Sunday, July 26, 2009

Muhziks* make the people come together.

By Suzanne Taylor, member of Linda's CSA, guest blogger, and nosy foodie.

*A muzhik is a Russian peasant.

So, I’ve been reading Anna Karenina lately. I’m not on a classics kick or anything like that, I just have a fondness for things that are both long and Russian (Dr. Zhivago, Eugene Onegin, you name it) and figured that this fit the bill.

Anyway, I’m finding the book slow going but enjoyable, and I particularly like the scene where Levin, the landowner, works in the field with the peasants in the springtime, mowing with his scythe. He enjoys the feeling of the sun shining on his aching muscles and his sweat-soaked shirt, and the satisfaction of hard work on his farm, drinking vodka with the peasants and generally being apple-cheeked and kitschy as all-get-out.

And it is with this image in mind that I decided to volunteer to give Linda a hand at the farm this weekend, I must confess. Foolishly idealistic little wannabe stevedore that I am.

Of course, this was silly of me. There is nothing Russian-peasant picturesque about yanking out armloads of pigweed from the mud with the tail of an enormous cat named Pickle two inches below your nose, and that’s that.

But this is the reality of working on Linda’s farm; it’s just plain hard work and a lot of underfoot pets, and it’s no less satisfying for this. It’s also sobering to learn first hand exactly how hard Linda works for the contents of our CSA baskets each week. I think as CSA members we all have a better appreciation than average people do of what hard work farming is, and yet nothing prepared me for the simple reality of fighting with crab grass for a few hours better than pitching in myself and enduring the mosquito bites. What I won’t do for heirloom tomatoes, right?

It also let me discover exactly what is growing on the farm and what is ready and what is not; Linda is having rather a wet year of it and things are growing more slowly than last year. Fret not if you feel like things are missing from your basket this year; they are all on their way, it’s just been a heavy rainfall year and the soil is very wet and mucky, as my muddy feet can attest to, and thus everything is a bit late this year.

All the kale/cabbage/collard green type of plants really seem to enjoy the rain; the ‘headless cabbage’ she grows has leaves so big I’m pretty sure I could wrap Pickle the cat in them and cook him for supper if I were so inclined, which of course I am not as I am rather fond of old Pickle, who is bigger than my two pugs put together and thus a little intimidating in his own right.

In this vein, I leave you with my favourite recipe for collard greens:

White Bean and Collard Green Soup (adapted from “The Broccoli Forest”)

1 tbsp olive oil; up to 2
2 c chopped onions
1 bay leaf
2 stalks celery; minced
2 medium-sized carrots; diced
2 tsp salt; (or more, to taste)
6 c stock or water
3 c cooked white beans
3 tbsp minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 lb collard greens; stemmed and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly chopped parsley (optional)
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a kettle or Dutch oven, add the onion, bay leaf, celery,
carrots, and salt. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, then add
stock or water. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.
Cook quietly for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

2. Add the beans, garlic, and as much of the collard greens as you can fit,
cover and wait a few minutes for the greens to cook down. Keep adding
greens in batches, waiting between additions for them to cook down, which
they ultimately will.

3. Add black pepper to taste, and adjust the salt. Serve hot, topped with
a grating or two of fresh nutmeg, a little parsley, and a generous
spoonful of parmesan cheese.

Note: Don’t tell Joey the pig, but this soup is made particularly tasty with a dollop of bacon drippings in it.

If you are so inclined to volunteer some of your time on the farm in exchange for tomatoes, give Linda a call; she can use all the help she can get!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Niagara's own grass farmer

My first purchase as an official locavore two years ago was a pint of green beans from a girl at the St. Catharines Farmers' Market.

Bridgette Neufeld was her name and her father, Tom, had grown the beans that would be the making of one my first meals during my short-lived 100-Mile Diet experiment for The Standard in 2007.

