Thursday, August 26, 2010

Food from local farms and Farmers without Borders

Although the town of Verona, Ontario may not be on the top of everyone's visiting list, I certainly find its name euphonious and was delighted to find myself nearby last week. We had driven through it a couple of times before curiosity made us stop and have a closer look at a warehouse-like building on the main drag. It had a righteous name - Local Family Farms - but its exact purpose wasn't completely clear from the outside.

Step inside though and you soon find something to fix on.

It is a charming and cheerful place. The owners are among the founders of the Frontenac Farmers Market and annual garlic festival. Without question it's a great supporter of local producers, being part gift shop,

part grocery store, featuring lots of fresh produce plus local meats and cheeses, preserves and condiments, heritage grains, and an assortment of locally-produced food items including chips, chocolate and spice rubs,

and part local farm action hub (the shameful closure of Canada's prison farms and the recent controversial sale of their dairy herds has caused major friction in this area of Ontario).

It's also a pie shop.

They have recently acquired a pastry roller, which Kim the piemaker said had saved her wrists and her sanity this summer.

Also on offer were a few second hand books and knick-knacks, some handmade cards, and enough curiosities to make for a satisfying afternoon's browsing. A very entertaining place to pass some time and cash across the counter.

Back in BC, anyone in the Sooke/Victoria area who wants to enjoy a top class meal and some fun-raising with Farmers Without Borders should plan to come along to a fund-raising dinner at Sooke Harbour House on Sunday September 19. Proceeds go towards a water supply for a Zambian farming community.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Intervale: vegetables in Vermont

Just outside Burlington, Vermont lies 350 acres of fertile flood plain along the Winooski River, which has been preserved for sustainable farming since 1986 when the owner of a local garden supply company decided to turn a polluted, dangerous wasteland back into an agricultural area capable of feeding its community. The Intervale Center is a collection of organic farms, trails, wildlife corridors and projects administered by a nonprofit society. In 2007 the farmers of the Intervale grew an inspiring total of one million pounds of food on this land. Its farsighted compost project has been going since 1987 and now turns 30,000 pounds of kitchen and yard waste into commercial compost products for home gardeners.

We visited Diggers Mirth, a farming collective of 5 farmers working 15 acres. It's been going for 18 years and has a solid base of buyers from local restaurants and also sells at Burlington's biweekly farmers markets. Farmer Hilary Martin

showed us around; here she's in the pepper patch where landscape fabric keeps the weeds down and the heat and moisture in the soil.

Known for its mesclun mix, and its carrots,

the farm also produces a variety of crops like okra, watermelon and soybeans,

sweet potatoes and squash

fennel and tomatoes.

Pests include flea beetles, which can make lacework out of cabbage leaves

and deer. On Vancouver Island the answer to these is 8 foot deer fencing; here it is 3 foot high solar-powered electric fencing.

The whole of the Intervale uses only organic growing methods, and the ecosystem seems to be thriving as a result.

Like all organic farmers, the Diggers Mirth folk are resourceful with their equipment. I liked the washing station which uses repurposed washing machine innards.

The Diggers Mirth delivery truck has lately taken to doubling as a veggie wagon, circulating through urban neighbourhoods like an ice cream van, blasting disco tunes and handing out free watermelon.

The farm dog finds his work occasionally exhausting.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fresh-washed folk festival (& another market)

The Ottawa Folk Festival was smaller than others I've been to, with a lot of names and voices that were new to me. The highlight for me was the stomping performance by Hoots & Hellmouth, at the dance tent (what a great concept!); also liked Jim Bryson and The Weakerthans at the main stage. A sampling of others: cheeky vocalists from Quebec: Galant, tu perds ton temps -

with unseen percussionist Jean-Fran├žois Berthiaume, who pitched in on a number with Scottish trio-minus-one LAU

and the highly energetic Welsh guitarissimo Gareth Pearson

The food offerings were not great, an odd assortment that included two Thai and two curry joints. Naturally I opted for a veg curry at the one that was giving away a tube of toothpaste with each order.

The festival offered a lot of practical fun for musicians, aspiring and otherwise, with plenty of jam sessions and workshops. The musical petting zoo let you try out all kinds of instruments, and get a little guidance on how to play them.

Sunday looked kind of like this from early morning:

with severe thunderstorms in the forecast, so we skipped a last muddy day in the park. We did not let a little rain stop us checking out the Ottawa farmers' market at Lansdowne Park, though, which was very wet indeed. My strongest sympathies were with the plucky baker from Art Is In Bakery, which has no shop front but sells through specialist retailers and markets.

The fruit and veg stalls got off a bit more lightly

with freshly washed produce on offer, like German Stripe tomatoes, local grapes and multicoloured cauliflower.

Corn, of course, and carrots and cheese: