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The Benefits of Perennial Food Plants

November 5, 2014

By Alex Howard


Ever thought about planting some perennial food plants? If you haven’t maybe

I can convince you that it’s a great idea. Not only are perennials better environmentally

they are also much easier to maintain and pretty much worry free, all you have to do is

plant them once and reap the benefits for years to come! While some vegetables like

Tomatoes and peppers are perennials in warmer climates they cannot survive North

American winters… so, you may be wondering what kinds of edibles will survive our

harsh climate. Perennials come back every year and if properly maintained can last a very

long time yielding an abundance of fruits, veggies, edible root plants and leafy greens

year after year. What’s not to like about that?

From fruit trees to berry shrubs to herbs and even vegetables the wide array

of perennial food plants will leave you feeling like there’s something missing in your

garden. I will list a couple of them from Dave Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens to get you

started thinking about which perennials you might like to have in your garden next year.

Some tasty and hardy small trees such as Asian pears (Pyrus bretschneideris)

and Wild Goose Plums (Prunus munsoniana) as well as shrubs like Saskatoon berries

(Amelanchier alnifolia), Running Juneberries (Amelanchier stolonifera), Black

Rasberries (Rubus occidentalis) and the extremely cold tolerant Siberian Pea Shrub

(Caragana arborescens). These small trees and shrubs can tolerate our colder climates

and begin flowering again every spring without any help!

Another great variety of perennials are herbs such as Lemon Balm (Melissa

officinalis), Mountain Mint (Pycanthemum spp.) and all sorts of perennial onion plants

such as Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuun) and

Welsh Onion (Allium fistulosum).

These are just a few of the many perennial edibles that will thrive in colder

climates. Look up some more awesome perennials that will survive in your gardens

climate and start planning which ones you want for next season. I promise you won’t be


Don’t Toss that Ugly Potato!

November 1, 2014

by Lauren Churchill


Often when we go to supermarkets to buy produce we spend our time going through piles of

apples, potatoes, and carrots to find that picture perfect fruit or vegetable that fits our idea of

what produce is supposed to look like. However, a supermarket in France, Intermarché, is

breaking the ideals surrounding what food ‘should’ look like in an attempt to eliminate the

aesthetic standards that grocery stores hold for their produce and reduce food waste by asking the

question, “What is so wrong with a crooked cucumber? Or an unsightly potato? [2].”

Intermarché has begun an ‘ugly fruit’ campaign to sell imperfect fruits and vegetables as

an initiative to reduce food waste. The supermarket uses the produce’s deformities to their

advantage by marketing them with endearing names such as the ‘Unfortunate Clementine’

while dedicating entire aisles to the misshapen fruits and vegetables in their stores. This strategy

does not only reduce food waste by combating the 89 million tons of food wasted each year

across Europe but also combats the issue of the affordability of fresh produce [2]. The French

supermarket is marketing the produce at 30% off regular price as an incentive to get customers

to try the ‘ugly fruits’ while providing free juice samples made from them to show that the ‘ugly’

foods are just as delicious and nutritious as the ‘pretty’ ones! The reduced price of these misfit

fruits and vegetables creates a cost effective alternative for people who may not be able to afford

their recommended daily servings with the current rising prices of produce [1].

In regards to Canada, Toronto has some similar campaigns going on to reduce the waste of

produce that supermarkets do not want. Arrangements between the Ontario Food Terminal and

the Daily Bread Food Bank allow food that is deemed as unacceptable by supermarkets because

of its appearance to be donated to the food bank [1]. Ontario farmers have also developed a

relationship with food banks so they may donate their crops that would otherwise be wasted due

to their different sizes, colouring, or any other traits that challenges the ideal produce appearance


These are just a few of the improvements that have been made in Toronto to reduce produce

waste, however, most supermarkets are still reluctant to take the initiative to sell ‘ugly’ fruits

and vegetables. Representatives have stated that they do not think these campaigns are suited for

their markets because their consumers are looking for the ‘freshest’ produce, despite the fact that

the ugly fruit campaign has increased traffic flow at Intermarché by 24% [1]. These unshapely

fruits and vegetables are perfectly fresh, consumers and supermarkets are just becoming wrapped

up in the expectation of buying only produce that look like the airbrushed produce they see in


Hopefully the ‘ugly fruit’ campaign will make its way into Canadian supermarkets but in the

meantime, instead of passing by a fruit that is misshapen or discoloured while shopping for that

perfect apple, think, “Doesn’t a ‘Grotesque Apple’ just have more to love!?”

