3 posts tagged with “Greenbelt”

  • Meet four Niagara food entrepreneurs who want to feed you

    Small Batch Co. Granola from its early days in 2014.

    This post was sponsored by the Greenbelt Fund. What does that mean? I was paid to write about a topic of my choosing inspired by the most recent story published in The Toronto Star related to Ontario’s Greenbelt. The ideas, interviews, writing and editing are my own. The Greenbelt Fund fact-checked all information, including numbers and statistics, about the Greenbelt in this post before publication.

    There’s more to education than the three R’s.

    At Mohawk College in Hamilton, there are also the three P’s: production, preparation and procurement. They aren’t related to anything learned in a classroom. Instead, they’re all about what’s on students’ plates come lunch, and they offer a lesson about the importance of local food.

    Production teaches students about growing food. Preparation is about cooking what they grow. And procurement is about buying it, particularly food with origins close to home.

    With the help of a $100,000 grant from the Greenbelt Fund, Mohawk is leading a project to create a common model for that third P, local food procurement, for Ontario’s 24 community colleges.

    Public institutions from schools and hospitals to universities and government offices have talked for years about how they crave more local food in their cafeterias. Here at home, Brock University sources regional ingredients when it can for the daily offerings served on campus. The French fries there, which were a real weakness of mine when I worked at the university, are made with potatoes that have local roots.

    This weekend, a story in the Toronto Star talked about some of the  inroads made when it comes to getting local food into schools, and the recognition by students that cooking and eating good food grown nearby matters as much as math class.

    Offering local food doesn’t merely nourish students’ bodies. It feeds their imaginations and plants the seeds for fruitful careers in food. And Niagara, which is on the southwestern periphery of the Greenbelt, is fertile ground for such career ambitions.

    The Greenbelt is two million acres of land protected from urban sprawl.  It’s bigger than all of Prince Edward Island. That makes it one big insurance policy we’ll have some of the best farmland to continue providing us many local meals in the future. It also makes it one giant muse for people pursuing careers in food.

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    Category Food Finds, Food Security

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  • Peach Tree
  • NiAGara Farm Heroes and Agvocates: Lauren O’Malley Norris, Market Manager

    Look out, Lauren O’Malley Norris is on a mission.

    And it’s not just the clipboard in her hand as she makes the rounds at the Farmers Market at the Village on a recent Saturday morning that should tip you off.

    O’Malley Norris, the newly anointed manager for the Niagara-on-the-Lake farmers market, has big plans for this little market — one that she shopped at regularly until she took over the reins to run it earlier this year.

    Of course there are farmers, as many as O’Malley Norris can fit under cover of the white tents staked into a field wedged comfortably between the suburbia of strip mall and the pastoral beauty of a vineyard. And everything they sell will be harvested from Niagara.

    But there are also artisans — sock monkey wine bottle cosy, anyone? — those proffering prepared food, including Willow Cakes and Pastries, Market Chef Mark Walpole, food truck the Tide and Vine serving up freshly shucked oysters and live music.

    And there’s more. A community garden is taking shape at the market. Zumba classes, co-working sessions, running group meet-ups, yoga and vendor-led workshops are in the works to make this a market for the masses or at the very least, one with as strong a sense of community as the historic town in which it’s located.

    A smaller dinnertime edition of the market on Wednesday evenings, starting June 20, will complement the main Saturday market and feature more prepared foods, including the gourmet fare of St. Catharines food truck El Gastronomo Vagabundo.

    Farmers markets with just farmers are “one kind of farmers market and it has its place,” O’Malley Norris said. “In our community, if we just had farmers, there are people who wouldn’t come. To bring people to the farmers, you sometimes had to have other lures to bring them in.

    “I really want to create a mood, an event, something special.”

    For O’Malley Norris, though, her favourite part of any market is the farmers themselves. Growing up in Toronto, she was a regular with her mother at the north market of the St. Lawrence Market,  used by farmers to sell their wares.

    “She loved knowing the … guy with the chickens who gave her her eggs,” she said.

    So does O’Malley Norris. That passion for market shopping was a passed on to her and O’Malley Norris has made a point of shopping at farmers markets in Niagara since she moved here from Toronto 10 years ago. She has also made the weekly jaunt to the Niagara-on-the-Lake edition since it opened in 2007.

    Getting local food into the bellies of others has also been a passion. O’Malley Norris volunteered with the Niagara Local Food Co-op to help promote that virtual farmers market when it launched around the same time and she helped get the Good Food Fair in Beamsville up and running two years ago.

    “I have been an avid, avid attender of farmers markets. I’m there rain, shine or windstorm,” she said.

    It was her regular appearances at Niagara-on-the-Lake that made her an easy pick when the market was in need of a new manager. Recommended by Beth Smith of Ridge Meadow Farms and Rose Bartel of Bartel Organics, O’Malley Norris, a graphic designer by training, didn’t hesitate when offered the job.


    “I just jumped up and down. I was honoured,” she said. “It brings together everything important to me: local food, the people growing local food, the land, the artisans and artists around us, too.”

