Archive for the ‘green living’ Category

Eco Farm Day 2010

I spent this past Saturday in Cornwall attending Eco Farm Day, Eastern Ontario’s organic / ecological farming conference. This is the second year I’ve attended, and I enjoyed this year’s conference just as much as last year’s.

This year’s keynote speaker was Wayne Roberts, a Toronto-based food activist. He spends his time convincing Toronto to let him build community gardens and baking ovens in vacant lots, amend municipal bylaws to make green roofs and balcony gardening legal, and convincing the University of Toronto to require its food services providers to include a percentage of local, sustainable food in their menus.

I’ll be looking to read two of his books: Get a Life, and The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food.

Besides the plenary and a Q&A session with Wayne Roberts, I went to two other presentations, one by Ken Taylor of Windmill Point Farm / The Green Barn Nursery, and one by Daniel Brisebois of Ferme coopérative Tourne-Sol.

Ken Taylor is an expert in permaculture for the Montreal-area climate. He’s spent the past 30 years using traditional plant breeding and tree grafting methods to produce hardy, tasty, disease and pest-resistant fruits and vegetables that thrive in this area. He has crossed cherries with plums, and pears with apples. He has developed grape varieties that survive -40°C winters and make great wine. He grows asian pear varieties that need no weeding, spraying, pruning, or other care, leaving the landscape around his fruit trees to be as “wild” as possible for the benefit of animals and insects.

I attend his talks every chance I get, because he has such a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on, and he has pretty much convinced me to concentrate on tree- and bush-fruit on our little 6-acre patch of North Stormont. Maybe a mulberry or two, certainly a few black raspberry bushes, perhaps a couple of asian pears…

Ferme coopérative Tourne-Sol is a magnificent success story – 5 young people met in university, all sharing a dream of running an organic farm, and 8 years later not only have they built a solid business that supports all five of them year ’round, but they are passing on what they have learned. Last year they opened their books and took us through the economics of running a small organic market garden farm, and this year they gave an in-depth workshop on seed saving for the market gardener.

All in all it was a great day. I joined the Ottawa chapter of Canadian Organic Growers, bought some heartnut seeds and grape scions from the Green Barn Nursery, and am looking forward to potentially getting involved in the local sustainable food initiative that Tom Manley will be starting this year.


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Christmas crafting

This year’s hand-made Christmas gifts included:

A scarf for my mum, knit with some lovely yarn that Arin spun for me

A second scarf for my mother-in-law, knit from soft, shiny bamboo yarn.

And a lap quilt for Baba, t!’s Ukranian grandmother. She liked it a lot.

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This morning we woke to a howling blizzard. I took more satisfaction than usual in the morning ritual of kindling today’s fire from the still-glowing coals of yesterday’s, and watching it catch and then roar.

Heating with wood is like baking your own bread. It takes a fair amount of planning, organization, effort, and hard work, but you have not only a greater appreciation for the end product (even an imperfect loaf of home-made bread tastes better than store-bought), but a communion with the process. You have to tend the fire throughout the day. Sometimes it doesn’t go as planned – a log is wet or rotten and doesn’t burn well. Sometimes you forget to check it and it burns down too low, and you have to waste kindling (which you split last week with great effort and freezing fingers) to re-start it. But it’s all part of the process – and part of a direct connection with the elemental energy of fire.

And even if it weren’t for the environmental and spiritual benefits, just knowing that if the blizzard should knock the power out, we’ll still be plenty warm is worth the extra effort.

Carter, our half-husky, took two steps outside, and turned around to come back in (we let him – who’s to argue when the dog thinks it’s too nasty to be outside?). I think I will spend a good part of the day baking, and maybe put some soup on in the crock-pot as well.

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Reg the installation guy stopped by today to double check the dimensions of our fireplace to ensure that we could indeed replace our (came with the house) current propane fireplace insert with a wood-burning fireplace insert.

Why are we spending a heck of a lot of money replacing a propane-burning insert with a wood-burning one? Because Charlie who lives around the corner from us doesn’t chop propane. He does, however, chop & sell wood. And heating with wood is going to cost us a lot less than heating with oil (or propane – the propane insert was probably the previous owner’s emergency heating plan). By my math, the new insert will have paid for itself in three years, and after that, we’ll be heating this place for about half of what it cost us last winter, heating with oil alone. We’ll still be using the oil furnace some of the time, the fireplace insert may not always hold a fire overnight, and on really cold nights, the oil furnace will kick in to keep the house from getting too cold.

