a friday farm tour

Guess where I was 2 weeks ago? If you guessed 'Kashmir', you would be incorrect. I was actually a mere 15 minute drive from my house at A.C. Gilmore Farms (above), located on No. 8 Road in Richmond, B.C. (The llama’s name is ‘Ben’ and that’s the Nanaksar Gurdwara Guru Sikh Temple in the background.) I was out farm touring with my friend’s Arlene Kroeker (columnist for the Richmond Review) and Anne Casselman (creator and writer for Food and Tell)..... 3 women, 3 farms, in 3 hours.

Founded 3 generations ago by Andy Capp Gilmore, this 236 acre spread is now run by A.C. Gilmore & Sons Company. In turn, a four acre portion of the property is being rented by Gilmore grandson, Andy, and his wife, Dee. In her previous life before moving to the farm, Dee was the owner and operator of ‘Crazy Horse Live Stock & Pet Food Supply’. Full of energy, vision and enthusiasm, she was a most informative and entertaining hostess as she toured us around the land and the barns, showing us their various pets and livestock, all while filling us in on some of the local agricultural gossip..... there is enough material there to create a Dallas-esque t.v. series, I swear. Horses, sheep, llamas, goats, dogs, turkeys (who happened to be listening to country music on the barn radio when we dropped by) and chickens seem to all coexist well, though the dogs are not allowed near anything with wings, for they are sure to eat it. A self-described ‘meatatarian’, Dee does grow some fruit and vegetables close to their house, but usually gives most of it away, instead preferring a steady diet of meat and poultry..... with the exception of potatoes and the occasional squash. Because she raises her organic chickens for a duration of 63 days vs. the usual 23, the birds are allowed to mature long enough that their bones can calcify and produce gelatin (and flavour!) when cooked. At $5/ lb, these tasty beauties are a delicious bargain. The 6 pounder I bought is currently sitting pretty in my freezer, waiting patiently to become the perfect Sunday dinner. To buy chicken from Dee, email her @ crzhorse@telus.net

Gilmore FarmsGilmore Farms

Making new friends at Gilmore Farms.

Next, we dropped in on Tai On Farms. Helen and her sister, who is known to everyone as 'Auntie', have owned and operated for an impressive 35 years. Originally the first in the Richmond area to grow Chinese produce, today they continue to sell their beautiful, fresh fruit and vegetables direct to the public from their retail location on No. 5 Rd.

Last, but certainly not least, we paid a return visit to Jose @ JPS Vegetable Farm. I had been to see him a few times last Spring, always enjoying his warmth, his extensive botanical knowledge and, most of all, his childlike enthusiasm. Since last May there have been a few additions; most notably, a cow named Susie. In turn, she has independently aquired 2 goat friends of her own. Though they actually live across the street, they walk themselves over to JPS each morning, enjoy a full day of grazing with their bovine buddy, and then return home each night before dark.

JPS Vegetable Farm

Susie and the kids at JPS Vegetable Farm. If you drop by Jose's you can purchase his fresh eggs and produce, or just wander through the quirky, enchanted greenhouse / doggy day care. JPS Vegetable Farm is located at 12700 Blundell Rd in Richmond.


cheese making for newbies

Fresh Day Cheese

Our homemade Ricotta.....No, wait- it's actually 'Day Cheese'.

Earlier this month I invited two friends over to spend a Sunday afternoon at my house…..or rather, in my kitchen. Somehow we had gotten it into our heads that we should try our collective hand at making cheese. My friend, Sylvia, is a modern day Renaissance woman who is hugely capable at figuring out how to do accomplish pretty much anything she puts her mind to.....from tiling her entire bathroom to erecting an 8 foot high bamboo pagoda in her garden and then growing a vertical pumpkin patch on it- honestly!. Having long ago mastered a recipe for ‘Sada Paneer’, she was definitely the more experienced of our cheesemaking trio. Michelle and I, both recent culinary school graduates, were used to attempting new recipes and techniques, though our curriculum had included zero cheesemaking. Having just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’, I had been most inspired by her experience attending a cheesemaking workshop at Ricki Carroll's New England Cheesemaking Company in Ashfield, Massachesetts. She then returned home, immediately applying her new found know-how to frequent fresh cheese production for scrumptious family meals. I had even sourced an available supply of unpasteurized milk, through a dairy farm in Chilliwack. Though this is a fantastic ingredient for producing optimal cheese (not to mention the way it has been done for thousands of years), it is illegal to buy and sell. The only way around this regulation is to purchase shares in an actual cow, such as the one in Chilliwack, and then pick up one's regular supply at a secret location. I figured that if our day went well, we might want to consider exploring some alternative ingredient options.....

