Monday, June 23, 2008

Invasion of the class of 2018

I offered to the my son Stephen's teacher the chance to come and see the chickens. So today we have 20 kids from Mrs Favell's grade two class from Tillicum Elementary come and see the chickens.

It went quite well. The kids enjoyed holding the chickens, petting them, feeding them and seeing where eggs come from. Mrs Burleigh the principle as came along and took some pics.

I plan of telling them that the chickens are available for other classes to come and see.

This fits into my plan to have people understand that you can produce your own food. I think it is really important for kids to see this because we are getting further and further removed from our agricultural roots.

Before world war two, most people in Canada were still connected to a farm is some way. For my generation a lot of us had parents that grew up on the farm. For my childern, this means their grandparents generation where the ones on the land. The connection is getting further and further away.

Children seem alienated from where their food comes from and how the natural world works. What I find most interesting is that is seems to be the youth that are better educated that are most disconnected.

We have surplus of eggs at the moment, I am going to have to figure out what I should make with them. Maybe Stephen can make some cupcakes for school tomorrow?

Island Farm Fresh

I like the guide put out by Southern Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association each year.

The guide helps guide me out on the peninsula when I am looking for sources of fresh produce.

Starling Lane Winery

On the weekend while we were trying to kill more time waiting for this baby to arrive, we went out on the peninsula looking for local strawberries. The trip to find the strawberries was not really successful, the price the producers were asking was outrageous, about $4 a pint. This was bad enough last year, but this year the price seems utterly out of whack with reality. I have seen a lot of decent American strawberries this year and often for not much more than a dollar a pound. I will wait for the local ones.

What was interesting was the Starling Lane Winery. This is a hobby operation for three couples. The volume of wine they produce is very low, only 1000 cases a year. We were served Sherry Mussio. I asked her about the sort of volumes they cropped on their vines and I was astonished at how low their volumes were. They are cropping in the order of one tonne per acre - far below the four tonnes per acre in the Okanagan or the 'norm' on the island of 2.5 to 3 tonnes. Clearly they could be producing some high quality grapes, but the proof comes in the taste of the wine.

We had a chance to try several wines, three whites, one red and a blackberry port. The offered a nice Ortega and Pinot Gris. Even though I tend to not like the drier whites, I could see drinking either one. Then came the moment I dread at most wineries, especially the small scale ones, the offer of the red.

I have rarely found a BC red that can really compete with a mid range or bargain range Californian or Australian red. I did have a chance a few years back to try a BC red Harry McWaters offered me when I met with him at Sumac Ridge. It was very good, it was also $50 a bottle. Most times BC reds are thin and simple when they are drinkable, or they are simply utterly undrinkable.

John Vielvoye, a very good BC based viticulture expert, once told me that there is a very strong tendency in BC for growers to chose varieties that are on the margins in BC, to push what is possible. Only very low cropping and the best growers can make anything of them, and that is very rare.

It strikes me that most small scale wineries are a hobby of love run by people who really are not experts in growing grapes or in making wines - I could write pages about the problem of small scale winemakers who are in love with their dream and can not tell that they are making awful plonk.

So, the dreaded moment of the red wine came out. I already knew that these were amateur hobbiest who do this for a lifestyle dream and not for the money. I was dreading the Pinot Noir that was handed to me. I was hoping it would at least be a thin insipid drinkable concoction and not something that would make me think fondly of the old gala kegs of Calona. BC is home to many Pinot Noir butchers.

My first surprise was the bouquet, there was a true peppery scent with nice hints of spicy fruit. The taste gave me a full bodied classic Pinot Noir. This is an island red worth buying and drinking, though at $22 a bottle it is still a steep price.

Sherry explained to me that if the grapes they grow are not up to the standards they want, they will not make the wine. Those words are magic to my ears. There is some quality control going on and I have a confidence that Starling Lane is not going to make and release a wine they are not confident of. It also indicates that they know how to make wine and they know what a good wine tastes like.

We bought a bottle of the Ortega and a bottle of the Pinot Noir.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chickens now allowed in Esquimalt

Esquimalt has decided to allow backyard chickens, though I think the number of 4 is a too low. With 6 I only get 2.5 dozen a week at the moment, which should rise to 3 over the summer. With three boys and doing home baking, this is not quite enough.

Hens get free range

By Rebecca Aldous - Victoria News - June 17, 2008

The egg has hatched.

