I was a boy visiting a farm in Devon England. Farmer David left me in the silage pit with a tractor and a heap of submerged manure. My job was to move it out. Responsibility grew to inspiration in me, as I shifted the muck.
I didn’t know at the time I wanted to be a farmer. In that moment, desire grew from experience, until, when finally given choice of occupation at age 33, I jumped in. I borrowed land and got to work building soil. I rock-picked, roto-tilled and reduced my income expectations. I became an agronomist-nutritionist-urban-
Seven years, 3 children, and a pocketful of dreams later, I co-run a Community Shared Agriculture and farmers’ market farm, feeding people and offering nutrition and agri-education. From childhood inspiration to present-day occupation. There’s no end in sight, but I’ll sleep well tonight thanks to fresh air, hard work, and the promise of reciprocal care from an earth which has goodness to share.
For most of my life, when I tell people I’m “in a pickle”, I’m alerting them to a pear-shaped moment, where things have gone topsy-turvy and my energies are going into averting disaster. Last Friday, being in a pickle took on a completely different meaning. Tim and Tracy, ably assisted by the WWOOFing cohort, were making preserves, and I was absolutely in.
What CSA farmers put in their shares is dependent on several variables, things like food availability and customer interest. I discovered that the farmers in the Kingston area communicate these things to each other in order to improve everyone’s experience. The farmers encourage their customers to do some research to ensure that their experience is tailored to their needs. For instance, my Front Door Organics share was great because I could order nearly any grocery item I needed and it would be delivered to my door. That last part was the key for me in Mississauga.
However, Front Door Organics is a distributor, not a farmer. I wasn’t looking in the eye the person who grew my food, which matters to me. With Evan at the Kitchen Garden—whom I discovered even before I met Tim—I do get to look him in the eye. We have a very satisfying relationship because, if necessary, I could call him on bad quality. Happily, the vegetables Evan supplies me with every month are terrific in quantity, appearance and flavour: our conversations are all enthusiastic affection. I want to hug Evan for feeding me so well this winter. Still, I want to immerse myself completely into the Kingston CSA culture right now, so I’m excited to be taking home share items from Tim’s Main Street Market. Apparently, it’s not uncommon in Kingston for customers to order multiple shares, from more than one farmer.
The neat part of Tim’s Main Street Market shares is that, in addition to offering raw ingredients every month, he offers handmade items—like freshly baked loaves of bread—in the winter shares, adding interest and imagination to the monthly box. The preserves we made last week were intended for the shares, an addition that demonstrates imagination. I’ve been at Tim’s as clients came to collect their shares. One client actually pulled a bag of Jerusalem artichokes out of their share and handed them back to Tim that day, saying they couldn’t seem to prepare them in a satisfying enough manner. I secretly believe this is Tim’s way of managing that problem. Don’t know what to do with that leftover daikon? Why not try Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle!
The carrots and daikon were both harvested from Main Street Market’s urban garden this fall. In case you don’t know, daikon is known by several names, including white radishes, mooli, Oriental radish, Japanese radish, Chinese radish, Korean radish, and lo bok. The word daikon literally means “large root”.
Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at the traditional sweet cucumber and dill pickle recipes, to the delight of family and friends. When I told my daughter about the upcoming challenge, her immediate comment was, “oooOOOOooh! That sounds good!” Because she shares my locavore appetite, she was as excited as I was at the idea of including daikon, a new vegetable for both of us.
When I arrived, Tim and Tracy had the carrots and daikon out, ready for prep. As we chopped, a heady radish-y fragrance filled the room.
Once we had them julienned, Tim got the pickling jars and lids sterilized. To accommodate the number of shares, as well as to assure enough for the Lyon family and the two WWOOFers, we tripled the recipe. (This actually made tonnes more than anticipated!)
While we WWOOFers julienned, Tim and Tracy cooked up the water, vinegar, sugar and ginger root. The radish aroma was replaced with one of ginger.
As the magic moment approached, everyone went into jar-stuffing mode. Along the side of each glass jar, nestled into the carrot and daikon, we placed a single flavouring ingredient. Now, the kitchen filled with the smell of the mystery ingredients. Tim decided to make four varieties of pickles—anise, hot chili, lemongrass and a combination of turmeric and clove (the variety that Tim calls “the wackiest”) The kitchen filled with the scent of my inner child, licorice!
With the liquid covering the vegetables and the lids on, we’re treated to the satisfying sound of popping, sealing lids.
Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle Recipe
2 lbs carrots 2 lbs daikon
3 cups white vinegar 3 cups water
1½ cups granulated sugar 2 tsp ginger root
4½ tsp Bernardin Pickle Crisp, optional flavouring (anise, hot chilis, lemongrass, turmeric-clove)
1. Sterilize six-500 ml pickling jars, with lids.
2. Julienne the carrots and daikon.
3. In a large, deep, stainless steel saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and ginger root. Bring to a boil.
