Q: I want to try to eat as locally as possible this summer. What are my options?
A: With all that hot sun, exhaust and concrete, summer in the city can seem like the furthest thing possible from the farm. But there is one way to connect with the earth under your feet without leaving the downtown core, and that’s through your belly.
First off, there’s no better way to get a grip on the 100-mile diet than to use any little fire escape or patch of dirt you’ve got to start planting – even if it’s just three pots’ worth. And have fun with it. Why plant boring old cukes and zucchini if the thought of eating them leaves you yawning?
I just scored some okra, sweet purple heritage peppers, habeneros and zebra tomato plants that had me salivating before they even hit the ground. Toronto’s Urban Harvest (416-504-1653, www.uharvest.ca) keeps stores like Fiesta Farms on Christie, Big Carrot on Danforth and Grassroots on Bloor West and Danforth stocked with an inspiring range of unusual certified-organic, heirloom veggies, plants and herbs, all grown locally.
But giddy gardeners (and I know I’m not the only geek who gets goosebumps from the prospect of planting purple carrots) will find the biggest selection at Urban Harvest’s own 360 Dufferin warehouse.
You can even grow a funky wall of organic sweet corn on your deck (think of it as an edible privacy fence) and avoid the GMO Frankencorn varieties from the grocery store.
An urbanite can’t survive on balcony corn and tomatoes alone, however juicy they may be (and let me tell you, if you add blackstrap molasses to your tomato plants’ soil, you will never want to eat store-bought again).
If you hurry, you can still sign up for a share of tasty produce from a local organic CSA (community supported agriculture) outfit. The good folks at Plan B Organic Farm start delivering in June.
You can pick up your box from a depot in your ’hood or, depending on where you live, have it delivered it right to your door (www.planborganicfarms.ca). Then, every week when you get your surprise jack-in-the box of delights, like garlic scapes and white carrots, you can host your own Iron Chef: Local Edition to see who dreams up the tastiest dishes on the fly.
You commitment-phobes wary of signing up for a whole summer’s worth of food can make day trips to explore the different farmers’ markets the city has to offer. (See page 78 for details.)
Bike down to the Don Valley Brick Works farmers’ market one Saturday morning and bring a good thermal backpack and saddle bags to stock up on all the fruits, veggies, wild fish, meat, cheese, milled flours, eggs and tasty oils from local farms.
And who says picnics and sunburns have to go hand in hand? Grab a basket and stop at an evening market like Riverdale Farm, Dufferin Grove or Trinity Bellwoods to pick out fresh flatbreads, homemade toppers, even vegan pizzas for a romantic dinner in the park. Just make sure not to sneak in any contraband refreshments in bisphenol-A heavy polycarbonate. You don’t want any hormone disrupters in your local Ontario vino.
If you’re staying away from all plastic containers, get yourself some organic, compostable bamboo dishes that can be hand-washed and reused the whole summer long (www.grassrootsstore.com).
Of course, you could bring your bounty home to savour the flavours. But who needs to slave over a hot barbecue when you can enjoy all that local food energy in its purest state: raw. Just hop online or head to a local bookstore like Book City to tap in to hundreds of wonderfully wacky raw food recipes that breathe new life into old standards. (Think mushroom risotto without rice, or linguine Alfredo without pasta or cream.)
If you do fire up the ’cue, whatever you do, don’t ruin your reduced footprint by cooking on a charcoal grill with crappy briquettes. Those bad boys can kick up 100 times more carbon monoxide and way more smog-inducing volatile organic compounds than propane grills.
Look for chemical-free wood charcoal made from recycled sources, like Whole Food’s 360 brand.
Get home early enough and you might even be able to catch enough rays to grill on a clean green solar cooker (www.solarcooking.ca). How cool would it be to sizzle up all those locally harvested ingredients on the free sunbeams heating up your yard? Have a local micro-beer or three while you’re doing it and now we’re talking good times.
One more thing: if you’ve got itchy thumbs and nowhere to plant, don’t forget about the city’s 100 community gardens collectively growing veggies, herbs and flowers around town (www.toronto.ca/parks/programs/community.htm).
Or sign up for your own rent-a-patch at a municipal allotment garden (416-392-8188). Though they’re usually a little further out of the way at spots like the Leslie Spit or High Park, you’ll get your dirt fix and back-to-the-farm vibe all in one.
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