

For more information, including viewing the full menus for each night, log on to You can also call 905-641-2252 or 905-735-2211 ext. 4619 to make your reservation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gardening victories and stalemates

Clearly, some people are made to garden.

Take the pictures below as proof.

Much as I'd like to take credit for this simple yet effective gardening tunnel, enabling the growth of veggies at this time of year, I can't. But gardening group member, Holly, can. I had a feeling she was a bit of a prodigy. She latched on to Linda's advice about the DIY greenhouse and can now grow greens outdoors in the frosty weather.

Here's how Holly did it in her own words:
I used bamboo stakes cut down to 16 inches in length, half-inch plastic but fairly stiff water piping for houses (white outside, black inside), each one about 5.5 feet long, six millimetre plastic, about 6 feet long, and some zip ties reinforced with duct tape so the plastic doesn't tear. I covered up the edges with quite a lot of soil and made the openings at the end quite long so I could tuck them in to prevent the wind from catching them. I placed many bricks along the edges. It took longer to find the stuff at the hardware store than to build it (approx 30 minutes). It has stood up well today with the winds. I am going to plant some greens in it shortly once I have figured out the fabric issue.

As for my gardening escapades, well, I'm not going so far as to call them victories. But they aren't complete losses. So I guess that leaves stalemate as my only option.

The oregano and sage I planted two weeks ago are languishing in my kitchen and about to go roots up. My basil, the third plant I've tried growing in a month, however, is thriving. Who'd have thunk? I've been neglecting it and it appears to be liking it.

I also have a few fine little shoots in my 'lettuce in a baggy' experiment. Still not sure if I'll be stuffing my face with a salad made of the stuff because the sprouts haven't grown much since sprouting. But for now I'm latching on to the promise those tiny green leaves growing in a Ziploc hold.

My lettuce in a baggy experiment so far.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Local eating becomes must-see TV

This is for the locavoyeurs in the crowd.

Not only did it turn into a popular book, but the 100-Mile Diet is now the basis of a reality series on the Food Network. I can't help but think the trio of California women behind the concept of the '100-Mile Diet' are kicking themselves for not trademarking it.

Perhaps after this season, shot in Mission, BC, they'll consider shooting a season in Niagara. It would be fertile ground for must-see TV. Take it from the vegetarian who tried being a strict locavore. The intrigue, the hunger, the mystery of what the next meal will hold...

Stay tuned.... Meanwhile, here's the press release.

Six Canadian Families Eat Locally for 100 Days with Astonishing Results in the New Series "The 100-Mile Challenge"
- Series Premieres Sunday, April 5 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Food Network -

Can you imagine no coffee, tea, chocolate, olive oil, and even sugar in your diet for 100 days?

Did you know that many of these items travel over 1,500 carbon-producing miles to get to Canadian consumers?

Based on James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith's best-selling book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, the new Food Network series "The 100-Mile Challenge" documents the fast-growing trend of local eating - which is healthier and better for the environment - for the first time on television.

The series follows the ups and downs of six Mission, BC, families who make the difficult, but rewarding, commitment to consume only food and drink produced within a 100-mile radius for 100-days.

James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith act as guides in the series.

"We were amazed by the changes 'The 100-Mile Challenge' families went through in such a short time, from their health to their sense of community," say James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, authors of The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating and the series' guides. "It exceeded our expectations in every way--and our expectations were high."

"Today more than ever local eating is important for our health and our environment," says David Paperny, executive producer, Paperny Films. "Paperny Films is happy to bring this growing, and very important, food movement to Canadians across the country."

Each one-hour episode of "The 100-Mile Challenge" details the progress of the six families chronologically, revealing the struggles, triumphs and downright creativity of these residents as they try to cook full meals from local ingredients. From foraging for food in their own backyards to turning a family lamb into sausages, each participant's eating habits are tested in the extreme - with often astonishing results.

Authors James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith bring "The 100-Mile Challenge" to Mission and act as series' guides,periodically checking on the families' progress, laying down the rules, and pushing the families to get the most out of the challenge.

The interactive companion website to the series - where Canadians across the country can log in to see where to buy food local to their area, find recipes and use the site to take the challenge themselves - launches in conjunction with the series.

