Friday, June 27, 2008

My Vegetable Garden

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I have a black thumb. I can count the number of plants I have successfully nurtured to maturity on the fingers of one hand. I've killed aloe plants.

Still, I persist.

This year, once again, I have hopes of wresting something edible from our tiny patch of arable yard (the rest being in perpetual shade). Whenever I attempt this, I always try to select vegetables that I actually eat on a regular basis, which unfortunately don't always include the easiest to grow species. So, no zucchini or runner beans, but yes to arugula and bok choy.

Tomatoes I can grow. We got lots of tomatoes.

In addition to installing the water barrel and hooking it up to that funky drip irrigation system from Lee Valley Tool, I have two other schemes in mind to be implemented (maybe) in the next couple of weeks:
1) Tobacco pesticide. Back when I had an interest in herbology I took a class in Organic Gardening 101, and I actually retained a memory of 'tobacco tea' being an excellent natural pesticide. I've looked into it again, and I suspect it might come in handy with the bok choy - although apparently NOT with the tomatoes.

As a matter of fact, I've been wondering if struggling tobacco farmers in Ontario might find a good market for nicotine-based pesticides now that the government is going to be banning chemical pesticides.

2) Newspaper ground cover. I've been reading a bit about no-dig gardening, and while I don't think I'm anywhere near that point just yet, there are a couple of ideas inherent in the concept that I think could be applied to my generic garden: newspaper and straw.

Ground cover controls weeds (great for lazy gardeners like me), but the commercial stuff is expensive and a pain in the ass. Newspaper is compostable, free, and easy to lay out around existing plants. And adding a layer of straw or hay would retain moisture, which was a big issue last year what with the heat and my lackadaisical watering habits. Plus it would cover the ugly newspaper.

I may or may not end up implementing any of these plans this year. We'll see how the summer progresses. At any rate, I do have one 'Note To Self' for next year: enough with the abstract garden design.

I liked the idea of just leaving stuff like the oregano and lavender where it wanted to be and trying to plant around it, but it's just too awkward to maintain and weed. I would like to retain as much of the strawberries as I can, but they seem to have mostly migrated to the edge anyway.


Now that summer is upon us and most of my contractual obligations are behind me, I hope to delve a little more deeply into what I originally intended to do with this blog: namely, explore the issues of sustainability and sprawl though a close examination of life in Milton.

More and better soon. I promise.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week... oh, look, an MP!

A brief encounter with Garth Turner before he wandered off to do his requisite blah blah blah at the Milton Strawberry Festival at the Fairgrounds:

I still have a lot more questions about the Liberals' "Green Shift" plan, so I hope to have an opportunity to finish my "interview" in the weeks to come.

BTW, I can't help thinking that if we had a Conservative MP here in Halton (ok, other than Garth), that the second he saw some chick with a video camera sneaking up on him from around the corner he would have FLED.

Access. It's all about the access, man.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week 4 PLUS the Milton Street Festival

More with AnnK, Donna Danielli, street music, and puppies!!

(EDIT: better quality video this time)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friends With Chickens, the Milton Street Festival... and a comment for Garth

I have a friend with chickens.

She doesn't have a farm, exactly. She just has chickens, and from those chickens, eggs. She sings with me in the Milton Choristers, and I found out last year that she was supplying one of the other sopranos.

This year, I got hooked up. Two bucks a dozen for the biggest, tastiest, most golden yolked eggs I have ever eaten. Behold and be amazed.

Ok, so the photo doesn't really do them justice. But trust me - store-bought eggs simply pale by comparison.


After the Farmers' Market tomorrow is the Milton Street Festival. The event attracted over 15,000 people last year and may do even better this year. But more importantly, I will be wandering the streets all afternoon singing with Nero's Fiddle. You will recognize us by our dulcet tones, our Renaissance garb, and our sheen of sweat as we roast in bodices and full skirts.

C'mon down and say hi!


I got a rather excited phone call this afternoon from a certain MP's office manager (who shall not be named to avoid further harassment). She had just attended an event entitled "BUILDING COMPLETE COMMUNITIES: A Summit to Explore New Ways to Afford Sustainable Growth", co-sponsored by the Canadian Urban Institute, and couldn't wait to tell me all about it as she knew it was right up my alley. It sounded fascinating. Garth Turner thought so too and mentioned it in his blog tonight.

Given that I'm well into reading 'The Transitions Handbook' right now, I gave the following response:

I wish I could have been at the meeting. It sounded really interesting. Unfortunately, nobody on Milton's Town Council or the Halton Regional Council appears to be paying attention.

Our municipal governments are our first line of defence against urban sprawl, and in Milton's case in particular they have failed us miserably. We knew there was going to big a big influx of people once the Big Pipe arrived, and all we asked of our elected representatives was this: don't let Milton turn into Brampton.

Instead, they succumbed to the siren song of development charges and property tax revenues, and rubber stamped every single agri-to-res re-zoning and big box retail proposal that crossed their desks.

They should all be run out of town on a rail.

But fear not, my friends. There is hope. There's a quiet but growing movement in England, Ireland and towns in several other countries called Transition Culture, aka 'Energy Descent Action Planning'. The idea is that the combined effects of climate change and peak oil have conspired to make it an absolute necessity for us to start adjusting to a life with much less power. And that, if we do it right, that can be a good thing.

It only took about a hundred years for cheap oil to become "essential" to our way of life. Using that same inginuity and drive, we can find our way back down again through initiatives like micro energy generation, diversification and re-localization of food sources and industry, and many more creative and pro-active ideas.

I'm excited! Are you excited?

Milton would make a perfect Transition Town. We still have enough remnants of what the town once was to re-localize and weather the coming storm. Hell, we still have a working blacksmith's shop!

Ok, so we might have to plow under some of those new developments. Something tells me they're going to have a hard time finding buyers pretty soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

DBIA Follow-up

As promised, here is the response I received today from the Chairman of the Milton Downtown Business Improvement Area board:

Thank you Jennifer for your email. It has been a long standing agreement with the Chamber of Commerce to purchase these bump out spaces for merchants to come out into the market. Due to a tight budget for the 2008 year and very low business participation, the DBIA Board made the decision that the funds would be better spent elsewhere. It was a large expense that only two or three merchants took advantage of. Merchants are still able to put out tables against the storefront walls and windows if they wish. Or if you are friends with a store in the market area, people have been partnering up. You are right, we have a lot of completion [sic] to contend with now and we are trying new ways to attract people downtown. These decisions are made in the best interest of all the businesses downtown. Not just two or three.

I hope you continue to enjoy the market and the downtown shopping experience.


Glenn English
DBIA Chairman

I have verified at least one part of this explanation: very few merchants were taking advantage of these spaces, possibly because so few were willing to get up at 6:30 in the morning to set up a table. However, I suspect that at least part of the problem may lie with the DBIA failing to actively promote and offer the spaces to merchants who aren't on that particular stretch of Main St.

I am far more suspicious of the claim of budgetary restrictions. I know several store owners on Main Street and one person who was actually on the DBIA board until a couple of years ago, and they all say the same thing: the DBIA is awash in cash. They collect well over $100,000 dollars a year and only spend a fraction of it, resulting in an enormous and growing surplus. It's possible that this situation has changed drastically since my friend was on the board, but somehow I doubt it.

I'm not sure how far to push all this given that I'm not a downtown business owner and I shouldn't really know what I know. However, what I would like to know is this: if the DBIA feels the money would be better spent elsewhere, what exactly are they planning to spend it on that will reverse the exodus of customers from the downtown core? And to whom is the board accountable for how it spends the money it collects from merchants? Are their accounts and practises open to public scrutiny or only to its members?

Is all this none of my business?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Milton Farmers' Market: Week 3

Mmmm... berries... and meat...


After speaking with Ann, I spoke to a couple of other people and now have a slightly better idea of what's going on with changes to the policy regarding spaces for stores at the Farmers' Market.

Essentially, we're talking about two different things. At one point in the market's history, store owners on Main Street were allowed to set up displays of their wares on the street to 'fill in' empty spots. That practice was discontinued a few years ago, and now stores are only allowed to put out tables on the sidewalk a maximum of four or five feet from their door.

The exception to this was the designation of a few specific spaces reserved for store owners to promote their business and sell their wares. As I mentioned, when my husband had a store on Mill Street (a block over), we were allowed to set up a table at the market for a few weeks out of the season. It did wonders for promoting a store that didn't otherwise get a lot of people walking by.

I wasn't sure originally who was responsible for these spaces, but after contacting the Market liaison for the Chamber I have found out that they were leased for a reduced fee by the DBIA from the Chamber for the use of DBIA members. This is apparently the program that is being discontinued. How or whether this applies to Ann painting out in front of Dorland-Haight I do not know, but I wouldn't want to be in the room when they send someone to tell Peter.

Given that the whole purpose of a Downtown Business Improvement Area is to promote downtown business, you would think it would be a no-brainer.

Here is the email I received from the Chamber. I will also email the DBIA and see if I can get an explanation from them.

Thank you for bringing this mis-information to our attention. The Milton Downtown BIA Board of Directors made the decision this year to not support the Milton Farmers' Market by purchasing the space at the market. Their financial contribution went to assist our advertising program to bring people into the Downtown to attend the market and learn about the downtown.

As you can see the decision to not allow the merchants space on the bumpout portions of the sidewalk was made by the BIA itself. Our policy has always been to partner with the BIA and we were surprised by their decision as well. Downtown businesses within the closed off portion of Main Street are able to set up tables within three feet of their storefront according to the town by-laws. However they cannot impede pedestrian movement and that is why it must be close to wall of the building.

The Farmers' Market brings farmers/producers/specialty vendors plus crafters and non-profits onto Main Street 22 weeks per year and attracts thousands of shoppers/visitors to our community. In order to inform thoses shoppers we must advertise the market on a continuous basis in a variety of ways.

If your husband has a business Downtown and he is upset by the decision of the BIA Board of Management perhaps he should speak to the Chair of the Board. To again clarify, the Chamber has never provided free spaces to the Downtown merchants - the BIA provided free spaces to them via a contribution to the Chamber.


Sandy Martin

KFC Canada reaches agreement with PETA

Saner heads prevail.

The Canadian Press has learned that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has agreed to call off its Canadian "Kentucky Fried Cruelty" campaign, which featured high-profile actress Pamela Anderson among others, following a signed agreement with the company.

Among other things, the deal obliges KFC Canada to begin buying from suppliers who use gas to kill their chickens painlessly, considered to be the least cruel method of slaughter.

The company is also promising to insist on other "animal-welfare friendly" measures relating to how the birds are kept, including a maximum on crowding and phasing out non-essential growth-hormones and other drugs.

Just to be upfront here, I generally have no use whatsoever for PETA. Not only do I strongly disagree with their ultimate goal of 'no animals for anything', I feel that their extremist approach ultimately sabotages any rational discussion of animal welfare issues. Which is why I was so surprised and pleased to read of this very reasonable agreement with KFC Canada.

This is a good thing. Well done.