Category Archives: Local Food

Keeping it local with a global impact: The University of Alberta’s Green and Gold Garden.

Did you know the University of Alberta Farm (115th Street and 60th Ave) has fresh produce available for purchase Tuesday evenings and mid-day on Saturdays starting in late June?

This community garden has been running since 2009.  Since I just heard about the garden late last summer, I thought I would do a feature story about the University’s Green and Gold Garden to help get the word out.

As well as providing the community with access to fresh, local, spray-free vegetables, and handicrafts the Green and Gold garden uses all of its profits to support the support the Tubahumurize Project, “a non-profit organization in Rwanda that provides socially and economically marginalized women with counseling, life-skills coaching, health care education, and opportunities for sustainable income generating activities.”  In fact last year the garden raised almost $25, 000!

So supporting the Green and Gold Garden means that you can buy fresh local produce and handicrafts and make an impact in the lives of woman and their community on the other side of the world!

In order to find out more about the garden I asked Shirley Ross, one of the volunteer organizers, to tell me a little bit more about the garden.

The garden was started by Sarah Bowen and Ed Parada after they moved to Edmonton in 2008 from Winnipeg. Sarah and Ed had raised money for a project in Rwanda (Tubahumurize) for a couple of years before they moved to Edmonton. Ed loves to garden, and they had a large garden on land a couple of hours drive from Winnipeg. They made extra vegetables from their garden available to friends and co-workers in exchange for donations to Tubahumurize. Sarah is an Assoc. Professor with the School of Public Health.  She and Ed bought a house near the U of A farm in 2008, and they approached the farm manager about getting a piece of land to start a community garden that would raise money for Rwanda. The faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences  and the School of Public Health became co-supporters of the garden.

The selling of handicrafts is a secondary activity. Tubahumurize supports vocational training for young people – a 10-month sewing skills course offered to a group of 20 students started in 2009. We sell some of the things made by the students and the graduates of the program. We also sell some beads made by some of the women who participate in programs offered by Tubahumurize.

The garden is cash only and  hours will be posted on the website and emailed to those who have signed up to be on the customer list once the garden opens this season.  Spring has had such a late start this year that produce may not be available until July.  The produce is not priced, but the public is asked to donate fair market prices for them: basically whatever you would pay for similar produce at a farmer’s market.  You do not have to commit to taking vegetables each week, but can come when you like and pick whatever vegetables you want.

The garden is run by volunteers and the volunteers also make donations for any produce that they are taking home.  If you are interested in volunteering at the garden you can email green&gold@sph.ualberta.ca.  This year volunteers started at May 14th, but you can start anytime.

As well as being run by volunteers the seeds and equipment that the garden needs are donated.  This year the garden received large donations of seed from Livingston Seed and Mr. Fothergill Seeds.  They also received a grant from the University Sustainability office to buy some much needed materials.

Since Shirley works in the same department as I do, I was aware that she took a trip a trip to Africa this past winter.  I knew that it had to do with the Green and Gold garden, but I wasn’t sure how her trip to Africa tied in with what was happening here in Edmonton.

Shirley was in Zimbabwe from January 14-26 participating in evaluating conservation farming projects of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the United Church of Canada.  She stopped in Rwanda on her way back January 26-29 to visit the women’s projects supported by the Green & Gold garden.

The following excerpt from the February 2011 Green and Gold Garden Newsletter sums up her trip nicely:

Shirley Ross, a founding volunteer at the Green & Gold garden, visited Tubahumurize in January, when work on an agricultural research project took her to Africa. During her visit, Jeanne Mwiriliza, Executive Director of Tubahumurize, presented Shirley with a wooden plaque thanking the Green and Gold Garden volunteers for their support. Jeanne designed the plaque and had a local artist make it. (We’ll be displaying this beautiful plaque at the garden this summer.)

Jeanne explained how support from the Green and Gold Garden has provided  a lifeline in supporting the women of Tubahumurize. Without our support, they may have had to close the Centre and the programs. At two of the Tubahumurize group counseling sessions Shirley heard stories of women who survived horrific experiences during the genocide of 1994. Many women continue to deal with poverty, health and family problems. The group counseling sessions provide a safe place for them to share their stories and to receive support from counselors and the other women. Shirley also met the sewing students at Tubahumurize and brought back various items that will be for sale at upcoming garden events.

Shirley has many great memories of visiting Tubahumerize during her trip to Rwanda this past winter and of working in the garden and talking with volunteers and customers. 

