Archive for the ‘From Local Farms’ Category

Episode 46 – Veggie Patch


I’d heard of Lisa via Slow Food Edmonton some time ago, but only recently had the opportunity to meet her. The drive north to her family’s farm via the Shaftesbury river ferry is shockingly gorgeous, and I was subsequently enamoured by their mixed farm, to be honest. I’ve heard many people speak or write about the romantic notion of farms being dead. Not here. Berkshire piglets run about while the milking cow moos to be milked, and laying hens cluck. Dogs lead sheep flocks through pasture, cows come for a pet when moved on their daily rotational grazing routine, and a greenhouse marks the veg CSA that I was there to shoot. It’s that kind of place.

This video’s about what motivated Lisa to come back to the farm post-University to start up a veg CSA, and I couldn’t help but ask her a fair bit about some of the advantages mixed farming provides. I give her props for growing up there, a good 500+km north of where I garden, way up at 56.2 latitude, making them latitudinal neighbours with the Hudson Bay, Denmark, and more northerly than Moscow. Fortunately, what she loses in heat units she gains in daylight hours. Couldn’t resist shooting their rotational grazing setup for beef, more on this in Ep 47.

Full disclosure: this video is one of many I was contracted to produce for Think Local Market, a government funded initiative to provide an online storefront for producers in rural communities.

Episode 45 – Greens to Market


My buddy Travis has been doing cool food stuff for ages, and you might recognize him from prior episodes about the Edmonton Organic Growers’ Guild or ice fishing. In fact, we were sitting on the ice catching whitefish when he mentioned his spring plans to do an intensive backyard greens operation for sale to market, restaurants, and door-to-door by bike. I knew this episode was in my future. Such a cool idea. What I hadn’t planned was that he’d be selling out in a blink at a single market, and that the excess greens I was experiencing in my gardens would be of use to him. He was all over the idea of aggregating community backyard growers for sale at market, so he now sells ‘Vitamin K’, which is the seasonal blend-of-the-week from my yard. It sells out. His entire production sells out. We’re both ramping up production to try to keep up. The funny part: I’m still growing all the stuff I normally would for my family – apparently my small yard can grow enough for us AND have excess to get to the community via the market. Who knew.

For those that bought, here’s what’s in it this week: bionda di lyon chard, spinach, french tarragon, chervil, red russian kale, miner’s lettuce, mache, wild chive blossom, forono and bull’s blood beet green, arugula [leaf, white blossom, and buds], mizuna [leaf and yellow blossom], komatsuna, mustard [the hot one], dandelion, chick weed [yup, it's edible and good for you], tatsoi, Italian oregano for some savoury action, a touch of dill, a mix of lettuces, and a variety of other this and thats. This week saw the last of the spinach until the fall crop, and many of the blossoms there this week, won’t be there next. Not because I’m trying to switch things up. Nature’s doing the switching up.

Travis has been doing some online video about his micro farm, which you can check out here.

Cob Oven Bacon


Writing about bacon. Again. Just when I thought there wasn’t anything additional to add to the conversation I have with myself here, there was something else to add. A simple conclusion: wood ovens are fantastic smokers. Different than a commercially manufactured smoker that generally involves automation, an element, and some wood chips, it still requires some finagaling in the way of fire management, making it an enjoyable creative process. Not only does it contain smoke as intensely as you’d like, it’s also well suited to creating smoke, as it’s easy to shut down its O2 supply such that it can’t ‘catch’ flame, and instead smoulders and smokes prolifically. I still maintain that an external fire source is critical to successful smoking, so I had a fire in an old baking pan off to the side to fuel the oven with heat when it started to cool off too much to hot smoke, or generate smoke at all for that matter. As usual, the wood of choice in my yard is apple wood, this time supplied by a friend at Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton. A future project of mine: many of the hundreds of trees OFRE has signed up for fruit rescue need some serious pruning + a local meat shop is interested in smoking their meats with said wood = cool.

So after years with a bbq conversion setup, and a year with a dry-stack brick setup, I am now pleased to be staring down a future of smoking in the new cob oven. A friend recently asked me if the honeymoon phase is over with the oven. Nope.

