Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sooke News Mirror

Agriculture in focus at farm forum

How does smoked tuna loin stacked on pickled beets sound? How about wild mushrooms on squash cakes or roast leg of pork braised in mead?

These are just a few of the mouth-watering entrees being prepared for those who take part in the Farm Forum Feast on October 25.

The Farm Forum is all about community and the need to develop an agricultural plan for the region.

“It is three events in one day,” says event organizer Robert Thompson. “The feast is a major component.”

Chefs who have worked or grown up in the area are returning to be a part of the home-grown feast.

Sooke and area is well-known for its scenery and wild places, but it is also a place where people grow, sell and harvest the bounty of the land and the sea. Scattered throughout the area are small farms where farmers strive to provide fresh, local produce to those who appreciate the homegrown qualities. People want to know where their food comes from, especially with all the concerns about sustainability and food security.

“The country market has doubled and there’s actual lineups,” says Mary Alice Johnson of ALM Organic Farm and Full Circle Seeds. “And Ragley Farm is just hopping.”

There are concerns about the loss of old farms and farm land and how the threatened land can survive amidst development growth.

“There are young people who want to farm. In the area there are 70 small producers of food — many of them are families,” said Johnson. “It is surprising that most of the food producers in the Sooke area are not in the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

Along with the increased awareness and support for local growers comes a movement. The Sooke Region Food CHI has grown from a few concerned people to over 100 involved in the movement in some way. The Juan de Fuca Economic Development Commission and the District of Sooke came forward to see how they could help promote the agricultural aspect of the region.

“It’s a neat partnership of all three groups,” says Phoebe Dunbar. “It’s economic development really.”

These three groups are presenting the Farm Forum Feast at Edward Milne Community School. What is exciting about the event is not only the harvest feast but also the family aspect of the day. Organizers have planned interactive displays, talks and presentations on food issues and fun things for kids, like zucchini races, and scarecrow and pumpkin art. Kids can squeeze their own apple juice, win prizes and tap their toes to country music.

The community is in focus at the Farm Forum and Harvest Feast. Attendees can browse through displays set up by a number of organizations and individuals. Michael Jansen-Reynaud will have a wild mushroom display, composters, ocean harvesters, alpaca spinners, pumpkin carvers and all manner of gardeners and cooks will be on hand to share their information. The Sooke region Museum will have historical displays of farming as it used to be.

The serious side of the day is the Farm Forum. A facilitated discussion on building a sustainable future for agriculture and food security in the community is at the top of the agenda. Three communities from the area have been invited to discuss their experiences and progress of their separate agricultural area plans; these include Salt Spring Island, Comox Valley and the Cowichan Valley.

Representatives from other communities that have agricultural advisory committees will also be in attendance, as well representation from the First Nations communities in the region.

“You don’t have to be a farmer or a supplier to attend,” said Thompson. “Just come, have fun and learn.”

The three-stage festival begins at 9 a.m. with the Farm Forum and continues throughout the day until 4 p.m. (lunch is provided to forum participants). The festival begins at 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. These two events are free. Between 4:30 and 5:30 there is a free concert in the theatre.

The Harvest Feast is a sit-down dinner taking place in the school’s common area at 6 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at Peoples Drug Mart, Shoppers Drug Mart and EMCS. The organizers have arranged a “family” tickets price for two adults and two kids under 12-years-of-age.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The bounty of tomatoes

A week ago I bought 175 pounds of roma tomatoes from the Glanford Greenhouses for $75. I am sharing them 50/50 with my in laws.

On the day that I got them we processed about 2/3s of the tomatoes into raw pulp - I have this great food mill that very quickly grinds the tomatoes through. The pulp comes out one side and the skins and seeds go out the other. Pure tomato juice/pulp. 60 pounds yielded 5 gallons of pulp for me.

Today I processed that raw juice into a sauce, I reduced it by about half over the day and then made a sauce out of it with onions, celery, carrots and some salt. Very basic. I have 11 litres of tomato sauce from this. It is a very concentrated and sweet sauce.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Willies Bakery on Lower Johnson

I recently had lunch at Willies Bakery on lower Johnson and I was disappointed with the food. The restaurant was busy and shortly after we sat down there was a line up for people to get in.

