The Weather’s Got Me Down; A New Job Has Me Looking Up

July 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm (Gardening, goings-on, Other, permaculture, Vancouver) (, , , , )

Vancouver is notorious for its wet weather, but by this time of year I’m usually so enthralled by the stunning beauty of clear summer skies, I forget all about the gray time of year and think there could be no finer place on the planet.  Well, not this year…

I thought last year’s cool, wet spring leading to a late start to a short summer was a bummer, but this year has been even worse, especially for my garden.  I have had to reseed many things that are usually very easy to grow–lettuces, arugula, brassicas, radishes even!  I mulched too early, causing an explosion in the number of slugs in the garden and they’ve decimated everything.  On top of that, I’ve lost tray after tray of indoor starts when I put them into the greenhouse to harden off and apparently rats from the junkyard next door found them.  I’m not surprised they ate the nutritious broccoli and collard starts, but they helped themselves to Ellie’s wildflowers too!

On the bright side, the garlic is going strong; we’re eating the scapes now.  The strawberries are producing prolifically; unfortunately, the lack of sun has resulted in quite tart fruit.  At least when it comes to raspberries and tayberries, tartness isn’t a bad thing and these are now starting to bear fruit as well.  I got my corn transplants in the ground much later than I wanted; now I’m concerned that the heat of summer won’t last long enough for the corn to mature.  The pole beans, which ought to be really straightforward to grow, are getting off to a really slow start due to slug damage.  I have, since realizing the problem, removed the straw mulch from the newly planted areas, but it hasn’t seemed to help much.  Likewise, beer bait traps haven’t curbed the onslaught.  I just keep hoping for sun and warmth (show me some global warming!) and checking the long-range forecast.  Sun always seems to be a few days away, but it doesn’t materialize and I’m starting to lose faith in meteorology.  Weather like this has me wishing for a heat wave like they’re having in Atlanta right now.  Ahhh… What I wouldn’t give to bask in 100-degree heat!

I’d like to think the pitiful state of my home garden is just an indication that I’m spending too much time in other gardens, all of which have been way more successful.  Last weekend we wrapped up the Landed Learning year at UBC Farm with a volunteer appreciation dinner and I said goodbye to the beautiful plot my kids had tended all spring.  Every time I’m at the Mt. Pleasant Family Centre, I stop in to see the community garden plot I helped start there, and it’s growing beautifully as well.  Even the garden plots at the Charles Dickens Annex Children’s Garden, to which we added almost no compost and can hardly stay on top of the weeding that needs to be done, are off to a great, albeit late, start.  There, the lettuces and radishes were well timed for me to harvest a huge bowl of salad for the kindergarten kids to share (since they’re the ones that planted it) with their friends and teachers on the last day of school.

The only high point for me this early in the summer has been the start of my new job at the Vancouver Homesteader’s Emporium.  The store hasn’t opened yet, but we made an appearance at the Main Street Car Free Festival to let people know what we’re all about and that we’ll be opening soon.  Basically, we’re a store specializing in all manner of urban homesteading materials–from everything you need to keep bees and chickens in the city to any supplies you need for canning, fermenting, baking, and making your own cheese and soaps.  And, don’t worry if you don’t know how to do all those things yet; we’ll be offering workshops to get you started!  I’m super excited about the opening of the store because it’s a chance for me to learn more as well as share what I already know.  Also, it’s great to be involved in the store from the beginning.  I went in on Friday to help unpack inventory and clean up the construction mess.  The space is looking awesome and I see so much potential for this store as a viable, profitable business!  We’re located at 649 E. Hastings St. in Vancouver, right across from Dan’s Homebrewing Supply store, so come check us out.  We’re aiming for an auspicious opening date of Friday, July 13th.

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Maw-Maw On My Mind: A Garden Update

April 8, 2012 at 5:07 am (Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , , , , )

Despite the news of the impending sale of our house to a commercial property development company, the glorious springtime weather has us out in the garden almost daily.  In the last few days, I have added aged manure to the garden beds and greenhouse.  Every bed has received a nice layer of straw to protect from spring rains and drying winds.  The apple trees, blueberries, and strawberries (all in containers so they can go with us when we have to move) were top-dressed with manure.

An afternoon of sun showers and hail storms followed a morning of potato planting.

The night before last, I noticed a full moon, big and low in the sky.  I wanted to get potatoes in the ground to test Maw-Maw’s theory about planting root crops with the waning moon.  For above-ground crops, Maw-Maw only plants when the moon is in the sign of Cancer.  She says that’s what her father used to do.  He wouldn’t have called himself a biodynamic farmer or anything so new-agey; he was the heir to a long tradition of farming and he knew when to plant by simply looking at the stars in the night sky.

Without knowing the word, I bet my great-grandfather would’ve grasped the concept of hugelkultur.  My hugel bed is coming along nicely now.  So far, I’ve transplanted the lupins I started inside to the hugel bed, as well as some oregano and thyme.  On one side I sowed quinoa and the millet seeds I saved last year, in hopes that these grass-like plants will grow quickly and spread their roots to hold the mound in place.  Later, I’ll plant some sprawling tomatoes on the mound, which will benefit from the warmth reflected off the garage wall.

An old baby gate will serve as a trellis for the tayberry. The wire fencing, visible on the left, extends 8-10 ft. out of the picture and will provide support for shelling peas as well as a little privacy from the busy back lane.

Of course, the garden really begins in the basement, where last year we set up 4 ft. tube fluorescent lights for starting seeds on some built-in shelves.  The part of the basement where the seedlings live stays around 60 degrees F., which is fine for starting most seeds of flowers, herbs, lettuces, and brassicas (broccoli family).  But, heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant germinate best when the temperature is closer to 70 degrees.  In the past, I have germinated these types of seeds by precariously balancing their trays on the fluorescent light fixtures themselves to make use of any wasted heat.  This year, I have moved and rebuilt a shelving unit to make use of the heat given off by the gas furnace.

The exhaust pipe from the furnace blasts these shelves with wasted heat every time the heater comes on, keeping this area a few degrees warmer than the rest of the room.

Next up: starting seeds for all the heat-loving crops to be transplanted when it really warms up outside.  And, as if it isn’t enough for me to handle this whole garden by myself, I’ve gotten in touch with some other moms at my daughter’s school to form a garden committee to clean up and maintain the Children’s Garden.  Thursday, after spending the whole morning at UBC Farm helping with the kids in the Landed Learning project, I spent the afternoon pruning the severely overgrown apple trees at our school.  Ideally, it would’ve been done when the trees were dormant, so we’ll be losing some flowers this year, but it really needed to get done and I hope no one complains.  Maybe when we’re asked to leave this house and our beloved garden, the Children’s Garden could be the recipient of many plant donations by me…

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Just Sold…

April 7, 2012 at 3:49 am (Gardening, permaculture, Vancouver) (, , , )

My post about life in a dying house could not have been more timely.  Soon after writing that piece, in which I mused on the implications of Vancouver’s rapid gentrification and the supreme irony of practicing permaculture on a site slated for commercial redevelopment, I discovered that our property has been sold.

Did my landlord inform me of this?  No, I had to do some sleuthing to tease out the truth.  Some strange things had occurred recently that started to add up to a major tip-off.  First, a few months back, I saw from my kitchen window two men, looking very white-collar, stopped in the backlane; they seemed to be discussing and photographing something in my direction.  I went to get my shoes so I could run out and ask them what they were doing, but when I got outside, they were gone.  I told myself it was the condo building above that they were pointing out, because I didn’t want to think otherwise.

Not long after that, I saw a two-man survey team working in the back lane.  Once again, by the time I got back there, they were walking off around the corner of the far end of the block.  From back inside, I saw them get into a City of Vancouver Engineering Services van, so I told myself they couldn’t have anything to do with a private property deal.  I really wanted to ignore the red flags, because I love this house and I want to live in it as long as possible, even though I know (and have known since signing the lease) that our time here would be limited.

I got really suspicious when, for a third time, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a strange man walking through my garden.  When I asked what he was doing and if he was sent by the company that owns the house, he explained that he was from a third-party “environmental company” checking for a buried heating oil tank.  He was evasive about who sent him but, when pressed for information about the property development process, he indicated that oil tank removal is a prerequisite for obtaining financing.  I assumed this meant that the current owners intended to finally do something with the property.

The following day, I asked the neighbor if he knew what was going on, since our houses are both owned by the same company.  The neighbor said that one of his bums said they saw an ad for our two houses for sale on-line.  I immediately googled it and, sure enough, a realtor’s website came up with a photo of both houses under the banner “Just Sold!”  The price tag?  $1,700,000!

The current landlord says he was going to tell us as soon as the sale went through.  Now I realize the inspection required for financing was not being sought by the current owners for building, it was part of deal to sell the property altogether.  We’ve been told that, even if the new owners want to move right away to demolish and rebuild, it takes at least a year for permits to go through and plans to be approved by the city.  We’ll see what they say in May; that’s when the deal is supposed to close.

In the meantime, I’ll garden like there is a tomorrow.

I placed an order for manure and straw bales to be delivered just days before I discovered that our house was sold. No time to ponder the loss: I'm going to get the most out of this year's garden since it may be the last.

I added a healthy dose of composted manure to the garden beds and a layer of fresh straw to protect the soil surface from compacting and drying out. Already, I've sown seeds for salad greens, carrots, radishes, fennel, spinach, collards, and kale.

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Hugel What?

February 13, 2012 at 6:46 am (DIY, Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , )

Hugelkultur…as in raised garden beds built, mound-like, of bramble and soil.

I’m expanding the garden once again with the addition of a hugelkultur raised bed on the rear of our property.  The project was inspired by and decided upon within an hour of finishing reading Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, in which Holzer describes a method for establishing new and long-lasting garden beds by simply piling up raw materials and covering them over with soil.  Hugel is German for hill, or mound.

The inner-most ingredient in a Hugel bed is wood–branches and trimmings from the yard, old lumber if it isn’t treated or painted with lead, even entire fallen trees for a really long bed.  By design, the wood, as it decomposes in the center of the mound, should become like a sponge and hold a resevoir of water which plant roots can tap into and feed from.  The largest wood goes in the center, followed by smaller branches and brambles.  I didn’t happen to have any fallen trees at hand, just a sad Christmas tree the city kept missing on collection day and a fifty-year-old carpet that had sat outside in the rain for a year, molding and falling apart.  Into the Hugel bed they went.

Carpet and rotting wood form the foundation of the Hugelkultur garden addition.

The middle layer of the bed can be made of whatever organic materials are on hand… anything biodegradable, really.  I would put coarser materials on first, like straw and leaves; then finer, nutritive materials like manure and/or compost.  The latter will provide immediate fertility to initial plantings, while the longer break-down time of the former will ensure continued fertility and soil tilth.

Finally–and I’m not even to this step yet–the bed should be covered with topsoil and planted into immediately.  As plants get established and start growing, sending down their roots, the layers of the bed will be woven together so that the whole thing holds.  Mulching between plants will also help retain soil and water.  Alternately, you could sow the whole bed with a “green manure” cover crop like clover, vetch, or lupins which would hold the soil in place and fix nitrogen in preparation for planting a heavy-feeding crop like corn on the new hugel bed.

I think my new Holzer-inspired hugel bed will be planted with clover and lupins initially and, later, with sunflowers, peas, beans, squash, some heat-loving herbs, and the tayberry (which will be trained against the wall of the neighbor’s garage).  When completed, my hugel bed won’t be nearly as high as Holzer makes his, but with the addition of a trellis along its ridge for the vining plants to grow up, I think it will do double duty as a privacy screen blocking the view from the lane behind our property.  I’ll post more pics as it comes together over the next few weekends.