Episode 42 – Slow Food Edmonton


I’ve been involved with our local Slow Food convivium for a couple years now, and this year was an opportunity for Edmonton to play host to convivia leaders from across Canada, as well as delegates from Slow Food International for Slow Food Canada’s national meeting. What resulted was a rather epic adventure in food, as well as an unprecedented coming together of talented, inspiring food-people.

It was a rare occasion for me, who spends a lot of time advocating for regional ingredients like saskatoons, highbush cranberries, game meats, lake fishes, etc, to see the who’s-who of local chefs craft thoughtful and beautiful dishes to highlight what’s special to here. Although many celebrate regional ingredients on their menus, I’m pretty confident that the regional-food focus has never been so laser-precise, nor to this magnitude in Edmonton. Ever.

This edit condenses 4 days into 4 minutes. It by necessity excludes much of the goings-on around the enormous event, but hopefully gives you sense of some of the regional ingredients highlighted, and a look at how the local talent worked with them. If you’re interested in becoming a Slow Food member, you can sign up here.

My Food-onomics


My diet is probably the most localized of anybody I know. Some come close, but let’s use me as the example. If I’m Mr. 95+% local food diet guy, and local, good quality foods are by your definition the most expensive foods, I should then have the highest food cost of anybody I know. But the facts are, the opposite is true. Our family’s food budget works out to about $400/month. That’s for a family of 5 [kids 5, 3, 1], which per person works out to $80/person, $2.66/day, or less than $1/meal per person. Thems is the facts.

How? I’m headed there, bear with me a bit. It’s critical to point out here that we’re eating the top quality ingredients we can find here too. Rather than buying my meat at Walmart, I’m buying the best quality pasture raised stuff I can find. Rather than eating veg bred for withstanding transportation, I’m growing those with the best flavor I can find. We even fit in buying organic grain in there – I think if more folks learned the difference between conventional grain farming and organic grain farming, they’d make that leap too.

Which leads me to an important point: the marginal cost of upgrading. Having visited an organic grain farm and concluded that I didn’t want to feed my family conventionally raised grain, I found a local supplier [Sunnyboy and Highwood Crossing for unbleached white flour] that was selling organic flour for $32/20kg bag. I could buy conventional at a box store for $13 or so. So I was multiplying my food cost 200-300% on grain. This seemed illogical to my inner cheap-ass, but then I looked at the bottom line. If we go through 3 bags a year, I was spending $39 before. Going organic would cost $96. A year. So $63 more per year. That’s $5 of my $400 monthly food budget I’m happy to spend to upgrade. Think about some of the things you spend $5/month on. Parking meters maybe? Those same ‘upgrading’ economics apply to many other items, including meats. And for the record, our budget affords us buying heritage organic whole-grain flours from Gold Forest Grains too.

A quick look at inflation and seed cost. My grandma’s 95. She was born in 1917, before the end of WWI. I’m sure a bunch of carrots at the market, if they were there at all, were a few cents. Seed cost would have been fewer cents. Almost a century later that bunch of carrots at a farmers’ market, $5, say. When I’m a senior, it will likely be $10-20. And I’m not begrudging the farmers those prices – they have to pay for their time to feed you. But the seed cost remains pennies. In fact, if you save seed [and Monsanto doesn't sue you for intellectual property theft, that is], seed can still be free. As time passes, I’m convinced the economic value of seeds will become more and more obvious to the average consumer. The spread of end-product cost and seed cost is growing. I’m doing more and more seed saving. Did I mention the free part?

So I’ll cut to the chase on a few items. Let’s start with fruit and veg. Because we pick fruit until we can pick fruit no more with Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton in the fall – saving fruit on the tree or bush that would otherwise get hauled to landfill – our fruit cost has fallen to essentially zero. And no we don’t need to eat apples all winter. Our freezer’s full of sour cherries, black currants, raspberries, apples, apple juice, and more. You could argue that I have to include my cost of gas to harvest fruit, but I’d argue that I don’t, because you wouldn’t include your cost of gas to go to the box store to buy the stuff.