Esquimalt single family residential properties can now keep up to four hens. Since April municipal staff have been pecking over the topic of urban chickens. After visiting several owners of the birds, Esquimalt's director of development services Barbara Snyder said if kept correctly she had no concern about noise or smell.

Four hens could produce enough eggs for a family.

But many of the chicken owners Synder met considers the birds as pets rather than a source of food.

Mayor Chris Clement supported the bylaw, adding the municipality should examine more ways residence can produce their own food.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Madrona Farm

There was an interesting article in today's T-C about Madrona farm in the Blenkinsop valley. Dave and Nathalie Chambers are currently farming the land.

The farm is a 28 acre property of which 15 acres are under cultivation. The farm is on the market for $2 000 000. The brother's that owned it have offered $600 000 towards The Land Conservancy buying the farm. Another $1 400 000 needs to be raised to complete the deal. There is a two year timeframe to complete the deal with $250 000 having to be available by December of this year.

In general I am in favour of this sort of private sector approach to protecting farmlands. As the owner the TLC can decided how the land is managed and a Panama Flats issue is unlikely to occur.

They sell almost all of their produce at the farm gate. I wonder if they would be willing to shift over to being a CSA? A CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that the consumers pay an annual subscription fee to the producer for a share of the production. The consumer takes on the risk of crop failure and the producer gets a lot more money up front.

I was part of a CSA in 1993 and 1994 in Vancouver. For $600 a year we got a large box of produce delivered to our door once a week. We got whatever was picked and in whatever quantity was harvested. This approach meant I only had seasonal veggies. It also meant that I would get veggies I never bought and had to figure out how to use them. They also had days when you could come out and visit the farm.

I would love to join a CSA again, but I can not find any here in Victoria. Before you rush off to tell me that SPUD (Small Potatoes Urban Delivery) is the same thing, it is not all all. SPUD is middle man and disconnects the consumer for the producer.

I wish the Chambers and the TLC well in their efforts. I am going to suggest they put part of the farm into a CSA.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Some interesting local links

Farmer's Last Stand

Victoria Buffet Blog

Backyard Chickens in Victoria among other things.....

Well, the chickens have been laying for a month now. They are not giving me as many eggs as I had hoped for, with six hens I has hoping for 30 eggs a week, instead I am getting closer to 24 a week.

The total cost to date has been $280 - at the moment that is about $2.50 an egg. I expect to 'break even' with the hens when I reach about 120 dozen eggs. When will that be? My estimate is that this will be sometime in April to July of 2009. What I need to decide is if I am going to run a light out to them for the winter months to keep them in production.

Meanwhile the cool weather has kept the veggie garden from progressing - the cucumbers, peppers and squash are all doing almost nothing. The lettuce is doing ok. I can see now that the veggie garden needs me to take down more of the cherry tree and change the railing on the sundeck. Both are causing the bed to be darker than it needs to be.

On top of this I continue to have an issue with the soil. Not the typical Victoria issue of clay and bedrock, but nails and glass. I have to sift through every inch of ground I want to use. Slow going. It is going to take two to four years before I manage to get all the beds done.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Trying to make a good Meatloaf

I am using a recipe for an old version of the Joy of Cooking - very plain, very simple, we will see how well it goes

Top Chef Final 4

So I missed the people that would make the final four in Top Chef.

I had not expectation that Lisa would last - none at all.

I completely missed Antonia when I made my predictions early on in the show.

Dale and Andrew - killed by bad attitudes.

Interestingly, three of four finalists are people that have had more or less no personality clashes or hissy fits.

All in all this season has more and better competitors than ever before. Top Chef season one had a lot of contestants that were on par with the people in Hell's Kitchen. Over the seasons the people on Hell's Kitchen have gone downhill and Top Chef they have gotten better. There was no obvious loser in the group this time.

With that in mind, how does Lisa manage to continue? Luck of having someone screw up more than her is all I can think. This week it was Antonia. The problem with the format of the show is that you are judged on how you did on one given event and not on the basis of how you have done over time, though I am sure this resonates with some of the judges. Dale is gone not because he was the worst cook left, but because in restaurant wars the losing teams exec chef is normally sent home.

With a final three of Lisa, Richard and Stephanie, it is all down to Richard versus Stephanie. There is no way Lisa can compete with the other two. Six months away from the show and she still does not have the chops to win it all.

Honestly, unless there is some disaster, I am certain Richard Blais will win it all. He certainly deserves it, but in many ways he was a step above all the rest on the show and to me the obvious person to win it all. I wonder if in the next round you will see more competitors of his quality once he has won?