Strawberry Fields Forever

Local strawberries, grown here – have you ever tried them?

Now that I am in the process of converting to eating local food year round, I have got to plan ahead for those long winter months. So when local strawberries come into season, I have got to get them now, while the getting is good!

The strawberries that grow around here are small, sweet and juicy. When you bite into them they are red throughout, with no white bits on the inside like the grocery store variety can have. They do have a shorter shelf life, which is why you can’t find them in the grocery store. You can find them at the farmer’s markets though. Even better – you can pick them yourself!

This week we are out at my parent’s lakeside cottage with my Mom, so I looked up some U-pick farms in the area, using the Alberta Farm Fresh website. I called, and the lady told us to come on down! There are berries on the plants! The season is just starting up! So my Mom and I loaded up the kids and off we went.

The farm was located about 15 minutes from the cottage, set in among rolling green hills. It had rained earlier that morning, and the sun had just come out, making everything shine brightly. We each grabbed a pail and the lady showed us how to pick the fruit – you just pull back green leafy top cover to reveal large clusters of red fruit underneath, lay the fruit in your hand and grasp the stem with your thumb, and the strawberry just rolls into your hand. She had lined the rows between her plants with straw, keeping the berries clean and our boots mud-free. She also told us that her plants were not sprayed and that everything was organic.

The kids loved it; they thought it was cool that they were on a real farm! Where real food grows! They were very excited about the prospect of eating berries that they had picked themselves. In no time at all we had picked 4 pails, which turned out to be about 20 lbs of fruit.

When we got them home we all had a strawberry snack. Then my Mom and I started scouring cookbooks for recipes for strawberry jam. Let the preserving begin!

My Mom made 6 jars of strawberry freezer jam. The strawberries are frozen in fresh, creating a brightly coloured jam that is not cooked.

Lacking freezer space, I started off by making a classic jam recipe, the kind they used to make back in the day before you could go to the store and buy a box of pectin off the shelf. With this method you cook the berries to release their natural pectin. This recipe used 2 cups of sugar, lemon juice and 8 cups of berries. The result was a wine coloured jam, with a deep flavour and caramel tones.

Next I made a jam with a higher amount of sugar, using the classic method again (no pectin). This recipe used 4 cups of sugar, 4 cups of berries and lemon juice. The added sugar added extra brightness and clarity to this jam, making it look like the berry bits were floating in ruby red jelly.

I finished off with making some preserved strawberry sundae topping. This recipe called for orange juice and orange rind, along with a bit of syrup instead of sugar. The idea was to hold back on the sweetness, to allow the fruit flavours to come through. This preserve was the lightest in colour, and the berries were left almost intact. I plan to use it over ice cream and also to stir into yogurt. Who knows, maybe I will even try making yogurt myself!

I froze the rest of the berries, hulling them and laying them out on cookie sheets to freeze individually first before bagging. I got two large sized freezer bags out of it.

We ate lots of berries fresh as well, as snacks, as desert, in a bowl full of milk, overtop cereal, in fruit salad. Delish. These berries were so sweet it was like eating fruit candy.

This was my first attempt at realizing my goal of a pantry stocked with local food for the winter – thirteen pretty red jars of local sweet strawberries.

Mmmm.

Let Them Know

You might have a concern for the environment. It may just be a niggling concern, a bother really, something in the back of your mind that can’t quite get rid of, can’t quite shake. It might be a deeper concern, but you have trouble making the connection between your actions and action on climate change. What can one person do, after all? Or you might have a full out concern, combined with a fear and desperation, for the world to change. So much so that you might decide to start changing that which you can control – yourself.

We all make individual choices how we live our individual lives. But we take cues from others, from society. As a result, most of us don’t do things that are considered really taboo, and we generally all act within agreed upon moral and ethical guidelines. We tend to do what those around us do – what we have learned from our family, our friends, from media and society. We start out doing things a certain way, and for the most part, we don’t change unless something pushes us. We like our habits.

Sometimes we do change our habits due to cost, hassle or convenience. But normally, it takes a lot for us to bother to change. We don’t even realize this. We don’t even think about it. We just do the things we have always done.

For some of us though, one day we suddenly “wake up”. One day we learn a bit more about the environment and climate change, and that adds to body of knowledge we held on the subject before, and before we know it, the scales have tipped. We can no longer ignore it. We can no longer rationalize being a bystander. We finally see the cold hard reality for what it is, and simultaneously, see our part in it. In that moment, we discover within ourselves – something new. We discover that the responsibility for changing the world starts with us, with our actions, and that as individuals we have a role to play. We discover that we are compelled to act.

And so, we change.

It starts small, with the little changes, and then grows bigger. Day by day, we discover new ways to change, new habits to form. We find ourselves considering in every decision – what would be best for the environment, for climate change?

At least, this is how it happened to me. But I am sure it is how it happened to you too, at least somewhat (unless you grew up as a hippy child where these kinds of things were already the norm from the start!). You would not be here, reading this, if you did not have at least some interest in being green.

So we want to change our habits, we want to change the world, make it a better place. Now what?

Well our changes are magnified ten fold, when we let others in on them. When non-greenies observe a greenie doing things that they themselves do not do, sometimes the non-greenies pause and reflect. It adds to their body of knowledge on the environment. Perhaps they think “wow, I cannot believe she does that, she must really have a concern for climate change or something. Why is she so worried about it? Should I be worried about it? Maybe I should…”

Our actions will have more of an impact, if they inspire others to change as well. We want to create a ripple effect. We want to be part of the bits and pieces in people’s lives that get them to stop and reconsider. We want to not only change ourselves, but be a catalyst for change in others. 

So when you do something green, let them know.

There is a fine line to walk here. Do not preach. Let them know through your actions, not words. If you must use words, just describe what you do, and then stop there. Don’t get into why everyone should do it, or why they should consider doing it. Nobody likes being told what to do. We don’t want to turn people off; we want to bring them in.

In doing so we discover that do not live our lives in isolation, and we start to notice all the little (and big) connections we have with others. No matter the connection, where you can, and when it makes sense to do so, try gently letting them know.

For example, when somebody asks me about where I park downtown, or how long my commute is, I tell them “oh I take the bus to work so I don’t need parking, I find it much more relaxing than driving and am trying to be more mindful of my carbon footprint.”

I just let them know.

When I meet someone at a coffee shop, I always get a ceramic mug or bring my own. I don’t say anything. If they ask me why I did not get one “to go”, I just say that I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When somebody starts talking about grocery shopping and asks me where I go for the best prices, I tell them that I try to shop mostly at Farmer’s Markets when I can, because I really enjoy eating local and plus it is fun to talk to the farmer that grew your food.

Let them know.

When a server at a restaurant asks if I would like my leftovers wrapped up, I ask her if she could put it in my reusable container if that is okay, it is just that I swore off Styrofoam and I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When I come out of a public bathroom with wet hands and my girlfriend looks at me funny, I just say that I saw the paper napkin delivery at my office building one day, and was shocked at how many pallets were used for only one week! Ever since then I feel guilty using one or something, it is weird. So, I just shake off my hands instead, or fluff my hair, or just swipe them on the back of my pants. Easy peasy.

Let them know.

When discussing the chore of laundry with other moms, I tell them that the one good thing is how they smell when you hang them to dry outside. Plus it is nice to get outside for just a few minutes, and be alone with your thoughts, listening to the birds sing as you hang wet clothes. It is amazing how much electricity a dryer uses; I can see a marked decrease on my bill. Who doesn’t like saving money?

Just let them know.

I have a saying at the bottom of my work email. I wondered at first, if I should put it there. What would people think? But I was compelled to act, compelled to share my views in a small way, in a hopefully intriguing way. I wanted to be that person that stood up for change. I wanted to be that person that didn’t hide. So at the end of every email it reads:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Let them know.

Plant Babies

A few months ago I thought it would be a good idea to try to eat more locally grown foods. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how big an impact my food footprint has on my total carbon footprint. As we know, most food in the grocery store is flown in from all over the world. For me, it is very difficult to find even a few items produced locally, let alone in my province. Realizing this, I started shopping at the Farmer’s Market, where I could buy my food from the very farmer who grew it. I later did some research, and found a local dairy supplier, wine supplier, beer supplier, and most importantly (yes – even more important than the beer and wine) a local flour supplier. Eating local feels really good, it feels like I am helping farmers, the food is fresher, and yes, it tastes better.

As I continued on thinking about local food, I realized that because I live in a northern climate, it would be impossible to eat locally year round, without some careful planning, preserving and storage. Food available summer must be preserved for winter. You can freeze it, can it, dehydrate it or put it in a root cellar. I was inspired by people living here, in my cold city, who grow enough food in their backyards to last them all winter. This can be done. People do this. Maybe I can do it too?

So I decided to grow a vegetable garden. Not just a few tomatoes, but a whole big garden, with potatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, beets, lettuce, cucumber, squash, beans and peas. I want to grow enough tomatoes to preserve tomato sauce all winter, enough onions that will last through the winter, and a pile of carrots that will get me through at least until fall. I want to freeze some peas and beans, I want to store some potatoes and beets, and I want to eat fresh salads all summer. Can I do it?

Well it starts with these guys:

They are officially one month old today – my assortment of tomatoes and peppers. It is exciting to watch them change day by day, how some varieties started out slow but have now surged ahead, and how I am able to now discern differences in the foliage in the varieties, being able to pick out a variety from a line up, even at this young age. When I first transplanted them from their little pods to their pots, they looked so grown up, standing tall all by themselves. I am proud of my plant babies.

These guys were just recently started. Here we have parsley, mint, basil, oregano and lettuce:

So far, so good. However, I have a secret fear of failure in this venture. How can I grow food for myself? Doesn’t it require some kind of magical skill? I started this process knowing absolutely nothing, and here I am a couple of months later growing 48 seedlings… Can I even pull this off?

I really hope so. I really want to grow an actual real garden, to feed my family, to feed myself, to feed my soul.

Grow, little plant babies.  Grow.

Nothing New in Review

At the beginning of the year I made a series of resolutions. One of the more challenging ones was to refrain from buying anything new for the first three months of the year. I was sick of being a mindless consumer, buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, from where ever in the world I wanted. Instead, I wanted to stop to consider the resources that passed through my hands. I wanted to see if I could do without, make stuff, purchase used items instead. I wanted to abandon the image of myself as “consumer” and replace it with “citizen”.

My exceptions were as follows:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

So now that today is officially the last day of the three months – how did I do? What did I end up buying? I am here to confess to some cheats and some insights in breaking free from shop-mode.

Here is a list of items I did buy over the last 90 days:

  1. 2 handmade bars of soap from the Farmer’s Market
  2. 1 small jar of handmade face cream from the Farmer’s Market
  3. 1 two-inch bottle of handmade hemp conditioner from… yes, the Farmer’s Market
  4. Dishwasher detergent – only after trying to make my own with great disastrous results
  5. Liquid dish soup – only after trying to make my own with somewhat disastrous results
  6. Flour sifter – to sift the bran from my stone-ground local flour so that I could make a lighter loaf of bread, and also – local bran muffins!
  7. Candy thermometer – to use when canning, as I am planning to preserve lots of food this summer/fall
  8. Birthday presents – for two birthday parties my 5 year-old son attended (although I gave my 1 year-old niece a previously loved toy my kids had when they were babies – I think she liked it!)
  9. Handmade necklace and bracelet from the Farmer’s Market for my mother-in-law for her birthday (I got her 3 used hardcover books as well).
  10. Rubber boots for my kids – after I had checked out 2 stores for used pairs, I bought ones that were phthalate-free and made in Canada, which is not easy to find! The snow melt is finally on, and there are massive puddles everywhere.
  11. Tylenol – we ran out and I had a horrible headache one day
  12. 4 recycled plastic large bins – for storing items in the garage that were previously stored in cardboard boxes in the storage room downstairs. That stuff cannot reside in their existing cardboard boxes as our garage can flood. I am clearing out the storage room to make way for a new shelving unit for… homemade canned goods!
  13. Emergency supply kit – this is a whole other blog post
  14. Digital SLR camera – I lost my camera and spent the whole next day calling around and retracing my steps trying to find it. Frustrated, I threw up my hands and decided to buy a camera I plan to have for a really long time. I did not however, purchase a camera case. I did however, purchase a used men’s jacket, from which I plan to sew, and craft into, a custom-made camera case. By the way, I know how weird this sounds. But the camera case for the camera was over $100! The men’s jacket was $7! Besides, it will be much more interesting. Until it is made, my camera is bound to the confines of my house.

That is it. I feel a bit guilty about the 4 (recycled) plastic bins. Who knew a year ago, that I would be sitting here writing this, feeling guilty about buying 4 plastic bins. Under normal circumstances I would feel happy and proud of myself, for taking the initiative to actually organize and clean out the storage room and garage in the same project. Look at me! Cleaning the garage! Now I feel like – look at me! I just bought 4 big ol’ plastic bins when I forgo buying regular bread since I don’t want to waste a little bread bag! It is nonsense, I know. However, there are situations, when a plastic bin does make sense. Like when things are going in the garage, where they could become wet and ruined if they were left in any other type of container – cardboard, wicker basket – these just will not work. Even a homemade wooden box from sustainable timber that I cut down myself using a previously used axe, would not work. Plastic has some uses. For example, I like my plastic laptop. For the most part though, I try to avoid plastic whenever I can. If you really look, plastic is everywhere. So if a non-plastic alternative exists I will normally take it. Despite these justifications, I still have lingering guilt.