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How time flies…

November 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm (environment, food, Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Is it really November already?  Seems like just last week the tomato vines were laden with heavy ripe fruit and we were eating garden-fresh salads daily… oh, and it wasn’t raining every dang day!

Yes, November is one of the wettest months in Vancouver, so when the sun is out we have to make good use of it.  Already this month I’ve dug up two patches of the front lawn for new veggie garden beds.  One, the garlic bed, is about 15′ x 2′ and it’s up against the hedge row on the east side of the house where it will get good sun for much of the morning and mid-day hours.  After two beautifully sunny days of working on this project–removing all that grass, and digging in 3 very full 5-gallon buckets of compost into the top 10-12″ of soil–Day 3 saw rain, rain, and more rain.  Nevertheless, I trudged out to the yard in full rain gear to plant 54 of the largest cloves of garlic I could get my hands on.  I finished off with a layer several inches thick of decaying leaves collected from my own yard, my neighbor’s yard, and even the street.  About the garlic, some 20 cloves are a hardneck type called Music that I purchased from one of my favorite Farmer’s Market vendors–Brian from Sheffield Farm.  The rest are supermarket garlic–smaller, less pungent, but guaranteed to be organically-raised and as local as you can get.  I know, I know, 54 heads of garlic sounds like a lot, and maybe it is, but I’d rather have too much than too little.  It’s fun to share!

Besides, I was inspired to try growing enough for a whole year when I recently attended a workshop on the long-term storage of raw foods like squash, pumpkins, onions, garlic, potatoes, tubers and root vegetables.  The class focused on how to cure veggies for storage and how to decide where to store them so that they receive appropriate amounts of moisture, warmth, light or dark–just as you decide where to plant what in the outdoor garden based on the “micro-climate” of a given spot (how much sun it gets, how well-drained the soil is, or whether the spot is warm and protected from wind due to a nearby wall, for instance).  The workshop, taught by Robin Wheeler (whose book Food Security For the Faint of Heart I devoured in a matter of days and ultimately got her to autograph!) was a nice complement to my recent interest in other types of food preservation such as canning and drying.  This summer saw my first rough attempts at hot water bath canning.  I did some whole, peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce (from some beautiful Ambrosia and Gala apples obtained at the Farmer’s Market), huckleberry jam (a failure due to bad recipe calling for waaaaay too much sugar), blueberry-rhubarb jam (a winner), and spicy dill pickles.  I love the look of all those colorful jars up on the kitchen shelf and the feeling, not just of security and comfort knowing it’s all there waiting to be eaten, but of satisfaction and pride in having put it all by, all by myself:)

Oh yes, back to the garden work I’ve been up to… The other new bed that I created in the front yard is a large round area tucked up against the west side of the porch stairs, a perfect spot, some would say, for some lovely ornamentals and perhaps a colorful flower border.  But not me!  I transplanted my rhubarb crowns there and look forward to seeing their bright red stems and broad green leaves displayed next to the lilac bushes, tucked in with the perennials as if they belong there–and they do!

Since I’m renting, I’ve inherited a yard that is well-planted, but somewhat over-landscaped (for my tastes and purposes) in bushes, bulbs, and ornamentals.  My plan is not to commit to any major earth-works and not to invest too much time and effort in tearing stuff up and starting over, but to work with what I have, even if it means that I end up mixing veggie plants and berry bushes into the established perennial borders.  In fact, maybe the result will be all the better for being nice-looking as well as edible.  Edible landscapes are a recent phenomenon, you know… As an aside, I picked up a circa-1970’s gardening book from a thrift store over the summer and I was amazed (in a horrified kind of way) and kind of saddened to see the vegetable gardens all tucked away in hidden, unused corners where they do not detract from the look of the landscaped yard.  Interesting how times have changed…

