Monday, September 21, 2009

Coates Food Sovereignty Philosophy

I visited two farms on Open Farm Day this weekend. Nature's Route Farm in Pointe de Bute was one of them. Below is their philosophy on why they do what they do. I personally thought it was also great that they reused old schoolbuses as henhouses, that their 2 year old daughter could pick green beans strait out of the field and I could discuss with two older women about real food (they belong to the Coates' Community Supported Agriculture program).

I love farms! My farmer, back-o-the-woods, friend thinks I'm such a city boy. But I'm not. I swear...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

La belle verte

In following with my previous post, I must also highly, highly, highly recommend "La belle verte". This film is a powerful environmental and social critique. It's not, however, a heavy, finger-pointing piece. Rather, it is humourous and original in the way the story is told.

Arguably the best parts of the film are those which are set in the alien world some of the protagonists comes from. It is a utopia where everyone is equal, eats raw vegetarian food, and lives to be over 200 years old (they get three sets of teeth!). Their days are spent in physical exercice, communal gathering of food and education of one another. They have concerts of silence. As a community, they decide how many babies there will be, distribute the harvests, and send ambassadors to other planets. The story, therefore, mostly takes place when one of their people visits earth.

It's unnecessary to say what happens when the alien (who looks completely human by the way) arrives on earth. All that needs to be said is that it's a very simple and fair criticism of Western society: disconnectedness with others; pollution; going too fast to appreciate the small and countless beauties life affords.

In order for the utopia in "La belle verte" to exist, we would need:
- No individual property
- Communal and inter-generational sharing of food and knowledge
- A disposal of all things non-essential (electronics, cars, huge disjointed cities, and so on)

Basically, we'd have to give a damn about one another. Which is what I believe the message of most prophets boils down to.

L'homme qui plantait des arbres

I work in the environmental movement. It's emotionally demanding to see how people have spent their lives fighting for a better world and you, as a young person, embarking on a similar path. There are countless forces which seek not only to exploit the world and its resources, but its people. Call it socioecological. Call it a desire for sustainable development. Whatever it is, it's hard.

While doing some research, I came across this beautiful short film produced by my fellow countryman Frédéric Back called "L'homme qui plantait des arbres" (The Man Who Planted Trees). It's a true story about a man who lived in solitude in a desolate area and made a change in the world by planting seeds. One at a time. Persistently for years and years till he had made a forest. The streams flowed again. People returned to abandoned villages to live happy lives in the now beautiful country.

The beauty of this movie - besides the fluidity of its animation which is stunning - is that it shows how one person can have an impact on the world by making small, persistent, local efforts. Out of 100,000 seeds the man planted, only 10,000 survived. But those which did grow, restored the nature which had been dessimated. In a link which environmentalists too often ignore, the revitalisation of nature also brought about positive social change in the way people felt in that space. It also brought back prosperity. The environment is inextricably linked to society and both are linked to the economy. One cannot go without the other. They are all part of a whole.

I ask myself "What am I going to do to make a better world?" It's not about me. It's about something beyond myself which I don't fully understand. This life that exists, seemingly without purpose, that is so precious.

Maybe I'll plant a forest someday.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Canning Without Fear

Last year, I feared botulism. Then, a delicious pot of dill pickles cast down that fear. Canning is easy. Sterilise, make sure the rim is clear, the contents are hot and deposit into boiling water. If it doesn't seal, then you've got a problem.

So far I've made three things to can. The first were dill pickles. I bought a huge bush of dill, a few dozen small pickling cucumbers (small tastes better than big, the latter seeming to have all its flavour disolved), and fresh organic garlic. The garlic was really the highlight. It was so fresh that the paper around the individual cloves hadn't yet dried. I crushed them and they smelled totally different from the stuff at the supermarket. Almost like a medium strong cheese.

I then made a tomatillo and chipotle pepper salsa, trying to emulate the one from Frontera which is apparently inspired by Varacruz, Mexico. The ingredients read as follows: tomatillos, tomatoes, onions, water, garlic, salt thyme, chipotle chiles, sugar. I did exactly that, with proportions depending on the order in which they're written on the bottle. My error was in not roasting the garlic and tomatillos which is how the Frontera salsa was made. Instead, I pureed everything and then cooked it in a pot. Delicious but not true to what I was trying to emulate. For now, I've got 1500 milliliters of salsa canned and waiting to be eaten. Next time the tomatillos, those beautiful green apple tasting tomato-like individually wrapped delicacies will get a good roasting before they make their way into the canning pot.

Finally, I made apple butter. Those details can be read in the blog entry below (Wild Apple Butter).

One day, I'll have a crawlspace full of of canned goodies, mostly containing things from my own gardens, that will feed me and my family throughout the cold winters of Canada. Plus there might be a cask or two or six of beer and cider and fruit wines. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that there will also be a root cellar heaping with vegetables, a few racks of ripening cheeses, and poles with curing charcuteries. And a passive solar greenhouse keeping the season going despite the snow. One day. In a hopefully not-too-distant future.

Wild Apple Butter

Near Moncton there is a village called Memramcook. Besides a wicked chiac accent, Memramcook is home to apple trees growing like weeds. They're everywhere you look. Literally. I think that when Johnny Appleseed was going around, he tripped in the Bay of Fundy and spilled his bag in the hills of the Cookers.

The unfortunate thing about wild food is that it's all too often wasted. I believe it's come to a point in North America where people would sooner trust over-packaged, chemical laden, perfectly perfect food than true food. If I'd give someone an apple from where I picked it and told them where I picked it, they would probably turn away in disgust. If, however, I told them it came from such-and-such a company and wrapped it in a plastic container, they would trip over one another to buy it. I even found a cherry tree that no one was picking from...cherries that were sold 4$ per carton at the market!