Oh, and it’s more environmentally friendly, too. Wood being a local, renewable resource. Unfortunately we can’t heat with (relatively) clean electricity the way we could when we lived in Montreal, because Ontario’s electricity is a) twice as expensive as Quebec’s and b) 45% nuclear, 34% hydroelectric and 22% fossil-fuel derived (as opposed to Quebec’s 97% hydroelectric, with the other 3% being a combination of wind, biomass, fossil-fuel, and nuclear).

Actual installation won’t be until the second or third week of October, as this is, unsurprisingly, the busy season for wood stove installers. That gives me plenty of time to talk to Charlie (whose little brother Ben is in my Karate class) about buying 4 or 5 cords of firewood from him.

Maybe one day, if I’m really lucky, we’ll have a wood cookstove as well.

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On Sunday, despite a being sick with a rotten cold, I went to the Glengarry Pioneer Museum for a few hours to check out their Harvest Fall Festival. I’m so glad I did, it was lots and lots of fun, interesting, and informative.

I watched a butter-making demonstration by this lady who had 4 milk cows and makes all her own butter, cheese, and yoghurt by hand. I got to help churn the cream into butter:


And we also got to taste the resulting product. Wow! It was like how a carrot pulled fresh from the garden tastes more “carroty” than the ones you buy from the grocery store, this butter was so very creamy and flavourful. I’ve never had butter that tasted anything like it.


When someone asked the lady doing the demonstration, “Do you sell butter?” she replied, “No, that would be illegal. But there’s a pile of my business cards with my contact information on the table there.” I love it out here!

As well as butter-making there were demonstrations by local craftspeople: a blacksmith using the museum’s forge, a harness-maker, a cobbler making shoes, a harness-maker, a tinsmith, a beekeeper, a canoe-maker, and others I’m forgetting.

There was a horse-power parade with horses pulling antique wagons, ridden by people in period costume.

There were a trio of re-enactors dressed in authentic Glengarry Highland Regiment uniforms, who had set up a period camp, complete with tents and a campfire, who explained what military life was like in the mid-1800s and demonstrated their muskets.

There was a petting zoo, and a quilting bee, and a town cryer, and a old-fashioned threshing machine threshing wheat, and lots of people (children included) wandering around in period costume, just for the fun of it.

Ontario’s oldest continually-licensed bar was open for business and selling beer, but due to the cold (and the fact that I’m still driving on a provisional license) I didn’t have one. Next year.

There was a native Mi’kmaq man and his wife, who were talking about and demonstrating many aspects of Native life both before and after the settlers arrived. I got part of my right arm painted with authentic Mi’kmak war paint: red and yellow ochre, and coal black, applied with bear grease. Despite having given the dog a bath last night, there’s still a red-tinged patch on my arm!

There was a sheep-to-sweater display, which included shearing, carding wool, spinning, and knitting. The shearer demonstrated the use of antique hand cranked clippers for a few minutes, before finishing the job with modern electric clippers. (Yes, that thing that looks like a big wooly sac is actually a live sheep.)


I got a quick drop-spindle lesson, as well as instructions on how to make one of this lady’s most ingeniously-designed drop-spindles for myself:


All-in-all a great day out, and next year I shall be sure to announce it well in advance so that folks can come out for it if they’d like.

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PSA, x2

Earth Hour 2009

This Saturday, March 28th, at 8:30pm people all over Canada and around the world will turn off their lights for an hour. Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture to remind us of the role that energy, and electricity in particular, plays in our lives. In many parts of the world, electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. In our part of Canada, electricity is generated by damming an increasing number of freshwater rivers, disrupting the ecosystems of the now-flooded land.

Cities and utilities around the world will track the power “dip” that results from the lights going out – with the goal of encouraging businesses (such as office towers) and governments to limit unnecessary nighttime lights.

Sign up to register your participation in Earth Hour in Canada.

Information for Montreal events (which include art projects and music by local – presumably acoustic – bands) is here: Ideas in the Dark

So turn the lights out, unplug all the electronic gizmos, light a bunch of candles, and spend an hour enjoying the dark! 

It’s CSA time!

If you’re thinking about signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable basket for the summer – now is the time. Most CSAs are taking registrations now, and they fill up quickly.

We were very happy with Verger aux Quatre Vents, who have drop points in Ville-Emard, Pointe St. Charles, and on the south shore. 

To find  CSA that has a drop point near you in Quebec, use the Equiterre search page (in French – they don’t seem to have translated that part of the website yet).

For Ontarians, use the Ontario CSA Directory

And I should also plug our neighbors in Monkland, Love Those Weeds.

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