Sylvia’s Sada Paneer

6 cups milk (low-fat to whole will work)
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk

1. Boil milk and then add the buttermilk. Reduce heat to medium.
Return to boil while stirring continuously, until curds form and separate from the whey. (about 4-5 minutes) Remove from heat and let stand uncovered for 10 minutes.

2. Line colander with double cheese cloth. Ladle curds into cloth.
Tie 4 corner together tie to wooden spoon and hang into pot to drain
for 2 hours.

3. Place wrapped paneer on a plate and cover with a cookie sheet. Weigh down with something heavy- like a 1 gallon water jug. Let stand for 1 1/2 hrs.

4. Unwrap paneer and cut into wedges. Lasts 4 days in the fridge. Also freezes well. Makes about 1 cup.

We decided on 3 recipes for the day- ricotta, cream cheese and mozzarella. Of the 3 cheeses we attempted, our results went as follows: The ricotta turned out not to be ricotta at all. (I only noticed this after the fact, when I went back on the recipe's website to find this reader’s comment- “What you made is a ricotta substitute called ‘Day Cheese’. I bet it tastes good too though.” It’s flavour was light and mild, though its texture was rather dry. Our second effort, the cream cheese, didn’t thicken properly. Even after leaving it at room temperature for the recipe's maximum suggested time (before I thought we might start to poison people), it was still too runny and seemed more like sour cream. And, lastly, the mozzarella was a full out flop. It had been the only cheese we attempted to make using rennet, which is a natural complex of enzymes that can coagulate milk, causing it to separate into curds and whey. The necessary reaction never occurred, and we had do dump the whole lot down the sink. Despite the fact that we ended up wasting a large quantity of milk, we still managed to enjoy ourselves, stopping for a lunch break of ‘day cheese’ with fresh bread, pesto, pickles and cold beer.

Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet sat on..... eating her curds and whey.....

Would I do it again? Not without proper supervision, though I would take a stab at the paneer recipe. Since then I have begun an email dialogue with local cheese maker ‘Farmer Tomas’. He does occasional workshops and has assured me that an October date will soon be announced..... one which will include the use of rennet. I think I know 3 women who would be very interested in attending.


a day with city farm boy

City Farm Boy

A Vancouver backyard bursting with bounty.....planted (and tended) by City Farm Boy.

"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens."- Thomas Jefferson

I find it more than a little surprising (and embarrassing) that, at the ripe old age of 40, I have never grown a vegetable garden of my own. Sure, I love to visit farms and farmers any chance I get.....and I am always keen to experience just about anything grown locally, yet I remain hopeless at doing for myself. And I’m not the only one. Last spring Nicholas Read (age 51), columnist for The Vancouver Sun, was ashamed to find himself still unable to grow a carrot. Driven by his resolve to do something about it, he offered up his volunteer services to Ward Teulon, owner and operator of City Farm Boy, in exchange for some good, old fashioned, hands on learning. As a companion to his experience, he has written a series of blog entries documenting his weekly gardening sessions.

City Farm Boy

Beets fresh from the soil in downtown Vancouver.

Clearly, there is a growing interest within our society around what we eat and where it is from. And my spidey senses are telling me that there are many adults in our communities who have never learned how to grow their own food, but are keen to learn how. I believe there is a strong need (and potential small business opportunity) for workshops and courses. Imagine knowledgeable, passionate teachers who could empower us with the skills, resources and ability to build raised beds, assemble pots, prepare soil and compost, plant seeds, grow seedlings, irrigate, harvest and, finally, save our seeds for the next planting season. Whether in our own backyards, balconies or community and school gardens.....we have so much space, so much potential to be growing (at least some of) our own food. I'd sign up. In fact, I did.

My own new found success this past summer, growing my own planters of tomatoes, peppers and basil, had me down right giddy.....and wanting more. As luck would have it, last August brought an answer to my prayers. A professional agrologist since 1989, Ward of 'City Farm Boy' was offering an all day workshop on how to grow food in your backyard, your neighbours backyard and even on a downtown rooftop. Count me in.