Other stuff that’s changed since last I wrote–I know, I know, I’ve been really bad about updating this blog lately…  Well, I completed my yoga teacher training program at the end of June and taught two classes over the summer.  The first was nerve-wracking; the second went so smoothly and the response from my students was so positive, it was a major confidence booster.  I came out of that class feeling like I had really achieved something and had really made a major transformation from the beginning of the training program to the end.  I still don’t know if I want to pursue being a yoga teacher as a profession; that was never really my intention in deciding to enter the program.  I wanted to challenge myself to do it for the deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and physiology, as well as to push myself into a deeper commitment to my own yoga practice.  Unfortunately, summer visits, trips and the lack of free time due to no more Happy Hands for Eleanor have all conspired against my sustaining a regular yoga practice and, because I feel out of practice myself, I do not feel like I’m in a position to teach.  However, I’m trying to get back into a regular practice and I have noticed in the brochure of classes offered in the new community center that there’s no one teaching a mom-and-tot yoga class or a class for moms with child-minding available (it was for want of these types of programs when Eleanor was a toddler that I first got it into my head that I could become a teacher and offer them myself), so we’ll see what the following year holds…

Deciding to do the yoga teacher training program in December of last year also held out the hope of possibly being employable if Stephen’s job ended up taking us to Switzerland, where his boss was and presumably still is trying to start up an office.  Well, I don’t know if you all have noticed, but the economy hasn’t been that great lately and financial services companies have been especially hard hit.  Stephen’s employers are apparently doing just fine, but certain things like opening offices in Switzerland have taken the back burner for now.  That’s okay, though.  Stephen has decided that he wants to go back to UBC and complete his PhD.  He can continue working for his current employer nearly full-time and incorporate his work-work into the work he’ll be doing for the PhD so he can continue to be paid as he currently is and we can consider ourselves settled for the foreseeable future–which is a good thing for me since I just went to all the trouble of digging up two new garden beds and I’m sprouting asparagus from seed this winter and I won’t be able to harvest it for at least two years!

Here’s a thought…  Renters are hesitant to do much in-ground gardening and they certainly don’t bother to plant things like berry bushes and apple trees that take years to produce their first crop, mainly because they regard their adobes as temporary shelter, they know it’s only a matter of time before they move on and they don’t want to make long-term investments of which they’ll never reap the benefits.  Imagine, though, if every renter who felt that way went ahead and planted those long-yielding perennials anyway.  Then, every time they move, they wouldn’t have to mourn the loss of those raspberry canes or that strawberry patch, because they’d have fresh blueberries, and an established, productive asparagus patch to look forward to.  It would take a change of attitude on the part of renters everywhere: namely, to stop thinking of their gardens in terms of what it produces for them, or how much money it saves them, or that it’s even “their” garden.  A garden does not serve the gardener.  A garden is self-creative and self-renewing; planting one and cultivating it is a service to the earth and to one’s community.  Renters should go ahead and plant anything and everything that strikes their fancy, knowing that they’ve done their small part to heal a little piece of earth (and more, the more they frequently they move) and that one day down the road many, many people will enjoy the benefits of their labor, as as they themselves will go on to enjoy the benefits of someone else’s labor at their new place… Just a thought…

In other news, Eleanor’s doing great.  She’s as smart as a whip and very clever, too.  She’s got a real sense of humor these days and, though she doesn’t shy away from poot jokes, she’s also very mature for her age.  She’s in a combined three- and four-year-old preschool class for two hours two days a week.  Her favorite thing to do at preschool is dress up in the beautiful dress-up clothes.  She’s a real girly-girl.  She was also doing ballet and gymnastics once a week and a program called Happy Hands, which is just like preschool, all at the community center.  The center has been slated to move into a new location for a long, long time and the time had finally come… or so we thought.  The old center closed and took reservations already for classes at the new center, but they’ve just informed us that construction delays at the new center have held up the move once again, so everything is canceled for the rest of the year.  Boo hoo…  That community center was like a second home for me when Eleanor was young and we were new to Vancouver and to parenthood.  I started taking her there when she was just a baby; I met a lot of my neighbors and other moms there; Eleanor’s practically grown up at the tot gym there… and now it’s all over… and we’re stuck waiting around for the new center to open.  The new center will be very nice and I like that it has a library in it and it will be easier to get to from our new house.  In the meantime, Eleanor and I have been forced to find other things to do on the days that she doesn’t have preschool.  We’re discovering free drop-in playgroups and strong start learning centers all over the place.  Vancouver’s publicly-funded services for families cannot be beat!