I hope you can join me and many other Edmontonians this summer by taking a trip to the the Green and Gold Community Garden and finding out what it is all about! 

For more information about the wide variety of crops available and how to get to the garden check out the garden’s website.

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Eat Alberta Conference 2011: an afternoon with our local food hereos

After a morning spent at our chosen sessions all the attendees and presenters descended upon Enterprise Square for lunch.

There was a fantastic tasting menu set up featuring local cheeses, meats, breads, honey, mashed potatoes, and two wonderful beets salads.  To top it all off one of the organizers Valerie of A Canadian Foodie made a wonderful vegetarian cassoulet.  To satisfy our  sweet tooth there was a variety of cookies and wonderful crunchy Pink Lady apples from Steve and Dan’s Fruit.  The organizers thought of everything!

The food doesn’t stop there.  After lunch I was off to Apple Pie Making with Christan Miller.  This was my first hands on session of the day and it was so much fun.  We were put into groups of four and measured out our flour and shortening and blended it all together using the Miller family’s special technique. Of course we were all excited to try our pies, but that anticipation was overshadowed by the apple peeler, corer, slicer in action.

Everyone was amazed.

I like to make a lot of apple sauce, apple butter, and now apple pies in the fall so I will certainly be picking up one of these little gems.

Our mini personal pies were stored in the fridge until the end of the day and, if I may jump out of chronological order, when I baked it later that evening I was delighted with the results.   I only hope I can replicate the perfect pie crust on my own!

My final session  got to the heart of what they day was all about: Making a Personal Connection to Your Food Source.  Presenter Maryann Borch and her family operate Good Note Community Farm.

She provided attendees with a glimpse into life on her family’s farm and also provided information about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) around Edmonton for vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and cheese, something that Good Note participates in a well.  She also touched on information about the Community Garden Network as well as local food distribution organizations: Locavoria, Eat Local First – Good Food Box, and The Organic Box.

To end off the session Maryann had us all roll newspaper around wine bottles to make newsprint pots so we could take home  purple bunch onions and Calabrese broccoli seedlings to get a start on our own garden.

Kevin Kossowan ended off the day with a presentation of his From Local Farms Project.  You can view Kevin’s video here on his award-winning blog.  It was an inspiring and informative way to end a day long celebration of local food heroes.

If you haven’t guessed already I had a fantastic time and I am already looking forward to next year’s incarnation!  It was a truly awe-inspiring to attend a conference with a focus on local food and learn about the variety of food produced in our area.  I encourage you all to take a look at the links throughout today’s and yesterday’s posts and support our local food heroes!

Eat Alberta Conference 2011 a major success!

Starting off the day with coffee from Transcend and ginger apricot scones from Queen of Tarts would make one think that the day could not get much better, but it did.  Spending Saturday at the first ever Eat Alberta Conference meant my day just kept getting better and better!

After a busy week at work and an extended fun-filled Easter weekend visit with my parents the thought did cross my mind to just stay in bed Saturday morning and skip out on the conference.

What a terrible move that would have been.  I am so glad I attended! I had a fantastic time, met great people, learned a lot, and ate a ton of fantastic food!

Furthermore, the day went off without a hitch.  The organizers did a splendid job and I am sure that next year’s event will feature another sell-out crowd of very happy participants.

We started off the day with the morning keynote talk featuring Jenny and James from Sundog Organics.  The talk provided wonderful insight into the life of a local food producer and Jenny shared some great tips and pointers about producing food on your own. The information about obtaining seed from small producers such as Heritage Harvest Seed and Salt Spring Seeds will really come in handy now that spring has finally arrived!  I will be sure to stop in at their stall this summer at the downtown farmers market.

My first session was Honey Tasting with Patty Milligan from Lola Canola.  I will confess that this was the session I was most excited about and it was great.  We got to try 8 different types of honey from all over the world: mango blossom honey from Indonesia, acacia honey from Europe, blackberry honey from the USA, and traditional sweet clover honey from Canada.

Keeping with the spirit of the conference we also got to try some great honey from Alberta, which was one of my favourites.  I will definitely be picking up some dandelion honey from Lola Canola’s booth at the Downtown Farmer’s market at the end of the month.  Another favourite was the raspberry honey (the real McCoy, not honey flavoured with raspberries) from British Columbia and of course my all time favourite buckwheat honey from Saskatchewan.

Who knew that there is such a variety of honey out there and that bees are so interesting.  Thanks to Ms Milligan for a truly informative and tasty session!