Ward started 'City Farm Boy' in 2007, growing vegetables in 4 Vancouver private backyards (all within a five kilometer bicycle ride from his East Vancouver home) and selling his produce to the public at both the Riley Park and West End Farmers Markets. Though he is not certified organic, all of his food is grown using only organic methods. The media is fond of Ward’s growing business…..and not only does it make for a great story, it has gotten the word out. He has received literally 100’s of offers from homeowners wanting him to cultivate their properties. At last count, he was up to 14 gardens, including a rooftop garden in Yaletown (the only exception to his 5 km rule).

City Farm Boy

Resurrected roof top garden in downtown Vancouver.

His one day workshop was developed to teach anyone interested not only how to grow food in their own backyard, but also how to emulate his model of growing on other people's properties and organizing to sell at local Farmers Markets. I wasn't that ambitious.....but I did learn a great deal during our day together, as we toured through 4 of his gardens and received oooodles of useful information and resources. Six hours later I left with a clear and ambitious vision of my (spring 2009) project. As I am blessed to live in a house with a south facing backyard that is simply begging for TLC (Tender Loving Cultivation), my edible garden will include 3 raised beds, heaps of new soil and a timer-set irrigation system. Totaling about 60 sq feet, it will be a big project; one that will probably cost me more in time and money than if I were to buy my produce from Farmers Markets throughout the entire growing season. But that’s simply not the point. I already have a ‘night before Christmas’ excitement for next year’s garden. I can’t wait to find out what I will (successfully) grow and, most important of all, what I will learn. Ward's next workshop will take place on Saturday, October 4 and he still, at the time of this post, has a few Farmers Market dates left.


eating (and drinking) around san francisco

Red's Java House

Sisterly bonding at Red's Java House.

Though Slow Food Nation was certainly the main purpose for my recent visit to San Francisco, this richly diverse city is one of the best places to eat (and drink) any day of the year. I felt extremely fortunate to be there for many reasons, especially to enjoy an opportunity to hang with my seees-stir, Lauri (and also to crash on her sofa for 4 nights). As the trusty and most excellent General Manager of Range Restaurant (our dinner there during the first evening of my visit was a sublime treat), she is dialed into the local food scene on many levels..... from street food to fancy pants, she knows ooodles of great places to sip and nosh in the city she has made her home since 1996. Because there was an ongoing heat wave, plus the fact that I was walking about 10 miles around town each day and am perpetually hungry during any vacation I take..... it seemed that it was always either 'beer o'clock' or time to eat something yummy (or both)!

El Cachanilla

Lauri orders us lunch at El Cachanilla.

Red’s Java House (on the Embarcadero, top) is a great pitt stop for cheap, cold draft beer, free homemade chips & salsa and an ocean view. Situated next to a working boatyard overlooking San Francisco Bay, The Ramp offers more beer, a diverse crowd and pretty decent calamari. The fresh and authentic fish tacos in the Mission's, El Cachanilla (above) proved especially convenient, being only a one block waddle from Lauri's home. Chow (Church Street location) is one of my all time favs; its super friendly staff serve up consistently delicious, hearty, rustic fare that always satisfies (try the home made, warm gingerbread cake with caramel sauce and pumpkin ice cream- lordy!!). Every Saturday is the Alemany Farmers Market which is far more extensive and casual than the Ferry Building's Farmers Market. Though its industrial location is not nearly as scenic, its prices are certainly far more reasonable. Get there early and stock up for the week. Not only will you have had an opportunity to meet and buy from the growers directly, you will head home with a stunning bounty of locally grown, healthy food that will cost you less than a buggy full from Safeway.


slow food nation- taste pavillions

slow food nation

The Fish Pavilion at Fort Mason

I am continually in awe of those who speak eloquently. You know the ones- always able to effortlessly find the perfect turn of phrase at the perfect time, managing to articulate a thought or an idea with both precision and poetry. Regrettably, I simply ain't one of those people. During my first 2 days at Slow Food Nation’s ‘Food for Thought Speaker Series’ I was usually so overwhelmed by the inspired speakers, I spent more time teetering on the edge of tears than I did able to construct a sentence.

Sunday's Taste Pavilions provided quite a departure from all them there big thoughts.....not to mention a rip snortin' good time. Imagine 15 distinct pavilions within the 50,000 square foot pier at Fort Mason (on a spectacular sunny day): Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutneys, Spirits, Tea and Wine.