Well, there’s a lot more I could write about.  Seeing as I haven’t blogged in well over half a year, I have a lot of catching up to do.  Knowing myself, I won’t make promises to be back often and fill in all the details of the summer months or recent projects taken up around here, but I’ll do my best.  Even if I never get into the habit of blogging about everything that goes on in my life, I would like to share more of my thoughts and philosophical ideas about the world and what in it is important to me–my family, community, good food, the environment, my garden, sustainability, politics… I could go on and on and on…

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Spring Is Just Around the Corner!

March 2, 2009 at 7:20 pm (Other) (, , , , )

So much to say, so little time…

Firstly, there’s still no news about the potential move to Switzerland and with the economy what it is right now, we’re assuming that “No news is bad news” and resisting the urge to feel anything about it right now.  Insecurity and uncertainty about the future seems to be the new norm and so we figure we’re in the same boat, but still doing better than all the millions of people losing their jobs and their homes.

Vancouver, I think, has remained somewhat isolated from the major economic downturn–perhaps due to affluence, next year’s winter Olympics… I’m not really sure, but I’m perfectly happy to stay right here in Vancouver where I have my friends, my community, my garden…my life.

We missed most of the major snow storm that hit mid-winter, but spring is shaping up to be absolutely beautiful.  I saw the most intense rainbow of my life just last week.  We’ve had lots of rain to bring the flowers up and lots of sun, too.  Unfortunately, it seems the sun is always out on Saturdays when I’m in my yoga teacher training program all day and it always clouds over just in time for Sunday, or Family “Fun” Day as we’ve taken to calling it (although three-year-old Eleanor has taken to turning it into come-between-the-parents-andplay-one-off-the-other day).

Yes, Eleanor is three and–what do you know?–the Sunday that we had her birthday party was the only sunny Sunday in recent weeks!  At least we can be thankful for that.  We had seven kids an their parents over so it was really nice to be able to spread out and use the patio for part of the party.  See our flickr stream (www.flickr.com/photos/twistycorn) for an idea of how messy it was!  The streamers hung from the ceiling for over two weeks!  Eleanor got lots of cool stuff, but her big gift was her brand new blue bicycle, which she rides everywhere now.  Next weekend, we’re taking her to see Annie at the Vancouver Centre for Performing Arts.  We considered making the tickets her birthday present, but thought three weeks was too long to make a three-year-old wait.

In other news, Eleanor and I, on one exceptionally beautiful spring-like day, decided to plant part of ur garden experimentally early.  I’ve also got some peppers and tomatoes started indoors to get a headstart on their growing season.  I saved (also experimentally, since I wasn’t sure if the whole fermenting, separating, drying process was going to work for me on my first try) seeds from some especially delicious tomatoes I purchased at the local farmer’s markt last summer.  For all those out there who have never really liked tomatoes, look for one called the German Red Strawberry Tomato.  I swear, it’s the best!  It’s everything I ever wanted a tomato to be, and more!

Also, my German Rams (Ramirezi Cichlids) have finally produced a batch of eggs that they didn’t eat within a day and now the little fry are wiggling around wanting to grow and swim!  How exciting to watch the miracle of life unfold before my eyes!

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Organic vs. Local

October 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm (environment, food, Other, permaculture) (, , , , )

You’ve probably heard of the “100-mile diet.” It seems it’s on everyone’s lips lately–at least everyone in the high-end natural foods stores in which I work. I frequently do demos in the local Capers markets (I also shop there for some things since there’s one so close to my house) and I’ve noticed that they do a great job of clearly marking which products are locally grown or locally produced. They know that their shoppers want to support local growers and the local economy.