The other big glaring item on the list is the camera. Nothing new, and I buy a camera… I justified it as something I was not willing to sacrifice, as it is important to document my children growing up, and also – I need to be able to take pictures for you, dear reader, for this here blog.

Note that I did not buy shampoo. Digging through my bathroom cupboard, I found a stockpile of a brand I don’t really like. Oh well, it is finally getting used up. Eventually I want to learn how to make my own soap, and then by extension, my own liquid soaps, such as dish soap, hand soap and shampoo. I am going to defer this project until next fall, as I feel like I am going to be pretty busy with the whole big new garden plan and all.

The other thing I did not purchase – any clothes or shoes for me, even used. I bought used clothes for my kids and found some really cute stuff.  Kids grow and they need bigger clothes, you just cannot get around that. However, I am also getting some hand me downs from friends and my sister, and that helps too.

So what did I learn? I learned that I don’t have to shop for something to do. Have you ever been in a long line up at the till, waiting and waiting to pay, squinting under the fluorescent lights, feeling the energy and life slowly drain out of you, bored, restless and annoyed? Why am I standing here? I did not miss those moments. How about when you get home with all your bags, and the kids are restless and jumpy and loud, and it is well past the time you were supposed to get supper on, so the bags get left by the door in a heap, and at the end of the day after everyone is in bed, you trip over them again, and realize that you have the additional job of taking everything out of the bag, clipping off all the tags, peeling off all the stickers, taking stuff out of the packages, and then putting it all away, into your already full house? I never liked the putting away part. The best part of shopping is the finding, the discovery. After that, it just seems to go downhill.

So what will I do now? I have thought a lot about it, and have decided that I am going to sign up for another three months of Nothing New! I will report any exceptions here at the end of June.

It actually was not that bad, it was liberating really, and I learned quite a few things along the way. I think I also saved about $1,000!

Before I begin though, I think I might buy myself some of those made in Canada rubber boots, to play around in the puddles with my kids, and later, to play around in my future garden. Other than that, my original exceptions will apply, with the addition of shampoo, dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap.

So who is with me?  What would your rules be?

Connecting at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers' Market

Image by NatalieMaynor via Flickr

There is a Farmer’s Market within a 10 minute walk of my house that is open year round. I have only recently begun to appreciate how lucky I am to have it so close. However, it is a small market. For the last month I have been going to my city’s largest market, mostly for the variety of foods offered. Yesterday I decided to check out my local market again, and see what I could find.

Kulman’s is the one vegetable vendor at this market – their operation is on the edge of the city. I bought potatoes and tomatoes. Then I noticed his pickled carrots and asked him if they tasted like pickles. He answered that they have such a different texture than pickles – they are not juicy but hard, and you really can taste the carrot. I considered buying a jar to sample (before I make my own pickled carrots one day) but they were $16 so I held off. I told him I wanted to make pickles this year, but had never done it before. He then went on to tell me how easy it was to make pickles, and specifically how to do it. “They key is tweaking the recipe to just how you like it”, he said.

I wandered on. There was a new girl in the Market, selling organic homemade cosmetics and candy under the name Mistical AcScents. She was super cool. Get this – she is inspired by the 16th century. Her products are a total throwback to medieval times!! She researches what people used way back then, using University archives and transcripts that have been made available online through Google Books. She then recreates the past, everything handmade, everything naturally organic. She offers face creams, cleansers and toners, as well as lip balm and lip tint. She has some bath products as well, and her homemade candies look divine. She even has her own Etsy shop online, and is part of the Etsy Organic Team. She was so nice, and I so believed in what she was doing, that I broke my shopping ban and bought a small jar of rose face cream. I just felt like I had to support her. This was her second show at the market and I wanted her to stick around. The price was right – $3.50.

Next I purchased eggs from Ma-Be Farms, only 3 dollars for free run and farm fresh. He asked me if I wanted brown eggs or white eggs. “What is the difference?” I asked. “Well brown eggs come from brown chickens and white eggs come from white chickens”, he replied. “It is as simple as that?” I asked. “It is a simple as that”, he replied. I chose a dozen brown. Then he mentioned that they take the egg cartons back to reuse them. I told him that I had been saving all my egg cartons, knowing that somebody would like to reuse them! So eggs for me, and a new home for all my egg cartons.