…..“The Taste Pavilions present an unprecedented opportunity to sample the regional foods of America, with products from every state hand-picked by ‘curators’ who are nationally recognized experts in a particular type of food.”…..they weren’t freaking kidding! Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it. In addition, over a dozen of the Bay Area’s most celebrated architects worked pro-bono to design each of the Taste Pavilions. The end results not only provided backdrops to the unique and delicious foods- each thoughtfully created environment also contributed enormously to the experience of the space at large.

The ‘Wall of Bread’, which housed the Bread Pavilion, was basically a global bread museum, complete with a comprehensive history and illustrations on the subject. It also included 4 massive outdoor wood-burning ovens which cranked out literally hundreds of pizza slices and Indian breads each hour, plus a 7’ tall SF Snail sculpture made entirely from loaves of real bread. The outdoor Beer Pavilion offered 100’s of artisan beers to sample. My favourite visual detail of this space was the material used to make the bar’s counter tops- crushed beer bottles set into concrete. The Fish Pavilion served a trio of samplers, including a fantastic calamari, bread and basil salad. The Wine Pavilion offered 454 American made options to taste (and yes, you could take your wine to the cheese and your beer to the charcuterie), while the Cheese Pavilion handed out a fantastic artisan cheese sampler and provided hay bale seating and lots of great dairy related quotes such as “Cheese; Milks’ leap into immortality”- (Clifton Fadiman). In the 4 hours that I was there, despite my steady consumption of food and drink, I still managed to work my way through only half of my $45 punch card. It should be noted that, despite the bad rap events like this get for being elitist and inaccessible, over a 3 day period I was able to partake in 4 sessions of the speaker series, the 'Best of Slow Food on Film', linger each day through the Victory Garden at Civic Centre (free) plus enjoy the day's grazing and sipping at Fort Mason for a total cost of $175.

slow food nation- beer pavillion

Bar counter made from crushed beer bottles

slow food nation

Dairy wisdom at the Cheese Pavilion

slow food nation

Honey and Preserves Pavilion

slow food nation

Wall of bread at 'The Hall of Bread'.

slow food nation

Charcuterie wallpaper! (prosciutto and salami)

heroes and heroines (food for thought speaker series)

Alice Waters (photographed by Annie Lebowitz)

What can $100 buy you these days? A designer sweatshirt, dinner for two, a tank of gas.....or 4 tickets to see 4 sets of guest panel speakers blow your mind at the Herbst Theatre. Below is the line-up I chose to see during my 2 days at the Slow Food Nation's 'Food For Thought Speaker Series'. Needless to say, I am still in the process of digesting it all.....

#1- Opening Session- The World Food Crisis

"It’s widely acknowledged that we are in the middle of a world food crisis. Skyrocketing food and fuel costs, water scarcity, and population explosions have communities worldwide in the grip of hunger and dire food shortages. Come listen to four of the foremost authorities on the subject as they share forecasts and potential solutions for this immense global challenge."

Michael Pollan (Moderator)- Author and the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
‘In Defense of Food’ and ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’

Raj Patel- Author and Director of San Francisco Food Systems.
Stuffed and Starved

Dr. Vandana Shiva- Physicist, environmental activist and author.
‘Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply’ and ‘Soil Not Oil’

Corby Kummer- Journalist and author.
‘The Pleasures of Slow Food’

Carlo Petrini- Founder of the International Slow Food Movement (1986), co-creator of The University of Gastronomic Sciences and author.
‘Slow Food (A Case For Taste)’

#2- Building a New Food System: Policy and Planning

"Urban planning, food policy, health and education initiatives – government policy at all levels can contribute to food systems that support the whole community. Learn from leaders in the field as they explore the first steps that governments—from municipal to state and beyond—can take to support and build a sustainable food system."

Timothy LaSalle (Moderator)- Executive Director of the Rodale Institute.

Paula Jones- Director of San Francisco Food Systems.

Marion Nestle- Author, Paulette Goddard Professor, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, NYU.
‘What To Eat’

Andrew Kimbrell- Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.

AG Kawamura- Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Founder of ‘Incredible Edible Park’ in Irvine, which links nutritional education and interaction between schools and food banks.

#3- Re-Localizing Food

“In addition to preserving precious fossil fuel energy, buying food locally saves money and supports local economies. So why does everyone coast-to-coast buy their oranges from Florida? This panel explores the challenges of building a local food system, and compares the environmental and social impacts of both a local and global approach to food.”

