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market stories

Finally, a farm post!

The markets are in full swing right now. We’ve been fortunate to have great weather on market days this year, in spite of our relatively cool, wet summer. It’s a lot of work to schlep stuff like tables, tents and full coolers to market, but it’s one of my favourite things to do – after working hard in the greenhouse and fields to grow everything and keep the weeds & insects from taking over, it’s rewarding to take it all to market and have people come back every week to get more, and let you know how much they enjoyed everything.

peas

The market is also a place to make connections. A few weeks ago, an older man walked his bicycle up to my table and started asking me about the market – it was his first visit. As we chatted, another older man walked his bike over (yay bikes!) and asked me if we had any wild garlic. We don’t, but I showed him what garlicky stuff I could offer him, and the other guy turned and said “hey, I have tons of that stuff growing in my backyard.”

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vegan mythbusting: ethics

Welcome to a new, soon-to-be-regular blog feature: vegan mythbusting!

People ask me all kinds of stuff about vegan life. People probably also assume all kinds of things about it (like that I went vegan because my reaction to seeing a piglet was similar to the drawing below. I probably would fawn over a cute piglet – who wouldn’t?! – but this goes deeper than a squee!) Sometimes those things are evident, and probably a lot of them aren’t. Why not talk about it?

People find out I’m vegan and probably think it’s because I once saw a piglet and did this

Before we go on, let’s be clear: the point of vegan mythbusting isn’t to get all the backup I have and tell the world that what they think is wrong. That doesn’t help anyone. The goal here is to create a clearer understanding of what really lies behind our plates of veggie bacon. I can only speak for myself, so start a conversation if you know someone else who’s veg and are interested in what their motivations are.

Today’s Vegan Myth: Your ethics concern animals alone and/or prioritize non-humans over humans. You must be ignorant and/or insensitive.

This is a common one. It often gets presented to me in the form of “there are so many other problems in the world, why aren’t you trying to help people instead?”

(What a cop-out question. Who says you can’t do both? And who says that being vegan only helps animals? If I started eating animals again, would it help any marginalized group in their struggle? I’ll elaborate on this in a bit.)

When it comes to the question of what motivates vegans, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

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seasonal changes

Hello readers,

welcome to another sporadic post. I promise that in the months since the last entry I’ve accumulated some extra good stuff to write about!

The main growing season is slowing a bit now as the summer veggies have given in to the first frosts, and the winter veggies become our main focus. Those summer veggies held on for a long time this year – we had our last harvest of peppers and eggplants in October! We’re still harvesting winter veg as we move through December, as many people are surprised to learn. The cold storage and root cellar are gradually filling up with goodies like carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, cabbage, parsnips and celeriac. It’s amazing how resilient some plants are.

First snow!
first snow

We’re also down a market now, and another ends within the next weeks. Having one less market per week to worry about is a bit of a relief, even though I really enjoy working the markets (despite the early mornings and the long drives sometimes made in the dark). This season I was grateful to learn how appreciative people are of the food. One market was in an area with a racially diverse population, and residents of differing backgrounds often recognized the vegetables as ones they would use traditionally but which can’t be found at the big supermarkets. Many market-goers were excited to tell me what they liked to make with specific vegetables. I learned that Independence day in Mexico is often celebrated by making stuffed poblano peppers; that basil is not only common in Italian cooking, but also Iranian; was recommended an at-home cough remedy made with radishes that was used in eastern Europe during periods of communism, when no antibiotics were available; and had regular customers coming back each week for months at a time because they found veggies like tomatillos at our stand – items which are part of their cultural menus, but were not on any grocery store shelves. It’s so rewarding to know people feel connected to what we grow. I hope this sparks ideas for folks who want these kinds of foods, which can be grown in their own backyards or on their own porches.

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About food safety

After a week off to move back to town and sort my life out, I’ve started working at the farm again. It’s strange to be away from the farmhouse, not have a woodstove to warm up in front of, no trails and forest behind the house, and not to wake up to the sound of coyotes in the night. I’m also missing the farmhouse crew, and my house in town feels so empty since everyone else here is in school. But it’s been good to be in town, where everything is a quick bike ride away (I’m trying to relish the last few weeks of bikeable weather) and to catch up with friends.

After spending 6 1/2 months farming, though, having an entire week with nothing to do but set up my room seemed like forever. It was so good to return to the farm to start my winter work there, even without the big group of interns.

our last day interning. we had lunch cooked on the campfire

I want to talk about food safety and the impact different kinds of food production have on life. Because the other day, someone at the farm found this helmet.