Next I came across a lady selling hemp products. I have heard of hemp before, but didn’t know a whole lot about it. She explained to me all the uses for hemp – the oil can be used in cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, and it can be used as cooking oil. The seeds are a fantastic source of protein – a whopping 11 grams in only 2 tablespoons. Vegetarians of the world rejoice! The hemp fibres are super strong and long lasting.  She pulled out her knitting bag from under the table to show me two projects she was working on, using hemp yarns. The first was a hemp/wool blend, and the sweater was quite soft. The second was made from 100% hemp, and it was stiff, but she told me it would soften over time. She said that the sweater would be so long wearing, that it would outlast most people! I asked here where I could get hemp yarn and she told me it was difficult to find, and most yarn mills are located in China or India.  So this miracle fibre is grown locally in Alberta, but we have to ship it across the world to be milled for yarn.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could mill it ourselves?  She agreed. She told me that there are heavy restrictions on growing hemp – you have to apply for a license and that can take up to 2 years. Then the minimum you can grow is 10 acres. This keeps many people out of the market. I guess hemp gets a bad rap, due to its notorious cousin, marijuana. However, hemp doesn’t have any THC, marijuana’s active ingredient. So what is the issue? She also told me about Kestrel, the first road-ready car made out of hemp.  Check it out!  Wow. As for me, I would love to get my hands on some local hemp yarn and make some cosy sweaters for my kids.

I walked out of the market happy with the connections I made and the conversations I had. I definitely learned a few things. I realized though, that almost all these vendors were nearing retirement age (if not beyond). There were so many tables of grandmas, offering homemade baking, homemade children’s blankets, homemade doll clothes. Even the farm vendors were older. It made me think – who is going to replace them when they retire? What will happen to this market?

I am not sure what will happen. All I know is that I want to support these farmers in the here and now. Perhaps if more people do the same, the younger generation of farmers will see that farming can offer a decent living, and be drawn back into the trade. There are so many benefits – from the food security of our region, to the health benefits of the people through eating more whole foods, to the farmers, and to our precious environment.

I will leave you with a wonderful tribute to one farmer – my good friend Becky of F&M wrote this song for her Grandpa who passed away last month. It is simply – beautiful.

http://beckyanderson.bandcamp.com/track/the-farmer

PIcture by Bjoern Friedrich.

Food Friday: Moo

A Frisian Holstein cow in the Netherlands: Int...

Image via Wikipedia

Ah yes, the cow. I was familiar with these creatures at an early age. I spent childhood weekends and summers at a cottage my parents owned by a lake. Across the gravel road was a field, and in that field there were always cows. They belonged to the nearby Hutterite colony. I remember waking up in the morning, hearing them moo. One such time, I peeked out my window from my bunk bed, and saw cows everywhere. Some were walking down the gravel road, some were standing there staring. They had escaped.

All my life I have eaten beef, and enjoyed it. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I actually craved steak. When I am out at a restaurant, I often order steak as a treat. I have fond memories of eating homemade hamburgers barbequed at my parent’s cottage, under the canopy of trees and in view of the beautiful lake. My Dad would also barbeque steak, carefully purchased and lovingly prepared, for us all to enjoy.

But since then, I have learned more about the source of all this good food. Apparently cows fart, like, way too much. Their farts contain methane, which is a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than CO2. They also eat massive amounts of grain and corn. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to raise one pound of beef. Much of this feed is grown as mono-crops which reduces biodiversity and depletes the soil. Corn especially, is quite damaging. It creates a tremendous amount of organic waste (think of corn stalks) and when left in fields to rot, more carbon is released into the sky. Even more worrisome, the heavy use of fertilizers in corn fields is causing run off problems in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a huge dead zone in the water, devoid of life.

But cows are not meant to eat corn or grains, they are meant to feed on grass. Feeding them what they are not really meant to eat makes them more prone to disease, and as a result they need to be constantly fed antibiotics. I also don’t like hearing feedlot stories, how some cows are fed parts of other cows, and how the large amount of excrement concentrated in a such a small area creates so much pollution (it is different when they poop all spread out on a large field as it acts like compost). I also don’t like that they are given hormones. What is in all this beef we are eating anyway?

I do love the taste of it though, and the protein punch it delivers. I have happy memories eating it with friends and family. But it is just not good for emissions or the environment. Who knew that livestock was responsible for an estimated 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions? It is shocking really.

