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Sunday Garden Tour: Yellowknife, NWT, Part 2

Ron Berezan, aka The Urban Farmer, and I piled into France Benoit's SUV and as we drove the gorgeous route from Yellowknife's downtown to Madeline Lake to this filmmaker / gardener's off-grid home cabin and greenhouse. France told me that she gets about 300 pounds of produce, a retail value of $1000 in fresh produce, from the 1000-sq foot greenhouse.

The average daytime temperature at France's location is between 15 C to 20 C in the daytime, but it can get up to 30 C on a hot, mid-summer day. The plants actually can get heat-stressed very easily, even at the cooler temperatures, because of the 18-hour days.

Tomatoes, in upside-down planter bags, work beautifully and make good use of vertical space in the greenhouse.

A romanesco cauliflower (or a Roman cauliflower) appears to be happy in a pot in the greenhouse.


Tomatoes, tomatillos, and lettuces share beds in the greenhouse with the loose gravel floor.

France has a great collection of vinatge tea kettles. This one has a happy eggplant in it.

Waxy yellow beans grow in peat pots suspended from braces on the walls.

The greenhouse helps with extending the season -- she gets the first lettuce by mid-May, which is a feat in itself 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Canada's North West Territories -- but the cabin is surrounded by veggie beds and there are pots and window boxes absolutely everywhere, which add considerably to the production.

As I walked the outside gardens, I noted pumpkins, tomatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard, carrots, turnips, "egg turnips," beans, lettuce, parsley, squash, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and apparently France was able to grow quinoa. Last year's harvest was about two cups of the dry quinoa seed.

More delicate crops, like tomatoes and quinoa, are under the frost blanket in this photo.

Beans are still blooming on a glass wall of the gazebo.

Pumpkin growing in an old whisky / wine half-barrel.

Another mini-greenhouse for tomatoes made from old windows.

And a muskox skull as some Northern garden sculpture!


Sunday Garden Tour: Yellowknife, NWT

 View of Old Town (foreground) and the rest of Yellowknife, NWT, Sept 10, 2011I have to say that going to Yellowknife, capital city of the North West Territories, has been on my wish-list for quite some time. Even though I live in central Alberta (which most Canadians erroneously think of as "the north," anyway), Yellowknife is a good 1500 kilomteters /932 miles up. Anyway you slice it, it's 20 hours of driving north.

Last weekend, I got my wish, as an invited speaker at the Territorial Farmers Association's annual fall harvest event. They invited me to give two-hour slideshow and talk about my up-coming book and the various models of urban agriculture I'd seen on my travels to their members. As it turned out, I had a crowd of about 50-some food gardeners / northern farmers / interested foodies who came from various communities in the NWT.

I hopped on a Westjet flight Friday mid-day and arrived one and a half-hours later in "YK," the largest community in the NWT with about 18,000 residents. (Yes, this is an unabashed shout-out for WJ because it operates direct flights from Edmonton to Yellowknife for about $400 round-trip; and Karl, from the crew, did the best Westjet safety demo version I have ever heard. Go Karl!)

For the talk, I picked a few chapters from my book and put together a number of slides for each city and cruised through photos of community gardens in Paris, amazing balcony gardens in London, a commercial rooftop vegetable garden in London, SPIN gardens in Kelowna, social enterprise urban agriculture models in Milwaukee, and a vertical farm in the making in Chicago. People asked questions along the way, laughed at a few of the funnier bits, and no one nodded off. Success.

Me, my laptop, and a projector

While I was happy (relieved) that my presentation was well-received, I was most excited to get to talk to these northern farmers. Depending on where they came from in the NWT, they were growing food on the Canadian Shield (YK), or in outstandingly rich floodplain soils of Hay River, or in a repurposed former hockey arena (Inuvik). Subarctic and arctic food gardening might seem like an hopeless cause, but I knew that with a bit of skill and physical effort, the short growing season was more than balanced by the fact that northern gardens got 20+ hours of sunlight in July and August. My aunt, uncle, and cousin live in Hay River...and I've seen the 400-pound pumpkins and the incredible market produce that they get from their gardens in just several weeks from seeding to harvest.

Already, produce was accumulating for Saturday's "bench show," when local judges would decide who got the certificates for the "largest" vegetable, "ugliest" vegetable, etc.

Produce grown by gardeners in Lutselk'e Community Garden, Lutselk'e has a pop of 318; located on Great Slave Lake, NWT

Saturday morning in Yellowknife

With the morning to myself, I explored Yellowknife by foot, soaking in the sunlight through the thin northern fall air. As I walked from the hotel in the commercial part of Yellowknife toward historic Old Town, I saw many front yard food gardens still pumping out produce on September 10, 2011 --- even though there had already been two nights of frost in Edmonton already at that time. The massive lake offers some protection to prolong the growing season past what I would have expected.

A particularly vibrant frontyard garden in Yellowknife, NWT, September 10, 2011

A lot of potatoes in this frontyard garden, with a few sunflowers on the perimeter.

 One frontyard cabbage! Yellowknife, NWT, Sept 10, 2011

Old Town Garden Yellowknife Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011 Yellowknife, population of 18,700, has four community gardens, according to those associated with the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective. Dave Taylor, the community gardens coordinator that I spoke to told me that there are 160 gardeners between these four sites. 

This is one, in the old town, a historic part of Yellowknife. I saw two of three that weekend. Each community garden reserves 1/4 of the plots that the gardeners tend and grow produce for donation back to the community. The two biggest expenses to get a community garden started is soil, because there is very little soil on the exposed bedrock of the Canadian shield rock, and fencing, to protect against animal raids.

From talking to gardeners and growers, the season is pretty much the same as in Edmonton. Plants go into the ground just after the May long weekend or early June, and with a bit of covering for delicate plants like tomatoes, you can stretch the season into mid-September. People were harvesting potatoes, beets, turnips. Looks like cabbage, kale, and brussel sprouts were ready for harvest soon too.View from back of Old Town YK Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011Incredible produce in a subarctic garden, Old Town Yellowknife Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011Brussel sprouts growing in Old Town Yellowknife Community Garden , Sept 10, 2011Purple cabbage, Old Town YK Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011The Canadian shield (very old, very hard, mineral-rich rock) seen behind the community gardenMore Canadian shield in the background of the Old Town YK Community GardenSoil is the major expense of starting a community garden in Yellowknife, making compost as good as gold, Sept 10, 2011


Panfried Whitefish, fries and salad for lunch at Bullock's Bistro, an iconoclastic YK restaurantNatural shoreline on Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife, Sept 10, 2011

After my self-guided walking tour of YK and lunch at Bullock's Bistro, I sat in on The Urban Farmer Ron Berezan's afternoon session Transform Your Yard: Create an Edible Landscape, which was gave me a bunch of ideas for next year's edible garden.

We ended the day at a community garden potluck, an epic communal feast with about 150 - 200 people and incredible northern foods, like smoked duck, smoked fish, delish scallopped potatoes, beets, and a beet-chocolate cake!

Coming Soon...Part 2: More impressive Yellowknife gardens...including subarctic quinoa.


Food and The City gets a book prize!

Even though my book, Food and The City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution won't be out until Feb 2012, it has won an award.

The Dave Greber Award Freelance Writers Award is a national book and magazine award open to freelance writers whose work touches on social justice issues. I submitted a chapter (Toronto) from my up-coming book and was thrilled to get the call that I had won. 


The official award (and cheque) presentation will take place in Edmonton on October 14 during LitFest, Canada's only exclusively non-fiction literary festival. I'll post more details closer to the time.


Thanks Dave Greber award. This is a major boost. I feel very fortunate. Also a congrats goes out to Chris Cannon, on his Dave Greber award for a magazine piece.


Okanagan Feast of Fields 2011, Van Westen's Farm and Orchard, Naramata

OK, this is the sign from the 2010 Okanagan Feast of Fields at Brock Farm, but you get the idea.

Feast of Fields, an annual four-hour gourmet outdoor harvest wandering event, is a big food and wine event in the Okanagan. (It happens elsewhere, but it seems to be the perfect marriage of event and location, feast and field in Okanagan wine country.)

This year, as it happened, it was just down the road at the Van Westen's cherry orchard on Sunday afternoon. The Van Westen's have been Naramata farming and growing fruit in the Okanagan for three generations, already with a fourth generation growing up on the Naramata Bench wine region. Van Westen Winery owners Rob and Tammy Van Westen have a well-received wine label under the family name. They work hard and have earned every bit of success they have had.

Yes, we're roaming around in a cherry orchard while aating and drinking, with a million-dollar view of the lake.

The Van Westen's offered up their Naramata cherry orchard as the location for the 2011 Feast of Fields. This likely involved untold hours (days? weeks?) of behind-the-scenes work for them, but that's the kind of people they are.

The event brings together 65+ chefs, food purveyors, wineries, patisseries, and cheesemakers from the Okanagan Valley to one crazy event. It has a hell of an event coordinator, the ever-organized and certified Master of Wine, Rhys Pender.

As my friend and fellow food/ travel writer Sue at FoodieSuzTravels noted in her blog post about the event, it's "the good humour and spirits of the chefs and their obvious camraderie with each other," that makes the event so remarkable.

Sue in the background of my husband's pulled pork taco from Local Lounge*Grille from Summerland.

In fact, I suspect that the participating food and wine purveyors have just as much fun at this event than the attendees. I certainly liked chatting with my pals Cynthia and David Enns, owners of Laughing Stock Vineyards, as we tossed back some of chef Thomas Render's tomato and watermelon gazpacho with a lovely poached BC spot prawn tail at the Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa tent.

And I certainly caught up with a number of good, but busy Okanagan people like Alison Markin, social media guru of All She Wrote Consulting, food-wine-travel-golf writer Roz Buchanan, food blogger fantastico Val Harrison of More Than Burnt Toast, and my pal Sue and her men: Mike and Aaron.

OK, I'll let the photos tell the story of the food, etc.

It's totally acceptable to eat dessert first, especially when it's Darin Paterson of Bogner's of Penticton making dark cherry sorbet and hazelnut oat-cookie sandwiches!Another busy chef was Ned Bell of Cabana Grille and Four Seasons Vancouver's Yew restaurant with his simple and incredible crookneck squash salad with cherry tomatoes, pecans and fresh basil.

See Food Below.One of the stand-out food offerings at the event: line-caught fresh albacore tuna on organic peppers and tomatoesChef Rod Butters' (of RauDZ Regional Table in Kelowna) take on bacon and eggs. Yeah right! It was a rich, heavenly liver pate in a delicate egg, with a topping of breadcrumbs and a crispy bacon strip garnish.

Dana Ewart "manning" her Joy Road Catering table, presiding over the pavlova with local berries, and a pulled pork bunwichLordie yes, it goes on and on, but I'll end with these photos, of organic vinegar maker and farmer at Valentine Farm in Summerland, John Gordon, host of the inaugural Feast of Fields in 2009....and me, burning to a crisp under SPF 75+, hat and sun goggles but not caring one wit.

As my friends, John and Kim at The Vinegar Works/ Valentine Farm in Summerland (and authors of the great recipe blog The Vinegartart) like to remind us (rightfully so!) that no farms = no food, so give some farms and some farmers a little love now and again. Feast of Fields allowed us to do that.




Bartier Bros. winery launch in Penticton, Saturday night

(I'm going to depart a bit from the urban ag scene for the next couple of blog posts in light of the other good stuff happening in the Okanagan at the moment.)

The two wines. World premier. Soon to be avail in winestores, briefly.This weekend was a big weekend for food and wine people (producers, chefs, winemakers, and consumers-alike!!) in Penticton and Naramata.

On Saturday evening, I attended the launch of an exciting new winery venture, Bartier Bros.

Exciting because it's always great to see another excellent local wine in the Okanagan Valley, and even moreso when it's a labour-of-love of winemaker who oozes craft and passion for dirt, grapes, and wine who gets to launch his own brand. And when the launch happens at a burger joint?!

Bartier Bros. is joint-venture between Michael Bartier and his big brother, Don. And let me say that holding the launch at Burger 55 in Penticton was pure genius.

I've know Michael Bartier for a few years now, as he's been making excellent wines at Township 7 and Road 13 among other places. And he's got a very strong philosophy that drives his winemaking, which will undoubtedly guide the direction of Bartier Bros.

"There's a cultural mindset that we want to articulate in our wines. And we are what the rest of the world is scrambling to do define themselves as, farming families." Bartier then went on to talk about his lifelong roots in the Okanagan Valley. (Michael was born here; Don was born elsewhere but moved here "as a very young child.") And how he really believes that what might be considered disadvantages--the northern climate relative to other world-class wine regions and the small-scale of the grapegrowing and wineries here--are the two characteristics he wants to articulate in the wines that Bartier Bros. makes.

Bartier Bros., is a very small-production label for its first year: 255 cases of The Cowboy (a 50:50 Schonberger-Sauvignon Blanc white; $23) and 50 cases (not a typo) of the The Goal (41% merlot, 22% cab franc, 19% syrah, 18% cab sauv; $30). It's also, at the moment, a virtual winery, meaning they don't yet have their own vineyard or own facility. So the brand is made through Okanagan Crush Pad, which describes itself as a "small lot, custom winemaking facility with the resources and expertise to take product from field to market – including branding, marketing, communications and distribution and sales." (This is a new concept in the Okanagan and so we're all watching to see how it all shakes out.)

And the Bartier Bros. wine? Well, it's great is the short answer. I thought the red was a good match for the food, because the big flavours at Burger 55 can be a force to be reckoned with in themselves. I'm not a wine critic, my pals over at Cherries and Clay were there, so I'll keep you posted if they have something to say about the Bartier Bros. wines / launch.