Sunday, May 25, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week 2

This week I had a lovely time talking to Kelly and Chrystal of Willow Creek Farm. Chrystal's the one I got on tape, but afterwards all three of us got yakking about everything from urban sprawl to peak oil to small town politics.

I'm definitely going to be talking to these two more in the future. I think a road trip may be in order.

(Oh, yes - and Ann K. finished the painting she started last week. Yay!)

Speaking of farming, Part 3 of the Champion's series was published in Friday's paper. This week looks at chicken farmer John Opsteen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

One Family's Food

Since I'm going to be talking a lot about food in this blog, I thought it would be helpful to take a detailed look at my own food buying and consumption habits.

To this end, I collected all (or most) of my grocery receipts for one month and broke it all down by category:
  • fruits and vegetables
  • meat and eggs (subdivided by type)
  • dairy (milk, butter, cheese)
  • bread and grains
  • canned goods
  • prepared meals, including frozen entrees and deli sandwiches
  • oils, condiments, spices
  • snack and junk food, coffee, and other misc. food and drinks

(You'd think with these obsessive/compulsive tendencies, I'd manage to do the laundry a little more often. Oh, well.)

Not everything is included here. My husband only saved about half his receipts - he cooks about three nights a week for himself and our son while I'm at work. I didn't save receipts from places like Quizno's where I have lunch about once a week. I also didn't include wine or beer, cat food, or non-food items like shampoo. And of course this is only what we bought, not what we consumed that was already in the pantry.

Still, I think these numbers are pretty representative of what my family eats in a week. I think we do pretty well in terms of a balanced diet, although those three nights a week when I'm working at the video store account for most of the frozen entrees (me and the microwave) as well as a lot of the pork (Italian sausages and KD for the boys). The rest of the week we're probably above the North American average for fruit and veg consumption, and below average for meat and for take-out.

All in all, it's an illuminating exercise. Try it for your own family!

The Smiths:

Family members:
    2 adults, 1 teenaged male, 2 cats
Family members who cook on a regular basis:
Approx. number of take-out/fast food meals:
    3-4 per week (including lunches)
Number of sit-down dinners eaten with all family members present:
    3-4 per week
Number of sit-down dinners eaten with at least two family members present:
    almost all
Est. food costs per month:
    $570.00 (including estimate of items not counted)
Est. food costs per week:
Est. food costs per week, per person:
Regular grocers:
    Loblaw`s SuperCentre, LaRose Italian Bakery, Food Basics

The differences between these two charts is interesting, because it illustrates the fallacy of a common belief: that eating healthy is expensive. Just going by the number of items vs. their cost, it seems that fruits and vegetables are more economical than meat, and that breads and grains are more economical than dairy products.

Going by number of items isn't terribly accurate, but I did verify this by comparing the average price per kilo of the meats with the fruits and vegetables.

KilosCostPrice per kg

In other words, meat is about twice as expensive as fruits and vegetables - and this is the off season for just about everything here in Ontario.

This is, of course, as it should be. In fact, meat should be three or four times as expensive as the equivalent weight in vegetables or grains because that's about how much grain goes into every kilo of meat. Specifically, it takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef: the conversion is 4 to 1 for pork and 2 to 1 for chicken. If prices truly reflected this, and if people were aware of it, then they might start looking at meat (particularly beef) as more of a luxury item than a staple.

Happily, we don't go through a lot of beef. We do go through a lot of pork, partly because our son cooks himself up a mess of bacon and eggs most every morning. To give him credit, he's also been going through an enormous amount of fruit every day as well. Here's the breakdown for the whole family:

I worked it out, and it adds up to an average of 3.2 kilos of grain per kilo of meat we consume. Mind you, there are a lot of unknown variables. We eat free-range eggs and a mix of wild and farmed fish, and I have no idea how much if any of the other meats are grazed rather than grain-fed.

Still, this is something I'll be keeping in mind when shopping at the farmers' market tomorrow. There isn't a lot of local or organic produce out yet, but there are local meat vendors. Time to check them out.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Chat with Peter Haight

There are few people in Milton more knowlegeable or passionate on the subject of Milton's sprawl problem than gallery owner and ex-council candidate Peter Haight. What he knows hasn't made him any happier, but it does make him fascinating to talk to. If a bit... discouraging.

For those of you who don't live here, Sargent Farms is a chicken processing plant located right beside Sixteen Mile Creek in the middle of downtown Milton. Next door to a pub. Every day, large trucks full of live chickens drive into town and truck loads of dead chickens drive out - all through the heart of our historic downtown.

By all accounts they are good corporate citizens and a fairly major employer, although most of their employees are from out of town. And I'm sure it was perfectly reasonable for them to be where they are when they first set up shop - back in the 1940s! Today, I'm sure even they would agree that it's ridiculous.

Trouble is, solving the problem would require two things that are in pitifully short supply with our town council:

1) money, and
2) the willingness to admit that there is a problem

A Chat With Artist Ann Kornuta

In addition to her work as a reporter for the Halton Compass, Ann Kornuta is pretty much the 'Official Artist of Milton'. She's a fixture at the Farmers' Market, where she can be found painting out in front of the Dorland-Haight Gallery - or in it, if it's raining. Ann is best known for her uniquely skewed vision of the streets and buildings of Milton, and many locals have commissioned 'portraits' of their own houses and stores from her (I want one too!).

We chatted about bicycle accessibility in town while she worked on her latest creation.

And in a hilarious example of blog-on-blog incest, Ann beat me to the punch and posted a video on her blog yesterday promoting THIS blog!