Our annual seed budget for veg is about $100, and I could easily tighten that up if I felt it was necessary. So yes, that $100 bill pays for enough vegetables to feed our family for the year, year round thanks to cold frames and my root cellar [also economical to build]. So substantially all of our fruit and veg for the year costs a whopping $100 or so.  ‘But I live in a condo downtown and don’t have a garden‘, say you. Your solution is the Edmonton Organic Growers’ Guild - you can take the LRT to the UoA farm, spend some afternoons and evenings pitching in, and they get grants to pay for seed and tools, so your organic veg is free. There’s that word again: free. And would you believe they’re actually looking for people to take them up on this deal?!?

I’ve done beef-onomics and pork-onomics for years. When I first started buying whole animals, I was highly motivated to figure out if that big expense up front worked out in the end. Turns out for pork that no matter how I spin it, it works out to about $2.25 a lb, give or take a dime or so. Keep in mind, this is pastured, low-density, antibiotic+hormone free, happy pig, and I can shake the hand of the farmer I buy from. Box store pig isn’t any of those things. Yet my $/lb works out to less than the box store. Yes, less. I’ve done the math. So top quality meat for less than box store prices. The catch: you have to actually buy and use a whole animal [ie, not just eat its tenderloin or boneless skinless breast], and spend some time processing it yourself. And therein lies the rub. Time.

Most folks, when I start talking about food economics, will grab ‘time’, and toss it in my face. ‘You must spend every waking hour growing, processing, and preparing your own foods‘, say they. Anybody that knows me knows that’s not true. For example. It takes me 2 hrs to take a side of pig and break it down. That’s wrapped, packed, in a freezer, cleaned down. Folks will spend 2 hrs watching a movie and think nothing of it, so I’ll take that to mean 2 hrs is not a big time commitment. Harvesting apples [did I mention free?] in the fall can be done at a rate of about 100 lbs/hr, say. If you buy apples at the market for $2-3/lb say, than the economic value of your time is $200-300. Per hour. Not a lot of time, but even if it was it’s an economically efficient use of it, even if you get paid a whole lot at your day-job.

But even if it did take a lot of time, I’ll argue til the end of the earth that perhaps we should start to be okay with spending more time handling our own food. Call me crazy. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ll still get those telling me they have NO spare time, AT ALL. Not one single day on a weekend a year. I think that’s dysfunctional and more is required than a reinvention of your food life. So long as folks own TVs, there are some spare moments in the week. If you’re that person that’s so strapped they need to figure how to best utilize those few precious spare hours per calendar year to maximize their food budget – email me or let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to help you. But before you fear the time commitment, ask those that do it – grow, process, harvest, cook, and otherwise spend time with their food, and they’re likely to tell you it’s a wholesome, productive, happy-making ‘work’. A therapy of sorts. It’s good for the brain. It’s good for the health. It’s good for the pocket-book.

Willing to share your food budget? Any food items you haven’t found an economical solution for?

Episode 39 – Backyard Hens, Part 3


As the urban hen debate in our city heats up, here’s another video featuring yet another urban hen keeper. Well, two hen keepers, in fact. The more I get buried in this issue, the more I realize how important it is. In our province at least, it has become about the right for people to produce their own food. That, and the classic objections of noise and poop. I have yet to visit an urban coop that was noisy or smelled of anything at all. I’m pretty sure the same could be said for the vast majority of those who object.

This issue is ramping up momentum because the city is in the throes of putting together a ‘Food and Urban Agriculture Project’, and while I have yet to run into anybody in the food community that has a clue what the city’s up to, apparently they’ve done some work that will be unleashed at a conference held on May 25-26. Sadly, it will cost you $184 to attend to find out what’s going on or to share your voice, for what is tagged as “a key milestone in the engagement process”. Even for not-for-profits. Ouch. Liane wrote a really solid post about this whole thing. I’ve paid my dues to be there, and can’t wait to find out what the heck is going on, and who ends up having the $ to be part of the conversation around urban ag in the city.

Episode 37 – Bacon


I’ve been writing about bacon for years now. As in, 6-7 years. I’ve made it umpteen times, yet there are always little refinements here and there to make in the process. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say about it too by now. Nope.

