KevinTV

Late September Salad Greens

09.20.12

I find I’ve been under-representing how much I’ve dived head first into salad greens production for market with Travis from LACTUCA. It’s been a weekly harvest and seeding gig for the past few months, and I’ve learned loads, about zero of which I’ve documented here. Can’t win them all I guess. I blame spending most every waking hour in the past two weeks either picking or crushing or pressing apples and pears.

Today’s salad going to market is delicate and lovely. The endives are starting to shine, growing robustly and light on the bitter in the cool weather. The varieties that are brown or red are also entering their season – a striking difference in color intensity vs even a few weeks ago in August. Growth has slowed considerably, which is posing some challenges for yield. The spring and summer blossoms are long gone to seed. Cold hardy varieties like spinach, arugula, minutina, and mache are about to have their day again, closing out the growing season that they brought in. The romaines and leaf lettuces that were gorgeous through July-August are now being trumped by the epic scarlet frills and merveille des quatres saisons. What a treat to watch varietal performance evolve through the seasons – the best teacher for how to nail down the best seasonal salad mix possible.

I have 8 4′X8′ sheets of corrugated greenhouse plexi arriving this week to top next season’s additional 8 production frames. Demand continues to be heavy, and we’re doing what we can to max out production for the 2013 year. What a project. Urban ag rocks.

Pears. Edmonton Pears.

09.20.12

Pears rank in my top 3 favorite fruits, for sure. Like with wines, I’m a sucker for the floral, high-toned aromatics. Problem is, until this year my only real source of pears was from the Okanagan. I knew there were pears around here, I just hadn’t seen or tasted any that made me think a realistic replacement to the Okanagan hook-up was in my back yard. Last year I had a spot in the lineup to pick the tree in these photos, but then headed to Normandy and missed my chance.

The pears in this photo are in Edmonton. That’s cool bit #1. Second cool bit is a mature tree yields hundreds of pounds of fruit. Not a 20lb box. Think 300lb box. Unlike an apple they’re hard at harvest and can drop to the ground and still be useful in storage. And the best bit is that there are many a pear tree tucked around Edmonton whose owners are happy to share their abundance of fruit. These ones are Ure. I’ve tried Early Gold [which I planted in my yard this year], Federovsk, and some unknown variety that’s easily as large as a Bartlett, which you might have spotted on my instagram feed, and if you know what it is please do tell.

What to do with hundreds of pounds of pears? Perry, or pear cider, for one. Secondly, it blends beautifully with apple juice. To my surprise, the pear juice we’re pressing isn’t pasty and pulpy like the commercial ones you buy – I really dislike that mouthfeel, which keeps me away from pear juices generally. We’re eating them out of hand as they ripen, will peel, cook and freeze some. May can some, although I try to avoid canning. Whatever the case, the following year will be marked by an abundance of pears.

My garage is filled with bins and tubs upon bins and tubs of ripening pears for the first time in my life. It’s glorious.

ARSAN’s Biointensive Farm & Eco-Village Projects

09.12.12

This summer I spent a lot of time doing video production work for Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development & a related project [partially funded by AARD] called ‘Think Local Market’ – a municipal and provincial initiative that provides rural producers access to an online sales and marketing environment. All told, I think I wrapped 16 videos related to those two projects in the past couple months – which to be honest accounts for some of the lack of generating my own content through the summer months. I wanted to share some of those vids here because 1) the content is completely on-topic and 2) it’s my blog now, isn’t it.

This one’s about two projects initiated by ARSAN, which in turn was funded by AARD. I’m particularly fond of their resolve to demonstrate how much biodiversity can be grown intensively with minimal resources – kind of my gig here at home. Their eco-village is a particularly interesting initiative too, as I know there are folks out there who would be keen to live in the kind of community Brian talks about in the video. More details on these projects at www.arsan.ca.

Arsan’s Biointensive Farm & Eco Village from Kevin Kossowan on Vimeo.

Episode 50 – Pork Butchery Workshop V1.0

09.09.12

Jeff Senger of Sangudo Custom Meats

If only 2002 Kevin knew this was coming in 2012. 10 years ago I lived in a condo, fondling my tattered copy of ‘Charcuterie’, longing for an opportunity to get my hands on a whole hog to do even just a few of the myriad of possible delicious preparations pork offered – many of which you can do at home but money can’t otherwise buy. But I had no space to do it. I had nobody to show me the way. I’d never met a pork farmer who I could ask to hook me up. In the spring of 2008, I had moved into our current home, and the previous winters’ pent up porcine desires meant its garage was pre-destined to witness many a pig butchering. 4 years on, many sides and porkventures later, and after a few pints of beer with Jeff Senger tossing around the idea, here we are putting on a pig butchery workshop. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no master at breaking down a side – but mastery was not the objective here. Instead my hope was to give folks that were in a position I recall all too well a crack at breaking the ice. To give them a shot at seeing pig go from live on the hoof to wrapped and packed in the freezer, largely by their own hand. Pig Butchery 101, down and dirty.

