Weathering winter on the 100-mile diet
Q It’s one thing to do the 100-mile diet for one dinner (Thanksgiving), but how do you get through the winter?
A Ever watch that pioneer reality show on PBS? Basically, they had to work their asses off all spring, summer and fall with the simple and seemingly insurmountable goal of surviving the winter. Of course, they were really on the 5-mile diet and had to raise their own chickens and milk their own cows, but the message is the same. If you want to get through the snowy season without sourcing your food from outside a 100-mile radius, you’ve got to get started on the 3 Ps: planning, preserving and lots of deep probing.
Step one: plan for plenty. If you want to eat more than just potatoes and turnips in January, buy as much local (and preferably organic) produce as you can afford while harvest season is still on. I’m talking way more than you think you can eat. (FYI, from downtown T.O. our 100-mile radius loops just shy of London, Owen Sound, Bracebridge, Belleville and Buffalo to the south see www.100milediet.org for maps.)
The good news is, we get the Niagara fruit belt and plenty of southern Ontario farmers. (Of course, this is if you’re going to be strict about your food miles. If you find organic bok choy from the Windsor area or something tasty grown and packaged in Kingston, that’s local enough for me.)
Downtown farmers markets and farms in the Toronto area are great sources for bulk purchases (see HarvestOntario.com for area farms).
Step two: Get your preserving on. That means freezing, drying, pickling and jamming it. You can get the nitty- gritty on how to do each at the National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.uga.edu/nchfp). The Vancouverites behind 100 www.milediet.org found food preserving to be a bit of a full-time job come fall, and every corner of their apartment became a drying, pickling or fermenting centre, but, hey, they barely had to buy groceries in the depths of winter. FYI, you’ll probably need a deep freezer.
Oh and if you’re too busy to do your own canning, freezing and preserving, Fresh from the Farm on Donlands sells all kinds of stuff preserved in the Guelph-Waterloo area by Mennonite farmers.
Step three: Probe for local sources. That means jumping on the Net and punching in stuff like “ontario organic grain,” which, by the way, turned up Merrylynd Organics certified organic flour mill. This Kawartha-based mill will ship you bags of organic locally harvested spelt, oats and more (www.merrylynd.com). So will Arva Flour Mills near London, which also makes dried spaghetti, lasagna noodles and more (http://arvaflourmills.com).
Effective probing also means peppering your grocery manager with friendly questions about which store items were grown and processed within a rough 100-mile radius (like Hempola’s hemp oils). This is easier if you shop at a smaller store. At the very least, they’ll give you the names of their bulk peanut butter source and you can track it down to find out if the peanuts were grown nearby or purchased from overseas.
Beyond the 3 Ps, you can’t get any more local than growing it yourself. Got an outdoor space? You can eat spinach, Swiss chard and Asian greens well past October if you build cold frames (a makeshift frigid-weather greenhouse for plants). I’ve even heard of people building these on balconies and decks. Ottawa-based Lexis Greenhouses sells ready-made swank balcony greenhouses as well as cheaper cold frames (www.lexisgreenhouses.com).
If you want to dig up garlic and greens all the way through frigid February, however, you’ll need a small heat source, like seedling heat mats or heat cables (also available at Lexis). Otherwise, just plant tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, herbs and more in pots inside. Need local seeds? Ecogenesis has traditional native bean seeds straight from the Six Nations reserve outside Hamilton, as well as several heirloom certified-organic seeds (www.ecogenesis.ca).
FYI, if you spot Ontario greenhouse tomatoes, cukes or peppers in the middle of winter (Ontario has the largest greenhouse veggie industry in North America, after all), you can bet they’re from Leamington (which is about 200 miles away), although they could also be from the Niagara or Norfolk region. Sure, these places suck up lots of water as well as energy to keep their plants from freezing, but the industry says integrated pest management means greenhouse farming is virtually pesticide-free. And you’re saving on the fossil fuels needed to truck in produce from California.
Other than that, check last week’s column for local organic meat sources. As for dairy, Organic Meadow (products include milk, eggs, ice cream and butter) is a co-op based in Guelph, but its milk comes from farmers across Ontario, even some from Quebec. Unless you want to lose 20 pounds this winter, I’d say this qualifies as local and leave it at that. Especially since you’ll be giving up rice, coffee, black tea, bananas, citrus shall I go on?
It’s hard work. But if nothing else, it’ll remind you how important preserving local farmland is and how dependent we’ve grown on eating from everywhere but.
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