Image credit: Huffington Post UK [3]

[1] Krashinsky, S. (2014, July 31). Ugly fruit campaign prompts consumers to rethink what they

buy. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from



[2] Minder, R. (2014, May 24). Tempting Europe With Ugly Fruit. The New

York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from




[3] Huffington Post. (2014, July 17). Brilliant Food Waste Reduction Campaign Celebrates

Ugly Fruit And Veg. The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from http://

Local, Farm Fresh Food vs Supermarkets

October 14, 2014

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When I first started thinking about this post, I wanted to look into how accessible farm fresh produce was in Toronto. How prevalent are farmers markets around the city? Well I soon found out that there are a lot more than I thought and they’re in all major hubs of Toronto, from the west end all the way to the east [1].

My initial interest was sparked by the announcement by Whole Foods that their Yorkville location is now open and their 6th Ontario store would be opening up in Ottawa soon. I instantly wondered what made Whole Foods so great? It certainly offers its consumers a healthier alternative for quick easy lunches and dinners, supports local suppliers and markets its food as Organic as much as possible.

As I continued to search through their website there was one major thing I didn’t like. They carry genetically modified foods. Stating that carrying GMO products is almost impossible to avoid in a lot of foods [2]. Genetically modified refers to foods whose genetic make-up has been altered in order to make it resistant to certain types of weather, pesticides, insects and the list goes on.

I wanted to look into the options I (or you) have if I didn’t want to buy foods that have been genetically modified. Maybe the problem is that we don’t necessarily need more large grocery chains moving in and marketing us organic food. Maybe what we need is an increasing interest in actual organic food from farmers markets in the city where the interaction between consumer and producer is much more commonplace. Not only does the interaction mean you can personally ask farmers about their products and inform yourself but you also support your local farm producers upfront instead of through the large grocery chains. Not that I have anything against Whole Foods but it appears to be just as easy in Toronto to find local small-scale farmers markets with foods just as wholesome!

Take a look at these products:

• Canola

• Corn

• Lentils

• Potatoes

• Rice

• Soybeans

• Squash

• Tomatoes

• Wheat [3]

Are any of them a staple in your diet? If you want to avoid GMO products than you can choose to leave them out of your diet altogether or be aware where they are coming from when buying them. It can be as simple as asking farmers at the market how they grow their crops, where and what kinds of seeds they use.

Be particularly aware of processed foods as the David Suzuki Foundation’s website notes “GMO ingredients have made their way into most of the processed foods available on Canadian grocery shelves”[4]. This is what Whole Foods is talking about when they say they can’t avoid GMO products in their stores… So another solution is to avoid processed foods altogether.

Another alternative to this is growing your own food. When buying seeds you can ensure that those seeds are not GMO. Growing your own food requires zero emissions to transport to your table and you know exactly where it’s coming from! Whole foods is a step in the right direction but I think we can take it a step further and support local, organic and GMO free farmers if we continue to inform ourselves. So look up the closest farmers markets to you and go check ‘em out, I promise you won’t regret it!





Root Soup Riot

October 3, 2014

Do you know what veggies are in season this fall?


The growing season is not over yet! There are still tons of vegetables you can grow and buy that harvest in fall. Lettuce, kale, spinach, radish, beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes and rhubarb are all among some of the vegetables still being planted and harvested at the UofT gardens. Look for fall produces such as these at your local Stores to ensure you’re getting the freshest produce of the season. What would you make with these fresh veggies?

Potato-beet-carrot soup!

I know pumpkin spice is all the rage right now but this one is for the beet lovers! As the temperature begins to drop why not try a new soup recipe to warm you up. We like this one that incorporates potatoes, beets, carrots and garlic. It’s fast and easy to make.  Also try roasting the beets in tin foil and then chopping them up to add to any of your favourite salads!

