Posts filed under ‘Shopping locally’

Corn HarvestSunday’s Toronto Star featured a story by Margaret Webb, author of
Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms
. Webb’s piece, linked here, shows the connection between food grown as inputs for low-cost, low-nutrition fare and unsustainable agriculture practices.

“…the demand for cheap food also puts pressure on farmers “to work every corner, every square inch” – eliminating woodlots, wetlands and buffer strips near vulnerable waterways. He knows that current farming techniques – growing too few crops in limited rotation, with chemical fertilizer, and returning too little organic matter to the soil – is mining his land of fertility, and that the current methods will not feed increasing populations.”

The causes – and solutions – are complex, but one thing seems clear to me: individuals need to face paying more for food, and demand nutritious food over fare with shelf life. And farmers need to get a bigger portion of the money that individuals fork out.

October 13, 2009 at 1:14 PM Leave a comment

Local eating events abound in Toronto… and beyond

Last weekend I took in the Picnic at the Brickworks, an annual event held by Evergreen and Slow Food Toronto. It’s hard to imagine an event nicer than this — dozens of local food producers each teamed up with a top chef to serve up delicious bite-size num nums, complemented nicely by a splash of local wine or beer. I was in local food heaven!

Another local dining opportunity is coming up: Localicious is a WWF event offered at restaurants in many Canadian cities. The participating restaurants will serve up dishes made with local food, and a portion of the proceeds will go to WWF Canada.

Aside from these kinds of delicious events, I just hope I can take in a few more farmers’ markets before they close for the year.

How are you enjoying local food this year?

October 7, 2009 at 11:25 PM Leave a comment

The mysteries of real, local, organic food

fractal_cauliedamame_vineI’ve been receiving a delivery of organic food for a few months now, and I’ve been impressed with the local food available, particularly its intense flavour. Once in a while I pull back the box lid to find something I’ve never seen before.

A couple of weeks ago it was this crazy cauliflower, a fractal design in a harsh yellow green. Large and spiky, I was a little intimidated by it. What would I do with it? Too aggressive for a salad. Rather harsh for crudités. A couple of days went by while I thought about it, but this hardy cauliflower was in it for the long haul, and has survived long enough to get into stir fries, tossed into pasta and more. Because it doesn’t spoil easily and was fairly tasty, I’d order it again.

Yesterday  when I cracked open my veggie box (it’s from Front Door Organics) I stared back at the contents in total surprise. I’d ordered edamame – green soybeans. I usually buy edamame in the frozen veggie section of my grocery store, so I thought it’d be fun to get them fresh. And fresh they were, still attached to the stem! Now I’m glad I didnt’ have to stuff the rest of the plant into my green bin during the garbage strike, but as I sat there clipping off the soybeans into a container, I realized just how conveniently our food is served to us. Considering how much work goes into producing healthy food such as soybeans, it’s only fair that I would do the easy final preparations. And hey, not a plastic bag in sight.

What’s your favourite local food?

September 11, 2009 at 9:35 AM 2 comments

Local asparagus: a recipe for delicious!

Asparagus spears emergingI’ve sunk my teeth into that most anticipated event of spring: that first bunch of sautéed local asparagus. It will be official when I buy it direct from a farmers’ market, but that first clutch of asparagus stalks I bought from the grocery store did have the authentic earthy taste of home-grown goodness. My partner and I ate about half of it sauteed with a bit of butter, then the next night I tossed sections of asparagus stalks, chunks of zuchinni,grape tomatoes and mushrooms in olive oil, then threaded them onto skewers and grilled them within a couple of minutes on my super-hot ceramic grill. Perfection!

For a terrific guide to selecting and preparing asparagus, as well as some to dine for asparagus recipes, check out this article on by our food editor, Andrew Chase.  

What’s your most anticipated fresh local food?

May 27, 2009 at 10:02 AM 1 comment

Slowing the spread of invasive species

Today is the UN’s International Day for Biological Diversity. Invasive species have hit us pretty hard in Canada, from the forest-decimating efforts of the mountain pine beetle, emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle to the the invasion of zebra mussels and the round gobi in the Great Lakes. These invaders don’t have natural predators, so they usually thrive in new locales, displacing the native population.

What can you do to help stop the spread of invasive species? Being careful of the materials you move from one area to another, particularly when on cottaging, camping and fishing trips, is key.
– Insects are easily transported on firewood, so don’t take wood from one area to another unless it has been kiln dried
– Insects and fungi can ride along with bulbs and greenery shipped overseas, so buy locally grown plants
– Pull out invasive plants, such as purple loosestrife and English Ivy, which displace native plants and disrupt entire ecosystems
– Try to grow native plants in your garden, and avoid any invasive species that tends to spread. For a directory of native and non-native plants in Canada, consult the Evergreen Native Plants database.
– Clean off the bottom of your boat before launching it a new waterway
– Gone fishing? Don’t use the round gobi as bait

For more background on invasive species, consult this guide from Hinterland Who’s Who.

May 22, 2009 at 5:15 PM 3 comments

Local Folk Art: The Best “R”

I love seeing Canadian artists’ work, and I’ll admit to favouring things affordable and unique, such as pottery, jewelry, clothing and great stuff for my home. One of the people I love to visit is Penny Gorman. Penny reuses architectural salvage to make folk art, giving new life to old doorknobs, pieces of tin ceiling, wood moulding and lots of other materials. She creates fun pieces for the garden, the veranda, or as centre of attention indoors. Here are a couple of garden “whimsies” — cute little houses Penny made from square nails and bits of of wood and tin.

