Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sign of the Times

 I had a Gordie Howe hat trick at the market yesterday:

  A goal, an assist and a fight.

  We met our goal of selling all the sweet corn we had picked that morning. I assisted a lady who had locked her keys in her car. I also had a discussion with a man and agreed to disagree about our allegedly high prices.

  Anyone who runs their own small business will have an unwanted familiarity with certain customers kvetching about prices.

  Big business is protected by many layers of staff from complaints. The clerk at Petro Canada doesn't give a fig about the disconnect between the price of West Texas crude and the pump price, so no one bothers unloading on them. You might as well argue with the gas pump.

  However, when someone spots the price maker in their cross-hairs, things can get heated.

  In my own case, our price for squash is ten cents higher than last year. The customer suggested that there should be no increase due to lower fuel prices, which represent about five per cent of my costs. He parted with the argument that the increased use of food banks was all the proof he needed of extortionately high food prices in Ontario.

  A little context......

  In 1962, my father bought a fifty acre farm in North Markham Township with a partner for $24,000.
After closing, the partner got cold feet and wanted his share back. My dad paid him and left the "For Sale" sign posted.

  No one called. Not a single offer for five years, until, in 1967, he got an offer for $27,000, which he accepted.

  An apples-to-apples fifty acre farm across the road just sold last year for $2,700,000; a price one hundred times greater than the 1967 price.

  There is a sign up on the wall in our market dating from the mid 1960's. I found it while demolishing an old drive shed on Elmer Harding's farm at Birchmount Road and Steeles Avenue. The farm has long since been blanketed by housing.

  "Sweet Corn 35 cents per dozen. $ 1.00 for 3 dozen"

  It is, of course, laughable cheap by today's standards and a lot of people joke about buying our corn for that price.

  Let's assume for a moment that sweet corn at 35 cents per dozen had seen an increase similar to that of raw land. That would make the 2016 sign read:

  "Sweet Corn $35 per dozen. $ 100 dollars for 3 dozen.

  I am not the first person to make the case for the fact that the higher price of food that is not leading to increased food bank use as much as it is the exponential rise in the price of housing. My argument is an oversimplification but it merits some consideration.

  In 1969, about 20 per cent of the average consumer's take home pay went for food. That figure in 2016 is about 10 per cent. Even the poorest one-fifth of Canada's population spends about 14 per cent on food, less than half the 30 per cent they spend on accommodation.(Terry Daynard; blog, Jan. 10, 2016)

  Meanwhile, the price for a detached home in Toronto has reached million dollar territory, making the dream of actually owning such a house unattainable for most home buyers. Those high prices may not last, but, realistically, how much would they fall in the event of a correction?

  Food in Canada ( unless you live in the far north) is still a bargain, and the fact that we live in a country where food is safe, fresh and widely available means that most Canadians have already won the global food lottery.

  Keeping his stick on the ice,


  P.S. Using that 100 multiplier for gasoline means that an Imperial gallon of gas that sold in 1969 for 35 cents per gallon  (1 Imperial gallon= 4.54 litres) would now cost $7.70 per litre!

Saturday, September 10, 2016


  " I have a love affair with tomatoes and corn. I remember them from my childhood. I only had them in the summer. They were extraordinary. "    

                                                                Alice Waters

  When I was maybe eight or nine, I was given a large, chocolate Easter bunny. It was covered in brightly coloured, garish tinfoil. It was one of the most beautiful objects that I had ever laid eyes on, much less owned.

  For a couple of weeks, that resplendent rabbit occupied a place of honour up on my bookshelf, beside the Hardy Boy books.

  Then, one afternoon, I couldn't stand it any longer. It was time to partake of all that chocolatey deliciousness.

 You know the rest of the story. The chocolate tasted like mud, which wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that the doggoned thing was hollow. It had all the soul of a gold digging Vegas showgirl.

  I got over the crappy rabbit and yet every winter, I get duped in the very same way by tomatoes.

  They look so delicious, so evocative of summers past and yet to come. But their taste is merely okay, a faint shadow of that of their country cousins who are still asleep in their seed packets.

  The saying goes that "the older we get, the more we appreciate the things that money can't buy."

