The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Saving Ourselves with Produce

by Tricia Dower

Every Tuesday afternoon, a young helmeted cyclist brings a container to our door. Inside are fruits and vegetables from Share Organics, a distributor of produce from organic farmers. They purchase from the closest sources possible (including greenhouses), although in the winter they go as far afield as California and Mexico in order to provide the full service.

Colin and I got involved to support the food security movement on our vulnerable little island. Fifty years ago Vancouver Island produced 85% of its food. Today, only 10%. If we rely exclusively on food that’s ferried or flown in, we’ll be in trouble if/when fuel shortages and/or border closings make food prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable. What’s more, transporting food long distances increases global energy use and the food isn’t as fresh. Does it cost more than organic produce from the grocery store? Probably, but insisting on cheap prices keeps farm worker wages exploitatively low and their working conditions unsafe. We pay $27 a week. For our most recent delivery, that bought us 3 pounds of apples, 1-½ pounds of bananas, 1 lemon, ½ pound of yellow cooking onions, ½ pound of snow peas, ½ pound of mushrooms, 1 pound of carrots, 1 bunch of broccoli, 1 bunch of spinach and ¼ pound of salad greens.

We started this service in December and I had visions of us gnawing on nothing for months but root vegetables and apples that had been put into storage in the fall. I was amazed at the variety of veggies left at our door, ones I had never seen, much less prepared: Jerusalem artichokes (they make a delicious but, unfortunately, gassy soup), celeriac (eat it raw or cook with potatoes and mash together), daikon radish (great shredded on a salad), and rainbow chard (pan cook like spinach in a little bit of oil, with lots of fresh garlic and only the water left on the leaves after washing). I am now a rainbow chard junkie.

So far we’ve also received yams, white and red potatoes, beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, parsnips, kale, leeks, chives, spinach, romaine lettuce, brown, white and Portobello mushrooms, mustard greens, cauliflower, ginger, parsley, rosemary, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, mangoes, avocados, snow peas, tomatoes, onions, frozen blueberries and raspberries.

We know what we’re getting every week and we can customize our order, but it’s always a surprise to see what the stuff looks like. One week we were supposed to get a couple of pounds of yams and I suppose we did but they came as one humongous potato that would have taken an age to bake. We sliced it, barbecued the slices (yes, you can grill out year-round in Victoria) and dipped them in peanut sauce. We’ve gotten some gigantic beets, as well. If you have hours to kill some day, try making:

Beet Chips
  • Peel raw beets and slice them really thin; 1/8th inch if your knife is sharp enough and you have Popeye muscles.
  • Bring 2 cups water and 1 cup sugar to a boil. Plop in the slices and remove from heat. Soak for one hour.
  • Drain and place slices on aluminum foil covered pan. Bake at 250° until crisp – two, three, four hours, maybe. Build a bookshelf while you’re waiting or weave a rug.
Coming soon: fresh BC asparagus and rhubarb, not to mention the radishes, potatoes, beets, carrots, red peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and chard (!) Colin has planted in our tiny back yard. Life is good.

Photo: Our regular delivery guy, the one on the left, was training the one on the right the day I snagged them for this shot.

Recipe (minus the wisecracks) compliments of Victoria writing group buddy Steve Hughes.


Anonymous Larry said...


I'm a chard fan myself, rainbow or various monochrome. It's also great on pizza, used as a wrapping whenever you would have used cabbage, and tossed (julienned or whatever) into pasta, rice, quinoa - you name it.

Colin: I grew a few varieties last summer. (Organically, of course...) I found I didn't have to be nearly as diligent about its upkeep as I did with other things. And, best of all, it grows back quickly - allowing you several harvests.

Let me know how the garden goes.


Sat May 05, 02:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Larry, for sure we'll let you know. Rows of tiny leaves are already reassuring us that the radishes have taken hold and bits of chard are popping up, as well.

Sat May 05, 08:09:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Wow, life is good indeed, Tricia. I'd love to have something like that roll onto my street instead of the ice cream truck and its creepy never-ending loop of creepy tinkly music that makes me think a psychotic clown is going to jump out of the driver's seat and snatch all the neighbourhood children off their tricycles.

Beet chips! What a great idea - baking them!

Sun May 06, 10:15:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Colin said...

Thanks Larry. Good to hear the chard doesn't require as much diligence. A few years ago a friend gave us a book titled "The Rusty Rake" which pretty much describes my gardening style.

Sun May 06, 11:49:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

We used to get a box of local fruit and vegetables delivered. It was great. I wonder if I can arrange something in my downtown apartment. You can get crack delivered. I believe it's organic. But I haven't seen a fresh vegetable around. I've recently started cooking again so it's high time.

Mon May 07, 08:21:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

I always mean to get on this, and then forget. It's the wilting 3buck head of lettuce in my fridge that reminds me my cooking goes in fits and starts. There are several places here in Van that do this; only one using bicycles. Beet chips would test my temper, though...

Mon May 07, 02:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks Mel, Andrew, Tamara. Organic crack, indeed!

Mon May 07, 04:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Suzie said...

beet chips hey! who would have thought I would get a glimpse of that new "you" baking beets. I also enjoy chard on pizza, in a good Stir fry or in a soup.

I am signing up for my weekly fresh food basket delivery and you made me look forward to it.

Tue May 08, 12:15:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Suzie! Great to see you here and good to know Toronto has such a service. Lots of great produce in Ontario. I miss the corn.

Tue May 08, 01:46:00 pm GMT-4  

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