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!

I want to ride my (used) bicycle (Day 183)…

August 30, 2007


After selling my car and going on this cycling trip, I’ve officially rekindled my love of bikes and decided it was time to get a second one. Quentin is great for running errands around the city, especially now that he’s got a basket, and his mosaic of stickers help spread the green love. But I wanted a proper road bike for when I go on longer trips.

Over the weekend, I happened to be at a bike store in Toronto called Sweet Pete’s — the owner, Pete, did the Friends for Life Bike Rally (Toronto to Montreal) with Meghan and me a few years ago. He wasn’t there, but this other guy was, so I asked if he could suggest any places in the city where I might find a decent used bike — better to take the eco-friendly route and buy used sports equipment rather than brand new stuff, I figured.

“Well, actually,” he said, “I’d highly recommend NOT getting a used bike.” He then began to list off various reasons why this was a bad idea, from financial issues to potential safety problems, and added that there were plenty of new bikes for around $800 that would be way better.

“Uh huh,” I replied patiently. “OK … Mm hmm, I see what you’re saying. Right, I definitely won’t get a used bike.” So I paid for my patch kit and spare tubes and rode back home, whereupon I immediately logged onto Craigslist, found a listing for a vintage yellow Peugeot and arranged to meet Alex at the top of a parking garage in Kensington Market.

Well, Alex turned out to be a girl — albeit a girl with a mustache, greasy bike hands and a rose tattoo on her left earlobe (so, basically, she rocked). She pointed out the bike’s strengths (new tires, tubes, great frame, good seat and handlebars) as well as its weaknesses (a bashed-up derailer, sticky back brake, some rust spots), and then offered it to me for $80.


Because it’s French, and I’m Canadian, I decided a French-Canadian name was only appropriate and so christened it Deni (that’s pronounced de-NEE for all you Americans), introduced it to Quentin and brought it home. And now Pete, who’s back from Denmark, has agreed to take a look and see what he fix. So with that, as of today, I’ll only be buying used sports equipment.

Spicing it up, in bulk (Day 165)…

August 12, 2007


There’s nothing that quite warms the soul like a kick-ass organic paneer kofta or a free-range chicken tikka masala. But as anyone who’s ever attempted to cook homemade Indian food knows, there are usually at least 15 different spices in the ingredients list, and once you start running out of all the garam masala and dried fenugreek, it can mean a lot more plastic every time something’s replenished.

But as Carrie so brilliantly pointed out last month, a good eco-friendly option is to head to a marketplace or bazaar where they sell spices in bulk (luckily for me, Toronto has a Little India). Not only will these probably be of higher quality but it also means you can bring your own container to refill, and you’ll definitely get more for your money.

So as of today, I’m walking right past the spice aisle in the grocery store and taking my own containers to the House of Spices just up the street.

Photo of spices in a Chamonix marketplace by Gavin Bell at Flickr

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.

I’m a fan of fans (Day 155)…

August 2, 2007


Today, in Toronto, it was 38 degrees, one of those days when it feels like you’re working up a sweat just by breathing. Without air-conditioning, it was pretty stifling in my apartment, and Sophie was none too pleased either — this was demonstrated by her shedding everywhere, then eating the clumps of fur later as though they’d turned into food, which meant she’d be coughing up hairballs everywhere. Then she decided to pee on the living room rug, poop on the bed and save a little extra where that came from for the doormat. Ah, the companionship of pets.

The thing is, Canadians are very reluctant to complain about hot weather because we spend so much of the year whining about the cold and snow. Indeed, if it were sunny and hot like this all year round, I really wouldn’t kick up much of a fuss. In the mean time, however, I need to find a way to beat the heat, and when I was in Madrid, I noticed most women carried around these beautiful paper fans. You could buy them on practically every street corner for just €2 (is that a Euro sign? Did I press the right key?), so I got one and brought it back home with me.

Now, I know it’s not made from recycled paper and it may or may not come from China, but there weren’t really many other options other than making my own, and I’m just not that crafty.

