Hooray for CSA! (Day 198)…

September 14, 2007

bean rows

When I paid a visit to Sunbow Farm last month in Oregon, I learned the real importance of maintaining an organic diet — especially when it comes to squash! (That’s our group in the photo above, by the way, after weeding two rows of Harry’s organic beans)

But when it comes to lessening one’s ecological footprint, it’s usually more important to eat locally than organically. So while I’ve been careful to ensure that all my meat, dairy, eggs and tubers are 100% certified, I’m a little more slack with the rest of my food, so long as it comes from within Canada or the U.S.

(On a related note: I had a dream last night in which I was shopping and found a banana from Florida! I was so excited to put it on my cereal in the morning … then I woke up. No banana.)

I’ll usually head to a farmer’s market on the weekend, and if I’m at a bigger grocery store, I’ll always check the “product of” labels to make sure I’m not eating anything that’s been flown in from Chile or New Zealand.

Now, as I’ve been told by my American readers, there’s a solid trend in the States of community supported agriculture, otherwise known as a CSA. If you belong to one of these groups, you can get locally grown food delivered to your door each week, straight from the farm. I’d been looking for a while for something like this in Toronto to no avail, until I finally lucked out, finding not one, but two of them!

The first was the adorable sounding Chick-a-Biddy Acres. The second was Green Earth Organics. I was originally going to sign up with Chick-a-Biddy because the website was just so darn cute and it was a more official CSA. But then I couldn’t quite figure out when their deliveries would start and exactly how much I’d get. The site for Green Earth was a bit of a navigation nightmare, but in a way that was sort of endearing — I mean, real hippies shouldn’t even know what HTML is, right? (Kidding)

Either way, they sold me on the fact that their food baskets were both organic and local (I checked up on just how local, and it seems at least 80% comes from Ontario, the rest usually from B.C.), and on top of that, 10% of their profits go to various charities around the city.

So I’ve signed up, and am expecting my first delivery this afternoon. If it’s too much food, I can always scale back the number of deliveries, or just share it with friends. And I’ll of course make sure to post a photo of my vegetable cornucopia when it arrives!


Preserving my local diet (Day 182)…

August 29, 2007


It’s easy sticking to a local diet now that it’s summer and farmers markets are in full swing, but I know that all these juicy peaches, plums and berries won’t be around come January — they’ll be around in South America, yes, but because I’m restricted to Canada and the U.S. in everything I eat, I thought I’d take a couple hours to make some preserves.

Despite my penchant for all foods Indian, I’m not a big chutney fan, nor do I like the taste of pickled anything, so I’m limiting myself to jams. But wow — and please, excuse the lack of humility here — it just so happens, my jams rock! Of course I can’t take full credit: Miss Crunchy gave me the inspiration with her recipe for Cognac Vanilla Peach Jam, which is basically what I made, just without the booze (I couldn’t find organic cognac and wasn’t sure how my few teetotalling friends would feel about it).

Now, I must admit, I prematurely scrunched my face in panic upon reading through Crunchy’s ingredients list, especially when I came across the word pectin. Pectin? What the heck was that? Sure didn’t sound very natural or green to me … but actually, it is. So once I got over that mental hurdle, I picked up all the other necessities and went about blanching (another term that freaked the bejeebus out of me) my fruit. About halfway through the recipe, I basically started guessing everything, boiling and stirring the globby mixture until it looked like it wouldn’t kill me or make me barf if I ate some of it with a piece of toast.

As I poured it into the sterilized jars (again, my sterilization technique would surely flunk me right out of any medical school), I thought, “All right, it’s OK, it’ll taste like crap, but that’s fine, that’s what experimental cooking is all about.” But then I let it set overnight and tried a tentative spoonful of it the next morning on a rice cake with some almond butter and it actually tasted great! The vanilla beans made a huge difference and the tartness really came through, unlike so many of the over-sweetened commercial brands on the market.

In the end, my Peach, Yellow Plum and Vanilla Bean jam was almost entirely organic, local and stored in reusable mason jars. So as of today, I’ll be preserving whatever I can if it means less time in an 18-wheeler to get here come winter.

Jewellery with a conscience (Day 158)…

August 5, 2007

pennib earrings

Waaaay back in March, I wrote a short little post about some eco-friendy jewellery I found that — gasp! — was actually stylish and — double gasp! — not made with recycled hemp (apologies to all the hardcore hippies out there but I just flat-out refuse to wear one of these).

It’s made by a woman named Reena Kazmann who sells her designs at Eco-Artware.com — personally, I love the typewriter key earrings, pen nib and transit token cufflinks and circuit board luggage tags.

There are other companies out there, like Moonrise or Swift, who offer similarly green options when it comes to jewellery, and here in Toronto I can usually find some good stuff at the One of a Kind Show.

But it’s not always easy, and I’ve always had a weakness for those $5 necklaces at H&M and fake gold hoop earrings at Le Château. Plus, every time I walk into Banana Republic, it’s guaranteed that there will be at least five things I desperately want in the display case.