    The job was only meant to be part-time, but driven to make the most of a market brimming with potential, O’Malley Norris has been clocking full-time hours in pursuit of more farmers, musicians, community groups and artists who could make the Farmers Market at the Village “irresistible to everyone.”

    Her dream market is one with primarily organic producers complemented by artists and prepared food vendors. Right now, about half the vendors in Niagara-on-the-Lake are farmers but they’re all from small farms with diverse offerings.
    Not only do they have a wide variety of produce for shoppers, the also have O’Malley Norris’s respect.
    “There’s a grace, the earthiness, the rootedness and that letting go attitude with what they do,” she explained. “Small growers are diversified so they can roll with the punches. I love that small farmer attitude.”
    O’Malley Norris is also working hard to create a family atmosphere at the market — she refers to the vendors as her brood — one that she hopes will spill into the larger community and help that market grow with consumers, too.

    “I really hope that people who haven’t come to the market come,” she said. “I love the idea of bringing new people into this.”

    Catch the Farmers Market at the Village Saturdays until the fall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. starting June 20.

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    Category Food Finds

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  • Peach Tree
  • Tossing the power plant out of the salad bowl

    I just came in from checking on my experimental Holland Marsh carrot.

    This is the one that I bought at the grocery store months ago and it started to turn to seed in my fridge. As an experiment, I stuck it in a flower pot in my backyard, with the hope of harvesting the seeds it produces so I can plant some of those Marsh carrots here in Niagara.

    The green shoots stand two feet high and hold bunches of blooms, loaded with future generations of carrots, ready to burst.

    I’m not holding out too much hope because it’s likely a hybrid whose offspring will be something entirely different and let’s face it, I’m not so good in the garden.

    I’m not fazed. I know that come the fall, there will be a new harvest of Holland Marsh carrots on store shelves to feed my hunger, if not my curiosity.

    Big, healthy and healthful orange carrots.

    From what has been affectionately dubbed Ontario’s salad bowl.

    But plans are afoot to toss something into that salad bowl that just doesn’t belong in the mix; something that may put that supply of carrots and the people growing them in jeopardy: a gas-fired power plant.

    Readers of this blog may already be up to speed on this issue thanks to guest blogger and Holland Marsh farmer Avia Eek keeping us in the loop.

    For those who haven’t seen Avia’s posts, here’s the one-line plot summary: the province wants to build a 393-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant to satiate the energy needs of residents who don’t live in the Marsh.

    The message from the province is that it has a responsibility to ensure a reliable energy supply for Ontarians.

    Here’s the problem: the Marsh has been designated a specialty crop area. It’s in the greenbelt, that agricultural preserve created by the province five years ago to protect Ontario’s precious farmland.

    I have mixed feelings about the greenbelt. The food sovereigntist in me appreciates what the province has done to ensure Ontario will always have cropland. But as someone who has reported on agriculture since before the advent of the greenbelt, I have seen and heard the difficulty this imposed farm preserve has had on farmers here in Niagara, which is also part of the 1.8 million-acre swath.

    The legislation is confining and constricting. Farm or bust on those greenbelted lands. There’s no chance of farmers with dollar signs in their eyes to sell to developers with even bigger dollar signs in theirs. With the exodus of three major local food processors in the past five years and growers begging to no avail for government help to ensure local agriculture remains viable, some predict this agricultural preserve is destined to become a farming museum.

    There have been pleas for a review of the Greenbelt Act five years later, a review to see what works and what doesn’t before people walk away from the land and let it turn to weeds. But the province has held fast to its stance that no review will happen until 2015.

    Meanwhile, the land that the current provincial government pats itself on the back so frequently for protecting is being eyed by that same government to build a power plant. Why does this government feel others should follow the rules but it doesn’t have to? It’s not tough to understand why people become cynical and disillusioned with the powers that be.

    There has been huge opposition to this development. There are fears among growers and residents that this plant could harm the very soil sustaining us — the soil from which so much of our food sprouts. Do you want to eat a carrot or onion grown so close to gas-fired power plant whose effects on the environment aren’t known?

    Doesn’t the province also have a responsibility to ensure a reliable food supply for Ontarians?

    The answer is yes.

    The issue was recently challenged at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing. A decision has been reserved for the time being to allow people to comment.

    This is our chance to let the decision makers know that putting our farmland, food source and the livelihoods and economic viability of our rural neighbours at risk is unacceptable.

    I urge everyone reading this to pick up a pen and ask the province to pull the plug on the Holland Marsh power plant. Our environment, health and our ability to feed ourselves depends on it.

    All comments can be sent to:
    Mr. Larry Clay,Regional Director
    Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
    Municipal Services Division
    Municipal Services Office – Central Ontario
    777 Bay St.
    Floor 2
    Toronto, Ontario
    M5G 2E5
    Phone: 9416) 585-6226
    Fax: (416) 585-6882

    For technical information on the proposed facility contact:

    Allan Jenkins, Senior Policy Specialist
    Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure
    Phone: (416) 325-6926

    To learn more, check out the following links:
    You can’t eat energy
    Pulling the plug on the Holland Marsh power plant — the battle continues
    Province pushing through Greenbelt power plant
    Township angry Planning Act waived in aid of peaker plant
    Ontario government deals blow to local food

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