And while using a hand-held fan in itself isn’t much of a green change, the fact that I’m no longer going to use my electric fan is.

Photo courtesy of this artsy fartsy site

Home on the free-range (Day 141)…

July 19, 2007


Of all the ethical food descriptors on the market — organic, natural, hormone-free, grain-fed, etc — the term “free-range” is probably the sketchiest. As readers of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma know, it can often mean nothing but a tiny door in a crammed shed that allows chickens access to the outdoors, and barely any of them ever use it because the food is only offered inside. On top of this, the term in the U.S. is regulated for chickens but not eggs, and in Canada it isn’t regulated at all. Then there’s the question of whether or not there’s a difference between free-range and free-run, and, well, it gets complicated.

To the farmers’ credit, it’s not exactly easy to raise hens and chickens. They poop everywhere and it isn’t very good for the soil, plus they smell pretty bad and kick up a lot of dust. But there’s no excuse for keeping birds in tiny cages and injecting them with antibiotic cocktails, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, as PETA is quick to point out, about 98% of Canada’s 26 million egg-laying hens are kept in battery cages, and even some of the ones raised with alternative methods still kill off the male chicks at birth and send the others to slaughter after two years despite the normal aviary lifespan of about 10 to 12 years.

So from now on, I’m not only going to restrict myself to free-range eggs but make sure that if I actually buy a whole carton I know which farm they come from and have done some further research to ensure they aren’t twisting the term “free-range” into some misleading euphemism. For example, the Karma Food Coop, about a 10-minute bike ride away from me in Toronto, announced in March that they were no longer stocking Rowe’s organic eggs because they were found to be cage-raised. Now, they’re selling Green Valley free-range eggs instead, and as long as I know a grocer is keeping tabs on its suppliers like this, I’ll raise a toast — with some ethical frittata — to them.

Image by Satoshi Oka, originally on this website

That mint on my pillow had better be fair-trade certified! (Day 134)…

July 12, 2007

alt hotel

There’s a bit of Eloise in me — I love hotels. Well, actually, I love really swanky hotels. At the risk of sounding like the most over-privileged snob this side of Paris Hilton (OK, too late), the truth is that when I’m stuck in a drab, cookie-cutter hotel room with fluorescent lights, a colour scheme involving a lot of muted coral and puce and a token piece of crappy art on the otherwise sparse walls, I start to panic. In fact, I’d rather be in a grungy one-star hostel on the wrong side of the tracks because then at least it’s not trying to be anything but a grungy one-star hostel on the wrong side of the tracks. There’s something about the middle-of-the-road aesthetic that just freaks me out.

On the other hand, I’d be more than ready to spend the rest of my days at a boutique hotel like Le Germain or, better yet, any of the Aman resorts.

But not all the posh digs are so green. A lot of them change towels and bedsheets daily whether or not you’re the only one staying in the room, they keep lights on everywhere at all hours, and, well, you just have to read about Lori’s hellish experience to know what I’m talking about.

So from now on, I’m going to make sure that I only stay at eco-friendly hotels. One in Montreal that I’m super-excited about is ALT, which is currently undergoing the final stages of construction. It’s owned by the wonderful people behind the Germain name and was written about on TreeHugger here.

I spoke to one of the owners a little while ago for a potential story, and he explained that it was less about capitalizing on the green trend than it was about good business sense — in the end, by cutting back on water and energy bills, using sustainable, long-lasting materials and maintaining a no-frills attitude, they can not only save money themselves but keep the room rates low, too.

And if any of you Thistle readers come visit me in Toronto, I highly recommend the Fairmont Royal York, a posh hotel that’s been green since the ’80s. A few months ago, I went to a wine-tasting at their restaurant, and the publicist offered to take me into the kitchen so I could see the slop bucket “in action” — basically, all the food waste gets tossed onto this conveyor belt and winds up in a huge pail, which then goes to Turtle Island Recycling. They also have a green roof with an herb garden (you can get a complimentary tour), offer their employees subsidized transit passes and have just installed a new and improved bike rack for guests.