I crossed paths with the Neufelds again this week at their Campden farm for the kind of story that reminds me why I love covering agriculture. It's about Tom Neufeld's foray into integrated pest management. Pardon the jargon. That's basically a pest control method that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes as relying on "common-sense practices" — you know managing pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. That's a pigeon hole that synthetic chemical pesticides will never fit, I'm sure.

Neufeld is using parasitic wasps to control the European corn borer moth, which left unchecked, would devour his sweet corn crop. Not a problem if you're a consumer who doesn't mind pulling back a husk to find you'll be eating a caterpillar's leftovers. But for those consumers who need perfection in their produce, controlling the corn borer is an important job for a corn grower.

Here's the story, which appeared Friday in The Standard.

Wasps get corny

What really made this story enjoyable, aside from my appreciation for a break from the usual harvest story, was Neufeld himself. He's a regular fixture with his potatoes and beans at the St. Catharines, Grimsby and Smithville farmers' markets. But the simple list of produce he's selling belies all that goes into operating his Campden farm.

Driving up the laneway to his farm, there's hay and beef cattle on the right, corn fields on the left, chickens roaming freely and two border collies. Neufeld's take on farming is progressive, thoughtful and thought-provoking. This is a guy who cares about what he does, works hard at it and is constantly questioning and thinking about what makes a sustainable and healthy food production system. He was once a certified organic farmer who gave it up because he wanted to farm rather than drown in the piles of paper work that certification demands. (Talking to this guy will give you more assurances about the food he produces than any official certification, trust me).

He hasn't become a slave to agribusiness — he'll never grow GMO corn and you won't find a terminator seed on his property.
Still, he doesn't shun innovation or technology. The key is making the right choices, the ethical choices, in how that technology is used in our food production, he told me.

If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan — not exactly a beach read but put it on your summer reading list if you haven't already devoured this book — then you'll recall the grass farmer, Joel Salatin, who teaches Pollan about sustainable farming. Even though he runs a mixed farm, he calls himself a grass farmer because of how he integrates the animals he raises into nature's cycles. He makes a reality of the romantic vision of farming that us city slickers are criticized for having by those who have become enslaved and jaded by industrial agriculture.

So does Neufeld. With his cows, his chickens, plans to add sheep to the mix, his rolling hay fields and parasitic wasps, and his desire to find better ways of growing food for food's sake, this is a guy whose food you can feel good about eating.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jam makers, grab your tomatoes; Tomato lovers, grab your tickets

Something to keep an eye on

Green thumbs beware and read this:

Outbreak of Fungus Threatens Tomato Crop

Could this have been my problem? Did disease strike my tomatoes? I highly doubt it but it would be some consolation, selfishly, I suppose if it did. Then, it wouldn't be my fault that I had to yank two of my planter tomatoes and replace them last week with reduced to clear annuals.

I'm not trying to make light of tomato blight. It is literally forcing farmers to plow under their year's profits. Fingers crossed it doesn't strike here but it sounds like the conditions are ripe for it. People's livelihoods, prices consumers pay for tomatoes, even our burger toppings at fast food joints could be affected. Remember the hurricane in 2004 (I can't remember the name) that forced Wendy's to put up signs at all its outlets saying they were only putting tomatoes on burgers when requested because of a shortage due to the hurricane wiping out crops in Florida?

Who knows if this is what will happen but the point is, this kind of incident is felt by all in the food chain.

Gardeners, be vigilant.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Will work for tomatoes

If anyone is remotely interested in helping out on the farm, that help would be greatly appreciated. It is hard to stay on top of the weeding and mulching and extra hands could be put to good use.

A tomatoes for labour deal is what I have in mind. This goes even if you aren't involved in the CSA. In exchange for four hours labour, I will give you at least 10 lbs of tomatoes when they are ready. Any takers? The tomatoes will be fantastic! And they are looking very good.

My gal Meredith, who helps out here, is getting married this weekend to Hyland, who is employed at Inn on the Twenty. My most sincere best wishes to them both and I am looking forward to attending your wedding.