Huge thanks to Jeff Senger and Allan Suddaby for putting their heart into it and sharing their expertise throughout the day. An equally huge thanks to those who came, who took the leap. I think it was a day all involved will remember for a long, long time. And yes, we’re talking about maybe doing more. Maybe even a beef butchery workshop. Maybe.

Cob Oven Bread

09.07.12

I’m not sure quite what to say about the fact that I’ve had this lovely oven for months now, and today was the first time I actually intentionally baked bread. In my defense, I shall say: pizza, roast and braised meats, pies, loaves, deep frying, and smoked bacon. It’s interesting that a lot of folks think wood oven and think ‘bread’, yet it took me so long to get to it. It speaks to the over-performing-versatility of the thing. I know many of your are convinced, and I tip my hat to those of you who either have built one since I built mine, or are going to, due to my constant prodding. It makes me deeply content to know a few cob ovens adorn our city that didn’t before, simply because I shared my experience with mine.

For a guy who’s far from obsessed with perfecting bread, I’m pretty pleased with this one. Overnight ferment of 50% Gold Forest Grains’ hard whole wheat. About 80% hydration. That’s all there is to say about it. It’s bread. Baked in a wood oven. The one thing I did that some would scorn is I baked it with the last of a fire in the back, with the door open. Most would pull coals and close the door for more even heat and a higher humidity bake. That would have removed the pleasure of watching it and turning it as I saw fit. Really solid oven spring, nice toast. Now to get to eating it.

Slugs

08.25.12

This is not a complaint. Every time I feel like I want to complain about this year’s inundation of slugs, I consider what my yard was like before when it was an expanse of lawn, with zero life in or near it. Or I think about the west coast with their huge slugs the size of your index finger – these look big, but only because of a 100mm lens. And I’ll take biodiversity over convenience. I ran into a friend who farms veg organically who described slugs as an urban problem – in a cultivated field there’s too much soil for them to cross before they arrive at a plant. In cities there’s lots of habitat. A con to urban ag perhaps? A manageable one, if so.

These things are seedling mowers. It took me a while to figure out that the house sparrows kind of nip and shred seedlings once about an inch tall, but slugs will make baby seedlings a few days old disappear. I had a patch of beautiful seedlings, went on holidays, came back and they had vanished. So I declared war. I tried the beer trap thing, but failed epicly, so I resorted to good, old-fashioned picking. With tongs, because you only have to try to scrub slug slime off your hands once before figuring out that’s something worth avoiding. It’s kind of like the goopiness of nasty fish slime with the tenacity of evergreen sap. Picked a hundred or so a day the first few, then it dropped into the dozens, until a week or two in I’m only finding a couple every morning. I can live with those numbers. I also can live with getting used to bugs. These things grossed me out before. Now my 5 year old and I hunt them in the morning like they’re easter eggs. Well. Kind of like that.

Episode 49 – Rge Rd 135

08.22.12

Last year’s Rge Rd 135 farm-to-table epic at Nature’s Green Acres [Episode 19] is still engraved into the minds of everyone that had the pleasure of being involved, making me more than slightly trepdatious at the prospect of trying to duplicate, nevermind top that farm-to-table extravaganza. But as far as I see it, they pulled it off.

Maybe I’m biased. It was a menu heavy on grass fed free-range meats, fresh garden veg and a splash of wild foods, all cooked on fire. I’m into that kind of thing. It also was the true maiden voyage of the 2nd cob oven build of the year, the first being mine. Add a lucky card-draw on the weather [again], a crew that busted their butts to make it happen, a few bottles of wine, a farm tour, and a few beautiful dishes for a large crew of happy guests – what’s not to like? The cob oven performed fabulously, I’ll add. It was a joy to watch it shed the last of its moisture from the build, get insanely hot, and cook some beautiful food. I wish I’d shot a video about the build, but was soaked to squishy-socks-in-my-shoes-stage and muddy as all heck.

This event is a labour of love, and for that I adore it.