  Amen to that. You sure as heck can't buy a decent tomato in Ontario for most of the year.

  If we evaluated tomato years as we do wine years, then I would have to say that 2013 was a terrible vintage; degraded by cool weather. 2014 was marginally better, but it was a late, short season due to another growing season of cool, wet weather. Ditto for 2015.

  Then along came 2016. Whatever the heat and drought of this past summer may have taken away in yield have been given back in taste. I don't ever remember better tasting tomatoes. This year the flavor is absolutely amazing, embodying  that perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.

   Tomatoes are loaded with Vitamins A and C, in addition to a host of other vitamins and minerals, but it is lycopene that is getting everyone excited about them these days.

  A growing body of clinical evidence has shown that lycopene (which gives tomatoes their rich, red colour) is one of the most powerful antioxidants around. This, in turn, gives them great potential as a cancer fighter, due to antioxidants' ability to protect the body from harmful free radicals.

  Tomatoes are one fruit that should not be refrigerated; their flavour will be ruined. Ditto to placing them in a sunny windowsill. The best bet is to place them on your kitchen counter out of direct sunlight. They will ripen just fine.

  We grow a wide range of beefsteak tomato varieties, in addition to a couple of yellow cultivars that have lower acid content and a wonderfully mild flavor.

There is also a whole soccer team's worth of cherry and grape tomato varieties that add terrific flavor and eye-catching colour to any meal.

  Our fields have been in legume cover crops for two years prior to planting tomatoes this year , which minimizes the disease and insect pressure on our crop and maximizes the nutritional benefits to you.

  So get them while you can, freshly picked in our market or by picking your own in our fields. It is a golden opportunity for you to eat your fill of tomatoes with soul!



Friday, September 2, 2016

Local Food and Foreign Workers

  One of the great ironies of growing local food is that much of the farm help required to grow it comes from thousands of miles away.

  Our 1857 farmhouse has seen two families of 10 children raised in it over the years. There was little need for outside hired help back in the day; one raised their own work force for the fields along with their own food for the table.

  Sadly, my wife and I are shirkers in this regard. We have but one son. Many of you have met Geoff during past summers, but he will be back at the University of Guelph this fall, working towards his Master's degree in Agriculture.

  Those halcyon days of large farm families living every quarter mile along the concession roads and an abundant supply of local farm workers are but a distant memory now. The growth of the Toronto area along with an abundance of higher paying jobs has left local farmers scrambling for help.

  It is not a new problem. The song "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)  was written in 1919. Its lyrics highlight the concerns that returning World War I soldiers would not want to return to the farm after experiencing the city life and culture of places like Paris.

  The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was created 50 years ago to help address this shortfall in farm labor. Jamaica was the first country to enter into an agreement with the Government of Canada, administered by the wonderfully capable Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.)

  Jamaica has been joined by four other Caribbean countries and Mexico as source countries for the program. Last year, 17,648 workers came to Canada to help do farm jobs that Canadians could not or would not do.

  We have two Jamaican workers, Clifford and Keroy, that have been with us for a number of years.

  Keroy lives on his own small farm in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, where he grows coffee and assorted fruit and vegetables. He has four children ranging in age from 8 to 24, along with a hard working wife to work the farm during the five months that he is with us.

  Keroy is the quintessence of "Jamaica, No Problem." He is able to see the funny side of any situation no matter how bleak it may be. He has an absolutely contagious laugh and a sunny disposition that elevates all our spirits.

  Clifford is more Type A serious and seriously driven to work hard. He lives in Kingston, not far from Tivoli Gardens, a notoriously crime ridden housing project, along with his girlfriend and two small children. Fond of parables and riddles, he has more street smarts than I would have in ten lifetimes.

  Clifford has an uncanny ability to anticipate what is required on the farm next, whether it be planting, harvesting or stocking the market. I am certain that he and Keroy could run the farm without me for most of the season.

  Clifford and Keroy's time away from home allows them to support their families in a way that would be difficult on Jamaican wages. Both men have been able to buy property, educate their children and operate businesses in Jamaica.

  They are an important part of our family from the end of May to the end of October every year, We would be unable to farm without their valuable hard work. Please take a moment, if you don't already know them, to say hello. They are an absolutely vital part of your local food meals.