4. Meanwhile, arrange the carrot and daikon sticks in the sterilized jars so that the top ¼‘‘ of each jar is clear. Insert a single secret ingredient on the side of each jar. This remarkable ingredient gives the pickle a wonderful, licorice flavour, as well as adding an attractive element to the presentation.
5. Add ¾ tsp of Pickle Crisp to each jar, if using.
6. Cover vegetables with the hot liquid, up to ½” off the rim. Seal and boiled the filled jars for ten minutes.
7. Store your finished product for three weeks. Uncap and congratulate yourself on another satisfying field-to-fork moment.
Tim handed me three jars for my labours—one with anise flavouring, one with lemongrass, and a third with turmeric-clove. Now, the only pickle is deciding which to uncap first when my three weeks waiting period is up!
My nails are still grubby after digging in the community garden last week. It’s just as well, since I don’t know what Tim will have me doing today. All I know is that I’m meeting him at his house on York Street. And I know the house when I reach it: there’s a bike hanging on the fence.
Inside, the children, Mialana and Micah, eye me curiously. Their mom, Tracy, leads me into the dining room, where Tim has some overturned milk crates set up around the onion harvest. “Come on in and play in our veggie paradise!” he says, pointing to my crate.
Serenity blankets the home, which is decorated simply with lots of wood and handmade items. Children’s playthings are scattered everywhere and a wood fire burns happily. Someone once described me as “a good hippy” and as I settle into my place with this family’s gentle vibe, I see that moniker is both deserved and welcome.
Behind me, Tim switches from the radio to a CD. A band of unidentified yet vaguely familiar voices begins in pleasant harmony. “Oh, good! Folk music,” I think, ruminatively.
Lume, lume (World, world: translated lyrics)
My mama told me she would give me
As dowry when I get married
A score of big pillows
All of them filled with mosquitoes
A score of small pillows
All of them filled with ants
A score of soft pillows
All of them filled with junk
A score of barrels
Without bottom, without staves
Two bow-legged ducks
These to be the milkcows
Micah drags his child-sized chair into position, beside me.
“Would you like to help, Micah?” Tim asks him. Micah takes a proffered onion and dumps it into one of the boxes. “Would you like to be our onion sorter?” When Micah nods, Tim gives him some brief directions. Tim hands Micah another onion, which the young boy dutifully drops into the correct box. There’s something almost bolshevic about the vibe.
A clarinet meanders around the melody, haunting me. Now I’m paying more attention because I realize this is klezmer music.
unul, doi, trei: hutt!
Light dawns just as Tim is opening his mouth. “This is the Lemon Bucket Orkestra!” we announce simultaneously.
“Oh, you know them?” Tim asks, surprised.
“Oh, yes,” I tell him. “I interviewed Michael Louis Johnson at the Communist’s Daughter.”
“Who?” Tim asks. “Where?” And then he backs up, realizing how well connected I am through bicycles.
The onions cleaned and sorted, I move my crate to the kitchen and begin washing the red sunchokes that we harvested two days ago.
Mialana enters the kitchen and hesitates when she sees me elbow-deep in the murky water. “Why are you playing in the mud?” she asks me innocently.
“Because your dad told me to,” I say mischievously. She manoeuvres around me and begs her dad for some craft supplies. Mialana is making origami flowers with Theresa, another WWOOFer.
When Tim thinks I might find the red chokes tedious, he brings in the white sunchokes, which are bigger and more curiously shaped. Once they’re washed, I weigh and bag them—three pound bags, one for each CSA share.
la-la-la, la-uh-la-uh-ah, la-la-la, la-uh-la-uh-ah, la-la-la, la-uh-la-uh-ah, la-la-la! la-la-la! la! la!
Distracted, I look up at the dish drying rack and see yet another bike connection. They follow me everywhere.
Next, we turn to the napa cabbage. I tidy up the heads and then Tim quarters them: his customers have requested moderate-sized portions.
For a break, Tim suggests I move to the back porch and pick through the daikon, cutting frozen chunks off the fresh roots.
By the door is a philosophical sign.
The tempo of the music is picking up, which somehow translates into faster veggie task accomplishments. In the dining room, Theresa and Tim and Tracy are putting the shares together, drawing from many of the things my hands have touched today.
Loo! Loo-loo! Loo-loo! Loo-loo! Loo-loo! Loo-loo! Loo-loo! OS! KAR!
As the sun sets, Tim piles vegetables and fruit on the counter for me, grateful for my help yet again. I’m excited about making a bowl of soup for dinner, and about discovering the joys of napa cabbage in a kimchee recipe that Tracy has suggested.
Outside on the porch, I notice a hand-painted sign by the door.
“Tim & Tracy,” it reads. “Mialana & Micah & Co.” Co. = me, a contented hippy.
Hutt! Hutt! Hutt! Hutt!
