Monday, March 29, 2010

New Initiatives in the Air: Young Urban Farmers-Community Shared Agriculture

 March 28 marked the groundbreaking event for the Young Urban Farmer's CSA project. Before I go any further I will define my terms and explain what exactly is a "CSA" and what exactly is a "Young Urban Farmer"

Ahem..I hope I have this right..

Young Urban Farmers is a small business started by Torontonion and fellow young person Christopher Wong.  YUF promotes food sustainability by returning ownership over your food in the simplest way imaginable; by planting the food in your own backyard!  Chris has set up a system compatible with all of that unused space in most people's backyard and offers a chance to engage with their space by setting up and maintaining family sized organic vegetable gardens.

Somewhere along the way Chris met Elaine Howarth and they discussed the idea of starting an Urban CSA.   first of its kind in Toronto.  !!

CSA stands for Community Shared Agriculture.  Traditionally CSAs have been set up so that eaters (usually a family) buys a share for a certain amount of money from a rural farm and in return receives a box of fresh produce every week spanning the entire growing season (approximately form June-October).  This has been a popular way for farmers to guarantee a certain amount of revenue for their growing season and build relationships directly with their consumers by bypassing food distributors.

The Idea of an Urban CSA borrows the concept of Pre-bought shares of their "farm" in return for a box of fresh produce every week.  However instead of the food being grown on a rural farm, the food is being grown right in the city!  In this case the food is being grown the backyards of homeowners who have graciously donated this space.  So the outcome is that Elaine and Chris and their army of volunteers   (that's us!) will set up meticulously calculated organic vegetable gardens in about 8 donated backyards across Toronto.  It is the hope that enough people will buy a share ( I believe its about $300 for the entire growing season) that this initiative will be a wild success!

There are several reasons that Toronto is ready for this initiative:
1. Local and Organic Food are in high demand and are often inaccessible.  Promoting Urban Agriculture directly links the need for good food with the possibility to get it in our back yards (and if we don't have out own backyard we can connect with organizations like YIMBY (Yes In My BackYArd) or the Toronto Community Garden Network)
2. Some of the most fertile land in Canada is right underneath my very house-- and yours!
3. As was very evident at the Youth Food Systems Fair I spoke about in the previous entry--there is a growing group of young people who are enthusiastic and ready to change the way our Food systems currently are. 
4.  The first step is the hardest! With the YUF-CSA getting off the ground, this idea will spread like wild fire--inspiring more and more people to see how possible it is to grow their own food !

so now that I have hopefully illustrated a clearer picture of this New Initiative I will hopefully be back with some pictures and details on more of the beginnings of this awesome project.

Yesterday I joined 6 other enthusiastic gardeners and spent 5 or so hours turning one family's boring backyard into a ready to plant urban farm.  We pulled up all the sod, built a composter, SERIOUSLY aerated the land and double-dug our way to producing 4/14 planting beds.

With an aching back and some serious battle bruises I look forward to ho-ing away at the rest of the lawns that make up YUF's Urban Farm!

New Initiatives in the air: Youth Food Systems Fair

This past week has been really exciting for the Foodie community in Toronto.  As the ground begins to thaw the initiatives that busy passionate-young people have been working on all winter are thawing as well.  I would like to share several things that inspired me this week with the hope that they can inspired you.

On March 25th The Toronto Youth Food Policy Council partnered with Lauren Baker' s University of Toronto Food Security Class to put on the "Youth Food Systems Fair".  Thanks to the brilliant work of my favorite Wisconsinite Tracy Phillippi and the other committed members of the the TYFPC close to 300 young people came together to listen, learn and mingle.  Bordering the room were the artistic final projects of 30 or so U of T students who had gone out into the Foodie community and worked closely with various Local organization.  In the Middle of the room were maybe 20 local community groups committed to Social Justice Issues surrounding food in a career fair format.  Except instead of the traditional format of larger corporations sending out pawns to talk up their company and recruit file clerks and  mail-room-Representatives--those tabeling the event were founders and organizers, movers and shakers.  They were all full of energy and open to telling you about their mission and reaching out to all of those interested.  The powerful positive energy potentially connected 300 new young people to these organizations--some new and some older, but all with so much room to grow.  The event was Catered by my Group The Hot Yam! making sure to reinforce ideas of growth and connectivity with nutritious vegan curried lentil and squash wraps followed by chocolate cake (yum!).  For me the fair felt great because I got to see the hard work of my friends and colleges as organizers of the event pay off.  It is amazing what you can accomplish with motivation, inspiration and excellent time management.  It is easy to become discouraged and frustrated when you are working towards "the greater good"and it is easy to lose sight of the network of people and groups that are there in partnership and support.  It is events like these--that devote 4 hours on a Thursday night-- that connect the ever expanding community and prove to all those involved that their work is valued and supported while inspiring new people to challenge themselves and start even more amazing projects.

College Street Cooks take on F.O.S.