Next up is Tiffany, my co-conspirator on the Eating Niagara blog. She is getting married at the end of! My goal is to make it all look good for her, a daunting challenge.

Tickets are on sale for the Niagara Heirloom Tomato Festival now. Hope to see some of you there. Tickets are available through me and The Wild Flower Market.

I am planning a CSA-garden club pot-luck here in August. This will give CSA folks a chance to see the garden, ask questions and get to know some other great people. Please stay tuned, I'll figure out a date soon!

In the meantime, here's an idea for a dish to bring along or to try at home.

This recipe is from Mark Bittman's, "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" and you can use your lovely lacinato kale, portugese cabbage or collards in it. Heck, throw in some chard too!

Kale Pie

2 tbsp butter, plus more as needed
about 8 large kale /collard leaves
a medium onion, sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs, like parsley, thyme chervil and chives
6 eggs
1 cup whole milk yogurt or sour cream
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1) preheat oven to 375. Put butter in a large skillet, over medium heat. a minute later add the kale \and onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes until tender-don't brown though. Remove from heat, add herbs taste and adjust seasoning
2) Meanwhile hard-cook 3 of the eggs, shell them and coarsely chop. Add to the cooked kale mixture and let cool while you make the batter.
3)Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise and remaining eggs. Add the baking powder and flour and mix until smooth. Lightly butter a 9X12 inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Spread half the batter over the bottom, then top with the kale filling; smear the remaining batter over the kale , using your fingers or a rubber spatula to make sure there are no gaps in what will form the pie's top crust.
4) Bake for 45 minutes, it will be shiny and golden brown. Let the pie cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing into it. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A green thumb unfulfilled


I've been a little confused and perplexed by my garden. My tomato plants have grown, I thought to quite good heights. They even had blossoms, until they shriveled up, taking bloom, leaves and stem with them, leaving no sign of a tomato behind. It didn't look right but since five plants did that, I thought it must be normal.

My only hope for fresh tomatoes. If you look closely at my red in/yellow out tomato there are still some blooms in tact. For now.

My eggplant, well, it's taking it's time, too, it seems. And for someone who just wants to be able to harvest something from their garden and proudly proclaim 'I grew this myself' to her cats when she serves herself what would be the most delicious dinner of all, it's been agony.

Still, I've tried being patient. I worried I was doing something wrong. Then I blamed the weather. Then I didn't know who or what to blame and figured this was just how my garden grows.

Well, I got a reality check last night when Linda had a look and made this diagnosis: my stagnating tomatoes and stunted eggplant aren't getting enough sun. No worries, though, she assured. She was growing lots so I was guaranteed some tomatoes this summer.

In my CSA basket.

Vegetables need full sun, Linda told me.

C'mon, there's got to be something that doesn't. What about rhubarb? That stuff grows like a weed, I said.


Is there anything that can grow in my garden, a place where the sun has come and gone by 3 p.m., I asked hopefully and ruefully all at once.

Hostas, Linda said.

Here comes another sigh.

Idiot-proof, part-sun, part-shade loving hostas appearing in gardens everywhere. But white and green and brown and purple tomatoes, no way. Ever since getting a house with room for a garden, I've looked so forward to growing some food-producing plants. To me, there's a greater sense of accomplishment than the survival of plant that's virtually impossible to kill. No offence to hostas. They're nice but they'll never be dinner.

Since when do gardens need sun? My garden as of July 13, 2009. As you can see, hostas and stonecrop are thriving.

On a brighter note, at least I didn't do anything wrong. Well, save for the fact that I planted my tomatoes in a shady garden.

I did harvest a few leaves of chard growing in the same sunlight-deprived garden to eat in a frittata tonight. But apparently it's progress hasn't been quite as stellar as I thought either.

I can already picture the ornamental grasses taking their place next year ...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Down on another farm

Here's a glimpse into an industry we don't hear much about in Niagara, known more for its tender fruit and grapes than hog farming.

