"Local eating is one concrete thing I can do to create a better world.
Our food system is shifting. In The End of Food Paul Roberts explains that the boom of the global food system and the Green Revolution started to fade in the 1980's and is rapidly crumbling now. We need to find another way to grow food and feed ourselves.
Plus it's soul-satisfying and tastes so good." -- Nina Bailey-Dick
How shall we eat?
How shall we eat in a way that sustains the health of the land, the air, the farmers AND our bodies? Michael Pollan answers this question with two dozen pithy guidelines (see In Defense of Food for more details). Here are a few of them:
- Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food
- Avoid food products containing ingredients that are (a) unfamiliar, (b) unpronounceable, (c) more than five in number, or (d) that include high-fructose corn syrup
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle
- Get out of the supermarket whenever possible
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
- You are what you eat eats too
- If you have the space, buy a freezer
- Eat like an omnivore
- Eat well-grown food from healthy soils
- Pay more, eat less
- Cook and, if you can, plant a garden
How shall we transport the food from farm to cities?
Good question! I'm not sure. I know that everyone driving out to the farm to pick up their food does not make sense. Do farmers' markets work well for your food-buying needs? The farmers' markets are too far for me to walk to and the crowds are too difficult to navigate with my children and bags/boxes of food. Many farmers I talk to do not have the interest or time or energy to drive to the city and wait at a booth for buyers to come. Especially when those buyers try to barter the price lower than the already too-low price the farmer set that already doesn't cover her time and expenses. (Can you tell I was a farmer for years and have sat at a few too many market stands?) The farmers I talk to want to farm. They don't want to market their produce far from their homes.
So I have some ideas on what is not working. Here are some ideas for what could work for K-W. How about Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) pick up spots and neighbourhood buying clubs scattered throughout the cities? Or neighbourhood produce stands that a family in the neighbourhood sets up once a week and sells to neighbours? How about including an insulated and refrigerated car on the light rail transit line? Farmers near Elmira and St. Jacobs can put their freshly harvested food in the car and send it to a prearranged buyer (like someone who sets up a produce stand in her/his neighbourhood) in the city. Then, how about work bicycles that meet the train, put the food into their insulated trailers and pedal it to the stores and restaurants that have ordered it. Other work bikes take the fresh food to neighbourhood buying clubs to fill the orders from households. I'm sure someone can think of something useful that the train can haul North on its return trip to Elmira. How about peanut butter and popcorn from the Simcoe area.
What does our 100 Mile Area need?
Before we look at what our area needs, think for a moment about what we already have. Such riches of food! We have a climate and soils that can grow peanuts, tree nuts, sweet corn, tomatoes (just think if you lived where it was too cold for tomatoes!) and, if we get organized, we could be eating local salads 10 months of the year from unheated greenhouses. We even have hard bread flour beginning to be grown in our region. This is the flour that most bread is made from and before was only available from the Prairies. We have farms raising every kind of animal you could want for meat. We are even lucky enough to have the Niagara Region near us that can grow the delectable soft fruits like cherries and peaches.
We also have an amazing array of local food processors: cheese makers, salsa canners, cider presses, grain mills, tea packagers, mustard makers, jam and jelly businesses, bread bakeries, salt mines, fresh-frozen facilities, ice cream plants, a potato chip factory and more! The only problem with this pretty picture is that most of the food processors listed here do not use local ingredients. Can you find a salsa made from local tomatoes? Or potato chips from local potatoes? How about ice cream from local milk? Yes! Mapleton's makes and sells the world's best ice cream (organic even) from the farm where they raise their milk cows.
Salsa made with local ingredients
We have the climate we need to easily eat a diet high in local foods, we have the farmers with the food-growing skills that we need but we need more food processors who can make us foods using local ingredients. So, you want to start a small potato chip-making business? You could use local sweet potatoes, beets and carrots for a yummy selection of vegetable chips. Or, if you're not excited about deep fried foods, how about starting a local salsa and ketchup business or, better yet, talk the owner of the salsa business into using local ingredients.
Or how about a local canning facility set up near the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative. The canning facility can buy produce from the auction and turn it into delicacies in jars. Delicacies such as chutneys, pear sauce, fruit sauces, pickles, relishes, hot sauces, BBQ sauces, ketchup, peach slices, and fruit and vegetable juices. Have you ever tasted pear sauce? Our region could become famous for it. It is that good.
Sun-dried tomatoes and more
We know how yummy and useful sundried tomatoes are. Let's expand that to other vegetables. Picture this: a fruit and vegetable dehydrating business set up near the Light Rail Transit line. This business uses solar and electrical power to dry a variety of vegetables to make soup and stew mixes, sundried tomatoes, fruit leathers, dried strawberries (yes, it works well), berries, pears, apples... Dried fruits are great to eat not only for snacks but also make delicious Winter desserts such as cobblers, pies, crisps, and fruit sauces for crepes and ice cream.
If you're interested in seeing a food dryer set up in KW, email me and we'll see what sort of funders, business partners, and other support we can find in this area. Talk to others who you think may be interested. It'd be great to have someone who offers professional support on the labelling of the finished products - someone who could put together a label that met all the requirements for bar code, weight, ingredients, biodegradability and beauty too, of course.
Sustainable food transportation
We need ways to transport our food without making our air toxic. See the light rail transit idea for moving food from the Elmira and St. Jacobs farm areas to KW. Email the region and city folks working on the light rail transit to tell them that food transportation needs to be part of the planning. Ask them to include an insulated car for moving food.
We also need transportation to move the food from the rail line to out-lying neighbourhoods and businesses. This is where work bikes with insulated trailers can be useful. Many countries already use work bikes to haul large and small loads in urban areas. We could choose a four-wheeled work bike with the muscle power of four riders or the power of one.
If you'd like to be part of an informal email group that wants to see work bikes come to K-W, email me. Let's put our heads together to figure out how we can pool our resources to get one awesome work bike going in K-W as an example of what work bikes can do.
We can produce a lot of our own food right here in the city. That takes care of most of the transportation problem if the food is grown right where the people live. If enough houses had a vegetable garden, a bee hive and a few hens, that would provide a lot of sweetener and a lot of protein for the city. One family could provide for all their own protein and sweetener needs! See these sites for inspiring examples of how people are producing food in the city, and of how people can earn a living growing food in a few backyards in the city. You could become the next urban salad farmer of KW.
A number of families in KW already have hens in their backyards. And they have for years. Hens are quiet and polite neighbours. We have a few in our backyard. Last summer a friend and her child visited our hens for the second time. On one visit the two-year old found an egg in the nest. He brought the egg out to show us. The look of wonder and joy on his face is imprinted in my mind. So sweet! I asked him if he wanted to take the egg home. He nodded, speechless. Then he left in the little red wagon, carefully holding his egg.
There are lots of good reasons to have a few hens in your backyard. You can see the Waterloo Hen Association for some of these reasons and take a minute to see the YouTube of the Waterloo Hen Ambassadors or join the facebook group.
Nut tree committee
Something else we need in this are more nut trees! We have black walnuts but what about the chestnuts, the heartnuts, the northern pecans and the hickories we could be growing and eating. Right now, we depend on California for most of our nuts. Let's grow our own! If you have land (for home or business or farm) consider planting nuts trees as part of the landscaping. Take down a few trees that don't give food and put in nut trees instead. It's okay to cut down a tree for a greater good. Really. To see the variety of nut trees that thrive in Ontario, check out the website for the Society of Ontario Nut Growers.