A Green Event in Ancaster

Lots of events in the Hamilton area in the next few weeks.

Another to mention is coming up this Saturday evening: Hamilton's Green Day, featuring National Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

This dining event, featuring a local and organic meal, will be held at The Old Ancaster Mill, March 14 from 6-11 pm. Niagara's own Frog Pond organic wine will be served, and Celtic music and a silent auction are also featured.

Greenfeast tickets can be purchased online at More info is available at

Monday, March 9, 2009

Co-op links farmers and consumers

For those whose schedules conflict with local farmers markets, here's a virtual farmers market you can shop on your time, and in your underwear, since you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

The Niagara Local Food Co-op aims to make local food easy by providing a one-stop, online shop for locavores and an opportunity for local farmers to grow their business. Given that its focus is in-season produce, there's lots of local meat on the product list right now and some tasty, specialty products.

This appeared in today's St. Catharines Standard.

St. Catharines Standard, Monday, March 9, 2009

It has fast become a commandment in the green bibles lining bookstore shelves.

Befriend your local farmer.

They can help you eat a diet of local food and reduce your carbon footprint with every bite by slashing the kilometres dinner travels from farm to fork.

One local start-up organization is making that easier to do.

In its fifth month of operation, the Niagara Local Food Co-op is a virtual farmers' market, connecting Niagara's foodies to producers who provide dietary staples and specialty products in season.

Shoppers log on to the co-op's website -- -- click on the items they want from as many as 21 producers, depending on the season, and pick up their orders on a set day at a central location in Thorold.

The name of the producer is attached to every item they choose online. So are ingredient lists, producer bios and production practices.

"The real aim is to have a real and sure way to put local produce in the hands of consumers," said Chris Frere, co-op president and a Wellandport apiarist. "That sounds like a lofty goal."

Lofty because, environmental benefits aside, Frere and the other food purveyors who are members of the co-op are trying to create an avenue to make a fair price on their products while locavores get the best deal. They achieve it by eliminating the middlemen who are the processors and grocers.

In doing so, they're changing the way people think about the origins of their food.

Member Nicolle Lalond, who moved to St. Catharines from Toronto two years ago in part because of the potential local food offerings, said the co-op provides a reality check for anyone who thinks food comes from the grocery store.

"There's more than just food going on. There's a reconnection with what's going on" to produce the food, she said.

It also provides a market for some of Niagara's niche farmers, such as Larry and Alison Moore. The St. Anns cattle farmers raise a small herd of rare Irish Kerry cattle, which haven't been bred for intensive or industrial production. The co-op gives them a place to proffer their pepperettes and ground beef.

"There's no way I could sell my product in the grocery store. There's no way. I can't sell a small number of animals and also a small animal," Larry said. "As we get a little more sophisticated at it and the co-op gets more legs on it, the sky's the limit for selling any amount of product."

Or any type of product, so long as it's local.

Although anyone trying to reach for their five to 10 veggies and fruit a day at this time of year will find limited offerings on the co-op website, consumer demand means more opportunities for producer members, Frere said.

Capitalizing on those opportunities could mean a return to the land full-time for many farmers who have to augment income with jobs off the farm.

"It encourages diversification. I went out and bought a bunch of seed this year and plan to plant a half acre of squash and a quarter acre of dill," Frere said. "If someone sees a demand out there, there's nothing stopping them from filling that demand."

Is local always best? Conference seeks to answer that question

Join Green Venture, Green Communities Canada and more than 150 delegates from organizations across the country for an evening of local food for thought March 19th from 5-9pm at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

A food fair (5pm-7:15pm) will feature displays, food educators, processors, producers, growers, cooperatives, associations and farmers from the Hamilton and Niagara. It's co-hosted by the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.

Keynote speaker (7:15-8pm) Wayne Roberts, coordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council and board member of both the North America-wide Community Food Security Coalition and Food Secure Canada, will explore food issues through a series of questions, including 'is local always best?'

The evening concludes with a guest panel addressing some of the benefits and challenges of community-based sustainable food programs. Panelists include Shannon Thompson, director of Greenest City’s HOPE Community Garden in Toronto, Karen Burson, project manager for Environment Hamilton’s Eat Local/Farm Fresh!, Robert Pasuta Ward 14 Hamilton city councillor and successful farm operator, and Kevin Hamilton, a Brant County organic farmer and member of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.