Next I was off to learn about edible plants from around Edmonton with local botanist Robert Rogers.  I was surprised to learn that fireweed is an edible plant. Apparently the shoots are reminiscent of fresh asparagus and the flowers make a great addition to a salad.  He also went into great deal about cattail.  I was very interested to learn that the pollen from  the brush like top of cattail can be collected and combined 50/50 with wheat flour  to make delicious crepes.

He also talked about a popular plant around the city-the bearer of the tart rosehip.  I have always wanted to forage for rosehips and make some jelly and if I ever do get around to it I will take Robert’s hint to pick the berries after the first frost.  Apparently this makes it easier to separate the pulp from the seeds.  If you are interested in learning more about edible wild plants take a look at Robert’s website for upcoming events!

After learning about the tasty parts of cow parsnip and bear root, as well as the delicious ways to make use of highbush cranberries,  it was back to Enterprise Square for lunch!

Stay tuned for my next post on the afternoon edition of the Eat Albert Conference 2011!

The Organic Box, Baby Turnips and Peter Berley: just in time for longer, warmer, and sunnier days.

Well, I did it.

I got my husband to eat turnip and swiss chard AND like it.

All thanks to Peter Berley’s fabulous recipe for Turnip and Leek Soup with Potatoes and Chard from his Fresh Food Fast cookbook.  Did I mention it is fabulously easy as well?

I got two bunches of sweet baby turnips in my Organic Box.  For those of you who don’t know, The Organic Box is a local organic produce service.  They source out local food producers when the season permits and when it doesn’t they source from small farms across the Americas.  Even though I get to pick every item that shows up in my box, it still feels like a surprise each time I get home and open up the box to check out the great mix of fruits and veggies!  They are not just produce though.  You can add on locally produced organic milk from Saxby Dairy Producers in the south end of Edmonton, and grains and pulses from Saskatchewan farms, not to mention their newest addition locally produced organic fruit wines and much much more.

Back to the turnips.

I have never seen or, in my memory, eaten baby turnips.  They were wonderful in the soup and I imagine they would be wonderful roasted as well.  They are about the size of radishes and tied together in that familiar bunch of green tops and creamy white roots.

And now back to the soup.

I have long since learned that Peter Berley’s simple list of ingredients and seasonings make the most wonderful dishes.  I neglected to check my spices before starting the soup and I had to sub in cumin seeds for the caraway, which worked out fine, but I am sure the caraway would have been much better.

I will admit that I used to think if the dish did not contain a long list of spices that it would taste bland or need spicing up, but the perfect blend of vegetables, butter, and salt and pepper make a soup that can make anyone, even my husband, learn to love cruciferous root vegetables and leafy greens.

Leek and Turnip Soup with Potatoes and Chard

3 Tablespoons butter (substitute oil to make it vegan)
2 medium leeks
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 pound small white turnips, quartered or cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 pound of potatoes cut into 1 inch pieces (about 1 pound)
1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed, trimmed and chopped
Freshly ground pepper

  • In a 3 quart saucepan melt the butter over medium heat
  • Add the leeks and a dash or two of salt.  Saute for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and caraway seeds and stir together.
  • Add 6 cups of water, turnips, potatoes, and bring to a boil.
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt and reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender
  • Add the chard and cook for about 3 minutes until tender.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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Hungry? Why not Eat Alberta!

Since this is a vegetarian cooking blog, I won’t ask if you are interested in making your own sausage, but what about cheese making and tasting, or how about apple pie and pastry making,  pasta making, or best of all slow rise pizza dough making?

If any of these sound interesting to you then you will want to consider attending the Eat Alberta Conference on April 30, 2011 here in Edmonton.

The sessions will take place downtown from 8:30am until 5:00pm and get started with a continental breakfast, lunch break with a cheese, charcuterie (I think I will stick with the cheese -haha), and artisan bread pairing and “wine down” with a wine tasting at the end of the day.  Of course you know everything is going to taste wonderful being that this conference is organized by local foodies and bloggers, such as The Canadian Foodie, Brulee Blog, and Only Here for the Food.

Aside from the fantastic activities I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the day gets underway with an open session on urban gardening and gets everyone together at the end of the day for a session on urban homesteading, which sounds really interesting!

Throughout the day, you can choose from honey tasting with Lola Canola.  This is something I have always wanted to do.  I think it would be incredible to taste different types of honey and associate each of them with their respective flowers!