In a way, Penny makes art in a way that I think makes sense for regular goods. Valuable materials — whether tin ceiling from a Victorian home or the stainless steel from your fridge — can be reused. And surely reusing materials, even if it means reprocessing them in the case of pieces appliances and electronics, must be more efficient and economical (and yes, better for the earth) than extracting the raw materials from the ground.

Do you have a favourite local artist? How does s/he create?

May 19, 2009 at 10:10 AM Leave a comment

Natural sweeteners: honey and maple sugar

Sweet options

Sweet options

I like to use honey and maple sugar as alternatives to regular sugar, since I can get both of them from local producers.  While I don’t have a sugar shack or apiary in my backyard, there are many within an hour’s drive, not to mention at farmers’ markets.

 According to sugar industry statistics, 90 per cent of the sugar we use (the white sugar we buy in bulk) comes from cane plants in South America, Central America and Australia. We usually import it in an unrefined form, then bring it over by the shipload to process.

It sounds to me like the cane sugar producers may not be getting the bulk of the profits, and there is research showing how cane harvesters are plagued by respiratory ailments from the harvesting practice of burning the cane.

Canadians used to get a lot of our sweet stuff from sugar beets, as told in this interesting report from Statistics Canada, but the crop is only grown in Alberta now (aside from a bit of Ontario production that goes directly to the U.S. market).

Luckily, we have fabulous local, sustainable alternatives to cane sugar. I love stirring these organic maple flakes from Equinox (a Quebec-based company) into my tea, tossing them onto a dessert and using them to make a glaze on salmon or pork.  I’ve also used a more powdery maple sugar from Gibbons Family Farm in Eastern Ontario. 

A friend of mine dabbled in the apiary business a couple of years ago, and I’ve been savouring my dwindling stash of honey from the business. But I know when I run out, there are lots of other local producers, creating honeys from organic flowers, each crop with its own special flavour, such as lavender honey. 

Beyond the nice flavours they bring, both honey and maple syrup offer some health benefits.

Celebrate honey with this recipe for Honey Pear and Hazelnut Tart from our Homemakers Test Kitchen, or try our food editor Andrew Chase’s Maple Custard Ice Cream. Delicious!

Have you used honey or maple syrup as a sweetener?

May 12, 2009 at 11:06 AM 2 comments

Organic food on my doorstep!

Left on my doorstep

Left on my doorstep

Just about every day, as part of my job at Homemakers magazine, I’m researching information about health and nutrition. While there may be some grey area in the healthfulness of coffee or the most effective way to meet our calcium requirements, one thing’s for sure: eating a variety of fruits and vegetables as a significant part of our diet is key to being healthy.

With that in mind, I recently subscribed to an organic food delivery service. I received my first box yesterday evening, and I was thrilled to peel back the lid and see the lush organic pears, parsley, mushrooms, Boston lettuce, grapefruit several other foods inside. Here’s a picture of what it included. The is the “basic box” from Front Door Organics; it costs $35, and I can decide if I want it delivered weekly or every two weeks. Knowing that I’ll be unable to resist the temptations of farmers’ markets this summer, I think I’ll upgrade to their custom box, at $40, and have it delivered every two weeks. That way I can get more of my favourite things and steer clear of the stuff I’ll get at the market (I’m thinking of super-ripe raspberries. Can’t wait!).

Front Door Organics is about organic food first, but they do promise to offer local food whenever it’s available, and a note in my box showed which foods are from Ontario (the mushrooms, the radishes, the potatoes and the Boston lettuce). They can also add other grocery items to the box if I add them to my order, such as coffee, milk and eggs, perfect for those really busy times (or when I’m home with a cold). The note also included some of the company’s principles, notably that they will not purchase food that’s delivered by air travel. Air travel “…accounts for 4-9% of the total climate change impact of human activity.” As I’ve realized recently, it’s all about the greenhouse gasses.

Do you have trouble finding organic food in your area? Is it important to you to eat organic? Do you consider what you grow at home to be organic?

May 8, 2009 at 10:29 AM 5 comments

One of a Kind Canadian artisans

oneofakind1I’m a big fan of shopping locally, so it’s no surprise that I had a great time at the One of a Kind Show last night. (The show is on in Toronto until Sunday.)

I love chatting with the designers and artisans about the inspirations for their works, the materials and the methods, whether they’re selling funky armbags, jewelry or snazzy skirts.

I don’t buy a lot of clothing, really (that’s relative, I guess), but I go for a lasting effect by seeking out stuff that’s well made. The few things I bought from One of a Kind designers still look new and because they’re unusual, I think they’re fairly timeless.

I fell for this red skirt from Mandala Design of Toronto. It’s the one that didn’t get away — I snapped it up! I also bought a gift for my mom’s birthday and chocolates, cookies and other sweets from several of the “Flavours” exhibitors.

What do you look for when you buy clothes? Is it current fashion, fabrics, where things are made, or just what fits best?

P.S. I also met Jen from Toronto and Region Conservation; she had a bunch of great materials about greening your backyard. You can check out some of the city’s resources at

April 3, 2009 at 11:45 AM 5 comments

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