The convention centre is located at 1 Summers Lane. The event is free.

For more details, visit

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Short and sweet

It's raining, it's pouring, the sweet sap is flowing.

Maple syrup season is back in Niagara!

Check out our two main sugar bushes: White Meadows Farms and Agape Valley to fill up on pancakes and all the incarnations of that sweet Canadian elixir.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Planting the seeds of locavore life

Unofficially, we're Lettuce, Turnip and Wine.

In Gary Ruffett-Crago-to-English translation, that's 'Let us turn up and whine,' which as a gardening novice, I have a feeling I might do a lot in the coming months.

But officially, the eight gardeners and wannabe green thumbs (that would be me and Gary, Linda Crago's husband) turned up at the Wild Flower restaurant in Fonthill Wednesday to talk all things gardening and learn how to become more self-sufficient when it comes to feeding ourselves.

With Linda touting the merits of the Zero-Mile Diet in an earlier Eating Niagara post, the gardeners, and Gary and I, talked about the best way to live off our own patches of land or garden pots this coming summer. While sustenance seems to be our ultimate goal, there are some steps we want to take as a gardening support group to get there. So future meeting will focus seed saving, favourite heirloom veggies, amending soil, gardening tips, leads on good gardening supply sources, winter growing, preserving, and greenhouse growing (that includes buying and/or making your own sheltered gardening oasis. The word in the garden is Craig's List and if cheap is key for supplies).

Think it's too early to start growing your own food? Linda dispelled that idea with her tips on winter growing. The secret: find your patch of dirt, line the edges with tent pegs or something similar, find yourself some PVC pipe or other flexible tube, and bend from one tent peg on one side of the patch to another on the other side. Put some greenhouse plastic over top and voila.

"You've got a greenhouse in 10 minutes," Linda said.

One of Linda's greenhouses at her Wellandport farm, Tree and Twig Farm.

With the sun shining on your DIY greenhouse, it will heat up inside, thawing and warming the soil enough to plant your seeds. For an extra layer of insulation in this frosty weather, plants that start sprouting can be covered in agriculture fabric, particularly at night to shield them from the cold.

Follow these simple instructions and you can have greens by April, Linda said. Delicious mustard greens, chard and Chinese greens are hearty and can hack this weather in a makeshift shelter.

Winter greens grown by Linda.

Although there was only a small group of us, we're still hopeful other gardeners will turn out in spades to future meetings.

There are perks, aside from the gardening support. Linda will share seeds for test varieties of vegetables she is commissioned to grow for various gardening publications and draw on growers' experiences when penning her reviews. These are varieties that haven't even been unveiled to the gardening masses, so you'll be in the gardening loop long before most green thumbs.

We were also given our first project, which I fear will land my first F since Grade 10 math class. Before we left, we were all given a baggie of soil and some lettuce seeds, including Strella Green, Merveille des Quartre Saisons and oak leaf, to plant in it. Then we were set free to grow. Based on a You Tube video Linda stumbled upon, we should get a head of lettuce from our baggie. But she's skeptical. Hence, the experiment.

We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, we plan to meet again Wednesday, April 1 at 6:45 at the Wild Flower. So come out and bring your green thumbs.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fighting the foreign food blahs in winter

It's March.

Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, since you could have looked at the calendar to figure that out. Though spring is less than three weeks away, for anyone craving local food, this can be a tough time of year.

The ground is still frozen. Farmers' fields still lay dormant. Other than a few stragglers among the root vegetable crop from last fall and some apples, it can appear to be slim pickings out there. Heck, given that a grocery store is my main source of food right now, I feel like I've won the lottery if I find veggies that aren't from Mexico or South America.

But there are still local treasures to be found out there in the fresh food world for those of us who don't grow our own, didn't preserve enough last year or haven't been able to get to a farmers' market regularly. In some cases, though, local may need to be a little more open to interpretation.