Alas, the next time I want to accessorize a new outfit, it’ll have to be done with rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings from an eco-friendly, fair-trade and preferably local designer.

Getting my hands dirty (Day 149)…

July 27, 2007


I can sign all the petitions in the world, write letters to China every day and cover my bicycle in activist stickers, but I can’t really call myself a tree-hugger until I’ve literally hugged a tree — or at least planted one.

So I’m going to get my hands dirty and start volunteering with an organization like Evergreen, which specializes in community gardening initiatives and urban tree-planting. I’ve fired off an email to my local representative and hopefully will be digging up holes in the Don Valley and filling them with baby seedlings as soon as possible.

There are also groups like LEAF and Plant a Row/Grow a Row — I found out about this through a woman I Freecycled with — as well as the Toronto Environmental Volunteers, which I’ve applied to join too, so we’ll see what happens. Maybe by the end of this challenge my thumbs will finally have started to turn a little green.

A dairy-tale ending (Day 142)…

July 20, 2007

love me moo

Now that I’ve pledged to only eat happy meat and free-range eggs, my final installment in the Ethical Eating Trilogy of this challenge will be to limit myself to organic and if possible rennet-free dairy products.

“Rennewhat?” you say. “Don’t tell me there’s another ingredient I’m supposed to be worrying about!”

Unfortunately, there is, unless you’re one of those people who eat veal and can still sleep at night with tortured baby calves on your conscience (in which case, you know what, just leave. Seriously — just go, because this really isn’t going to work out).

While I know approximately nothing about cheese-making other than the fact that it involves words like whey, bacteria and curd, a Wikipedia entry provides this run-down on what exactly rennet is, which in turn explains why a lot of organic cheeses come with the tagline “rennet-free”.

Milk products in general have been getting a bad rap lately, and folks like Meghan will be happy to go on about how we’re not really meant to digest milk in the first place and it’s full of udder pus and our digestive tracts don’t like it and so on. But because I’m Caucasian and my lactase enzyme is in perfect working order, and because if I don’t consume any dairy my body starts telling me to with specific cravings for cheese, ice cream and yogurt, and finally because I believe in the practice of dairy farms, I’m going to continue eating these things (there’s a cute lactose tolerance campaign going on right now with a very funny video, and I’d endorse it wholeheartedly if it weren’t being run by Nesquik).

After browsing around the Dairy Farmers of Ontario website, pretending I was a farmer and looking up all their safety regulations — I had no idea there was such a thing as teat dip, or for that matter teat-dipping cups — I’m reassured that most local, small-scale dairy farms are bovine and human-friendly. But it’s not as though one single farm produces all the milk that ends up in a carton of Sealtest or Beatrice.

The safest, most ethical way to go here, I think, is to make sure all the dairy products I consume are organic, unless I can verify that it comes directly and solely from a good local farm.

Photo above from my personal collection — “Love me tender, love me moo” by Bill Weedmark. The cows are from a farm in Napanee, ON (yes, the birthplace of Avril Lavigne).

From record album to photo album (Day 121)…

June 29, 2007

photo album

After months of searching for an eco-friendly photo album and coming up with nothing but plastic-coated this and ugly papier-mâché that, I couldn’t believe my luck when I stumbled upon Re-cover, a company based out of Halifax, N.S., that takes old record albums — with the record still in the sleeve — and spirals them together with recycled paper to make photo albums and journals. Every one is unique; I chose the one above ’cause The Supremes are cool:

Re-cover also makes journals and notebooks made from similar materials, and all of them are geared towards different types of consumers, so whether you want a sexy address book or a cutesy photo album, chances are they’ll have it.

I’ve already started cutting and pasting all my 4 x 6 memories into my Supremes album, and they look great. While there’s authentic vinyl in the cover, there are no vinyl overlays, so I can write little notes around each picture. At $30, it’s a little pricey, but considering I’m not only helping the environment but adding to my record collection, I think it’s a steal.

Fall of the Amazon Woman (Day 81)…

May 20, 2007


I love Amazon. I love being tricked by technology into thinking I’m special with their cutesy greeting: “Welcome back, Vanessa! We have recommendations for you.” I love that I can get books here for almost half the cover price, and I love seeing just how little I can spend over the $39 mark to qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping. I love pre-ordering stuff, which makes me feel like I’m ahead of all the other literary plebes, and I love ripping open my package when it comes in the mail. So, Amazon marketing team, mission accomplished — pat yourselves on the back. Hard. I’ve succumbed to all of it.

Until now! Obviously, buying books online like this creates pollution from shipping trucks and/or planes, not to mention the packaging and paper required to make the books in the first place. So I’m logging off all online bookstores for the next 283 days.

I’m also abstaining from purchasing anything from the big chain bookstores, and while I will try not to buy as many books — because there are tons on my shelf I still haven’t read yet — I believe in supporting local, independent stores. So if I desperately need the latest Atwood, Franzen or Pollan, I’ll walk next-door to Type or down the street to Pages.