I have no such inhibitions. Wild apples growing on the side of the road with spots and worm holes and malformations are a beautiful thing. They are truly organic. No one has screwed around with them. They aren't genetically modified or caked in pesticides. Best of all, they're free (if we disregard the 75 cents it cost in gas to get there from my house).

With my free, wild apples, cultivated on a nice September morning by carefully shaking a few branches and collecting what fell to the ground, I took out the cutting board and a pot and proceeded to make apple butter. Here's what you need: four and a half pounds of apples; three cups of apple cider from a local orchard (I am not yet equipped to make my own...though I'd probably add with a bit of yeast and time if I was...wink, wink); 2 cups of organic free trade sugar; 1 and a half teaspoons of cinnamon; half a teaspoon each of allspice and ground cloves. Boil apples and cider for half an hour. Add the other ingredients and cook uncovered for an hour and a half. Can. How's that for simple!

Now I've got enough apple butter to last me the winter. If you're into cheap and easy, look out your window for food. No one else is going to pick it.

My Summer 2009 Garden

My previous landlord owns a large piece of land in downtown Moncton. Unfortunately, he doesn't use it for anything but mowing the lawn. I thought it was quite a shame to waste all that space so I asked him if I could tear up corner, out of view, and plant a garden. He agreed. I was surprised.

Now digging a new garden is quite the endeavour. The method I used is called "deep digging". What this consists of is removing the layer of sod (the real hard part), digging 12 inches down, and mixing that 12 inches of dirt with good organic dirt mixed with compost. In a phrase, it sounds easy. But it's quite demanding work when the soil below the sod is mostly clay and someone in the past thought it was a good idea to throw a window frame, a few dozen bricks and other random garbage underneath the top layer of dirt.

In addition to being difficult to start, the garden had a large coniferous tree on the east side, a garage on the west side and a 4 foot high fence on the south side. Really not ideal growing conditions. Plus, since I'd dug down in an already low spot, water pooled in between my rows. All summer I stressed about the water overflowing and drowning my plants. The bugs loved it. My vegetables weren't as enthousiastic.

The picture below was taken a few weeks ago. It's what I would consider the "big harvest" which, believe me, I know is sad. Captured in the photo are Early Wonder Top beets, Danvers carrots, one Costata Romanesca zucchini, one Lemon Cucumber, a small handful of Black Valentine bush beans, Baie Verte Indian pole beans and a few tomatoes. The tomatoes I grew (relatively successfully in the grand scheme of things) were Sungold cherry tomatoes grown from seeds I'd saved from last year, as well as Russian, San Marzano, Mennonite Orange, Toma Verde Tomatillo, and Tribe's Tobique all grown from seedlings I bought from Amarosia Organic Garden in the spring. I got a few tomatoes from each but none from the tomatillo. Unfortunately, I'd marked each variety of tomatoe on a piece of wood with permanent marker. It would seem that permanent marker is not so permanent during a whole summer in the rain and sun. So I don't know which tomato is which.

One of the mystery tomato varieties. Mennonite Orange or Russian?

These are Baie Verte Indian pole beans which I grew in the "three sisters" model of corn on which the beans climb and at the foot of which are planted squash to provide shade. I planted Golden Bantam sweet corn and Lester's buttercup squash. I know I'm not going to get any squash (due to the persistent cucumber beetles which destroyed anything with a yellow flower) but I might get one or two ears of corn. Not the best turnout but all part of the learning curve. At the end of the day, it costs less than tuition fees at university. And the quality of the education is far superior.

This beautiful yellow flower belongs to the Costata Romanesca plant. As previously mentioned, the cucumber beetles seemed to find these flowers beautiful too. In the background you can see the round zuchinni. They are really tasty. Not like the bland cardboard stuff they sell at the supermarket.

These are Love Lies Bleeding amaranth flowers. Aren't they pretty? I think these perfectly illustrate how edible landscaping is much better than conventional landscaping. They are nice to look at and edible.

Behind the amaranth tower the Jerusalem Artichokes I got from Wingate Farm and which we planted a row of at the community garden since they are a perrenial and make an excellent border. I have yet to harvest either the amaranth of the JAs. But I will.

Not included in these photos are the sweet peas (planted by the fence and quickly died from lack of sun and slug attacks), the strawberries (same predicament as the peas), the pickling cucumbers (beetles again), the cantaloupe (only produced a rock hard excuse for a melon), the variety of leaf lettuce (I got 4 servings of these), and the Taisai Chinese cabbage (slugs quickly killing the young sprouts). Also not featured are the dill, the cauliflower, the watermelon and the thyme which never had a chance to experience life.

Next summer I won't be planting a garden since halfway through the summer I'll be moving back to Ontario. But in two summers my garden will be back with a vengeance. No more shaddy, flood proned patches for me.

NOTE: All seeds were sourced from Hope Seeds, a New Brunswick organic seed company. See

A Change of Heart

On March 11, 2009, I had written a post entitled "The End". It was me throwing in the towel on a previous incarnation of this blog. Well, truth be told, it's been anything but the end. I've obviously kept cooking and have even diversified into gardening, scavenging, and environmental activism.

The reason for my change of heart - according to what I can identify based on the muddle that is my thought-flow - is twofold: 1) a lovely Seattle woman named Jenny wrote two very nice comments on my blog which stirred something in me, gave me a desire to keep writing and 2) my good friend Rowena's blog is simply vibrating with life and adventure which can do nothing but move one to keep fighting for good, healthy, environmentally sound, and socially responsible food.

So that's that. Don't expect that everything will have to do with food. I'm broadening things up from this being a food blog to something which attempts to be an umbrella for my multifarious interests.

And let me tell you that that's quite an umbrella.