Canada

Across North America, Day 4: Community Farming in Ottawa

Day Four started out with a legendary brunch. At our friends’ house in Ottawa we had Crêpes Suzette flambéed with Grand Marnier, orange-cranberry duck sausage, slices of melt-in-your-mouth slow-cooked ham, and hashbrowns.

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This is the correct way to start the morning.

After finishing breakfast, we decided to put our hands where our mouths were. The fresh vegetables we had eaten the night before (including beans, basil, and cilantro) came from the Just Food Farming Co-op down the road. We made our way over to lend a hand in harvesting.

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Just Food is a grassroots non-profit that encourages local, organic food cultivation. They are community-minded, offering volunteer positions, a Start-Up Farm program, and a partnering up with Operation Come Home to provide farm learning and experience for at-risk youth.

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More than a dozen different farmers have patches of land on the Just Food property, and share access to the Co-Ops resources, including a John Deere tractor, miscellaneous farming tools, a large walk-in fridge in a shipping crate, and a wash station to prepare food for distribution. There’s also a sense of family amongst the farmers, and they wave at each other or stop to say hi as they pass.

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Our friend Chris Bisson is the owner and operator of Busy Beaver Farm. They put together weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes for subscribers during a ten week period between the start of July and early September. They also take their produce to market.

Chris got into the CSA program while studying at Carleton. He has a an undergraduate degree in Geography and a Masters in Public Planning. He’s currently a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Ottawa.

He leads us through the 150-acre property on the way to his plot of land at the far end of the fields. Along the way, he points out some of the other co-op members and their gardens.

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There’s an apiary with about 25 hives, a wild herb garden, the Karen Community Farm maintained by Burmese Karen refugees, a food forest, and many more. Many have adorable names like Radical Homestead, Twigs Nursery, Herbivor Farm and Happy Radish Farm.

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When we arrive on the farm plot, Chris spots a few black leaves that might be signs of early blight – a common problem with potatoes that causes them to brown early, but is not harmful to humans. He decides that today we’ll harvest one of his four, 50-feet rows. These early potatoes will give him an early selling advantage at the market.

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The process of pulling up potatoes begins. Plant after plant, the mounds are dug up, the tops discarded to be burned, and the potatoes pulled off their roots. We pull 65.5 pounds of potatoes out of the earth. Not as much as waiting later might have yielded, but not bad either. The good news: only a couple potatoes show signs of blight.

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Nonetheless, he will avoid planting potatoes, or anything in the solanaceae family (ex: tomato, egg plant, pepper, or tobacco) in these rows for the next four years to prevent the possible spread of blight. Funnily enough, he could plant sweet potato here if he wanted, as they a member of convolvulaceae, not the same family as the potato. His plans are to lay a cover crop of clover for the meantime, which will help fix nitrogen in the soil.

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We put our potato harvest into blue bins with #BusyBeaverFarms spray-painted on the side into a small wagon and pulled them over to the washing station where we spread them out to dry and weigh them. They’ll be stored in a cool, dark space and left to cure for a couple days before the dirt is brushed off them and they are added to the CSA boxes for this week.

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During the winter, when farming slows down, the farmers often get together at Union 613, a stylish, prohibition-style bar with cozy, dim lights and a low ceiling that serves Southern dishes. They drink beer, argue about fertilizers, and commiserate about the difficulties of organic certification, all while looking forward to next spring when they can dig their hands into the earth again.

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The rest of the day was spent drinking beers with friends and engaging in a doughnut review SO INTENSE that it requires its own post. Stay tuned for the upcoming deliciousness.

Day 4 Costs:

  • Fill up the tank with gas: $65.56
  • 14 Doughnuts from SusyQ Doughnuts: $25.00

Total: $90.56

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Bernice and Bill Tracey
    August 6, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Very detailed description of the trip so far. Looks like lots of fun and you both are getting in great learning opportunities.

    Keep safe as you continue on your journey.

    • Reply
      Mel Hattie
      August 13, 2015 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks Bill and Bernice! We’re learning a lot.

  • Reply
    Brenda
    August 7, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Reading your blog daily, the food descriptions are mouth watering. I’m so famished for good food after reading your blog. As you know, food in Labrador is not very fresh except for the tiny bit of local grown which isn’t very much. Keep it coming, I can always fantasize.

    • Reply
      Mel Hattie
      August 13, 2015 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks Brenda! Labrador is pretty hard to farm in. Good luck finding some fresh food!

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