The College Street Cooks struck again earlier this month in a cheesy montage of garlic infused foods  stuffed in deep sour dough bread bowls.  The hosts of this little cooking party were Hannah Lewis, Tracy Phillippi and Spud the kitty cat- who hosted myself and Kate Jefferey in their lovely home.  Tracy Represented her Wisconsin Onion Farming roots by whipping up a surprisingly simple and delicious version of the age-old classic French Onion Soup served in a Sourdough Bread bowl. While Hannah contributed one of her favorite mixed veggie recipes!  All I have are some pictures below provided by Tracy and the Promise of the Recipes to come. 

 Kale.Peas.Sweet Potato Medley and F.O.S.


-see you next month!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Never let a good Parsnip go to waste: Pretty Parsnip Carrot Soup

Part of shopping on a budget--especially when trying to buy foods that are local and organic (eeek! so expensive) Is looking around the shop and seeing the state of things.  By this I mean that when I go to my local organic produce shop (That is Kensington's Essence of Life Organics) I follow a specific routine.  First I examine the parameter--I look and see what they have, where it is from and what the cheapest options are. My favorite place to start is usually a small bin over on the right where there is a usaully a small pile of "over ripe" produce that is often Very local, Very organic and compared to most other things VERY cheap.  Sometimes you find ancient ginger, half rotted exotic fruits and the such--This is where I usually find either my immediate snack of the day or my week's soup.  After this little adventure I then consider where I should be frugal and where I should splurge.  I usually am very happy to choose the cheapest options of potatoes, onions and some kind of leafy green and then continue to negotiate and over analyze all other prospective produce.

Last week I struck pure gold when I found three nicely sized organic Ontario parsnips mixed with a few bright orange carrots.  I looked past their pruned skin and bruised bodies and saw my dinner for that evening (and lunch the next day...and the next...and the next).

I put together one of my wintertime favorites:

Pretty Parsnip/Carrot Soup
- 4 cups of washed and chopped Carrots
- 2 cups of washed and chopped Parsnips 
- 1 yellow cooking onion 
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes 
- 2 tsp sage
- 1 tsp thyme
- pinch of salt
- 2 pinches of black pepper
- 1 tsp paprika 
- 6-8 cups of Veggie Stock (in this case I used some frozen Veggie Stock made here)
- 2-4 tbsp butter

Suuuuuuuuper Soup:
1. Chop Carrots and Parsnips into little bite sized cubes--as shown from a birds eye view in the photo--they cook much faster this way!
2. On a Medium Heat in a Pot that can hold at least 8 cups of water,--Saute the onion and garlic in half of the butter.  Once the onions are soft add the carrots and parsnips and the rest of the butter.  Mix well so that the veggies are nicely coated with the butter/onion/garlic mixture and allow to SWEAT it out for several minutes.  Make sure to keep and eye and mix well so that the bottom does not burn.
3. add the spices--use more or less of your favorite ones--I find sage and the chili flakes to be the most important ones! (well..and the salt)  Allow the spices to mix well with the veggies.
4. Add the stock and turn heat to high to reach a boil
5. Allow the soup to boil for a minute or two and then reduce to simmer for at least 45 minutes.  At this time taste and add more salt or pepper if neccesary
6. If you have an Immersion blender then this is a good time to blend the soup...if not you may want to wait until it is cool so that you don't burn yourself...however I am often impatient and gamble with the whole burning situation...

And Wallah! a nice thick tasty soup! 

Moosh's Sweet and Crunchy Couscous and Kale Catastrophe

Even though it has been a little while since I've last posted, that doesn't mean that I have not been cooking away!  Lately I have been experimenting with Couscous which is a lovely grain that is high in fiber and mighty filling.  After several test runs with varying kinds of veggies and dried fruit I have decided on a very basic recipe that has tons of texture, nutrients and flavor.


Sweet and Crunchy Couscous and Kale Catastrophe
This Recipe calls for:

- 1-2 cups of chopped kale
- 1-2 cups of chopped crimini mushrooms
- 1/2 yellow cooking onion
- 1/4 cup of sliced almonds
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1/3 cup of whole wheat organic couscous
- a handful or two of raisins or craisins
- 1-3 tbs Olive Oil
- a splash Red wine or Balsamic vinaigrette
- 1 Cup of water

1. In a Frying Pan with Burner on Medium, heat up a splash of olive oil. when heated slightly toast the almonds for 1-2 minutes.
2.  Add garlic, onions and allow to cook until tender for 1-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and a splash or either red wine or Balsamic vinaigrette.  Allow for all the liquid to dissolve--this should happen rather quickly. Next add the finely chopped Kale and allow to cook for another couple minutes. Turn on the heat and remove from element.
3. In a Medium-Large Pot add the couscous, water, raisins, and the stir fry and allow the water to reach a boil.  As soon as it reaches a boil turn the heat off and cover.  Allow couscous to sit for 5 minutes.  Remove the Lid and fluff with a fork.