Milton Farmers' Market: Day 1

It was chilly, pissing rain, and there wasn't much of anything to be had except for flowers, seedlings, and lots and lots of asparagus. But BOY it was nice to be back!

I also stopped by the Dorland-Haight Gallery to chat with resident artist / cub reporter Ann Kornuta, and owner Peter Haight who you may remember from the 2007 Ward 2 By-election. Video from those conversations to come.

BTW, there has been some response to Milton CAO Mario Belvedere's comments about the Town's "outstanding" performance in managing growth. Here are a couple of samples from the Letters section of the Champion:

As a 22-year resident and taxpayer of Milton, it pained me to read the verbal diarrhea that emanated from the lips of our illustrious Town of Milton CAO, Mario Belvedere, at a recent town council meeting.


I think it would be a good idea if town council and members of regional council took a look around Milton before they decide how "wonderful" things are.

If they really want to know how things are going, they should have a town hall meeting and invite townspeople to speak about this subject -- without limiting how people can voice their opinions and views.

Oh dear.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Farming Series in the Champion

There's a great series of articles in the Milton Champion this month on the changing world of farming as seen through the eyes of local farmers. Part one focused on corn and soybean farmer Peter Lambrick. Part two, in today's paper, talks about the Egger family and their dairy farm.

The articles cover all sorts of issues impacting local farmers including encroaching development, climate change, government regulation and red tape, and the lack of young people getting into farming. It's a fascinating look at the day to day reality of 21st century farming and well worth a read.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Best Gardening Thing Ever

I thought I was so clever.

I was thinking about setting up a rain barrel again this year, and was pondering ways to get the water to the garden with my usual minimal effort. I had seen 'dribble' hoses before, and realized how simple it would be to hook one up to a faucet near the base of the barrel and just let gravity do the work. Eureka!

I should have known it was too good an idea.

Gravity Feed Watering Kit

The kit is, of course, from Lee Valley Tools (home of all things wondrous), and is surprisingly cheap: $34.50 for all the hoses, fittings and spikes, plus another $17.50 for the barrel tap.

This system has no end of good things going for it. Drip irrigation systems lose less water to evaporation than sprinklers, and rainwater is better for the plants than tap water because it is warm and has no chlorine. And I can just turn it on and leave it, which is a huge plus for me.

Who knows? Maybe my vegetable garden will actually survive my inept ministrations this year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Town of Milton Pats Itself on the Back

From Friday's Champion:

Town doing 'outstanding job': CAO

While things may not be perfect when it comes to the timing of development and infrastructure in Milton, Town staff says that overall it's doing a good job in managing growth.

...CAO Mario Belvedere told council he feels that generally the Town has done an outstanding job in managing growth.

He acknowledged there might be "hiccups" when it comes to things like the timing of road construction.

"But other than that we've done a pretty darn good job," he said.

Town Director of Planning and Development Mel Iovio shared similar sentiments.

He said the planning, development phasing and financial agreements the Town has struck with developers have generally resulted in a controlled and logical growth pattern.

BTW, that would be this pattern:

But I digress...

Town Director of Engineering Services Paul Cripps pointed out that some roads projects are being fast-tracked through the Accelerated Transportation Capital Program, such as the widening of Derry Road from Tremaine Road to Bronte Street.

The `Accelerated Transportation Capital Program` was brought in after the Town clued into the fact that the development fees they were charging wouldn`t be enough to cover the required arterial road improvements to service the new developments, and that the fees they would be receiving wouldn`t reach the Town`s coffers until long after the work needed to be done. So they worked out a deal where Mattamy and other developers would supply the capital needed to fast-track the road improvements, and the Town would pay them back without interest at a future date.

In other words, our town is currently tens of millions of dollars in debt to the very same housing developers who are asking them to approve still more housing developments.

I`m no expert, but that seems to me to be the very definition of a conflict of interest. But hey, kudos to the Town of Milton for doing such an exceptional job of letting the developers do their job for them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Video Post #1: My House

Since this blog is all about local everything, I thought I'd start with the most local locale I could think of: my own house.

My house is something of a rarity these days - a small (about 1,200 sq.ft.), older detached home with a big yard and lots of trees in a mixed neighbourhood. We have no central air. We have no dishwasher. We have no granite countertops. It's messy and the lawn's a wreck, but in the grand scheme of things it's a very comfortable and relatively sustainable place to live.

For someone who grew up in suburbia, this is paradise.

(Just so you know, today's video blog was brought to you from my swanky new laptop while eating lunch at Coffee Culture at Main & Commercial in Milton. Free WiFi and the best grilled panini in town. Sweet.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Halton's Fresh Food Box Program

I ran across a little local magazine called 'Escarpment Views' when I was at Lee Valley Tools yesterday, and there was an article about something wonderful that I hadn't been aware of: the Halton Fresh Food Box program.

Based on the principles of Toronto's FoodShare network, the Halton program supplies over 500 boxes a month to low income families, seniors, and people who just want to buy local produce. It is not a food bank or a charity - rather, the program is designed to address issues of food access, food insecurity and healthy eating, while at the same time supporting local farmers.

The boxes cost between $12 and $15 depending on size, and contain an assortment of fruits and vegetables purchased in bulk and sorted by a dedicated group of volunteers. Local and/or organic produce is used whenever possible, although they will go further afield when not enough is in season here. The boxes even contain a newsletter with updates, storage tips and recipes.

To learn more about the program, to order a box or to volunteer your time, visit the website or call program coordinator Brenda Moher at 905-634-8645.