Wednesday, September 23, 2009

GM day - hello US GM beet ban - goodbye organic corn?

Excellent news this morning about sugar beets south of the border: a federal court ruling that the US government illegally approved genetically modified sugar beets, on the grounds that they cross-pollinate easily, making it impossible for those who wish to grow non-GM beets to continue doing so.

Which begs the question about the approval of SmartStax GM corn: one might question the approval of a wind-pollinated member of the grass family in countries where the only GM labelling permitted is that of its negative: certified organic food cannot contain genetically modified ingredients.

Monsanto/Dow Chemical's SmartStax GM corn was approved in the US and Canada in what I hope is record speed (I would hate to think this is the turnaround for all product approvals).

It took the EPA and the CFIA about a month to approve the stuff, from the time Monsanto submitted its documents on June 16 until the official registration July 20, which rather suggests they didn't bother overmuch with doing their own messy safety checks or independent evaluation of environmental risks, preferring to accept Monsanto's research. Is such haste normal? If it's not, it appears to mark some new dodge on Monsanto's part, that they have figured out how to outmaneuvre those pesky regulations.

Approval in Canada was announced the same day as in the US; I'm told it's normally just a matter of rubber-stamping such products once they've been approved in the US. Canada certainly hasn't demonstrated much interest in reining in the environmental or health risks of GM in the past: look at the trade pickle we ended up in recently with contaminated flax seed. Health Canada has a lovely flow chart that shows the steps required, officially, to assure our safety, but it's hard to match all these steps to the approval of SmartStax. Here's a full list of the GM products we already have on our tables here. So far, SmartStax doesn't appear on the list.

Whether our legislators will attend to US court rulings, or somehow maintain that our winds don't blow the same as theirs is another question. As is whether Canada will respect the very similar US court judgement that ruled GM alfalfa posed undue risks of cross-pollination to farmers who didn't want to grow it, resulting in a nationwide ban in the States.

Meantime, GM sugar beets have been planted in Canada for the first time this year; your sugarbowl will certainly contain some GM sugar if you buy Rogers sugar. Vote with your dollars, folks.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Haliburton Work Party and Feast of Fields

Saturday's work party at Haliburton went surprisingly well: although rain had been forecast, it happily and courteously fell overnight, leaving a fresh-washed farm shining in the sun for a team of workers that included a group of school kids. Our main task of the day was harvesting the chickpeas, which farmer Rod then threshed with his handy Italian tractor

and then "all" we had to do was sort the beans.

When you're counting chickpeas, a day's work doesn't look like much. But that's why organic costs more... We all had time to agree at some length we would never look at a tin of chickpeas the same way.

After all that sorting

you are ready to sit down and have some lunch.

Naomi had made some excellent soup for us; I contributed a bit of fattoush,

and following this we had many, many cakes: chocolate, chocolate zucchini, plum and grape. Then, after Laura showed us what the Salt Spring zucchini are wearing this season

it was back to work.

A tour of the fields showed the kidney beans and black soya ready to harvest

pumpkin ripening in the fields

and lemon cucumber and purple tomatillo ready for harvest.

Sunday was another beautiful day, perfect for the Feast of Fields, held this year at Providence Farm, a most gorgeous and appropriate setting. Before things got rolling, I had time to do a short inspection of the llama (or is it an alpaca?) enjoying a leisurely tree break and other farm animals.

A few of the sights:

Saanich Organics, with plenty of excellent local fruit and veg to taste

Oak Bay Marina's seafood shooters, topped with a clam:

Locals, a treat from Courtenay, with a pulled pork stuffed pasta, very nice:

Seasonality: highlighting local cream in a beautiful pumpkin soup:

LifeCycles offered fruit, including grapes hand picked by moi only days earlier:

Cheryl's Gourmet Pantry had one of the winners, good ol' beans on toast, featuring local pork and exquisite beans:

Amuse had a highly delectable seafood cucumber topped with jellied tomato water:


Friday, September 18, 2009

Howdja like them apples?

I went on another apple pick for the Fruit Tree Project the other day, or tried to. When we got there the owner explained that a fellow who'd picked his apples last year to make wine had turned up again this year and been told the fruit was going to LifeCycles; a couple of days later the tree was completely stripped,

leaving only this one little windfall to show what a gorgeous apple it was:

And this is what the skin looked like:

The owner didn't know what it was; the pick leader thought maybe Gravenstein. So we picked what few apples there were on two other trees

and headed for a grapevine that was growing all over a house and into the hedge

and picked about 140 lbs of grapes from the one vine.

Then I made a cake from some of the grapes.