So, because my love for the world and humanity goes deeper than my love for a great barbequed steak, I will refrain from personally purchasing beef from now on. I will no longer order it at restaurants. If someone else cooks it for me at a gathering, I will eat it and be grateful for it and enjoy it. Otherwise, no beef for me!

There is a vendor at my neighbourhood farmer’s market that raises and sells bison. Bison is native to where I live, hundreds of thousands of them used to roam here and feed on the wild grasses. This local farmer lets them do the same, and has little to no contact with them until the very end. They are not finished on grains, they do not eat corn. They are not pumped full of hormones. They live outside in the winter, just as they have done for thousands of years. So I have decided that I will buy bison from time to time, as a treat, to replace beef. It is local, lean, and natural. In fact, I made my classic chilli recipe with it last month and nobody even noticed the difference.

Plus they fart, like, way less.

Checking in

Well, it has been about 10 weeks since I started this journey of greening my life, step-by-step. I thought it would be worthwhile to check-in and review what I have done, and provide some reflections so far. So to recap…

Reduce Energy Use
Some of the first things I did:

  1. Turn down the thermostat
  2. Turn down the hot water heater
  3. Consolidate chargers on a power bar for easy shutdown
  4. Unplug small kitchen appliances when not in use
  5. Replace every single light bulb with a compact fluorescent
  6. Implement the 4-light rule when the sun goes down (no lights when sun is up).
  7. Air dry all our clothes.

I still have a long way to go in this department. For example I want to look at installing additional weather stripping around doors. I also want to investigate solar panels. I also would love to get an energy audit done on our house. It is older (1956) so I think there maybe opportunities that could save us money and carbon in the long run. 

Reduce Garbage
After getting some easy quick wins above, I really started thinking about garbage. I had just finished reading “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan at the time. He analyzed a week’s worth of his trash to see where it was all coming from, so that is what I did too. I was astonished to see how much of it was related to food packaging. I especially hated the single-use items like coffee cups, paper napkins and Styrofoam. So I dug in my heels, and now do the following:

  1. Use reusable or homemade gift bags for presents. I got through Christmas without using a scrap of wrap.
  2. Swore off Styrofoam completely. This meant changing where I go out for lunch at work.
  3. Purchased a pretty coffee travel mug. If I don’t have the mug, I don’t get the coffee.
  4. Swore off all grocery bags that are not reusable. I decided that not one more time, would I forget my bags. I keep an extra stash in the car, and have about 20 of them kicking around. This has been really easy, now that I am totally committed to it.
  5. Swore off all other plastic shopping bags. I purchased these awesome little nylon bags that fold up into a pouch in my purse and have not brought home a plastic bag since.
  6. Use mesh produce bags instead of plastic. They are thin and stretchy, and I like how apples and tomatoes bounce in them! I also reuse woven mesh bags you get with some produce. If it comes in a plastic bag, I either don’t buy it, or I wash and reuse the bag.  All in all, I have greatly slashed the number of these that I send to the landfill:
    Thin plastic shopping bags

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. Swore off boxed food. This actually has been one of the biggest changes. I had a large drawer dedicated to boxed items, now it is box-free and filled with my bulk bin overflow. This brings me to my next point:
  8. Purchase all staples in bulk, using as much as possible, plastic bags that have been reused. This has had the biggest change on the contents of my cupboards. Instead of opening up the door and seeing boxes with pictures of the food on it, I open up the door and see my actual food through glass jars. I have way more space. I appreciate what I have, the bounty of selection and variety. I feed my kids different snacks now, such as peanuts, raisins, and trail mix, or other little goodies from the bulk bins.
  9. Reduce food waste. This means keeping better tabs on the fridge.
  10. Bake my own bread. This saves a bread bag every time! Plus, I love doing it, kneading the dough, providing for my family. It is fluffy and yummy and I can’t go back.
  11. I also bake my own granola bars, cookies, tortilla bread and crackers. It started off as a way to reduce packaging and feed my kids foods that is preservative-free. Now I also use local flour and this is a big benefit for me as well. This leads me to the next big set of changes…

Eating Local Food
I was really inspired by the 100-Mile Diet book by Alisa Smith and James MacKibbon. I now realize that a big part of my carbon footprint relates to the goods I buy, and much of what I buy is food. So this is what I now do:

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

  1. Go to the Farmer’s Market every week. I now buy these items exclusively at the Farmer’s Market: eggs, bison, bacon, sausage, carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, pears, apples, pear-apples, honey and mint tea. This list will expand in the summer.
  2. Look for other local foods not available at the Farmer’s Market. Some of this is available at the grocery store, some at specialty bakeries, and some at Planet Organic. Here is a list of local foods I have purchased around town: wine, canola oil, flour, hot cereal, yogurt, sour cream and goat cheese.
  3. Purchase non-local produce sparingly. I purchase bananas once every second week. I have not purchased oranges in a month. The only non-local vegetable I regularly purchase is broccoli.
  4. Set up an indoor herb garden in my kitchen.  This gives me fresh local herbs at my fingertips, and helps to satisfy my longing for spring and greenery.