The conference also offers sessions on coffee tasting and how to make the perfect cup of coffee with the experts from Transcend, and of course more wine and cheese with a Canadian wine and local cheese tasting.

Best of all there is a local edible plants session!

This One-Day-Hands-On-Do-It-Yourself local food conference will be the place to be the last Saturday in April.  So take a peak at your calendar and save the date and plan to Eat Alberta!

Click on www.eatalberta.ca to register and find out more about this exciting food-filled day!

Vegetarian Shepherdess’s Pie by night and cheese tasting by day

We had a busy day Saturday: a cheese tasting and talk in the afternoon (more about that later) and an evening at the symphony.  Even though we were pressed for time, EPC was reluctant to eat out. He had been away on business last week and eaten out for every meal (and will have more of the same this week).

To treat him to a home-cooked meal, I flipped through my cookbooks and decided to tackle the Shepherd’s Pie from The Planet Organic Market Cookbook.  The recipe looked easy enough and it had the perfect mix of protein and vegetables. An important consideration, because I am convinced that he does not eat enough vegetables when he is out-of-town.

The yams mashed up nicely and were quite moist as I slathered them on top of the filling. They retained some of their moisture after baking, providing a firm and colourful topping to the veggie ground round and vegetables below. Although the seasoning is minimal – a dash of salt and some pepper, the dish is quite satisfying. We both ate two helpings and if I can keep the leftovers out of sight for the day I may get to take them to work for lunch!

By the way, I figure that replacing the traditional mashed potatoes with mashed yams makes this a shepherdess’ pie, in case you were wondering.

Now on to the cheese tasting.

EPC loves cheese.  Lucky for him the local cheese shop is a few blocks from our house and makes for a lovely walk on a Saturday afternoon.  So, when we heard that our favourite kitchen/ restaurant supply store was hosting a cheese tasting and information session with our neighborhood cheese shop owner in attendance, we immediately marked it down on our calendar.

Prior to the talk and taste, EPC and I made a pact to try every cheese that was offered, even if that included a mould-ridden blue.  I will confess I got a bit queasy learning about how the rind is cultured on brie cheese, but in the end, pact or no pact, I was brave enough to try the Penicillium-filled blue cheese.  In fact, the woman giving the session remarked on how impressed she was that we all tried the blue selection.  She confessed that she was not a fan of blue cheese – even though she owns a cheese shop.  It made me feel better for not always enjoying the more “seasoned” varieties of cheese.

I am not going to go into all that was discussed in the 1.5 hour session, but I thought that I would mention a couple of the more interesting (and delicious) cheeses that we tried.

Number one on my list was the French Morbier, an uncooked pressed cheese made from the curds leftover from Compté cheese production. The cheese comes in two layers with a layer of vegetable ash between the two. Traditionaly, the curds from the evening’s cheese production are pressed down and topped with ash to prevent drying until the next day’s remains are placed on top to finish off the wheel.  Nowadays, the production is much more streamlined and the ash is added for appearances. This is a tasty soft, yet firm cheese.

Another one that I loved was the Maréchal. This raw unpasteurized cow milk cheese hails from Switzerland.  One of the interesting things about this particular cheese is that the rind is composed of a mixture of herbs rubbed into the cheese as it ages.  This cheese is seasonally available after the spring and summer alpine grazing season.  As a rule, you can only get this cheese in November, December and January. If you miss it, you have to wait until next year.  Maréchal is a hard stronger tasting cheese.

I imagine next weekend we will head down to our neighbourhood cheese shop and try to purloin the last hunk of Maréchal before it is gone.

Vegetarian Shepherdess’s Pie

1.5 kg of yams
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of skim milk
1/4 cup of plain yogourt
a dash or two of salt
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 cups of fresh or frozen vegetables – I used a mix of green beans, corn and peas
2 packages of original Veggie Ground Round
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of flour
1/2-3/4 cups of water

  • Preheat the oven to 350°C
  • Lightly oil a 9 x 13 pan
  • Boil sweet potatoes for 15 – 20 minutes, until fork tender
  • Drain and mash with butter, milk, yogurt, salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  • Heat oil in large skillet and add onions and garlic.  Cook over medium heat for abut 5 minutes until the onions are tender.
  • Add Veggie Ground Round and stir.
  • Add flour and stir to mix.  Increase the heat to medium high and add water.  Cook for about 3 minutes until the sauce boils and thickens.
  • Pour mixture into pan and top with vegetables.
  • Spread the mashed yams on top and bake for 20 minutes until bubbling and hot.

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