I had a pulled pork sandwich for about $10. The whole menu seemed a bit pricey, but for good food this is not an issue. The problem was that my pulled pork sandwich was not very good. The pork had not been roasted long enough to release all of the wonderful transformation of collagen to gelatin. The pork was also covered in a cloyingly sweet BBQ sauce. The size of small bun with the meat on my large plate seemed to make it look a bit more like a slider than a sandwich. I do not like coleslaw so asked not to get it, the server did not offer to replace it with anything.

My two table guests were also disappointed with what they got for the cost they paid. Neither one was as good as they had hoped for.

I know Willies has a long reputation for being a good restaurant, but based on this last experience I had it will be a long time before I go back. There are a lot of other restaurants in Victoria I can go to for similar fare.

Willies Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

How My Garden Grew

Things are basically done in the garden this year and I had some good successes and some stunning failures.

The chickens have been great - I am still getting one egg a day per bird, this means 3 1/2 dozen a week at the moment which has a retail value of $12 a week. My costs are about $15 a month. My friend the vet and organizer of the Chicken Tour each May here in Victoria says my hens might keep laying all winter. I do need to work on sheltering the coop over the winter to keep the rain out.

Esquimalt is close to passing their new chicken bylaw, there will be a public hearing on the issue on November 3rd at 7 pm at the council chambers. There seems to be some restrictions on where you can have your coop, mainly that it should not be visible from the street or by the neighbours. Given where my coop is and how many people walk less than 6 feet from the chickens, they really are not very noticeable.

My pumpkins plants produced a meager three pumpkins. A lot of them rotted on the vine right after setting.

The peppers produced almost nothing - I got a single walnut sized pepper from all of the plants.

My zucchinis produced, but not in the sort of volumes I expected, we got enough, but not a lot. I harvested only about 15 pounds over the season.

The peas were a failure, I think the seed was a bad batch. Next year I am going to buy the seed in bulk from Borden Mercantile.

The Scarlet Runner beans did well, but I planted them late in the season. Also, the seed from the package was not as good as the bulk seed from Borden Mercantile. Next year much earlier in the ground and a lot more. I did harvest about 10 pounds.

The tomatoes did not badly, I got a lot of the cherries and a few of the larger ones. I know I planted them late. I was afraid I would blight here as I did on Balfour Street, but there seems to be no blight here. I managed about 15 pounds of cherry tomatoes and 15 pounds of the regular ones.

Basil did well, but I need to plant a lot more to make it possible to have a harvest to make pesto or freeze.

Spinach was hit and miss, I got some, but often it would go to seed very quickly and I never planted enough to really cook with it.

Lettuce is still coming. I did well early in the season and expect to harvest from a few more weeks. I estimate I got about 30 small heads over the season and will harvest another 10 to 15. The chickens got about 20 heads. I will keep some under cloches for the winter and see how they do.

Cucumbers - the plants produced a moderate amount, but not really as well as I had expected them to. I harvested only about 10 pounds worth.

The wheat is still not quite ripe, I am harvesting seed heads as I go out to the garden, I am not going to do this next year as this really was only meant as a one off experiment. I hope to have enough wheat to make a loaf of bread or two.

Herbs - no end to parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano. I need to plant more chives and dill. Garlic will be planted for next year.

Figs - we have lots on the tree, but I need to figure out what to do with them. I could have picked about 200 pounds but only ended up using maybe 30 pounds.

The small blackberry I have needs to grow in size.

For next year I plan the following:

  • Garlic - forty to fifty of them and I need to get them in the ground soon
  • Scarlet runner beans - ideally forty to fifty plants
  • Peas - ideally 30 plants
  • Tomatoes - more than last year
  • Zucchini and other squash - I am going plant these along Maddock street on the grass strip that is there.
  • Cucumbers - ten plants is the plan and I will add more compost to the ground.
  • Lettuce, spinach and basil - I need to expand the patch by a factor of three or four.
  • Berries - I want to plant a lot of strawberries, but I need a bed to do that in. I am looking at a few locations for this in the yard. I would also like to get some raspberries in though I am leary given my past track record on cane management.
  • Fruit trees - I would like to plant half a dozen apple frees, a few plums and a few apricots. I would do this in the front and replace some of the shrubs and things there.
In general it is clear to me now that there needs to be a lot more work done on the soil in the yard. There needs to be a lot more compost added, more sand and top soil as well. The soil is a long term project and does daunt me with the what I will have to do.