I feel like this episode should be rated ‘N’ for containing the evil ‘Nitrates’. But for all you nitrate haters, consider this: “the permissible amount of nitrate in comminuted meat products [sausages], is 1718 mg/kg.” The amounts of nitrates naturally inherent in vegetables are then quoted, again in mg/kg: “spinach, 1631. beetroot, 1211. lettuces, 1051. cabbages, 338. potatoes, 155…” The list goes on. I’m quoting the book ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design’ by respected charcuterie authors S., A., & R. Marianski. The authors then go on: “If one ate 1/4 lb smoked sausage, the ingoing nitrate would be 430ppm. That would probably account for less nitrates than a dinner served with potatoes and spinach.” 

That’s right. That box-store bagged spinach [which has a nasty history of carrying deadly pathogens, I'll add], cooked into a nice lasagna, would very likely have far more nitrates in it than a healthy portion of bacon. There are many things to fear in the food world, but let moderate use of nitrates not be one of them. And lastly, let me say it for the record: bacon without nitrates is not bacon, it’s pork belly. If you’re smoking pork belly without nitrates to get a ‘pretend bacon’ or ‘nitrate-free bacon’, you’re missing the point that nitrates are present to avoid you having a intimate encounter with ‘Mr. Botulism’.

Episode 33 – Doef’s Greenhouses


Doef's Greenhouses

I’ve been wanting to shoot video in a local greenhouse for quite some time. I know, probably sounds odd coming from the guy who eats asparagus in May and June and abstains for the balance of the calendar year until they’re in season again. I may be an idealist most of the time, but I also have a realist streak and know that the bulk of consumers want to eat their favorite veg year-round. I spoke last year at a UofA event at Sunfresh Farms and learned that although we may not know it, a serious % of the cucumber and pepper product you find in your local box grocer is grown locally. Apparently Alberta’s not only good at beef – we’re rocking the cucumber market too. Who knew?

Doef’s Greenhouses is a success story in agriculture, from finding a niche to navigating scale and growth, through to having done some wise succession planning to incorporate the coming generations of farmers. They’ve succeeded both in the wholesale and direct-sales [ie, farmer's markets] markets. Impressive stuff.

It blows my mind that I can shoot this video of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, then drive two miles and go ice fishing to shoot Episode 34, which will consequently be hot on the heels of this one.

Episode 32 – Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes


Eagle Creek Seed PotatoesIt being February and quite possibly a particularly early spring, I was contemplating my annual seed potato order from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes when it dawned on me that perhaps I should go check them out. So I did. I knew they’d be filling my order in the next couple months, so they had to be busy prepping for that busy season – which was exactly the case. More seasonal food action that you perhaps wouldn’t think is going on up north in February.

This farm should be celebrated by Slow Food and anybody who values biodiversity. While others are farming a single variety of potato in serious quantities, this 4th generation family farm is growing 40 or so varieties and counting. Potatoes need not be a boring staple. What struck me when listening to John was his focus on taste – choosing potato varieties because they have the best taste. What a novel concept for something we eat. John also offers some great advice for what varieties to use in different cooking applications. I thought I knew potatoes, but apparently I have a few things to learn. They also do a veg CSA, raise heritage laying hens and turkeys in a straw-bale construction coop, and all kinds of other cool stuff. Add to that a stunning location atop a high point with a view over the Rockies, and it’s quite the memorable place.

Their online catalog is here, if you’re in the mood for potato enlightenment and/or want to order from them. I will be, again.

Episode 30 – Burns Supper


Burns Supper - Barley BrothRare is the celebration of poetry, song, and offal combined. Allan Suddaby and Nomad Mobile [local food truck and caterer] hosted a Burns supper at the Yellowhead Brewery this week to celebrate haggis and Scottish culture. Lamb hearts, lungs, and liver from Tangle Ridge Ranch [Ep 15] that normally would be destined for the bin [Ep 28], are instead the feature. This was my first taste of a Burns supper, and it makes me wish more cultures had this kind of celebration more often. It was charming to see some of the older folks being touched by it all.

If you haven’t had haggis, I would recommend giving it a go. It furthered my interest in grinding off-cuts into other ground meat preparations – was chatting with some folks on Twitter this week about the prospects of a heart, tongue, and marrow burger, for example. How is it that that sounds decadent, when all of those pieces would often get thrown out? I’d bet money I could serve you a chili with tongue in it and you’d never know different. I’m already sold on spaghetti and beef-heart-meatballs. If my mother in law ever reads this, she’ll really, totally never ever want to come over and eat in my kitchen.