Monday, February 18, 2013

Fresh Food Basket Programs - Get Healthy

In winter when you don't have access to the farmer's markets, a fresh food basket is the perfect alternative to healthy eating.

Last week  it was cold and blustery outside but in the kitchen at Bracebridge United Church all was cozy and warm as I was joined by a group of ladies and we were cooking up Ukranian and Mediterranean delights. This Community Kitchen group cooks once a month on the delivery day for the Fresh Food Basket Program in Muskoka. Operated through several partners including the District of Muskoka, the program aims to get people to eat more nutritiously. For only $20.00 a month you can sign up to receive a food basket brimming with fresh produce. I find this especially appealling when the ground is covered with snow and there is no access to farmers markets or your own garden. And it's a bargain - last week our basket included: Iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, red cabbage, an english cucumber, 4 bananas, a couple of oranges, three lemons, a bag of mini carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, 2 tomatoes, a bag of locally grown pea shoots, a bag of spinach, a cantelope and a 5 lb bag of potatoes. How great is that! And they even supply nutrition information and recipes for the produce in our baskets.

And so our Community Kitchen group, using the food provided in the basket got cooking. We made yummy Ukranian Pierogies with the traditional potato and cheese filling and a delicious Mediterranean Vegetable stew chock full of tomatoes, cauliflower, onions, carrots, boccoli flavoured with basil, oregano, thyme and of course, garlic. It's a great afternoon of fun and friendship and the ladies each go home with two dishes for dinner. We love to try new recipes covering all different types of cuisine from tradtional familiar home-cooked favourites to African, Asian, Mediteranean and southern specialities. And this same group of ladies is involved in a Community Garden program in the summer, each having a plot to grow their own selection of veg. It's a great program promoting healthy eating. Some of the women with children say that since they have been involved in the Community Garden and Kitchen program, their children have developed a great interest in growing and eating their own produce. And that's what it's all about!

Even if gardening's not for you, I encourage you to seek out a fresh food basket program in your community. Let's get off the fast food feed wagon and back into cooking delicious healthy food at home. Cooking is easy when the produce is fresh and cooking at home can be a great family activity.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Edible Gardening - No Yard, No Time, No Problem

The trend toward edible gardening just continues to grow and grow. And I'm sure there will be even more converts to edible gardening when those who do the grocery shopping receive a shock as I did last week at the veggie market when Asapargus had jumped to $6.99 lb and all greens including lettuces, celery, kale and collard greens along with broccoli and cauliflower were $2.99 and up. My shopping bill doubled and I only purchased the barest of necessities in terms of fresh produce. Just think that you can purchase a packet of lettuce seeds for $2.19 for one of Renee's Mixed Greens and get several weeks of daily meals of fresh lettuce.

So I was really interested to read William Moss's book "Any Size, Anywhere Edible Gardening, the No Yard, No Time, No Problem Way to Grow Your Own Food." This is another great book for those just venturing into the world of growing your own edible foods. William's down-to earth style makes it easy for those starting to get their fingers dirty to get involved whether they have space for a backyard garden, room for a few pots on a balcony or patio, or simply a window box or two. It's also a great resource book for those involved in Community Gardens who are new to gardening. He lays out the basics of soil, soil tests, seed sowing, intercropping, watering, fertilizing and even composting. The books also offers step by step instruction for the planting, maintaining and harvesting of a selection of the easiest to grow veggies. And for those who love the delicious taste of a fresh picked, sun warmed tomato there is a whole chapter devoted to this most popular of garden fruits (and yes, a tomato is actually a fruit). The only thing I might dispute is William's motto of "no time" as all gardening does take time and patience but the edible results are well worth the time and effort. Easy to read this book is sure to make a successful vegetable farmer out of anyone and once you taste your own home grown produce there's no turning back!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Square Foot Gardening Answer Book

Wow, how time has flown since I lasted posted here but family and community obligations just seem to get in the way. But now with frigid temperatures here restricting many outdoor activities, it seems the perfect time to settled down with a hot mug of Vanilla Chai tea and get caught up on a little reading (or rather a whole lot of reading if you could see the stack by my bed). But today I've just completed reading Mel Bartholomew's book "Square Foot Gardening Answer Book".

I didn't have the opportunity to read Mel's first book on Square Foot Gardening but I have been a promoter of square foot gardening for many years. My own backyard garden consists of six 4 X 4 ft raised beds. I find the beds easy to work in as you can reach the middle from all sides. You can dedicated each square to a single crop or mix and match your veggies, especially if you are practicing succession planting. And the height of the raised beds makes it easy on the back and knees for those who are advancing in age (like myself).

Even if you are new to square foot gardening and without having read the first book, Mel's "Answer Book" will set you on the right path to successful square foot gardening. This easy to read book is perfect for novice gardeners with information on how to set up your garden to the shelf life of your harvest and everything in between. It covers soil, composting, mulch, yields, seeds versus seedling,critter control and how to handle pests and diseases including recipes for organic pesticide sprays. Even a veteran gardener will learn a tip or two from this helpful resource book. It's a quick read and I love how Mel ends with his chapter on "Making A Difference, how square foot gardening can change the world in economically depressed areas here at home and in Third World countries by creating sustainable food security through individual and community gardening. If you have limited growing area, square foot gardening may be just the answer you've been seeking. Give this book a look and square foot gardening a try.