There are about 30 hog farmers in the Region, who, in a good year, can contribute as much as $11 million to the local economy.

But it's been a while since there's been a good year, according to the producers who descended upon Niagara-on-the-Lake today and aired their beefs about their ailing industry to politicians and to The St. Catharines Standard.

Tina Verhof with the Beginning Farmers said some hog producers are weeks away from going bankrupt if they aren't given cash and quick.

It's a look at how tough farming can be. But same for the job politicians have trying to oversee the industry. I was struck by Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky's honesty when she said she didn't know what the solution was to the woes expressed on placards and in literature at the event. She also didn't know if the industry was even fixable.

But Dombrowsky said she takes issue with some of the group’s claims.

Producers came to her with a sense of urgency in 2007 when the $50-million cattle, hog and horticulture payment was created, she said.

To get help to farmers quickly, Dombrowsky said her staff used numbers from the federal cost of production program to determine payments instead of having an application process that would have delayed help. Money also had to be delivered in a “trade-friendly” way that wouldn’t be confused with a subsidy and lead to complaints from trade partners.

“We were basically trying to reach the same people who were not getting their cost of production out of those markets and sectors,” Dombrowsky said.

Dombrowsky said she has asked for names of people who protesters believe wrongly received money. She’s never gotten it.

Still, she said some of the help provided by governments, such as insurance programs, haven’t helped everybody in the industry.

“That isn’t working obviously. We have farmers who are saying they’re in serious trouble,” Dombrowsky said.

But she said she doesn’t know what the solution is and any resolution will require the help of farmers.

“I don’t know if it’s fixable but we need another instrument to deliver the kind of support to farmers when they experience challenges, that will actually work for them,” Dombrowsky said.

Those who turned out, not quite in droves, at the third in a string of similar protests in the recent weeks sure hope it is fixable. Their livelihoods depend on it.

Pig farmers take funding beef to Niagara-on-the-Lake

This won't be the last Ontarians hear from disgruntled hog producers. Another rally is planned for Stratford in the coming weeks.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Trouble in the vineyard

Sour grapes or legitimate concern?

Rogue growers or farmers finally fed up with the organization that represents them for doing what they feel is an inadequate job?

That's for you to decide. But Niagara grape growers concerned with the fate of their livelihood and the precariousness in which some say they exist are growing more vocal about the state of an industry that government and commodity groups, including the Grape Growers of Ontario and the Wine Council of Ontario are in the process of trying to fix.

The following came to me today in a Friends of the Greenbelt electronic newsletter, as growers and other agencies with an interest in what's happening in the province's agricultural preserve take action to try to change what can be described as a brow-furrowing situation.

Sour Deal for Ontario Grape Farmers

Buying local is good for our community, good for our environment and good for our economy. Often we rely on labels and marketing to identify locally produced goods. However, Ontarians who think they are supporting Ontario farmers by buying wine sold as "Cellared in Canada" are unknowingly supporting foreign grapes or grape products, warns Environmental Defence, a member of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.

According to Ontario law, Cellared in Canada wines can actually contain up to 70% foreign grapes or grape product. Under the Wine Content and Labeling Act, Ontario wineries are able to buy inexpensive finished wine from off-shore vendors and create a product labeled as "Cellared in Canada" by blending in a minimum amount (30%) of locally grown wine.

As a result, Ontario grape growers are suffering. Last year, the equivalent of more than 30,000 tonnes of grapes were imported, while Ontario farmers with high quality crops of the very same variety were left without buyers and with local grapes rotting.

What can you do to support Ontario Grape Growers?
Buy VQA wine (made with 100% Ontario Grown Grapes).

Let LCBO staff know that you are interested in a greater selection of VQA wines.

Visit to join the Put the "O" Back into the LCBO campaign and encourage the provincial government to support Ontario's grape farmers.

