Edible City is where I muse about urban gardening and share tips from my new book City Farmer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Busted: Working for Chicken Bylaw Change

A year and a half ago, I was busted for my backyard chickens. Two Toronto bylaw officers knocked on my door and gave me a Notice to Comply--thirty days to move my chickens out of the city or face a fine and forced removal.

As it turns out, I was moving house that day--the moving van was in my driveway. If the bylaw officers had shown up the next day, my chickens and I would have been gone. I moved and didn't hear from the bylaw folks again. (I'm sure they had much better things to do than track me and my gals down, and I appreciate that.)

Backyard chickens have been in the Toronto news again recently. A report on allowing backyard chickens in Toronto will be presented to the Licensing and Standards Committee on February 24, 2012. It is a crucial time in the effort to allow the safe, humane keeping of hens in Toronto.

The councillors who sit on the Licensing and Standards Committee need to hear from people who support urban hens. There are many myths and conceptions out there, and those who support urban hens need to speak up. I hope you'll consider writing to the councillors on the Licensing and Standards Committee (see names and emails below) and tell them that you support safe and humane backyard egg production in the city! (And if you don't support it, please feel free to post any questions or concerns here, so we can have an exchange of ideas on the subject.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Royal Decline at the Fair

When I was in university, I skipped class to go to the Royal Winter Fair. Arriving back at school for a late-afternoon tutiorial, I sat in the room thinking "what's that smell?!" It was me--the barnyard odour had seeped into my sweater and there was fresh manure on my shoes. I didn't mind. These are the sorts of things you should take home from an agricultural fair.

A few days ago, I returned home from the Royal Winter Fair with a bag full of sanitized, processed, packaged goodies (cheese crackers, skin cream, birch syrup), and zero in the way of animal smells--unless you count the dwarf-goat slobber on my palm, from the petting zoo.

The Royal is now, pretty much, a marketplace of fudge and funnel cakes, where you're hard pressed to find Ontario's agricultural bounty. Sad.

But I did delight in the poultry, once I managed to look past the display of chickens dyed baby blue, pink and yellow (yes, I'm serious). I met a farmer who raises Chantecler chickens (a uniquely Canadian, heritage breed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste) and I plan to contact him in the spring to get a couple of hens. So all was not lost in this outing to the fair, but something significant has certainly been lost if the smell of french-fry grease in the Royal's food court overpowers the smell of soil and barn.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another growTO event on Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011

On Tuesday, Nov 15th, 2011, from 6 to 8PM, at the Architecture Building, 325 Church Street (just south of Gerrard), at Ryerson University in Toronto, the fourth session of the growTO speakers series will be held. With a great line-up of speakers (a couple of whom are from out of town), it should be a wonderful event.

As one of the series organizers, I hope you can come out to take part in this event!

The topic is
Making the Case for Urban Agriculture

Nevin Cohen
The New School, New York NY

Harry Rhodes
Growing Home, Chicago IL

Aimee Carson
Evergreen, Toronto ON

Rhonda Teitel-Payne
The Stop Community Food Centre, Toronto ON

Moderator: Lauren Baker

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fundraising Dinner

A great event is coming up: the Charles Sauriol Environmental Dinner for the Living City. It's being held on November 3rd, 2011, and takes place in Brampton, Ontario. Chef Michael Smith is the special guest. All funds raised go towards the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands. To purchase tickets, go to www.charlessauriol.ca.

Friday, October 7, 2011

City Farmer Event

On Wednesday, October 12, I'll be reading from City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing at an event sponsored by the Beaches United Church. (Admission is free but donations are encouraged to support Goodwill's Interfaith Lunch Program.) The reading starts at 7:30 and is being held at Juice and Java, 2102 Queen Street East (Queen and Winona), Toronto. Hope you can make it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Beyond the Tomato

This summer, I was very excited to grow a number of vegetable plants I'd never grown before, such as okra, ground cherries, and cardoon. Farmers (along with gardeners) in Ontario are expanding their palettes to include "world crops"--that is, vegetables available in grocery stores as imports but that can (and should!) be grown commercially here in Ontario.

On Tuesday, October 4, 2011, from 6pm to 8pm, I'll be moderating a panel discussion in Toronto (at Ryerson University, 325 Church Street) on growing world crops. The evening is part of a series called growTO, which will take place over four evenings in October and November. (See www.toronto.ca/livegreen/getinvolved_speakers_growto.htm for details.)