For many people around here, it seems buying local is a social thing and they never stop to think that they’re also doing something good for the environment. They buy Canadian- rather than American-made products to keep Canada strong economically, and therefore, politically. They prefer something made in British Columbia over something made in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, or the Prairie Provinces because, in order, nobody likes Toronto, the Quebecois don’t like Canada, nothing comes out of the Maritimes but people, and the people of the plains are way too conservative for the likes of Canada’s “left coast.” None of this comes close to the real reason, the best reason, my reason for buying local: the environment!

For years, health and environment experts have been touting the benefits of eating organically-grown foods. For those who said organics were too costly, they came up with the “dirty dozen” list (I still have my copy mom and I do use it!), which named the top twelve pesticide-and insecticide-laden fruits and vegetables so that we could at least be buying these organic even if we had to buy conventional in other areas to cut our overall spending on groceries. I suppose if your number one priority is your own health and you buy organic for the sole purpose of keeping mysterious chemicals out of your bloodstream, then you’d be doing well to find a grocery store that stocks the widest variety of organics, regardless of how far those foods travel. On the other hand, maybe your concerns are not so much for your own health, but for the well-being of the planet. Environmentalists prefer buying organically-grown foods because their production doesn’t entail the use of deadly chemicals that end up in groundwater, their producers use more sensible shading, irrigating, and composting techniques, and because they generally are grown on smaller farms that have more respect for biodiversity (i.e. because they’re better for the environment).

If given a choice between an apple grown on a small family-run orchard that practices organic, sustainable farming methods and an apple grown on a large industrial farm that has maximum-output-for-maximum-profit as its modus operandi, the environmentalist and the health-nut would probably both go for the first apple. Surely, its production was easier on the earth and it probably has more flavor and nutritional value even if it doesn’t have the blemish-free waxy exterior of the second apple. It would be my choice, too. But, what if the organic, family farm is in New Zealand and the industrial farm is located just 10 miles outside your hometown? Then which apple is better for the earth?  The way I see it, there’s just no point in supporting organic agriculture if it requires polluting 5,000 miles of ocean to get the food to market.  Of course, if you absolutely can’t survive the winter without tropical fruits and polluting the ocean is the only way to get them to North America, then please do go for the organic ones.

“Food Miles” is a term I’ve heard a lot lately, having recently immersed myself in the local-food movement through my new job; it refers to the distance that a given piece of food travels from field to plate. Processed foods rack up food miles faster than fresh produce because you have to take into account the distances traveled by each ingredient and the fact that such foods are rarely grown, processed, packaged, sorted, and sold all in one geographical region. For example, cranberries are locally in-season right before Thanksgiving and are commonly packaged and sold under the Ocean Spray name. If you buy them directly from a local farmer at a farmer’s market, you’ll spend a little more money, but you’ve saved the earth all the fuel and emissions that are spent transporting locally-grown cranberries to a processing plant on the east coast for cleaning, sorting, and packaging and then shipping those same cranberries in pretty blue and white be-waved bags back to their birthplace. I recently read that the average North American meal travels 1500 miles before it reaches our tables. Isn’t it sad that our food gets to see more of the world than we do?!

Ideally, we could always get organic, locally-grown foods, but that’s just not the case. It wouldn’t be natural if we could. Having come to the realization that a globalized food (or any other commodity for that matter) production system is having an adverse effect on the environment, I’ve resorted to buying local over organic if I can’t get both. Ultimately, though, if we want more local food, we have to get used to a limited variety of offerings, as we have to buy within the bounds of the natural growing season.

Alternatively, and this seems to be pretty popular around here, there’s always the option of growing your own fruits and vegetables in a backyard garden–that way your food miles are zero–and eating less processed and pre-packaged foods. This year, I grew swiss chard in my backyard. I attempted broccoli, but it didn’t do anything. With fond memories of helping in my grandmother’s garden, I will attempt to diversify next summer’s garden. I want fresh herbs and salad greens. Some tomatoes would be nice… mmm…

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