For those interested in learning more about the situation, here a few links to stories that recently appeared in the St. Catharines Standard:

Smoldering anger in the vineyard

Grape growers cultivating support with petition

Personally, I don't get why we import foreign grape juice, bottle it and slap Canada on the label. But then, I have heard that there are growers who rely on selling to wineries that blend their juice with the Chilean stuff and don't want to lose that market.

In some ways, this goes back to a previous post where I talk about honesty in the local food movement and the jeopardy it seems to be in with some. Granted, the fine print on wine bottles explains 'Cellared in Canada' wines are a mix of imported and domestic grape juice. But for the unaware consumer thinking they're buying Canadian when they see it in the "Cellared in Canada" section at the liquor store, it's deceptive at worst and confusing, at best, no?

Is there any other wine-producing nation out there that imports grape juice to blend with their homegrown vintages?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chard — my all time favourite vegetable

OK, kale. You're a very close second. Maybe even tied. And collards, you aren't so far behind, either.

Yes, I love leafy greens and the chard in my garden, starring in the photo, is growing. Soaked but finally growing. I eat at least two big bunches of it a week. Sometimes I change it up with kale. Point is, I never grow sick of what's been recognized (and rightfully so) as a superfood by some.

To make it even better, here's a chard recipe supplied by Linda. As the poster girl for leafy greens — I made a co-worker a collection of kale recipes once to turn him on to the wonderful veggie — I'm often asked what to do with them.

Well, here's an idea and it sounds good:

When the chard comes on strong, here is a really great recipe to consider from the really great cookbook, Laurel's Kitchen

Chard Pie
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, diced
6 cups chard, stems removed and chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, cleaned and roughly torn
8 eggs beaten
1/4 cup, set aside as a reserve
1 cup shredded marble cheddar
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 pie crust

Preheat oven to 400°F

Cook onion until softened, about five minutes. Add chard and basil and cook until wilted but still a fresh green colour, about three minutes. Remove from heat.

Beat eggs, add both cheeses. Add chard, onion and basil mixture. Add salt and pepper and mix together.

Pour into pie crust and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool to room temperature before eating, ensuring eggs have set. Serve with side salad. When eating leftovers, bring out of the fridge about 15 to 20 minutes beforehand.

I'll be back throughout the summer with more chard recipes. And some for Kale and Collards, too. Stay tuned.

Farm Notes and Niagara Heirloom Tomato Festival

It continues to be pretty busy here in the garden.

I continue to fill in empty spots with new seed, but by far the most dominant task right now is weeding. All the rain has meant everything is growing quickly, but truly nothing as quickly as the weeds. Perhaps it is just a bit more rain than we really needed but at least watering tasks have been minimal so far....a good thing!

Chicks are growing like 7 weeks old, and pecking and scratching with the best of them. Lots of eggs are in the forecast.

Also arriving a week ago was our new collie pup Ellie. Boy, puppies are full of energy, you kind of forget how much! She's a wonderful girl. I can't tell you how much we missed have a dog after Casey and Becky passed away. Not good without them.

I now have tickets available for our Niagara Heirloom Tomato Festival, to be held at Ball's Falls Conservation Area September 6. This event is presented by The Wildflower Market and Tree and Twig.

For the tasting event, I will have up to 100 varieties of tomatoes to try. The $45 ticket price also includes two glasses of wine, tomato-dish samples from five of Niagara's top chefs and entertainment. Chefs involved are Stephen Treadwell, Mark Picone, Frank Dodd, Eric Peacock and Joel from the Keefer Mansion Inn.

Children under the age of 6 are free.

That evening, a delicious tomatoey dinner with wine included will be created by Wolfgang from The Wildflower for $85. This cost includes taxes, gratuities and entertainment. If both tasting and dinner tickets are purchased there is a $10 reduction in cost.

We are really excited about this event! Tickets can be purchased from either me (cash or cheque) or from The Wildflower, which will accept your credit card as well.

Hope to see everyone there!
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