Episode 48 – The Carbon Farmer

08.20.12

I’ve been on a lot of farms in the past few years, but none quite like this. On my way up to Manning for a variety of shoots related to another project Brad had a role in contracting me for, we made a stop to take a look at their operation. On that same drive I had passed many a chunk of bush being pushed down by cats hired by farmers upping the scale game. And here these guys were, planting trees. I adore the guts it takes to do something this outside the box. Although the basic premise is simple: farm carbon, Brad’s way too smart to leave it at that. Planting trees provides opportunities to sell carbon credits and ‘farm’ wild foods. And reminicent of a conversation I’d had with a Chateauneuf du Pape producer a few years back about how the wine industry had matured and been pushed by competition such that they were pulling vines on land that was marginal for that use and probably shouldn’t have been planted in the first place – here’s Brad doing the same in my back yard. Well, his back yard. And it’s heritage grains and trees, not grapes. Okay, weak example, but talk about diversification – selling carbon credits to industry, land rehabilitation, growing organic heritage grains, and niche wild food. Folks must think he’s crazy. Wonder how many years before some start to follow.

Merridale Cidery

08.12.12

I dearly wish I could show you via video rather than photos and writing, as I had lined up a video episode for this wonderful place, and realized I forgot my DSLR setup on the lower mainland as we left the dock on the ferry towards Victoria. I don’t think I’ve ever claimed to be smart.

I’ve known about Merridale for a while, and had tasted some of their ciders prior to me falling in love with the stuff, but it was an eye opener seeing first hand the cider gold-mine of awesome they’re sitting on, and taste the gamut of their production. The only cider operations I’ve been to have been in Normandy, so it was nostalgic to be there. Nostalgic, and a little piece of me hopes: prophetic. I think there’s opportunity in this industry in Canada. Big time. All those varietals that grow here in abundance but folks don’t get excited about because they’re not good out of hand translates into cider potential. My nostalgia though was a little mis-sited, as the varietals they use are base more in the British cider culture. It’s all good in my world.

As with most new world producers, the methodology here is based on past winning formulae, with many a contemporary innovation. They make pommeau, for example, but not the way the French do – the french just mix 1/3 apple brandy to 2/3 juice and age it in oak 18 months. Merridale’s is actually based on cider to bring some of that flavour to the party, and they age it in oak a lot longer. Their cider product line is deep with variations on the cider theme – all of them interesting, my favorites being their dessert ciders and Normandie cider.

As with all new ag ground that need be broken, their operation is plagued by government foot-dragging. The distillation portion of the business, an important piece of the puzzle in my opinion, gets hammered with ~170% tax by the province, rendering profitability impossible if trying to hit a price point on a bottle that the market will bear. They’re working hard to change that. Until then, barrels of apple brandies sit in french oak until it’s profitable to bottle and sell them. C’mon BC gov’t.

This place is worth a visit, and worth supporting in general. Sadly, because their product is only shelf stable under refrigeration, transportation far and wide has not been feasible. So despite this being the closest cool cidery to me [closer than France, that's for sure], I still can’t buy the stuff here. One day. Until then, I still heart Merridale. Bravo.

 

Sonora Island 2012 Recap

08.08.12

I did something to deserve good luck in a former life. Or something. To deserve having really darn cool cousins that happen to be rad wild food lovers in one of the most beautiful places on the planet – and to be great friends with them to boot. It’d been 5 years since our last visit, and I was overdue for a seafood-fest. This visit really was a stark reminder of how seriously localized our food is – I think I’ve had crab once in those 5 years, for a good friend’s birthday. I think it had been the full 5 years since a spot prawn, oyster, or rock cod.

Our time there consisted as follows: Coffee. Drop prawn traps in the morning. Eat breakfast and figure out what the tides were doing. Fish for salmon on the flood tide, cod on the beginning of the ebb. Pull prawn traps, drop prawn traps. Eat. Visit. Sleep. Repeat. Mix it up here and there with some crab trap action, oyster collecting, foraging for huckleberries, and rowing. Loveliness. Hauling up lunker cod from the bottom is always fun, as is the anticipation of seeing what prawn pots will yield, but after a long winter of ice fishing, casting into schools of hundreds of pink salmon that you could see swim around you was a definite highlight.

It took me a lot of travel to realize that this spot on the planet is special for its epic natural beauty and wild food bounty. I’m glad I now get it, and appreciate it. I grew up adoring this place and these people, and still do. Not sure what else there is to say.