Yearly Archives: 2009

  • These are a few of our favourite things

    Got your finger on the pulse of the local food scene here in Niagara?

    Know a good place to get some great local honey?

    What’s your favourite place to eat a local meal or the best spot in the region to shop for local groceries?

    We want to know what your favourite local food secrets — anything from the best place for locally-made pie to where to find unbeatable dill weed for pickles. If it’s local and worth knowing about, spill.

    Post your answers in the comment box and when we have the 411, we’ll compile the results and let people know, so they can step up their locavore ways.


    Some of my favourite greens growing in Linda’s greenhouse.

    To get the local juices flowing, here are a few questions (but you don’t have to limit your responses to just these):

    What’s your favourite farmers’ market in Niagara? (Don’t forget to tell us why)

    What’s the best local bakery for pie?

    Where do you go when you need a local maple syrup fix?

    Which farmer helps you get your five to 10 veggies a day?

    If you’re hungry for a steak or other local protein, what’s your favourite source?

    The yummiest local food-serving restaurant?

    What’s the best local beverage with which to wash it all down?

    The perfect source for seeds and transplants to grow your own food?

    The best orchard to get apples, peaches, pears, plums or nectarines (or any other fruit)?

    The most fantastic of farm stands?


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  • Peach Tree
  • November, November, feels like you’ve been here all year

    I hear it’s been really warm this past week.

    I would know if I had been outside. But instead, I’ve been cooped up battling the flu — yes, apparently that flu — and missed the mild, spring-like weather.

    I also wouldn’t know it by looking at my garden. Much as this probably affirms my cluelessness about gardening — I mean, it’s November, who’s still gardening — I was actually trying my lacklustre green thumb at winter gardening. But just like summer never showed up, winter hasn’t either. Not that I’m complaining.

    Still, I would have thought that the warm weather would have given my chard, still in the ground from the summer, a boost. Figuring our eternal November of a summer was actually a good warm-up for winter gardening, I optimistically headed to the store to buy some tomato cages for my chard. They were going to be a frame upon which I would throw a clear plastic garbage bag, creating a mini-greenhouse of sorts, to keep one of my favourite leafy greens leafy in the off-season.


    All I want is Swiss Chard, like these beauties from ubcbotanicalgarden.org.

    (Speaking of off-seasons, do herbs need off-seasons? Because mine aren’t really growing anymore, but I digress).

    The store was out of tomato cages, put in storage for the off-season, so I made do with some bamboo hoops instead and created some very simple structures to help provide me with local greens at a time when they start coming from far, far away.

    Problem is, we’ve had a mild fall and my chard is about the same size it was a month ago when I carefully winterized the plants. Read: not very big. Now, to give some credibility to my ways, I got this advice from my co-blogger and green thumb extraordinaire, Linda. Not trying to drag her reputation through the mud. I’m sure there’s an important step I’m missing here but I’m hopeful someone can tell me what it is. (Ahem, Linda?) It all seemed so idiot-proof when I first heard the idea. I had visions of me harvesting signs of summer in the dead of winter. Oh and how delicious they would be.

    In the meantime, I guess I’ll go dig into my greens from … New Jersey. Mmmm, tasty, tasty New Jersey.


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  • Peach Tree
  • Grocery store glory

    So congrats to Zehrs — St. Catharines for picking up a gold award in the creative category of the Ontario Food Retailer Awards.

    They were handed out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this month.

    I’m not entirely sure which Zehrs store snagged the honours, since I can think of two in St. Kitts. Maybe it was both. But I was surprised to see there weren’t more Niagara representatives among the winners, to be honest. And maybe a little disappointed, to boot.

    The awards are handed out to stores for the innovative ways they promote Ontario produce. Metro stores seemed to clean up and as for cities, Windsor appeared on the list more than any other, with some stores winning in multiple categories.

    Good on Windsor. Maybe some of that local produce being promoted was from down the road in Leamington or Kingsville where veggie greenhouses crowd the landscape.

    But still, why not more winners in Niagara? We’re in the buckle of the fruit belt with lots to promote. I understand that stores can be limited by what the chain as whole actually purchases that’s local, so maybe that was the problem. Or maybe our stores don’t have to do as much promotion because we as Niagarans can easily hone in on what’s local no matter where or how it’s displayed in stores. (Somehow, I doubt that one).

    I’m also curious which Zehrs store got the award because I felt that the promotion of local produce this year left something to be desired at the Geneva Street store, though there was lots of local produce to be had during harvest. There was a great apple display they had recently but promotion of Ontario produce seemed toned down compared to the Glendale Zehrs, where, last year at least, when it was my regular store, Ontario produce greeted you when you walked in the door. You couldn’t miss it. The Foodland Ontario sign was a beacon of local goodness amongst all the foreign competition during harvest.

    Awards aside, however, promotion of local food in local chain stores seems a little ho-hum.

    My recent experiences as a shopper have taught me some stores need to do a better job keeping the signs in their produce section up-to-date. Last week, after an appointment nearby, I went to buy peppers at the Glendale Zehrs to make a pizza for dinner. I reached for a red pepper because the sign said product of Canada. The green ones were from the U.S. so I chose a red pepper specifically because it was Canadian.