I am still on the look-out for local foods and have emailed several local companies about where they source their ingredients. Eating local is not that easy, I will admit. But when I prepare a meal, and bask in the realization that it is made from mostly local ingredients, it feels really good.

I have some really big eating local plans this coming year. Eating local here in Canada means you have to store and preserve your produce for winter. So starting this summer, that is exactly what I intend to do. I want to preserve tomato sauce, salsa, peaches, pears and berries. I want to make pickles, apple sauce and jams. I also want to freeze local peas and local corn.

Finally, I want to grow my own food. This is super local. I really want to pass these skills on to my children. Part of me fears that they are going to need these skills in an uncertain future with an uncertain food supply (yes, even here in Canada). But for now, I really want them to have a connection with nature, with the land. I want them to have an appreciation for food. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my 5-year old son about how vegetables grow. It turned out that he did not even realize that all food was grown in the ground! Then just yesterday, he made up a song called the “Farmer of Life”. It was so beautiful. The song started off about a little boy who did not have enough food to eat. Then the little boy met a farmer, and the farmer grew food for him, and became the “Farmer of Life”. Just having this little conversation with him inspired this burst of creativity and my heart beamed with pride. I want to take this further, and let my kids get dirty in the garden.

Reduce Consumption
This was a big one. I made a commitment to not make any purchases that are not related to food or toilet paper for the first 3 months of 2011. Well, one month later, and it has not been a problem. I don’t even miss it. In fact, I am enjoying it (as is my bank account).

Reflections
I have made many changes since I started 10 weeks ago, and have really mixed up my daily habits and how I spend my time. Some of the changes have been totally easy, like the shopping bags and the travel mugs. Some changes have saved time, like the no-shopping rule. However some changes now take up more of my time, like air drying clothes and baking bread. Some take a lot of research, such as eating locally. Overall though, I am enjoying it. I do feel busier on the weekends, between the extra laundry time, the Farmer’s Market and the bread… But I am doing things that mean a lot to me, and that I actually do enjoy doing. My life feels enriched. I feel like my actions have purpose. I feel like I am making a difference.

I feel good.

100-Mile Challenge Show

I just discovered a 100-mile diet reality show produced by the Food Network in 2008, and it is currently airing again on Global TV. It follows the lives of several families in Mission, BC. This small town signed up 100 people to eat within 100 miles for 100 days. The show features the authors of the 100-Mile Diet book Alisa Smith and James McKinnon, and they give ideas and moral support to the challenge participants.

Here is the trailer:

You can watch all the episodes online here. If you live in Canada you can also tune in Saturdays on Global at 7 pm.

The last episode featured a family taking their two young daughters to a farm. They wanted to show their children where their food came from, how it grew, how it was raised. The kids collected fresh eggs from a nice, clean, free-range chicken coup. They toured the sunny fields. The parents wanted to impart on their children a love and respect for food, and the time, effort and passion that went into growing it and raising it. This really resonated with me, as it is exactly how I feel and what I want to teach my children. I found myself with tears during this segment.

Another challenge participant noted that he used to buy whatever he wanted from the grocery store, without even thinking about it. He did not consider where it came from or how it was raised. Now he has a new awareness and a new appreciation. This is exactly my story as well.

The 100-mile diet is not easy. It is not something you can just switch to, overnight. For me, I think it will take a full year before I can eat mostly local foods. However, as I do more research I continue to find new products offered here locally. For example in the last week I have found:

  1. Local wine producer en Santé Winery (the first and only wine producer in Alberta!)
  2. Local beer producer Alley Cat Brewery
  3. Local pasteurized cheese from Smoky Valley Goat Cheese
  4. Local yogurt from Bles-Wold Dairy

 I have also found the Eat Local First site, where I can order local groceries online and they are delivered directly to my doorstep. How easy and convenient is that? An Avenue Homesteader tried it and blogged about it here. I am going to try it for the yogurt!