Puréed Beet Soup

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and black pepper

21⁄2 pounds beets, peeled and chopped

1⁄2 pound starchy potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

6 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock

Juice of 1 lemon

Sour cream for garnish (optional)

Chopped fresh dill for garnish (optional)

1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and garlic

and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7

minutes. Add the beets, potatoes, and carrot and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes,

then add the stock.

2. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat so the mixture simmers gently. Cook

until the vegetables are fully tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the lemon juice and purée

with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot or cold,

garnished with the sour cream and dill, if desired. (Store leftover soup in an airtight

container in the refrigerator for up to several days.)[1]

[1]Puréed Beet Soup

We’re hiring Campus Agriculture Animators for Work Study!

August 23, 2014

Back in school this fall?  Want to deepen your involvement with wholesome campus food?  We want you!:


The Campus Agriculture Animator will work collaboratively with Hart House and the Dig In! Campus Agriculture Network (DICAN) to bring visibility to and increase awareness around food security and sustainability. The Animator will assist in the coordination of garden programming and projects as well as identify and assist with outreach projects including:


- Liaising with campus and community media

- Contributing to and maintaining the Dig In! website

- Increasing and maintaining the visibility of garden signage and plant identification

- Assisting with garden maintenance

- Working collaboratively on events and event promotion

- Maintaining relationships and seeking out new partnerships with groups on and off campus


This position is suited for students interested in food issues, urban agriculture, and

community-scale environmental policy. The student will learn about the material and human

dimensions of pursuing sustainable change within an institutional environment. Specific qualifications



Working knowledge of urban agriculture, food politics, and/or food security

Prior gardening and/or agricultural experience is a definite asset

Computer skills, including MS Suite (word, excel, powerpoint)

Demonstrated ability to assume responsibility and work on own initiative

Motivated, organized, and resourceful

Ability to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing

Demonstrated interpersonal skills; superior planning and facilitation skills


To apply, please submit your resume and cover letter to Kate Raycraft at campusagriculture{at}gmail{dot}com by September 12, 2014.


Know Your Food

August 20, 2014

The Importance of Understanding Your Food’s History in Human Health

Contributed by reader Jenni Hilton

Given the growing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant diseases, it is of particular importance that we bolster our immune systems as much as possible through diet. The ideal dietary components for immune-boosting, as everyone with even the most basic of nutritional educations is aware, are fruit and vegetables. The Harvard School of Public Health insist that people must “eat plenty every day” [1] in order to remain healthy. However, the situation is not quite as simple as heading into the store and buying a bagful of plants.

Microbial Immunity

The advance of modern medicine has done a lot for us. It has defeated smallpox, polio, tuberculosis. It saves millions of lives every year from infections which may otherwise prove fatal. It continually advances against cancer, and has made it possible for those with HIV to, as STD Panels put it, “to remain in good health and to have a comparable life span to everyone else” [2]. However, such medical wonders – while to be much lauded – have in many ways made us complacent. In the long run, it may prove that people with weakened immune systems like those suffering from HIV may have the edge over us, used as they are to treating their bodies with a degree of respect which many of us lack. The problem is that many diseases are becoming resistant to antibiotics. A report released by the Public Health Authority of Ontario makes the concerning point that “Over time, with overuse and misuse, coupled with the natural mutation abilities of bacteria, antibiotics have become less effective against bacteria” [3]. The situation is unlikely to improve – many scientists are worried that bacterial evolution will shortly reach a point where bacterial infections can override antibiotics and resume their terrible hold over the human race. Unable to rely on antibiotics, therefore, those who wish to have the best chance of beating these ‘superbugs’ would be advised to follow the guidelines given to HIV sufferers – and eat fresh, non-processed, preferably home-grown foods in order to bolster their immune systems.

Healthy Skepticism

To boost the immune system, Harvard University explicitly advises people to “Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.” [4] This seems a relatively easy guideline to follow – after all, supermarket shelves are stuffed with enticing natural produce. However, Harvard also warns those in search of an enriched immune system to “be skeptical”. Largely they refer with this advice to vitamin companies selling products like Bell’s “Supreme Immune Booster 90 Capsules” [5] which, while they may do some good, are in no way the catch-all solution they are purported to be. However, the warning also encapsulates the ‘fresh’ produce industry – the products of which are often not quite as ‘fresh’ and ‘healthy’ as they are purported to be.