The event is free of charge and will, I'm sure, be lively and engaging. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sex Life of Trees

There's a great event coming up in Toronto this coming Tuesday, June 7, 2011:

The Secret Sex Lives of Trees

Presented by LEAF – Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests

Date: Tuesday June 7, 2011, 7:00 to 8:30pm
Location: Royal Ontario Museum, Level 1B, Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre, 100 Queen's Park, Toronto
Speaker: Tony Fleischmann
Cost: $12 per person, $10 for ROM members

Purchase advance tickets

From tempting potential pollinators with alluring colours and luscious nectar, to brandishing ripe fruits and berries before eager birds, trees will go to great lengths to multiply. Join us as Tony Fleischmann, long time arborist and tree enthusiast, reveals the "seedy" side of the urban forest. Recommended for those who don't blush easily!


Tony Fleischmann has worked in the commercial, municipal and utility arboriculture field for over 25 years.  He is a Certified Arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture and a Past President of the Ontario Chapter.  Tony has presented a variety of seminars, workshops and tree talks to various organizations including the ISA, Canadian Forestry Service, OMNR, Ontario Urban Forest Council, Landscape Ontario, HGTV, Rogers TV, Ontario Parks Association, Composting Council of Canada and Canada Blooms as well as a number of educational institutions.



Friday, May 27, 2011

Help Make the Gals Legal!

These three hens have a group name: Ethel Mabel Merman. Each goes by the three-part name. They're lovely ladies, great egg producers, and illegal in Toronto.

But change is in the air--possibly. There's talk of allowing chickens in Toronto, and a debate, starting with the Licensing and Standards Committee, could begin very soon.

Sorry to mix metaphors, but it's time to get our ducks in a row.

Please consider signing the petition to make backyard hens legal in Toronto: www.torontochickens.com/Toronto_Chickens/Petition.html. The more signatures we have when the chicken debate heats up, the better! Please take a moment to sign the petition, and perhaps even urge friends and colleagues to do so. 

Many thanks--from me, and from Ethel Mabel Merman.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Toronto's First Chicken Coop Tour

I wasn't sure how much interest there would be, but we had a capacity crowd for what will, I hope, turn into an annual event: a tour of backyard chicken coops in Toronto! I organized it as part of the Jane's Walks tours going on all over Toronto this past weekend, which made the whole thing very easy to set up. We did the tour on bikes (like the monthly bike event Critical Mass, but we were Chicken Mass), and registration was limited to 30, so some people who wanted to come, couldn't. But I'm hoping to do another tour this summer or early fall and will post details here for anyone who's interested. (One of the conditions of registration was that participants had to promise not to squeal to City officials about the locations of contraband chickens hiding out in Toronto.)

We went to 5 different coops, from Crawford and College to Eglinton and Bathurst. The biggest surprise for participants was the coop in a downtown front yard, completely visible from the street. How this chicken-keeper has managed to get away with such a public set-up, I don't know, but good on her (and her neighbours!).

Many thanks to everyone who took part (many participants wanted to set up their own coops and asked great questions). Also, many thanks to the founder of www.torontochickens.com, who was a great resource person on the tour (and who baked buckwheat cookies for us), and to Karen May, another great resource on the tour, who wrote her Master's thesis at the University of Toronto on backyard chickens.

One of the delights of the tour was that Edith Mabel Merman (a beautiful Leghorn hen) laid an egg while we were visiting her--it was the first experience of a warm, just-laid egg for many participants and it was lovely to see people cradling the egg in their hands with awe!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Lot of Sausages

Fifty-five pounds of ground pork shoulder. Dozens of feet of pig intestines. Herbs, spices, 2 bottles of wine, a bag of Doritos. My brother Ross, some old friends and I made sausages last night. Ross, Roger and Henry have been doing it together for years (Roger learned as a child from his dad) and they kindly let me in on what Henry called their "man fun." (I try not to see the world in gendered terms, but as I was up to my elbows in ground pork, I thought, yes, my gal friends and I get together to make chocolates...)

A lot of thought goes into their sausage flavourings. Ross used special treats from Australia--Aussie native spices such as bush tomato and native pepper berries; Roger went for the traditional (garlic); Henry went wild with fig sauce, maple syrup and, in a last-minute creative spark, ground-up Doritos (which did indeed add flavour along with crunch).

I, too, went a bit wild with my five pounds of pork, dividing it into half for just garlic and pepper, and the other half for sausages that paid tribute to my first drink of alcohol as a teenager: apricot brandy. I flavoured my sausages with chopped-up dried apricots, a couple ounces of Remy Martin and roasted fennel seeds.

