Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thanks to the Locals!

Well it has been a very long time since I wrote on the blog. Moving, new job, new property all conspired to keep me away from writing. But as this is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada, I felt I needed to connect, to put down some of my thoughts about sufficiency especially in light of the California drought.

We are lucky enough to live in a time where food is plentiful. Not all of that food is good food - much is highly processed, travels vast distances, and is grown in unsustainable ways. But the realization that these types of food impact our health, our communities and our planet means there is a growing movement to local food production.

My Thanksgiving dinner consists of a free-range chicken we raised, the stuffing is from sourdough bread that I make added to onions from my garden, celery seed from my own celery, and amazing carrots from a co-workers property up the road. Our mashed potatoes are Vancouver Island.  The pumpkin pie cooling on the counter is made with last year's cooked pumpkin frozen in containers, eggs from my hens and the crust has lard that I rendered from fat acquired for free off craigslist.  The spices, the milk, the butter, are not terribly local (well the milk is Island grown) but I feel that at least I am as local as I can be and am working towards growing more of our own. 

I admit though that we are privileged. Not everyone has the desire, land, financial or physical ability or knowledge to try to grow their own. But there are stores that focus on local. Campbell River has the Willow Point Market and Discovery Foods -- both commercial store fronts that highlight local, regional and provincial produce. Small local shops that live where they work, where the profits are not funneled off to Toronto, Arkansas or other remote corporate centre.

The thing I hear the most is that local is so much more expensive. And in some ways that is true. But with the ever increasing California drought the days of cheap produce from that state are limited. Water is being diverted from farms to cities, small towns are drying up to the point where there isn't even water to flush toilets and drinking water is trucked in by the bottleful. Change to our food system is coming whether we acknowledge it or not and things are going to get more expensive.

One way I have noticed that big box stores are trying to lull us into a false sense of security is by changing their pricing system -- instead of prices per pound or kilo, we are now seeing price per each. Why look - that steak is only $5 - what a deal. When in reality if we did the math we could see that the price has gone up per pound or kilo. Most people just don't do the conversion.

So today, I am giving thanks to my local food producers. To Tom up the street for this multi-coloured, juicy carrots, to the Eiglers who grew our last year's turkey, to the Nagels who sent me the hatching eggs for this year's chicken and the seed for next year's garlic. To the farmers who weekend after weekend spend their time at farmer's markets. To people like the Jagers who operate Discovery Foods, a grocery store that seeks out the most local food it can, and to Willow Point Market for bringing in orchard crate after orchard crate of Okanagan apples. To the pumpkin growers, the onion growers, the potato growers that make today's dinner possible.

And to the people who wonder where on earth they will get the time to figure this out.....just breathe. Make one small change. Buy BC potatoes instead of US. Look on Craig's list, Used wherever, or Kijiji to see who is selling/giving away local food. Go to a farmer's market. Learn to grow, bake, cook, can, ferment, salt, pickle, or smoke foods. Scope out wild fruit trees, mushrooms, weeds that can be eaten. Most of all - THINK about your food. Be conscious and thoughtful about what you buy and where it comes from. There is always a way.

Most of off, be grateful. We have not had mass food security since the Great Depression and have gotten used to freely available, cheap food. This has not been the experience for many populations in the world. We are very blessed.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Prepping for Spring

Even though the latest weather system moved across our area just yesterday dumping a ton more rain, at least the temperature shot up. This is what is known (affectionately or not) as a "pineapple express" here.  Warm air from Hawaii surges across the Pacific soaking up gallons of moisture only to dump it on fretful and already soggy Northwesterners. Happy side effect is the air is warm. So out we trundle, dressed in rubbers and hats to muck about. The warm air stimulates gardeners as much as it stimulates bulbs, trees, and yes, even bees!

This stimulation results in a flurry of seed orders, trips to Seedy Saturdays or Sundays, and general drooling over catalogues rich in the romance of this summer's garden potential. It helps to be an optimist when you are a gardener.

In order to be ready for the sudden onslaught of gardening weather, I have started a bunch of seeds in order to have transplants ready for plant-out season. Here on Vancouver Island, I still use May long weekend (typically around the 24th) as sure-fire date that seedlings can be transplanted. It is a good date for most of Canadian gardeners, with some farther north and east of us a bit more wary of sudden, devastating frosts. By May here the fruit trees have pretty much finished blooming and we are getting into serious outside weather. 

There are a lot of options for people wanting to start seedlings inside. There is the tried and true windowsill method. I used this for years when money was tightest, but it does tend to provide long, leggy and ultimately not very healthy seedlings as they reach for the light.  Replanting is common to try to catch up when some of the seedlings wilt over.

I have noticed recently at gardening and feed shops a variety of ready built, shelf size grow set-ups. These little wonders come with the plastic trays and peat cups, a clear greenhouse lid, and a grow light that fits right into the lid. Great option for people with small spaces or less ambitious goals for starting seeds.

A couple years ago I wanted a bigger set up. My daughter had left a shelving unit in the garage and I reclaimed it with the idea of creating a purpose-built and productive seed starting system. The shelving unit is black plastic and comes apart into many pieces, shelving, upright poles etc. which makes it super convenient if I want to take it down late season and use the room as a bedroom again.

Each shelf of this unit is full of holes through which I threaded some thin gardening wire to attach the grow light to. These lights, tied firmly to the underside of each shelf, mean that the seedlings don't reach so far becoming leggy but instead develop sturdy, thick stems. Not bad for under $100 for the whole unit (the cost of which was entirely the three grow light bars purchased at the local hydroponics store).

All the lights are connected to a power bar that has a built-in timer so each day it switches on and off at the same time giving the seedlings consistent and reliable light.

Last weekend, I planted tomatoes, Amish paste for sauce, Ernie's Plump and Bison for canning and storage, and Early Large Red for eating. Two types of onions are sprouting in a recycled plastic croissant box- one for eating early and one for storage. I also planted a bunch of herbs, horehound, rosemary, anise and regular hyssops, valerian, woad and indigo (for a fabric dye project I am wanting to try). They are all in stages of sprouting. If I had more garden space safe from deer, I would definitely be sowing more types of tomatoes. I seem to have quite a collection forming and love the rich, acidic taste of summer to be found in a jar of tomato sauce eaten in February.

This weekend poblano, banana, two types of paprika, and some chichuale negro (nice dark brown) peppers have been sowed. As the grow lights click on and off, life surges out of small peat cups and hints at the warm days to come.

Now, since it looks like it may be stopping the downpour, its time to head outside and turn over the garden so we can plant peas!

Happy gardening!