I found this dish to be good both warm and at room temperature.  It is an easy dish to put in Tupperware and take for lunch since it is super filling!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Moosh's Crispy Veggies

Inspired by the fake fish sticks I decided to experiment with other ways to batter and bake my foods.  Looking around my kitchen the ingredients I used were:
- 3 cups of washed and trimmed string beans
- 1/2 eggplant cut into thinly sliced half moon shapes (left over from the Perfect Pizza)

- 2 tbl Tamari
- 1tbl Rice vinegar
-2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tsp sesame oil

-1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4-1/3 cup of water (You want your batter to be somewhat thick--but not too thick, slowly add the water to reach an  easily coat-able consistency--if you add too much water just add extra flour to compensate)

- 1/4 cup of whole wheat bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup of rolled oats
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1tsp cayenne pepper (add more if you like things SPICY...i do not)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper

1. Mix the ingredients for the Marinate and then add to a bowl with the washed and cut veggies.

2. Preheat the oven to 350
3. After the veggies have marinating for as little as 30 minutes and as much as all day (if it is longer than an hour please refrigerate!!)  Set up your little station which will be placing a bowl with the batter next to the bowl with the breading next to the GREASED cookie sheet.

4. Coat each Veggie with the batter and then coat with the breading and then place the double coated veggie on the cookie sheet.

5. Repeat until you have done them all.  If you run out of either the batter or the breading--just add more ingredients.  
6. Make sure that the veggies each have their own room on the cookie sheet so they are not touching.

7. Place in oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes--until they are crispy...check on them and so see if they need any more time.
8. Allow to cool and enjoy!

I enjoyed my crispy veggies with some sauteed veggies and pasta.  They would also be really good as an appetizer or a party food with a dip.

Seedy Saturday (on a Sunday!) and Moosh Rolls

A large component of Food security is access to seeds.  Seeds are the start point of all food and the practice of seed saving is as older then agriculture I'm sure.   It may sound like a silly thing to be insecure--can't you just save seeds from last years plants?  The answer in many scenarios is a big sobering "NO". 

For probably the majority of Farmers in the world--especially in The United States (As my knowledge on the subject is limited) Seeds are something that have become engineered, patented and owned by major corporations.  That means that the seeds, the type of plant that grows from the seeds and the right to use/sell/save the seed is the now owned by companies and protected under heavy patents that allow these companies to sue/hassle/bully and make huge profits off of those that come into contact with their seeds.  So there are rules against farmers who use these "owned" seeds from saving them for next year or altering them, so that they are forced to purchase a whole new batch every year.  In fact! many of these seeds are genetically modified to provide only one year of growth and do not produce any reusable seeds form the harvest.    and thanks to things like wind, run off, rainfall and plain old mingling nature of NATURE--these patented seeds get mixed up everywhere--in all crops, and result in these large companies having legal rights to the places that they sprout up (which is everywhere!).

Sadly the ownership of seeds has resulted in large corporations having ownership over our an alarming way!  It makes me wonder how they are changing the very DNA of our food and how these changes are affecting our minds, bodies and souls (not to mention our freedom).  

With all of this in mind, I was thrilled to attend an event called "Seedy Saturday" which was held on February 21 this year (falling on a Sunday).  This event is one of many ways growers can take back ownership over their seeds and their food on personal levels.  Being one of hundreds people to attend (maybe was packed all day!) I was able to mingle with Toronto's inspiring organizations that are all gearing up for a fruitful spring.  There are so many exciting things going on this spring/summer.  Groups like the Young Urban Farmers who set up home vegetable gardens so that urbanites can produce their own food and connect with the process.   Or the Toronto Community Garden Network that offers support to those existing community gardens and potential for countless new ones.  

The event was full of useful FREE information, enough to inspire anyone to get digging.  I walked away with a whole bunch of seeds--herbs and sprouts and tomatoes... that I plan to get going as soon as we get through our last frost.  As well i walked away feeling excited for my own Community Garden that is currently being negotiated.  There will certainly more to report on my initiative to start a garden in my neighborhood as the process of finding land and people continues! 

After the event I didn't have too much time to prepare food for work so I made some salad rolls out of some Salad I already had Prepared.  i suppose these are Moosh I didn't follow any recipe and only tried to follow directions. 

- Chopped and washed lettuce/lettuce mix
- 1 Yam
- 3 tsp brown sugar
- 1/4 red onion
- chopped walnuts
- 1 tomato chopped up nice and small
- Rice paper (sold at most grocery stores..I got mine at a Korean Market on the corner of  Bloor and Manning for $1.50)

1. Preheat oven 400
2. Chop up yam into tiny cubed pieces 
3. Put on cookie sheet and sprinkle with brown sugar, chopped walk nuts and 1/4 cup of water
4. Roast together for 20-30 minutes--Check to make sure the yams do not get mushy!
5. take out and allow to cool
6. Wash and chop salad mix or head of lettuce
7. Chop and add tomato and onion and any other ingredient that you like in your salad
8. Follow the directions that come with your rice paper (you wet them for a certain amount of time until they are malleable) 
9. Add about a tablespoon of your salad in the middle of the rice paper. Fold in the short ends and then roll length wise.
10. Set aside to dry and them repeat.

Putting your salad into little rolls allows you to make your food portable--no fork and container required!