I'm hooked and already scheming flavour combos for the next batch in a couple of months: dried pear and pine nuts; cranberry and hazelnut.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reading and Talk this Monday

I hope you'll join me at a public reading/talk I'm giving on Monday, May 2nd, 7pm, at the North York Public Library in Toronto (North York Civic Centre subway stop). I'll be reading excerpts from my book City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Production and telling stories about unusual things people are doing in terms of growing food in the city (such as this "Vehicular Reclamation Project," photo above, in which people grew herbs and other plants in this car--one of my favourite gardens ever).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saving My Ash Tree

I embarrassed myself in a meeting recently. A group of us were gathered to plan the upcoming urban tree conference (November 1st and 2nd; details soon) being sponsored by the Ontario Urban Forest Council and the Toronto Botanical Garden. As we discussed topics, I found that all I could think about, and all I wanted to talk about, was the gigantic and beautiful ash tree in my front yard--threatened by emerald ash borer! Here I was with a group of very knowledgeable tree people, so I couldn't help by ask at every turn: "Yes, but what about my tree?!"

Emerald ash borer is in Toronto (having already wiped out almost all ash trees in Windsor), and every ash is threatened. I don't know if mine is infested (there are no visible signs, yet), but it could be any day. There are infestations just 4 kilometres away from my tree. Apparently there's a treatment available, and I plan to check into it. My tree, technically, belongs to the city, so I'll start with them. I despair at the thought of losing this fantastic giant (40 feet plus), whose canopy shades three houses.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Raising Fish

I went to an aquaponics workshop in Buffalo last weekend. I thought I would learn how to do small-scale raising of fish (in small barrels), perhaps with hydroponic lettuce on top of the barrels, but the techniques discussed turned out to be more large-scale than that. The other people in the workshop were all farmers with large greenhouses, not city dwellers. So I left the workshop early and went to the Albright Knox Gallery instead.

Funny thing happened at the border.

Crossing into the U.S., the Customs fellow asked me the purpose of my trip. "I'm going to a workshop," I said. "On what?" he asked. I didn't want to use any word (such as aquaponics) that sounded anything like hydroponics, so I said "raising fish."

"What do you need a workshop on that for?" he barked. "You just throw some fish in water and they grow." He didn't say this in a friendly way at all.

Crossing into Canada coming home couldn't have been more different. A punky-looking Customs guy with spiked hair asked me the same question about the purpose of my trip to the States. "I went to a workshop and the Albright Knox," I said. "Sounds like a very cultural afternoon," he said.

I laughed and responded with, "well, it was a workshop on raising fish."

"That's agri-cultural," he said.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greenhouse Luck

Feeling very lucky. Managed to snag a spot in a community greenhouse, so I can start my own seedlings. The greenhouse is in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park and is run by a community group, Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park. What a great idea! There must be tons of people like me who always have plans to start their own seedlings at home but are defeated by things like hooking up grow lights, providing enough heat to baby plants, etc. Even if a seed-starting set-up were to magically appear in my basement, I'd still want to grow my seedlings in a community greenhouse instead--there's just something about the camaraderie and the instant availability of assistance.

Yesterday, for example, when I went to the greenhouse for the first time this season, there was a woman there checking to make sure that supplies were topped up (a whole bucket of potting soil) and the work table clean. We had a pleasant gab about our garden plans for this year and I felt instantly welcome.

The best part: dozens of fellow greenhouse growers will be keeping an eye on my seedlings, watering them if they're dry, rotating the trays when the plants get leggy, just generally helping out.

As for the veggies I'll be starting from seed in the greenhouse: I can't wait! Cardoon, ground cherries, Mexican sour gherkins, luffa, asparagus lettuce--all the weirdo delights that are impossible to find in nurseries! More on that in upcoming posts. For now, excited dreams.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moving Trees

Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds did a presentation at the Toronto Botanical Garden this week. Their subject was "a passion for trees"--turns out they fell in love while measuring a balsam poplar. Talk about tree-huggers!

As I listened to them and watched their wonderful slides, nostalgia and grief for the trees I left behind when I moved house ten months ago overcame me.

Some context: my new house is roughly seven large city blocks away from my old house, and in the month leading up to my move, I wheelbarrowed as much of my garden as I could to my new digs. The tree haul consisted of:

* 2 paw paws (a native Ontario tree--Asimina triloba)
* a white cedar
* a serviceberry
* an alternate leaves dogwood
* a sumac
* a hemlock

Everything except for one paw paw appears to have survived the wrenching relocation.

But it's the trees I left behind, too big to move, that I mourn:

* the red oak
* the persimmons given to me by Mary Gartshore of Pterophylla Nursery near Walsingham, Ontario, which may be starting to bear fruit some time soon
* the sumac I transplanted from the farm belonging to my ex's father (who is now dead and the farm for sale)
* the Kentucky coffee tree
* the hop tree with its sprawling, gangly branches
* the sugar maple, the first tree I planted at the house after I moved there
* the redbud

Each tree carried a story and meant so much to me. Leaving them behind, I now realize, was the saddest part of a sad time. Yes, I'm happy to be planting new stories, planning the forest and orchard that will transform the sunny expanse of my new home into cool, fruitful shade. But I miss the trees that grounded me for years in my old life.