It’s part of a suit that’s worn to protect workers when pesticides are being sprayed – a remnant from a time when the land maybe wasn’t farmed organically. The helmet has a built-in ventilation system so the worker who is spraying doesn’t have to breathe in the chemicals that are being put on the plants. (The small black canister on the back is the fan).

Finding information about the ill effects of chemicals used to grow food is not difficult. Pesticides are neruotoxins, hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and can cause birth defects. How can we be applying known poisons to food on a regular basis and not expect them to impact anything but their target pests? It’s no wonder things like the helmet exist.

A full-body suit would look something like this:

In some cases workers will spot-spray by hand. Alternatively, plants are sprayed using other methods like this one:

Finding this helmet has made me so grateful that I have access to food that’s free from chemicals. It’s unfortunate that such substances are approved for use on food – something people are going to consume, that will be taken up by the body and integrated into it, that’s supposed to keep us in good health. It’s troubling that these practices are still considered safe, when the fact that such protection needs to be worn when using these chemicals makes it obvious that these are NOT safe things to be exposed to. I feel the need to mention that organic farming does allow for some pest control measures via sprays and amendments, although from my experience it’s less common and not routine like it is for many conventionally grown crops. I would guess that this sort of thing is quite common in “big organic” industry (ie. if you get something like organic jam at a grocery store that is branded and available widely in stores, it comes from a big producer, probably with many farms contracted to grow for them in order to be able to produce such a large supply. To keep a consistent product, measures such as spraying would likely be taken on these contract farms). This is a bit of a sidebar, but for more information about who owns what in the “big organic” industry, take a look here. Thankfully I’m lucky enough to know what did or did not get put on my food from the farm.

Image from the link:

It’s also very disheartening to know that there’s no regulation in Canada that makes the labeling of genetically modified foods and conventionally grown foods mandatory. Instead the onus is put on organic producers to label their foods, which means paying to have their farms inspected annually in order to stay certified. For small producers this is often impractical and unaffordable. But the absence of mandatory labeling for chemical use and genetic modification essentially makes us unable to choose whether to buy and consume foods that are contaminated; we are not given a choice because almost everything that’s available in stores is conventional, and we can’t tell the difference unless we have access to an alternative that’s clearly labelled (like something that’s certified organic). But it’s sadly unsurprising that these labeling laws aren’t in place. Who would willingly buy a product if it was labelled as such, given the choice and access to alternatives? Economic disaster would occur for the companies producing these foods if people knew what was in them and chose to avoid them. When money is put before health, something is very wrong.

corn monocrop – from http://www.agefotostock.com/en/Stock-Images/Rights-Managed/AGS-163816-D-5744

One thing that was emphasized in my organic ag class, the only one I ever took (and the only one that made any sense out of all my agriculture courses at school), was the importance of looking at the bigger picture. Non-organic food is cheap, because so many costs are externalized by industrial agriculture – environmental destruction, human and animal health, destruction of forests (including rainforests), soil degradation, water contamination, air pollution…if no one is held accountable for contributing to these problems, and companies are allowed to continue practices that aggravate them, what is going to happen to our food supply? What will happen to our water, the ecosystems we’re a part of, our health? Soil degradation has become an issue of increasing worry to me, because not all land can grow food, and we’re so quickly building houses and factories on the valuable farmland we have left. Over 1/3 of Ontario’s best farmland can be seen from the CN tower – sitting underneath Toronto and the GTA. Where do people expect our food to be grown if we keep covering up our farmland with concrete?

I could go on and on. A main frustration for me is that the government is not taking a strong enough stance on food safety (nor on access to safe and healthy food – the worst food is often the cheapest, so people who have limited funds commonly have no choice in the matter, either).

This is why I feel so lucky to be able to eat what I eat. I have the choice to eat some foods grown without toxic chemicals, to eat plant foods instead of animals, and to eat some foods that didn’t travel halfway across the world to get to my plate. I have this choice because I’m fortunate enough to have access to such food, to be able to afford it, and to have the knowledge that gives me the power to decide what I wish to consume (and what practices I wish to support). If I were living in extreme poverty, lived in a food desert, or did not come to learn about our food system, I would not be able to make these choices. But everyone should be able to, and better yet, no one should ever be forced to choose affordability over health!

On a more positive note, the farm sunsets continue to be breath taking. Here you can see Venus as the lone bright star on the top left.

I leave you with some websites of note. Knowledge is power.

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15: about which produce contains the most vs. the least chemical residues. This is a good place to start!

More information about the push for food labeling

Stop the Mega Quarry – one example of how farmland and water sources (and our environment in general) get eaten up by industry. If you drink water you’ll want to look at this.