James Oseland (Moderator)- Editor of Saveur Magazine.

Gary Nabhan- Founder of Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT).

Dan Barber- Chef & Co-Owner of Blue Hill Restaurant and Creative Director of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Winona LaDuke- Native American activist, environmentalist, economist, author and Founding Director of White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP).

Michael Pollan- Author of In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dillemma.

#4- Edible Education

“In a nation where far too many people harm their health and the environment by eating poorly, public school lunch presents an enormous opportunity: right there, in the middle of the every child’s school day, driven by his own hunger and his own taste, lies all this time and energy set aside and devoted to food.” This panel will discuss the potential and challenges of creating a national policy around Edible Education - a means of educating all children about stewardship, sustainability and the connections between food, health and the environment."

Josh Viertel- Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project.

Craig McNamara- President and Founder at Center for Land-Based Learning.

Katrina Heron (Moderator)- Writer, editor and a Director of the Chez Panisse Foundation.

Van Jones- Author and founder/president of Green For All.
‘The Green Collar Economy’

Alice Waters- Founder of Slow Food Nation, international vice president of Slow Food, owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and founder and president of the Chez Panisse Foundation.

#5- The Best of Slow Food on Film

"A special screening of award-winning short films and documentaries that promote a new critical awareness of food culture selected by Slow Food on Film, the International Festival of Cinema and Food. In collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna."

Featuring: Along Came the Rain, Silent Snow and The Price of Sugar.


what a wonderful world it would be....

slow food nation victory garden

This was the scene that greeted me as I made my way last Friday to day #1 of the ‘Food For Thought Speaker Series’. WOW!! Erected smack in front of San Francisco’s City Hall, this ornamental edible garden provided a striking juxtaposition to its stately civic backdrop. Created in collaboration with Victory Gardens 2008 (planted on the same site as the World War II Victory Gardens of 1943), Slow Food Nation Victory Garden featured a wide variety of heritage organic vegetables suited to the Bay Area microclimate, while also displaying the diversity of urban food production practices through a truly inspiring format. The garden was scheduled to be harvested at the end of last (Labour Day) weekend. The produce was to be donated to those with limited access to healthy organic produce via local food banks and meals programs.

what the heck is slow food, anyway?

slow food

Several people have asked me this question lately. For those who have not heard the term before, 'Slow Food' seems to conjure up images of crock pots simmering soups and stews at about the same speed paint drys. Here is the simple answer:

"Everyone has a universal right to food that is good (tastes delicious), clean (was sustainably grown) and fair (those who produce it are sustained as well, and that people from every community can enjoy it)."

San Francisco Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic Steven Winn explained it in far more detail (Putting Key Issues on the Menu-August 29): ”As both Slow Food disciples and outside observers see it, the growing international movement’s underlying principles have implications that reach far beyond the dining rooms of the fad-chasing upper middle class. In its rebuke of fast food, agribusiness and global distribution and its embrace of local products, biological diversity and the sensual delights of the table, food is a touchstone for everything from energy policy and net-roots politics to the ways Americans both seek and sabotage pleasure…..The Slow Food mind-set fosters local communities of people with shared interests…..Ideally, it summons people back to the table awakened to the power of personal choice across a broad spectrum of issues.

Perhaps Slow Food Nation Executive Director Anya Fernald said it best: “This is all about a response to industrialization and a reclaiming of what feeds and nourishes us. It's a push back against a global system bent on the commodification of everything.”

Though, admittedly, there is certainly an annoying, elitist segment within the movement. While I was sipping at the wine bar during last Sunday’s Taste Pavillions at Fort Mason, I overheard a man behind me remark to his friend “Not much of a red selection”. (There were 454 American made wines available to taste, 259 of them being red) I turned to face them, somehow managing to curb my strong impulse to bitch slap him for his pretentious arrogance, instead asking “compared to what?” His (seemingly embarrassed) friend mumbled in response “France, maybe?”…..

My own definition of Slow Food reaches far beyond the subject of food itself, as I see its objectives as being both broad and inclusive. SF's principles affect many of the choices I make in my own daily life.....doing my best to avoid riding the consumer train means working less, spending less and living more (creatively). I also believe passionately in the importance of teaching our children values that respect our food systems, our health and our environment. I am truly convinced that Edible Education, in combination with other like-minded programs, could quite literally become a key contributor to saving our planet.