Nutrition Destruction

That fruit and vegetables are great for the immune system is undeniable. The human body has evolved to utilize the nutrients within plant products, and welcomes natural produce with delight. Such fruit and vegetable foodstuffs enhance the body completely naturally, working with extant bodily processes to strengthen the body’s defenses from within, without reliance upon aid from alien chemicals. However, this being said, industrial fruit and vegetable production leaves much to be desired. Pesticides and growth aids, artificial preservatives and chemical agents designed to make the produce bigger, brighter, more richly colored to appeal to shoppers, all have a detrimental effect. The CDPR warn that “if not used correctly [pesticides] can…harm people or the environment” [6]. Ingestion of these pesticides – even in the trace amounts found in most commercially grown plant foods – necessitates an immune response which may negate the positive immunity effects of the foods themselves. Furthermore, preserving techniques often destroy much of the nutritional value inherent in such things. Vitamin C – described by the Linus Pauling Institute as a massively influential micronutrient which, among other things, “stimulate[s] both the production and function of leukocytes (white blood cells)” [7] - is destroyed incredibly easily through heat. Many preservative techniques involve heat, meaning that any fruit or vegetable product which has taken more than a few days to get to the store (thus necessitating preservative techniques) may well be more deficient than it should be in Vitamin C.

Grow Your Own

Many dubious processes are involved when money is the main motivator. Commercial fruit and vegetable producers are, of necessity, in it for the profit. Unfortunately, those products which sell best are those which look best on the shelves – and bright colors and shiny skins do not necessarily equate to optimal nutritional value. The only way to truly know what has gone into the production of your food, thus optimizing the nutritional value of your plate, is to grow it yourself. Vegetable self-sufficiency is not as difficult as it is often made out to be. All you need is a small patch of land – even a window-box is sufficient to grow plants like tomatoes and chilies – and the right seeds. Vendors like West Coast Seeds sell “certified organic, open pollinated…seeds for organic vegetable growing” [8] , ideal for such purposes. A certain amount of cultivation is required – but the sun and the earth do the majority of the work. Before long, you can be eating your own, home-grown produce, and boosting your immune system safe in the knowledge that nothing is detracting from the pure, unadulterated nutritional value of the plant.

[1] Harvard School of Public Health, “Vegetables and Fruits”

[2] STD Panels, “Coping With HIV Diagnosis”

[3] Healthcare Ontario, “Antibiotic Resistance: Emerging risks and the partnership solution”

[4] Harvard Health Publications, “How to boost your immune system”, Harvard Medical School

[5] Canadian Vitamins, “Bell Supreme Immune Booster 90 Vitamins”

[6] CDPR, “What are the Potential Health Effects of Pesticides”

[7] Linus Pauling Institute, “Nutrition and Immunity” Oregon State University

[8] West Coast Seeds


Make Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles now!

August 13, 2014

A good pickle is easy to find if you have a favourite brand or something. A great pickle however, is hard to come by. Salty, garlicky and crunchy dill pickles are super awesome by themselves or in a sandwich and are even easier to make! You just have to follow three basic steps and you can have some awesome homemade pickles soon!


1. Prepare your spices: For dill pickles, you will need dill seeds that can be found at Whole Food or Bulk Barn. Add some peppercorn or chili flakes and thrown in 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic in there too. Once you’ve created your spice mixture, add it to a jar.

2. Prepare your brine: A pickling brine is very easy to put together. All you need is equal parts cider vinegar, water and  salt. You can play with the amount of salt you want in your pickles.

3. Prepare you cucumbers and jars: You can either cut or pack the cucumbers whole into your jars. Once you’ve added the spices to the bottom, pack the cucumbers tightly and set them aside.



- Bring the brine to a rolling boil and fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.

- Make sure all the cucumbers are covered in the brine. Tap the bottom of the jar on a table or flat surface to bring all bubbles to the surface.

- Put the lids on and you can process the jars in a bath of hot water for 5 mins if you want to (you don’t have to).

- Once cool, store the jars in the refrigerator and leave for a minimum of 48 hours before consuming.




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