Field Trip: Schibli Organic Dairy Farm

Friday, August 27, 2010

It was a rainy saturday afternoon when we drove into the Schibli's driveway. We didn't know what to expect. We got their number as a tip the evening before and called before they had warning that their number was even given out. As we pulled to a stop two dogs approached. From inside the house we could hear some strikingly Swiss music. Yodelling perhaps. Suddenly the larger dog had a piece of meat about the size of the smaller dog to keep him quiet.

Anita came out to greet us. She was pleasant, but had no idea why we were there. Karl came around and was equally guarded. But they opened up quickly as we got to know them and discovered we share a lot of ideals.

Karl and Anita have 250 Acres just outside Waterford, Ontario where they raise 100 Brown Swiss cows, milking just over 40. The cows have 30 acres of pasture and the rest of the land is split up between hay for the winter, and soy, spelt, oats and peas, for grain.

Karl slowly trailed the herd up the lane on his quad as Jesse's mom, Jane chatted with Anita. When Karl was close, he said that one of the cows had just given birth to a calf in the field. He asked for some help to bring the calf to the barn, so we piled in his truck and drove back. We took our two year old with us, and what a beautiful sight he saw - A solitary cow standing over her minutes-old calf in the field. Karl told everyone to stay in the truck and to watch out for the mom. On the trip back to the barn he told us that when he had conventional, non-organic cows only 2 out of 5 cows would actually stick with the calf and protest if you tried to take it. Since going organic 49 out of 50 cows actively protect its calf being taken. And you better watch out!

The mother followed the truck the entire way back to the barn and Karl carried the new calf into the barn where they were reunited.

As 5 o'clock rolled around, the brown swiss beauties moved their way into the barn for milking. Amazingly they all backed into the stall ready to be milked. Karl and Anita cleaned the udders and attached the milking machines. Their routine was smooth, and they seemed to enjoy the process. They get an average of 700 Litres of milk a day from their cows, keeping some aside for the calves, and some for personal consumption. The rest is picked up and goes into the pool for Harmony Organic Milk.

Karl and Anita made the switch to organic over 10 years ago and are quite passionate about it. Being tired of scheduled visits from the vet, antibiotics, and supplements, they decided to give up the cows and focus on organic crops. When they began to transition the land, they were forced to transition the cows. And once they did that, as Karl says, the cows "came alive."

At one point Jesse asked a burning question for him. "Do you drink their milk?" Implying raw milk. Karl laughed, and at first we weren't sure what that meant. But he quickly followed it up with "Of course!" He explained all the wonderful things about milk. That it's alive, and that when you pasteurize it, you not only kill the bad, but you also kill the good.

There's a big debate over raw milk, and I wouldn't drink the raw milk from a regular conventional dairy cow. But seeing these cows eating their natural diet, on a small ration of grain made me a little thirsty for something humans have been drinking raw for centuries, in the state God made it.

Jesse then asked Karl if he could try some, and he said "No." We knew buying raw milk is illegal, but so is giving it away. Karl and his family are allowed to drink it, including his grandchildren, but he can't give any to his employees who aren't family. He thinks we couldn't even drink it if we were invited over dinner and it was served on the table.

After visiting the Schibli farm, I know that this is the sort of place I want my milk to come from. We went back shortly after our first visit to ask a few more questions, one of which was "How can we get a cow?" I think Jesse's mom is going to get one. They have more than enough room and we'll help out whenever we can. And that'll get us over one of the biggest hurdles on our journey away from the supermarket - milk.

Enjoy the movie. Jesse says full-screen is best.

Field Trip: Detour Coffee Roasters

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Saturday afternoon last summer, walking through downtown Dundas, Ontario, we passed a sandwich board that read "Detour Coffee Roasters" and pointed up an alley. We followed and at the back of one of the main street stores were some double doors wide open.

We were greeted by a group of people surrounding an ancient wooden work bench, complete with wooden vise at one end. The barista offered me a drink, so I asked for a latté, and when going to pay, they said it was free. They're not a café (yet), they're a roaster, so the espresso in my drink was considered more of a product demonstration. I sipped my drink and browsed their beans until I found something that sounded great and reciprocated.

Kaelin McCowan has been working in the film industry for quite a while, but his passion has been coffee. He started Detour early last year and now supplies an impressive list of cafés, including one of my favourites in Toronto, Dark Horse Espresso Bar.

When I went to Detour to talk, Kaelin referred me to Geoff, who's been helping him roast. Geoff and I met up just before eight a.m. on a Wednesday. He explained they've been getting complaints about the smoke coming out of the chimney from the roaster, so they do it earlier. Maybe it's just me, but I think Hamilton (which has amalgamated with Dundas) has bigger issues than a single coffee roasting machine.

So they're going to be relocating their roasting operation to Burlington, where they'll have room for both the roaster and the scrubber they have to install to get rid of the smoke.

But it's not just because of the smoke. They've signed a lease for the front of the building as well, and Kaelin's "Kiwi chef" wife, Crystal is opening a full-service bistro/coffee shop, and the back will serve as the kitchen.

Geoff took me through the process. The green beans go in, they cool the roaster down and you can control the flavour through a few methods, like how fast you bring it back up to roasting temperature, how long you leave it in.

He also let me know that the more you roast, the more caffeine you burn out of the coffee. I've always chuckled to myself when people forgo a light coffee and "need a real kick" from an espresso. I think people subconsciously relate it to hard liquor or something.

They seem to be doing a lot of things right at Detour, including going over and above fair trade measures and making an effort to deal with individual farmers. They also ship all their coffee in big orange buckets instead of the typical single-use plastic bags. The empties are simply picked up with the next delivery.

Oh, and there's something else they're doing right... roasting good coffee.

Detour Coffee Roasters
41B King Street West ("B" for back)
Dundas, ON L9H 1T5


Friday, August 20, 2010

I'm going to try to write this post with no puns. No jokes about how much of a fun guy I am. No jokes about how magical it is growing your own mushrooms. Because I don't know any jokes like that.

What I am going to write about is the mushroom log Melanie bought for me. She picked it up at a Farmer's Market and gave it to me for my birthday in March. We followed the directions, soaking it in water overnight and then "shocking" it with a hammer on each end. And nothing happened.

Until this week when Mel discovered it with 5 or so big Shiitake Mushrooms on it. (I believe you're supposed to pronounce each 'i' separately - she i tak ee.)

A mushroom log is a hardwood log inoculated with mushroom spores. They mix the spores with sawdust and create a plug that they put into a hole in the log. Then you seal it off with a penny-sized piece of styrofoam to seal it up.

I picked the mushrooms and put them on our dehydrator, which I had on already drying my chilis. They dried up in a couple hours and apparently, when rehydrated with hot (not boiling) water, they will puff back up and their flavour will be stronger and deeper than when fresh.

Field Trip: Preserving Tomatoes

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It feels like we've been writing a lot about tomatoes and canning, so we were a little apprehensive about writing this post. But then we realized we haven't written about tomatoes and canning. Actually, we stepped back from trying to write something completely different each week and realized that this is completely appropriate. Let's not post at a modern pace that demands something different every week. Now is the time that nature has decided that tomatoes are ready for canning, so we don't have much of a choice. Especially if we don't want to be forced to have canned tomatoes in our shopping cart next month.

In addition to canned tomatoes, we buy a lot of ketchup, so how can we avoid this? Make our own!

Sunday we headed back to Wilsonville Organics, Rick was kind enough to let us come and try many of his delicious tomatoes which have ripened so nicely, taste his homemade tomato juice, and pick ourselves a bushel of tomatoes.

Sunday was by far the most humid day so far this summer, and we were planning to can at Jesse's parent's, who still scoff at air conditioning, so we set up kitchen outside to spare them the extra heat.

Jerry (Jesse's dad) and I started by cutting a small x in the bottom of the tomato this helped the skin separate from the tomato when we blanched them in boiling water for a minute. After removing the skin, we brought them all to a boil for 5 minutes before ladling them into our sterilized jars. Each 1 Litre jar had 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a teaspoon of pickling salt. For safety, we gave our freshly canned tomatoes a hot water bath in boiling water for 40 minutes.

It is exciting to know that when tomatoes are out of season, I can go to my pantry and grab a jar of home-preserved beauties. I know the farmer who grew them, I know the work that went into preserving them, I know what is, and more importantly, is not in them, and I know how delicious they taste. Jesse and I were talking about how a tomato deserves more respect than it gets, it grew for 70 days, it deserves to ripen on the vine, and it deserves an afternoon of your time.

Then onto the ketchup. With the remaining skinned tomatoes (that wouldn't fit into our pot on round one) we made ketchup.

Homemade Ketchup

Simmer around 15 pounds of tomatoes for about 20 minutes

2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 tsp whole cloves
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 chopped red chili (fresh from our garden)
3/4 tsp allspice
2 Tbs celery seed
simmer for another 20 minutes

push mixture through a sieve.

3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs salt

Simmer until ketchup reduces in half or until it reaches desired consistency. Put into sterilized jars, cap and boil in a hot water bath for 7 minutes (time varies for different sized jars).

I cannot believe how delicious the ketchup is. It tastes like ketchup. I would much rather be feeding this stuff to my family than the store bought stuff, loaded with sugar, salt, and who knows what else.

By the end of the day we were tired. But excited to potentially do it all again next weekend. It is easy to avoid the supermarket during the summer, as there are so many little farmer's markets, but this should help a little through those long cold weeks of winter. These tomatoes got the respect they deserve.

Cider Press

Friday, August 13, 2010

At the Grimo Nut Nursery a few weeks back, it was raining on and off. At one point it started pouring and Linda took us in a nearby barn for shelter. Suggesting a typical country barn sale, an old wagon was piled high with old stuff. Each with a price tag. I don't know if they were getting ready for one, or had an unsuccessful one in weeks past, but a big, complete wine press caught my eye. It had a little square of masking tape with $400 penciled on it. That was a little out of my price range, but right next to it, I found this little press frame for $15.

My parents have a Bartlett Pear tree on the fencerow of the farm growing wild. I know it's not native, as Bartletts originated in England, so it's an interesting mystery as to how it got there. But who cares? It's full of delicious pears right now.

So maybe this weekend or next, I'll figure out how to make a stainless-steel base and get my dad to cut a wheel out of hardwood to press the pulp. I'll let you know if I'm successful.

Field Trip: Our Field

Monday, August 9, 2010

This week's entry is a backup post. Originally we were going to write about the St. Jacobs Farmer's Market. We went on Saturday morning and I brought the camera with good intentions, but didn't take it out. It was ridiculously crowded. We couldn't get into the main market building with the stroller, and we left exhausted without seeing much.

It's a great market, if memories of past visits serve me well, you just need to get there at 6 (or on a weekday). I have to remind myself that it's a good thing that there are this many people at a Farmer's Market. I sometimes get the feeling that a lot of the people there regard the local farmer as a quaint notion, more of a historical interpreter than an actual supplier. But then I remember that I'm not that much better... that we're still going to the supermarket a lot.

Don't get me wrong, half my motivation for going is back bacon on a bun. Melanie and I are still trying to get out of that tourist mindset and actually go with a plan.

The farmer's markets that are popping up in neighbourhoods like ours, and one I've recently seen in my old neighbourhood in Toronto on Sorauren Ave. make me feel better immediately. They're precisely the right idea. A place you can walk to, with a cart, and fill it up.

It also makes me feel better when we get home and see our garden. Space that used to be a decorative garden now full of usable plants. Herbs we let go to flower, tomatoes bending under the weight of their fruit, and more leafy greens than we can eat from about $2 worth of seeds.

I bought two Sage plants last year and this year they really flourished. I didn't realize that they practically become a shrub. The plant in front of our house, which gets the most sun, went into full beautiful bloom. It made me wonder why we don't plant more practically. I love the idea of a completely edible garden. Our Thyme would make a great ground cover, and I'd take Kale over hostas any day.

Our dill is about 5 feet tall and growing out of the crack between the sidewalk and our stone wall. I'm sure it elicits a lot of tsks from people passing by, but I love it. If they just ripped a little branch off and tasted it they'd understand why it's there.

After two summers, this is the first one that I'll be a successful grower of heirloom tomatoes - you know, the butt-ugly, amazingly delicious tomatoes. The past two seasons were notoriously bad for tomatoes. Cool and wet, it was the perfect condition for blight and all my heirlooms turned black and rotted on the vine. This summer they're turning purple-black, but they're supposed to, since they're Black Krim tomatoes.

Heirloom tomatoes, or heirloom anything refers to its state of hybridization, or more specifically, lack thereof. Today, most produce is bred for aesthetic and shipping tolerance often at the expense of flavour and nutritional quality. This is through hybridization, by selecting plants that have the characteristics you want and cross-breeding them with plants with other characteristics you want for super results. Or why not insert genes from a totally different species or even a different kingdom? I have my speculations about those massive, tasteless, apple-sized strawberries from the south-west, I just have to do more research.

When I eat an heirloom tomato, or tiny wild strawberry, I like to think about my great-great grandfather tasting the exact same thing.

Our garden isn't beyond novelty yet, but next year I'll know how to prepare the soil better for peppers, and to not transplant the cucumbers that seem to still be playing catch-up. If we're still in the same house, I have a feeling the whole front yard (which is the only unshaded part of our 70'x70' estate) will be edible garden.

Field Trip: A Pickling Party

Monday, August 2, 2010

Growing up I watched and helped my mom with her pickling, from jams and jellies to salsa, relish and pickles. I remember filling the bathtub with cucumbers to wash, peeling the garlic and stuffing the jars. I always think about how pickling has become a lost art. It is so sad that we have gotten so far away from our food that the majority of our generation doesn't know how to store or preserve to eat over the long winter months. Instead we eat "fresh" vegetables imported from around the world all winter.

On the weekend I was lucky to attend my friend Hollie's pickling party. This is the second one that she has hosted this year, and this time I was on the guest list. Hollie and her husband Mike are part of a group of 12 or so people who help out at their friend, Gary Buttrum's family farm. Since taking over the farm, Gary has turned it into a co-op of sorts, trading labour for vegetables.

Last summer there was such an abundance of food, Hollie was giving it away. Generous, but there had to be a better way. This year, determined to extend the bounty throughout the year, she decided to host a pickling party.

So how does a pickling party work? Well, This lovely group of girls get together to preserve their extras from the farm, and learn how to can. It was nice sitting around a big table outside, working together to chop vegetables, peel garlic, stuff jars, eat pizza and have some good conversation.

We made a Zucchini Confetti Relish, and some good old Dill Pickles. Hopefully this will inspire you to either host or attend a pickling party this year.

Zucchini Confetti Relish
(we tripled this recipe)

• 8 cups grated green and yellow zucchini
• 2 cups chopped onion
• 1 cup chopped red pepper
• 1/4 cup pickling salt

• 2 1/2 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
• 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
• 1 Tbs celery seed
• 1/2 Tbs coarsely ground black pepper
• 1/2 tsp turmeric
• 2 tsp cornstarch
• 1 Tbs water

Prepare seven 8-ounce preserving jars and lids. (We heated the jars in the oven and boiled the lids and rings)

Mix Zucchini, pepper, onion and salt in a bowl and let stand for 1-2 hours. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and squeeze out excess moisture.

In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, celery seed, pepper and turmeric and bring to a boil, add zucchini mixture, bring back to a boil and then simmer for 25 minutes.
Mix cornstarch and water, add to mixture and cook for another 5 minutes.

Spoon into sterilized jar (leaving 1/4 inch headroom) and seal with lids immediately.

Even if you don't have a farm, or a pickling party to attend, you can still pick up some fresh ingredients at a local market, borrow a book about canning from your library and make some of your own preserves. Not only will you have something interesting to share with friends, but you will have a delicious treat that was made from fresh local ingredients and hasn't traveled further than many people will in their lifetime.