I did not realize that there was such an undercurrent of local eating here, with a growing list of choices. All I had to do is look a little harder and bam! They were right here under my nose all along. Who knew?

I want to support to this movement. I want to support these local producers and farmers with my dollars, and add my voice to conversation. I have some lofty local eating goals for myself in 2011, which I will elaborate on a little later!

Hmmmm. “Think globally, act locally.” Now I am starting to see what this actually means!

Farmer’s Market

This weekend I managed to get to the large farmer’s market. Last weekend I could not go as there was record breaking snow fall, which has continued all week. I cannot remember when we have had this much snow, it is unreal. I heard on the news today that we have not had this much snow since 1989. That is 22 years people! It is all piled high off the roads and sidewalks and driveways. It is supposedly was caused by La Niña, the same weather pattern that caused the horrific flooding in Australia and Brazil. Luckily for us, it did not come in liquid form. But there is just so much of it. In some areas you feel like you are walking in a canyon, it is piled so high. It is becoming such a chore to shovel the driveway, you have to throw it way over your head. Our roof is groaning under the weight of it. I am so sick of it, so tired of the cold… I often get annoyed at the weather this time of year, the heavy slog of January when spring seems so far away. The days are so short. Today I got out at lunch time in hopes of feeling the sun shining upon my face, and was sadly disappointed that it was still so low in the sky that it could not make it over the downtown buildings. Sigh.

The point is though, that I made it out to the large farmer’s market this weekend. It was -25 C (-13 F) but I made it out. It was great. Here is my story:

I walked in and first stopped at Sunworks Farm, a local meat producer who I now think is a leader in this industry. They are certified organic, certified local sustainable, certified by the SPCA. The man who runs the operation was cooking up samples of chicken sausages on a little barbeque. I told him that I saw him on a video online. He laughed and started talking about it, talking about his operation. It felt good talking to the person running this farm, raising the food that I am taking home to my family. He told me that he has a family farm day in September and invites all his customers to come see his farm, see how the animals are treated, see how they are raised. I looked down at their brochure. At the bottom it read “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children“. Yes, I thought, so true. I purchased 2 dozen eggs and some chicken sausage. I had some initial sticker shock over the chicken breasts (more than double the price!) so left those for now.

I wandered on. I purchased beets and cabbage from a certified organic vegetable grower, thinking I would make borscht soup. If you have never had it, borscht is the perfect comfort food in winter, it warms you up inside.

I passed the honey vendor, not purchasing since I already had 1 kg of organic local honey at home.

Next I came to a vendor selling canola, hemp and flaxseed oil. They call themselves Mighty Trio Organics, with the trio representing the farmer, the producer (them) and the customer (me). How great! They are a husband and wife team that produce oil using natural methods, largely mechanical with no chemicals or alcohol. As the man explained it to me, his wife sat behind the booth with their baby son fast asleep in her arms. This is a family, I thought. They are doing this together to provide people with a local, chemical-free choice. As I looked on at their sleeping baby, I felt gratitude. It is because of them, that I can choose better for my family. I purchased a beautiful bottle of canola oil.

Next I came across the BC fruit vendor. I noticed that besides fruit, they also had hazelnuts. I decided to ask the guy if he knew if any nuts grew in Alberta. “Yes!” he replied. He went on to tell me a story about a time last summer when he and his friends found a huge crop of wild hazelnuts, growing in the city’s river valley. The nuts were a bit smaller than what you find in BC, but they managed to fill four grocery bags. They got them home, shelled them and then ground them up into hazelnut butter. They ended up with one small jar. Hmmm. That is a lot of work for one small jar. Next time I see him I should ask him where this hazelnut patch is found – perhaps I will take the kids on a nut hunting adventure this summer. I told him I wanted to eat more local and asked him if pears grew in Alberta. “Yes!” he replied again. They are small, but they grow. Next time I see him I will ask if he knows of anyone who sells these little pears in the summer. In the meantime I bought the best BC pears that he recommended. Yum.

I came across another organic grower and purchased some beautiful cherry tomatoes and a jar of homemade pickles. I found some leeks and bought them too. I have never bought leeks before. What the heck, I thought, let’s try something new and make potato leek soup this week.

I carried my stash back to my car and felt good. I learned more about my food, had some interesting conversations, and came away with my arms heavy with local products.

I made a quick stop at Bulk Barn and then headed home. I happily realized that I did not need to go to the grocery store this week. I had everything I needed.

my Farmer's Market food
my Farmer’s Market food