    I got to the check out and when I went to punch in the product code, I noticed in the fine print on the sticker that my red pepper was from Mexico. I felt a little duped to say the least. I’m sure it was accidental on the store’s part but if people are going to make more of a concerted effort to buy local and domestic, the least the stores can do is help them along.

    A similar thing happened at the Superstore a few days later. I was buying more peppers, this time for a pot of vegetarian chili, when I looked at the signs and saw the peppers, no matter what colour, were either from Mexico or the U.S. Fortunately, I happened to glance at the peppers themselves and noticed on the bar code stickers that the orange ones were Canadian. Glad I looked but again, they weren’t advertised for what they were — an annoyance for me as a shopper who makes conscious choices about what she’s buying.

    My pepper purchasing ways eventually took me to Sobeys because I forgot to buy two peppers at the Superstore and since I wasn’t in the neighbourhood anymore, I went to the store closest to home. I tend to avoid Sobeys because of it’s often more expensive than other grocery stores but if ever I need a pepper again, to Sobeys I go. Sobeys gets an award from me for selling peppers grown by St. Davids Hydroponics, a massive operation right here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Even better, Sobeys promoted it as it is on their signs: Peppers grown exclusively for the chain by this local pepper powerhouse.

    Good for stores for getting local food and its promotion right. Those are the stores that get the nod and the glory from the true powers that be: the consumer.


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  • Peach Tree
  • Putting a cork in the CIC issue

    So, the day after my waxing intellectual about the whole VQA vs. CIC wine issue, the province announced plans to deal with the controversial vintages while giving props to their entirely local (and often overshadowed, thanks to poorly placed LCBO displays) cousins.

    Coincidence? You bet. But fodder, nonetheless, for another blog posting.

    So here’s the scoop, as written about in The Standard.

    Put into the shadow by the new government plan is Cellared in Canada wines, the controversial but lucrative category made by the country’s largest wineries that contain a mix of local grapes with foreign wine.

    The government has called for clearer labelling of Cellared in Canada wines, which must contain a minimum 30 per cent home-grown grapes.

    Labels of blended wines have become a flashpoint for customers and critics in recent weeks.

    Major companies such as Andrew Peller Ltd., and Vincor Canada, have already announced they will voluntarily change their labels.

    But Ontario’s plan also includes increasing taxes on blended wines sold in retail stores to support the VQA sector. It also calls for the temporary increase of domestic content of blended wines to 40 per cent, up from 30.

    The change won’t happen until next year’s harvest — not in time to eat up an expected grape surplus of more than 8,000 tonnes this fall in Ontario.

    And by 2014, the domestic content of Cellared in Canada wines will be eliminated to put greater emphasis on VQA.

    The idea is to refocus the industry on VQA and move away from Cellared in Canada wines….

    Currently, about half the grapes grown in Ontario, or roughly 25,000 tonnes a year, go into blended wines.

    To be honest, I’m a little confused by the move to up domestic content in CIC wines only to have it eliminated entirely five years from now. Is it a way of weeding out some grape growers in a market that has become oversaturated? Will wineries produce more VQA vintages to squeeze in all the grapes Niagara is growing and avoid future surpluses? It works in BC but their industry isn’t as large as Niagara’s, so my hope is this isn’t too little late, or, to borrow a farming metaphor, closing the barn door after the animals are out. Time will tell.

    But now that that’s taken care of, at least from the government’s perspective, perhaps some attention can be turned to Niagara’s tender fruit growers. A peach will never rake in the taxes a bottle of wine does, but does that make it any less valuable? Tender fruit production is roughly on par with grape production in the region, accounting for almost 10 per cent each of agricultural production here. Greenhouses are tops at more than 43 per cent.


    Anyway, these guys are in trouble, too, and there was no government intervention when CanGro, Canada’s last remaining fruit cannery, closed last year. No one stepped in to say that domestic content in canned fruit had to be upped, of course that would be closing the barn door post exodus, since we wouldn’t have a cannery to pack it, anyway. And despite some transition funding for growers to pull out trees producing the fruit once destined for CanGro, the struggle remains, as pointed out last week, in another Standard story.

    Ontario’s fruit and vegetable sector is in peril, and we could soon see it whither away.

    That was the blunt message delivered Thursday by two leaders of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable associations to provincial Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.

    Brenda Lammens, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association and Len Troup, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board met with Hudak at Troup’s farm in Jordan Station.

    There, they discussed chronic problems facing provincial tender fruit and vegetable growers.

    They told Hudak fierce competition, skyrocketing costs and excessive regulation is battering the industry.

    Without support, including a risk-management program, “you may not have a horticulture industry around here within the next five years in Ontario,” said Lammens. “It’s that serious.”

    Troup added the problem is heightened by “ever-increasing costs, many of them driven by regulation and legislation and (they’re) big increases.

    “When we go to the marketplace to try and pass (the costs) through, we simply cannot do it, because of the competition factor.

    “This has been building and the banks have been patient … we must show a profit.”

    Here’s hoping they do show a profit, in part because they get the help they need. I like my VQA wine but I also love my Niagara peaches, pears and plums.


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