Category Archives: Food and Recipes

Day 19 – An African Women’s Farm

Last night Dad and I attended a talk about a women’s collective farm in the north eastern part of South Africa. It’s hard to know where to start as the talk touched on so many vital issues facing agriculture today. The speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, was excellent – her talk both inspiring and horrifying.

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

In the aftermath of the apartheid and drought, a group of women in Joppie Village started a small farm so they could grow vegetables for their families and community. 20 years later the farm is a vibrant hub in the community serving many roles beyond simply growing vegetables. It was inspiring to hear how these women have managed to get the farm off the ground, how it sustains them today, and fuels their hopes for the future.

Issues like the fact they must use hybrid seed (and, therefore, are beholden to the seed companies each year), have very little capital to invest in infrastructure, endure long periods of heat and little rainfall followed by short periods of deluge, and the ongoing struggles they face to protect the equipment they do own (pumps to provide essential irrigation to keep crops alive during those dry periods) against theft make my farming challenges insignificant hiccups. Despite the obstacles, through their perseverance they have created an amazing hub that sustains many people in many ways.

I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t be looking more seriously at other land-ownership models here on the peninsula that would make it easier for young farmers to have access to farmland (the Women’s Farm is owned collectively by the community) and at the same time move us along the road toward securing our own local food supply. Not so very long ago, Vancouver Island produced 80+ percent of our food. Today, that figure has plummeted to somewhere between 3% and 8% (depending who you ask). If we do not provide markets, infrastructure, and access to land for our farmers, AND we proceed with making changes to the ALR as is being discussed by our dear government, then why would we expect to see any farmland left at all? As a farmer said at a recent Peninsula Agricultural Commission Meeting, if we were to make farming a viable profession, there would be no need to protect farmland because young farmers would be lining up to get into the profession and they would be financially able to do so because farming would be a job that would pay a living wage.

There are so many cans of worms in that last paragraph I would be blogging until Christmas if I started opening them all. My point is, really, whether we are in South Africa or south Asia, Australia or Hawaii, the Fraser Valley or right here on our island, we ALL need to pay attention. We need to worry about seed saving, about who owns the genetic rights to living things. We need to think about smart ways to use infill development, to preserve the farmland we have left and make it accessible to a new generation of farmers. And, we need to provide useful ongoing support to farmers willing to use that farm to grow food. We need to look at the logic of using chemicals on food crops and how smart it is to ship lettuce from California when we can grow lots of it right here in our back yards.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make - organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes - but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make – organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes – but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

A vibrant community farm is far more than just a place to grow vegetables. The way we feed ourselves, our children, our neighbours, our elders, our friends, and our communities tells us a lot about how healthy [not just physically] our families and communities are likely to be for the long haul. 

Soapbox moment finished – for now. Stay tuned. And consider coming to the ALR Town Hall Meeting in Sidney (Mary Winspear Centre) 7pm on November 27th. Unless, of course, you don’t eat. In which case, farmland really is of no concern.

Vinegar Who Knew?

Vinegar Who Knew?.

Which vinegar for the job? And what if you’ve run out?

Here’s a useful post over on Town and Country Gardening about what vinegars are best to substitute for other vinegars in those terrible moments when you are part way through some tricky recipe only to discover that bottle of rice vinegar you thought you had squirreled away somewhere is actually cider vinegar. I’m reblogging here partly so I can keep track of the info the next time I’m reaching for the red wine vinegar for salad dressing only to discover a bottle of red wine in my hand instead. Turns out that’s not a problem (unlike having the opposite issue – reaching for a glass of wine and instead taking a glug of red wine vinegar…)

Pickled Beets!

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I love pickled beets. The only problem is, it takes HOURS to make them! Fortunately, I was not alone and was, in fact, talked into embarking on the project by my lovely future son-in-law, Toryn. So, with all the decks cleared, we started with tons of beets from Michell’s Farm Market down the road (all of ours went into our customer goody boxes – doesn’t that just figure!).

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First step was to sort the beets into piles that were more or less the same size. The smaller ones we cooked whole, larger ones were chopped up a bit first. We boiled them for about ten minutes after first topping and tailing.

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After boiling, we doused the beets in cold water. That makes the skins slip off quite easily.

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THIS is a great tool!

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Dunking the beets in cold water.

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Due to popular demand, we sliced them all (instead of doing some in a chunkier style…).

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We added a malt vinegar and water mixture after we’d added a spoonful of pickling spices to each jar of sliced beets.

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At this point, the whole house smelled like vinegar and beets and all the windows were fogged up. Lids went on and the jars were gently lowered into a boiling water bath.

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Beet juice and sharp knives everywhere! It was about halfway through several batches that I got a phonecall – “There’s a stray horse down at the barn!”

I sprinted down the hill and found a pony with some serious attitude pulling faces at my horses through the fence. She has visited our place before, so I knew where to take her. Leaving T. in charge of the beets, I hiked down the road with pony in tow. Fortunately, farming neighbour Mitchell happened to see me and gave me a ride back so I didn’t miss too much.

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After T. left for work, I finished up the last batch. It was one of those situations where I could either have six very full jars or seven not very full jars and I opted for the former. Mistake! You know the part where they say ‘”leave plenty of head room?” There is a good reason for that… Fail to do so and your jar explodes due to all the super hot expanding liquid in the jar. Which is what happened in the last batch.

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The good news was that only one jar was lost. And, bonus, the bottom blew out very cleanly – no splinters or missing chunks of glass. So, the hogs were happy – they got some fancy beets as a treat!

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Not only did the bottom blow out, the whole jar flipped upside down in the water bath.

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Fortunately, all the other jars sealed without trouble…

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We couldn’t wait the recommended three weeks before testing… so today after everything had cooled, we opened a jar.

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Grampy tries a beet… the ultimate taste test!

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Fortunately (because we have a lot of them!) the beets passed muster and made their way into a cheese and beet sandwich. As the rest of the beets sit in their jars they will absorb more of the vinegar and spice mix so the taste will be stronger, but even in their premature state, they are pretty yummy! Will throw some into the salad tonight!