Here is some of what I'm eating that's local right now:

Bell Peppers — I was over the moon when I found yellow and green bell peppers from Beamsville's St. David's Hydroponics, at The Peanut Mill on Geneva Street in St. Catharines yesterday. Jackpot! No peppers from Mexico or California for me!
Potted organic herbs — While herbs everywhere are praying that I give up growing — OK, killing — them, that still didn't stop me from picking up some basil, rosemary, and dill from Beamsville's Freeman Herbs at Sobeys in Grantham Plaza.
Apples — I get mine at the Apple Bin on Highway 20, on the border of Thorold and Fonthill. It's Harold Damude's orchard. There's also Leo DeVries in Fenwick. Both sell cider, too. But you can also find local cider, from S. Gabryelski and Sons in Fenwick, at many local Zehrs stores and Sobeys in Fonthill.
Garlic — Thank you Linda for giving me enough to get through the winter. (Become part of a CSA, people!
Lettuce — Yes, that's right, I said lettuce. And no, California hasn't become local in my world. Hydroponically-grown green leaf lettuce from Lettuce Alive in Norwich, near Delhi, is available at some Zehrs stores. It comes in a clamshell and is called Lettuce Alive, equipped with an easy-to-spot Foodland Ontario symbol. Well within the 100-mile radius for food mile counters. There is also hydroponically-grown Boston lettuce in similar packaging from Quebec, if you expand your idea of local to include the rest of Canada at this time of year.
Onions — Thank you Holland Marsh. Hey, parts of it are in the 100-Mile radius if you're striving to make that your definition of local. Your local grocery store should have them.
Carrots — See above since I'm long out of my stash from Linda.
Potatoes — Ditto. While there are plenty of Ontario potatoes to be found, there is also PEI's crop on grocery store shelves.
Rhubarb — I know! I couldn't believe it either. But I've seen it, albeit sporadically, at Zehrs in Fairview Mall and it says it's from Ontario. Here's hoping they're telling the truth.
Beets — I never ate them until I met Linda. Now, I can't get enough. You can buy big bags of Ontario beets — thanks, again, Holland Marsh — at Zehrs and Sobeys.
Milk — The Dairy Farmers of Ontario say that virtually all the milk in your local grocery store comes from within a 100-kilometre "milkshed." If you want to buy from a local dairy, there's always Hewitt's Dairy in Hagersville. Most grocery stores and smaller food stores, such as The Peanut Mill, have both Hewitt's cow and goat versions. The Peanut Mill also has Hewitt's sour cream, goat ice cream and butter, too.

Have you made a local food discovery of your own? Let me know about it and I will be sure to post it.

Terroir/The Southern Tier

Here in the southern tier of Niagara, including of course Wainfleet, Welland, Port Colborne and Fonthill, our sources are a little bit different for local off-season food.

Hewitt's products are available at The Wildflower Market in Fonthill, and I am a strong believer in Hewitt's. I would be a great candidate for becoming a vegan if it wasn't for cream in my coffee.

Ever really look at what is in most cream? Do you wonder why it stays good in your fridge for two or three months? Hewitt's cream has two ingredients: Cream and milk. I'm sold on it!

Emily Sterr from The Wildflower also stocks many other Hewitt's items and is my source for organic tofu, which really is difficult to source in Niagara. Check out her other locally sourced dry goods as well, such as vinegars and honey. Or even Chef Wolfgang's canning and preserves.

Around the corner from The Wildflower in Fonthill is Duffin Appleworks, and if you venture out my way a bit more, outside of Smithville is Lincoln Line Orchards, whose apples are fresh and crunchy all winter. Their retail store has lots of local delights.

Here in Wellandport, Mr. Robins has a stand on Highway 27, a temperature-controlled red hut, with apples for sale most of the winter and his own cider, too. It is operated as an honour system.

As for veggies, I agree with Tiffany. Local beets, carrots, squash, onions, cabbages and garlic are still available in the grocery stores.

This fall, these are items you can stock up on yourself and store easily through the winter if you have sufficient space and a big garden or favourite farmer. Freezing or canning excess produce ensures a wonderful variety all winter long.

My family is lucky. We still have a great store of veggies to get us through the winter.

But the icing on the cake is the fresh greens that kept coming all winter.

The greens in the picture above were winging their way to Toronto yesterday for Terroir/09, an acclaimed event for food industry types. Very simple methods can keep families in greens all winter. The right types of seeds, simple protection and you have it. Many greens, too, can be grown indoors for a continuous supply.

Green thumbs need not apply-anyone can do it!
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