Tag Archives: food

Superior Swimming

17 Jul

Okay, I’ll just spit it out. All this biking is too hard, so we decided to fly to Mexico and enjoy the beautiful beaches.

Just kidding, that’s Bathtub Island. You can wade out to this place from the sandy shore, it’s not far at all. On the island there is a small, shallow pool filled by waves sloshing in over the edge, and because it is so small it gets as warm as a bathtub. We passed it on our way to Sault Sainte Marie, or as the locals call it, the Soo.

In the Soo, we stayed with David and Cayla. David is interested in the food security aspect of sustainability. One initiative he has worked with is the Penokean Hills Farms Co-op. The members are cattle farms looking to process and sell their product locally. The alternative is to ship the cows to southern Ontario or even to the USA, where the meat is processed and then shipped back for redistribution. This is not only inefficient but also reduces the freshness of the meat. With the co-op in place, the farmers are able to get a better price while delivering a superior product to the consumers.

Interestingly, Penokean Hills Farms sells their product mostly in bakeries. The meat shops prefer to sell the cheaper, lower quality meat instead. Since the Penokean Hills Farms meat is often frozen, it does not look as appealing on display. However, the co-op has strict rules: the cattle must be naturally raised, without antibiotics or hormones. You get what you pay for. As for us, we are mostly consumers of bread and cinnamon buns at the bakeries these days: the BBQ didn’t fit in our panniers.

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The Fickle Heart of Canada

5 Jul

After biking 100km, what better way to spend the evening than to get a tour of Winnipeg – on bikes?! Yep! That’s what we did and we loved it. Our host, Aaron, told us he’d been a cycling tour guide in a past life. We got to see the architecture downtown, Assiniboine Park, the Flaming Trolleys band practicing in a square, a lone guy practicing banjo on his front porch, to name a few.

Aaron loves cooking so we fired up the BBQ and had an amazing dinner at his place. We talked about green construction, city planning, and green campuses. Since he is studying at the University of Manitoba, Aaron was angry that he was studying in a place that was doing so little in terms of sustainability compared to other universities. He started several initiatives, in particular a campus composting program and the Sustainable Campus Student Group, that provides students with learning and networking opportunities in the Green Building industry.

Initially, Aaron said, some people were reluctant to change and his initiatives were met with a lot of resistance. However, he saw things through until his goals were met, and those same people are now seeing that these initiatives were a good thing for everyone involved. He has also recently been recognized with an award from Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) for his strategic plan to green the University of Manitoba campus.

As if that were not enough work, Aaron also coordinates a weekly farmer’s market in Winnipeg. He said his strategy was to make the market hip and connect it to the local community. He invited local bands to come and play and said that the number of people coming to the market almost doubled from one year to the next.

It was difficult to leave Winnipeg with its hipster cafes and music scene, but we had to move on. Before we knew it, we were officially halfway through the country.

On our way to Falcon Lake we came across a fruit stand. Ah, fruit! Perhaps it is from Ontario? Nope… it’s from California and sometimes from BC. Money is no object for most of the customers, so it makes it worthwhile to truck in fruit from distant parts of the globe and pose as a peddler of local produce. The only local thing we found was the honey, and the Saskatoon jam. We purchased both items.

With a strong wind blowing at our backs, the 158km to Falcon Lake was a breeze. Our Falcon Lake host, Eric, welcomed us with tasty smoothies, a dip in the lake and yummy vegetarian dinner: quinoa buckwheat salad with broccoli, cheese, fresh basil, and an olive-balsamic dressing.

We got to spend the night in a spacious screened porch. The porch is constructed using trees from the backyard, but the most notable part is the ceiling: an intricate tangle of tree roots forms an integral part of its structure. The roots are from a huge tree from Eric’s yard, uprooted during a storm. Eric’s brother designed the porch to showcase the impressive stump.

Eric’s dad asked Maria whether she wears a bicycle helmet. Bike helmet laws are a hot topic in Manitoba: there is talk of making helmets mandatory. In BC, this is already the case, but bike helmet laws are also a hot topic there, because Vancouver is setting up a bike share program, and some people are concerned about how the current helmet laws will affect its success. Bicycle helmet laws are not a clear-cut issue: there is much controversy about it.

Of course, some people will still choose to wear a helmet even if they are not legally bound to do so. As for Maria, she’s decided to try the helmet-free lifestyle in the provinces where it’s legal.

Farming in the Wind

21 Jun

According to statistics, about half of Canada’s farmland is in Saskatchewan.  Sure enough, most towns along the railway have a grain elevator.

Through Couchsurfing, we had the opportunity to stay with Henry and Vivian, who live on a farm. They grow most of their food on a tennis court sized piece of land: potatoes, rhubarb, gooseberries, cilantro, squash, onions, and lots more. When they visit their children in the city, they are surprised at each other’s grocery bills. Henry and Vivian eat mostly what they grow; their kids might pay as much in a day as they do in a month.

Henry took us to see the lake near their property. The lake is home to many birds, first and foremost to Saskatchewan’s provincial bird, the mosquito. However there are also pelicans, gulls, curlews, blackbirds, and more. Henry and Vivian are surrounded by lovely scenery: “On a long weekend, people will rush to a park for camping, but we have the best camping in the world right here,” Henry says. Judge for yourself:

 

From the lake, you can see a big wind farm, Centennial Wind Power Facility. There are about 80 wind turbines on that farm and each turbine can power a town the size of Swift Current. We asked Henry why there aren’t more of them, and he said another one of even bigger capacity is planned to be built nearby, in Chaplin. With the amount of wind in the flat lands, it is really a no brainer for Saskatchewan. Check out this windstorm that we were lucky enough to sit out in a cafe:

Exploring Alberta Along the Trans Canada

17 Jun

On our way through the flatlands of Alberta, we caught up with Frank, a lone cyclist with his belongings stashed in four panniers on an extended rear rack. Frank is from Salmon Arm, BC, but cycles east every summer for work, living on the cheap out of a tent. This time he was cycling to Medicine Hat. How’s that for a work commute?!

We stopped in Bassano for lunch at a place called Bakafe (a bakery and a café, see?). Rose, the owner, was ultra nice to us and we talked for a while. At her café, Rose serves fresh, homemade products with no preservatives whenever possible. And it’s delicious!

Rose was surprised that we had taken the detour into the town. In the 1980s, before the Trans-Canada was re-routed 2km north, Bassano was directly on the highway. Back then, a lot more visitors would come through; nowadays business is slow, except on rodeo days. Rose talked about the challenges of keeping the younger crowd busy in such a small, remote town: some are very active in the community, but others turn to drinking for entertainment. The Bakafe is one of the only places in town that does not serve alcohol.

Heading further east the next day we noticed a darker patch of sky behind us. We hoped it would go away, but it kept getting closer and making thundery noises. In this sparsely-populated region with towns at least 30km apart, and considering half the towns don’t even have a café, we were very lucky. We reached Suffield only 10 minutes before the rain started, and waited out the worst of the storm in the town’s only diner, adjacent to the town’s only gas station. Here we ran into two cool crazy guys from Quebec: a rollerblader and a longboarder, making their way east on their own wheels and by hitch-hiking.

Once the storm quieted down a bit, we set out for Medicine Hat, where we had a couchsurf set up.

The Couchsurfing scene in Medicine Hat is awesome! We were slightly overwhelmed by the amazing response to our surfing requests. Nicole, the host who won us over, told us that she really has to be on the ball to snatch couchsurfers coming through town. There is a fierce competition between the hosts in town to get surfers on their couches.

We Have a Beef with our “Rest” Days

14 Jun

We arrived in Calgary by following Google Maps cycling directions (which are in beta, the app warned us). The directions took us on a 15-km gravelly road through First Nations land. Despite the huge NO TRESPASSING sign, nobody kicked us out although Maria was very worried.

Incidentally, Maria’s tire had gone flat again, and we had to stop a few more times to inflate it. As we later found out, the culprit was the other half of the staple-like thing that caused the first flat.

After that, Google took us onto a network of amazing off-street bike trails extending along the shores of the Bow and Elbow rivers. The paths are divided into two bike lanes (one in each direction) and are in perfect shape with not even one crack in the pavement. We heard these paths get the snow cleared off in the winter and many people continue to ride year-round. Go Calgary!

(Sorry, no time for editing. Just wanted to show you the awesomeness of Calgary bike paths. Fast forward when you get bored.)

In general, Calgary has a great bike route network with on- and off-street cycle paths covering much of the city. From what we saw, lots of people were on bikes, with many velo-connoisseurs on high-end road and racing speed machines.

It’s thunderstorm season, and although we were originally planning to stay in Calgary for only a couple of days, we decided to take a few extra days to avoid foul weather. So our dear Calgary friend, Katia, took us on a CONS (Calgary Outdoor NutS) trip to Dewar Creek Hot Springs (yes, back in BC). After a series of spectacular failures we finally ended up in some hot springs, although we had to settle for Fairmont, a resort-style hot spring.

Spectacular failure #3: unexpectedly high snow cover on trail.

Once a hot spring gets commercialized like that I don’t know how “natural” you can call it, for me it feels as natural as bottled water. The energy required to run the resort is probably an order of magnitude greater than the benefit of using naturally heated hot spring water. Nonetheless, Fairmont is doing their best and they did provide us with some much needed relaxation, so no complaints there.

We also talked to the trip organizer, Trevor, about his perspective on sustainability. He brought up the issue of diet. “If everybody ate like I do right now,” Trevor admits, “there wouldn’t be enough food in the world.” He doesn’t eat most grains for health reasons, and therefore ends up eating a lot of meat. Since Trevor grew up on a cattle farm in Saskatchewan, he certainly knows his steak, and how resource-intensive it is to produce. Even taking the eating local philosophy into account and the abundance of cows in Alberta, meat intensive diet is not sustainable.

Peace, Love, and Co-ops

1 Jun

Bonanza! Day 10 was hard. After cycling up a 1535m pass, we found out the campground where we were planning to stay at was closed because of a problem grizzly bear. So we put in an extra 25km (okay, downhill) averaging 45km/h. Did you know? Grizzlies can actually run at speeds exceeding 50km/h!

On Day 11 we took it easy and cycled 50km to Nelson. By that point our bikes had survived 800+km, including 100+km on the KVR trail, so we took them to the bike shop. The bikes got a thorough inspection by Blair and we were warmly welcomed with locally brewed beer. The people at the shop were interested to hear about our project. Mark, a mechanic at the shop, had a sustainability story to share: since he moved to Nelson 4 years ago, he’s worked on reviving the three overgrown fruit trees in his yard. Last year was the first year they gave fruit. This year, his goal is to be self-sufficient and grow all his own fruits and greens. Way to go!

We were hosted by Anya’s extended MSLS family: Alison, Steven, and Elliot. We talked about Nelson’s focus on community and local economy.The municipality of Nelson, Alison told us, has a strict no billboard policy, which is why you can’t even find the Walmart in town. As for the McDonalds, there isn’t one, because the town didn’t allow one to be built. With that kind of support for local commerce from the municipality, it’s no surprise that Nelson is home to so many successful co-ops and small businesses.

As mentioned in our previous post, Nancy of Grand Forks told us about the Kootenay Food Co-op and gave us contact information. We were able to arrange a conversation with Jocelyn, who is currently the Co-op’s marketing manager.

The Co-op is amazing. It has been around for 37 years and has more than 10,000 members (population of Nelson – 20,000). They have everything in bulk – grains, tea, herbs, oil, shampoo, detergent, and more. A buzzing community hub, the Co-op hosts overwhelmingly popular cooking classes that sell out within 3 days of being announced. They also promote local production by mentoring, supporting, and encouraging local residents to start up their own food businesses.

Jocelyn is very knowledgeable and shared a lot of great ideas with us — so many that we can’t possibly cover them all in this entry. We recorded the conversation on video, so watch our movie when it comes out. For now, here’s a sample.

One thing we talked about are the difficulties of running a small, local farm. Large corporations lobby to lower the organic certification standards so that they are able to carry “organic” products, lowering the cost at the expense of food quality. In contrast, the food co-op preferentially purchases higher-quality, local food, and pays the farmers a fair price, while bringing affordable and top-notch produce to the co-op members. To actually be able to give a fair price to both farmer and consumer is an immense challenge that the co-op tackles daily.

Grand Forks, Spoons, and Knives

30 May

All right, get ready, make sure you don’t read this on an empty stomach, lots of food talk coming up.

In Rock Creek we met Dwight, who is cycling to Ontario. We kept running into him along the way, like at this little shack – OK Fruit and Dale’s Honey shop:

We bought delicious honey, orange honey marmalade, and chokecherry jam for very cheap. Dale was nowhere to be seen so after searching for a money box for a while, we finally deposited the money in a little ceramic container. Hope you find it, Dale!

Dwight was really excited to see the little shop. He told us how years ago, he was a vegan and animal rights activist, but since moving to the Cowichan on Vancouver Island he has given it up. There, he had a choice: to buy processed, GMO soy products from overseas, or to go across the street and buy meat, dairy, or fruit and vegetables from his neighbours. He now prefers to buy from people he knows, but that means, he’s not vegan and not even vegetarian.

In Grand Forks we couchsurfed with Nancy, who works at the Kettle Valley Food Co-op. The co-op is just starting up: after two years they have 160 members (of 4000 people living in Grand Forks), and Nancy is their first paid employee. The co-op links the farmer directly to the consumer, promoting the local economy and providing its members with the opportunity to buy locally grown and produced food.

Nancy not only works for the co-op, but also fully supports it. Her fridge is packed with amazingly tasty local products (aren’t we the luckiest guests?!). She is also very conscious about buying organic, which is much easier when you know your farmers as many of them grow organic foods and veggies, but are not certified because the certification is quite expensive.

The co-op is still establishing itself: they are working to get more members and vendors. As the co-op grows, Nancy believes it will encourage local farmers to grow crops year-round, and to develop a market for unique local products such as Haskap berries. Grand Forks, says Nancy, is a fertile area with a lot of potential; historically it’s been much more productive. The co-op will help to bring that back.

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