I admit I was suspicious of the recipe's description of the "rustic crunch" of the grape pips, but in fact it was just so, and an excellent cake. We had some assorted appetizers - artichoke dip, Greek Salad, and some of Delia's courgette & potato cakes with mint & feta (aka kolokythokeftedes) which I have made before and always have trouble turning as they get mushy, but they dry out eventually and are delicious. Had some beautiful yellow zucchini which I picked myself at Haliburton on Wednesday and made that into a respectable zucchini alla scapece.

So a good old feed.

Ready to feed the soul with the opening night of Planet Earth poetry later this evening!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shades of Facebook

There's been some flap about how Facebook makes rather too free with the photos and personal information posted by its subscribers - using people's personal photos for advertising without asking and so on.

No sooner do we sort out that - to some extent (by adjusting privacy settings) - than we're presented with Google's new terms of service which you must agree to in order to post photos on Blogger, or Picasa albums (emphasis mine):
Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Picasa Web Albums. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Picasa Web Albums and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Picasa Web Albums, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content through Picasa Web Albums, including RSS or other content feeds offered through Picasa Web Albums, and other Google services. In addition, by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services. Google will discontinue this licensed use within a commercially reasonable period after such Content is removed from Picasa Web Albums.
I fear my love affair with Blogger - and all things pertaining to the Google empire - may be drawing to a close...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tomatoes and things

As the canning season progresses, it might be useful to refer to the Table of Condiments for guidance. I'm not sure how accurate it is, but it's entertaining!

The Slow Food Vancouver Island & Gulf Islands convivium has been eventless for some months, so it was with joy and sunshine we celebrated the love-apple yesterday at Haliburton farm, hosted by the delightful Dayle of Terralicious gardening & cooking school.

We brought tomatoes for tasting

enjoyed a seed-saving demo

and then chowed down

on some extraordinary grub. I must say that Slow Food events have the best tasting food, and the most enthusiastic diners.

Dayle even dropped a perfect loaf of hot bread

on the table which we fell upon with as much enthusiasm as we could muster, given the wonders that had preceded it. She had made this pretty Andy Warhol Cake

which turns out to be a reincarnation of ye olde tomato soup cake, but she made it with heirloom tomatoes, of course. And Joan's green tomato and apple crisp was an inspiration!

Then we had a tour of the farm which was, like us, baking gently in some late season sunshine.

And then gave out the raffle prize - seasonal condiments plus a bit of Slow Food swag -

but are holding off awarding the grand prizes (a place on a Terralicious course, a night for two at Sooke Harbour House) to award with signed copies of Michael Pollan's books, at a Slow Food sponsored screening of Food, Inc. at Cinecenta on September 22.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Is it or isn't it? Organic food gets studied. And studied.

There has been a lot of buzz around the UK's Food Standards Agency-sponsored study - actually not a field study but a literature review - released in July, which claimed that organic food was no better, nutritionally, than conventionally-grown. As this article points out, the flaw in the FSA's treatment of the topic was to sidestep the main fact so many people buy organic: to avoid pesticides and agricultural chemicals in our food. COG has a few things to say about the study as well.

People choosing organic are choosing it for a variety of reasons, including faith in organic farming methods, which attend more closely to the longterm health of the soil, water and animals involved. Choose "nutritionally equal" conventionally grown foods and you choose to support farming methods that have been shown to exhaust soil fertility, contaminate water and deplete nonrenewable natural resources that prop up chemical fertilization and pesticide productions.

For the yay-sayers, a new French study contradicts those pesky Englishmen and upholds organics as all-round better, because
organic plant products contain more dry matter and minerals – such as iron and magnesium – and more antioxidant polyphenols like phenols and salicylic acid.
Organic animal products were seen to have more polyunsaturated fats.
Carbohydrate, protein and vitamin levels were not studied because the authors feel they are insufficiently documented. They did look at pesticides though, and found
between 94 and 100 per cent of organic food does not contain any pesticide residues, and organic vegetables have about 50 per cent less nitrates.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Time on the vine

It's totally tomato season. I managed to can my first jars of diced tomatoes, which will liberate me from the tyranny of grocery store cans for a while. I have a bowl of ready-to-sauce beauties on my counter, some suffering a bit of seasonal splitting due to the amount of rain we've had over the past few days

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and lots more on the vine, so I'm keeping fingers crossed against blight. And considering what to bring to the tomato brunch Slow Food is holding with Terralicious, at Haliburton Farm, this weekend.

Though I've been out there on work parties most every week, I haven't posted much from Haliburton lately, but for starters here's a selection of tomatoes they've had on the farmstand lately: