I have worked, studied, volunteered, apprenticed, and otherwise immersed myself whenever possible in the joy and beauty of local food-medicine since 2006. For me it is a way of life. I teach workshops in bioregional eating upon request. Here are some recent mini-articles on the subject.
I had the good fortune to spend my childhood and early teenage years in southern Alberta. My family and I lived on an acerage, grew a big garden, and went many Saturdays during the growing season to the Millerville Market. This impressed upon me the pleasure and healthiness of eating bioregionally. When I recently asked a gardener friend another way to frame it, he used the phrase Eating with the Seasons. As different from purely local eating (ie. A heated greenhouse can provide tomatoes in northern climes year round), bioregional eating embraces the seasonality of different wild and cultivated crops and their corresponding gifts as related to our bodies and the time of year. Root crops stored in root cellars over winter provide dense, high calorie foods to keep our bodies fueled and warm. Nettles and other early greens help with a spring cleanse. The sunshine of summer helps us digest the sugars in ripe tomatoes and berries. Fresh, bioregional foods are higher in nutrients. I find that eating bioregionally engenders a feeling of gratitude for the abundance of the seasons and helps to connect me to the rhythms of the earth and my body. Bioregional foods can often be purchased at our local grocery stores or farmer’s markets, providing more direct financial support for local growers. This is not to demonize imported foods of specific cultural or nutritional value but rather to draw attention to the cycles and abundance of plants and foods where we live.
Check out these seasonal charts:
https://www.farmfolkcityfolk.ca/knowledge-pantry/seasonal/ (Various regions in BC)
One thing that drew me from a gardening role at a yoga center on Salt Spring Island to the juicy, artistic, and diverse metropolitan of Montreal was the abundance of collective gardens in that fair city. As an intensively-peopled landscape, folks have found innovative ways to tuck produce into their landscape. I experienced corners of churchyards, schoolyards, libraries, and back allies that were lovingly placed into cultivation. As opposed to allotment gardens, which usually had long waiting lists and which were individually parsed into plots, these gardens were collectively tended and harvested at weekly set times. Different people bring different perspectives, levels of experience, and styles. It is some about food producing, some about social time, some about community building, some about beautification… over time, I have begun to think of these spaces as a form of living collective art.
Sometimes a city organization or NGO would employ an “animateur/trice”, or garden facilitator who would be in charge of logistics and who could orient people who were new to gardening. Regardless of official roles, in my experience, it is helpful to have someone who is willing to take a bit of a coordinator position.
Communication in the form of a basic posted garden plan, signs for compost instructions and other collective garden guidelines/ rules, and shared email addresses for updates or information circulation can make the collective garden process a smoother ride. In my experience, having some clarity around roles, responsibilities, and basic agreements gives more freedom and empowerment for members to make actions with the shared framework.
I am currently a guest at a land coop in the Kootenays where I help out in their collective garden. There is more rhubarb and greens than we can eat, and now the strawberries and peas are coming on. I continue to learn about this lovely food growing model.
Eat Yer Weeds! (Part 1)
A few weeks ago, I was picking spinach at my new part time job at a gorgeous market garden in the Kootenays. My co-worker and I smiled ruefully at each other as we picked handfuls of chickweed out from our handfuls of leaves.
“We could sell it as value-added spinach,” we joked. But truly, chickweed is probably as nutritious or more than the crop we were intentionally harvesting! I want to spread the word about this lovely little plant.
Of all the so-called weeds that are out there, chickweed is one of my favourites. I first discovered it when doing a student project in my undergraduate years at the campus community garden. It blew me away that I could take handfuls of this weed growing so merrily to later add to my salads. It’s high in iron. A friend of mine chops it up and adds it to egg frittatas. I also love to make it into pesto as a substitute for basil (chickweed, olive oil, garlic, nutritional yeast or cheese, ground sunflower seeds or another kind of nut, a splash of apple cider vinegar, salt). Once during a visit with my sister and sister-in-law, we whipped up a batch and tossed it with some pasta. As a tonic medicinal (meaning it’s pretty hard to overdose on it), I have drunk it in tea or mashed it up and spread it on my skin for its cooling properties to calm inflammation.
Have a smile at this little friend when next you see her in your travels! (And please make sure you identify it rightly before putting it in yer mouth!)
Garlic + Roses = True Love
A few weeks ago, I was talking garlic with one of my co-workers at Earth Temple Gardens. She said that she and her partner feed their garlic nettle or comfrey tea in the spring and air out the space around the bulbs later in the year. Another farmer in the area heavily composts a section of land in the spring, plants squash, and then once the plants are pulled out in the fall, tucks the garlic cloves into the ground, mulches, and leaves them for the winter.
As a semi-wandering gardener, planting roses with garlic has become one of my favourite tricks. I have almost always found some roses growing where I live or nearby where I could tuck in some cloves to wait out the winter. The bulbs don’t take up much room, and garlic planted with roses supposedly gives good medicine against black spot. I recently learned that all members of the onion family (alliums) grow well with roses.
Typically I buy organic garlic cloves from a health food store (bulbs for seed garlic are also available online from companies such as Salt Spring Seeds). I break open the bulbs and separate the cloves (although it’s not necessary to peel them). Then I dig in a handful of compost per clove and stick them in the ground, flat end first. They can be quite close to each other, around 4 inches apart in intensive cultivation. If I have some kind of mulch available, I will put that on top of the cloves to keep weeds back and help with moisture retention. I plant in October. The following year, they will produce beautiful curling shoots called scapes. These need to be trimmed so that the plant’s energy can go down into the bulb. They are deliciously garlicky and can be used as a replacement for garlic in soups or stirfries, or lacto-fermented in salt brine. The final harvest of the garlic bulbs comes in August or September, or when two or three of the leaves wilt and turn yellow. With a fork or trowel, loosen the soil and gently pull bulbs out of the ground. To cure the garlic bulbs, hang stalks with in a cool, dry place with a bit of air circulation like a breezeway, or with a fan going, for two to three weeks. You can also enjoy the bulbs fresh. Tell me where I’m wrong, or tell me some of your garlic stories.
My deepest gardening experience to date was at a seed farm on Salt Spring Island. I lived and worked there for two and a half years. The first seed I ever saved was from a columbine flower that had lived its course and had dried up like a little brown beak. I poured the tiny black-pearled seeds inside the husk into my palm, as tiny bugs the same size and colour scuttled about.
As our climate shifts, seed saving is a simple and potent way to adapt along with our environment. By observing the healthiest plant or plants of a season and by choosing to seed save from those plants, we are choosing to carry on the genetic diversity that has best adapted to our particular (micro)climate.
My mentor Dan would say that saving seeds is pretty simple: just save a plant or two from harvest, let it make its babies, collect the seeds, make sure they are dry, and store them in a cool and dry place. Peas, if left to grow, will eventually dry in their pods. Lettuce extends to a gorgeous candelabra of tiny flowers which dry to seeds. Kale and other brassicas make wee pods as well. Squash seeds can just be scooped out. There is a slightly more complex and very fun and goopy process to ferment tomato seeds to kill any potential pathogens and to break down the gelatinous seed coating. You can find a description of that process (and more detailed information about specific vegetable types) here: https://www.saltspringseeds.com/pages/how-to-save-seeds. You can also find great information on simple methods to thresh and winnow seeds if you are saving more than a few plants’ worth here: https://www.annapolisseeds.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=1862
Seeds are typically good for two to three years, although some will last longer. This morning I saw the first columbine bloom. The cycle continues!