My apologies to the best klezmer band on the planet.
by Christine, WWOOFer
Since my arrival in late November, I’ve been pounding the pavement, interviewing, and happily reconnecting with friends, family and colleagues. Best of all, I’ve been discovering neat initiatives that have made their home in Kingston since I lived here thirteen years ago. I’m very glad to be back.
Today—a Thursday—is the least productive I’ve been in nearly a month. Having nothing to do drives me to the edge. Worse, Kingston is dreary at this time of year. The grey of the limestone and the damp in-betweenness of the weather puts me in a mood. I climb into a hot bath, morose.
At 1:55 p.m., I find an unexpected message on my cell phone. “Something to occupy me: oh joy, oh bliss!” I think to myself.
I’m gonna take advantage of warm temps and go to the field this aft. If you’re free, text me back please. Tim.
Hi Tim are you still here or have I missed my chance?
I’m still going. Are you game for a spontaneous urban farm outing? Do you have a bike, or can you easily walk to Oak/Victoria St?
My bike is stored in a Toronto shed just now: I’m definitely missing her, but I don’t mind walking. From where I’m staying, it’s twenty-five minutes to the Oak Street Community Garden. Tim hadn’t been clear about my destination, but I can see a series of large beds in an open space behind the Victoria Street houses. So, Tim’s garden is in a public space.
Tim Lyon is the owner/operator of Main Street Market, one of those neat initiatives I’ve serendipitously tripped over.
Main Street Market offers weekly CSA shares basket that includes home-grown veggies, fruit and herbs, as well as other products (like honey) that Tim gets from other local producers. The business element that attracted me is the green delivery: Tim offers delivery by bicycle. I recently told a friend that bikes seem to follow my movements.
“You must love bikes!” she’d suggested when she heard about Tim’s business model.
“No, I’m just a commuter,” I told her, a little distraught at how quickly everyone leaps to this conclusion. “I do like bikes, though. What I really love is how inspired I feel every time I hear a bike story.”
Tim has bike stories.
Arriving at the “farm”, I realize I’ve been making assumptions again—about where an urban farm might fit in this town that I thought I knew so well, about how much Kingston has changed since I left, about how progressive Kingstonians have become.
I used to coach kids’ baseball in Kingscourt, not far from where the Oak Street Community Garden now sits.
Tim hasn’t arrived yet, so I wander aimlessly around the plots, checking up on what he’s been growing, and satisfying my inner herbivore—kale, spinach, herbs—it’s been damaged by frost but is making attempts at a comeback. There’s some good eating here. Munching on a delectable kale leaf, I turn round and find Tim grinning at me. I grin back, wondering if I have telltale kale leaf on my teeth.
“You must have visits from the neighbours, curious about what you’re growing here,” I ask him, mortified. “Do you mind if they help themselves?”
“Yes,” Tim sighs. “There’s too much of that. I put out signs that they could take from this plot but not that one, but then I realized how serious the literacy problem still is, and I wonder if there isn’t a better way to handle this.” He looks out across the field, which is incredibly green even now, the first week of December. Tim’s garden is enormously inviting: I couldn’t resist, but then I have a foraging heart that’s been sadly curbed since leaving Newfoundland.
Later, I will Google the community garden and find that it’s associated with OPIRG Kingston. According to the website, “Ontario Public Interest Research Group exists to serve as a training ground for concerned citizens to recognize and engage the problems of society.”
After collecting two wheel barrows, garden forks and some gloves from the shed, Tim and I walk to the other end of the garden and he points out things that are doing well: the uncovered spinach, the covered spinach—which is doing better than the uncovered—and the kale.
There’s a spiral herb garden. When I ask about the design, Tim tells me it offers better drainage and adds interest. I’m in learning mode, suddenly.
Tim pulls a Sunflower Shoots muffin from his pocket. It’s a little squashed, but incredibly delicious.
“These are gluten-free,” he explains. “We baked them this morning.”
Tim is a pragmatist, like me. I don’t care what my food looks like, as much as whether it’s wholesome. And that he’s brought it for me demonstrates kindness. Tim then yanks a beat-up but funky hat from his backpack and pulls it down over his ears against the bitter wind blowing in from the northeast. Looks don’t matter so much to him, either.
From the same backpack, Tim brings out a bag of edamame that he’s grown.
“I brought this for you, if you want it,” he tells me. When I nod enthusiastically, he says, “I’ll leave it in my backpack for transfer later.” Tim and I originally met through the WWOOFing site (www.wwoof.ca). The muffin and now the edamame are Tim repaying me for my valued time. A thoughtful pragmatist: I admire him.
We start by harvesting the remaining pink sunchokes. I’m learning at a wild rate now: there are white and pink sunchokes? I had white in my Toronto yard, but pink?
Sun chokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, are herbaceous perennials. The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is also called sunroot, and earth apple, and is a species of sunflower native to eastern North America. It’s a tuber so you eat the root.
Next, we move to the beds of white sunchokes. These chokes have been planted in mounds, which are a lot easier to harvest that the pink, unmounded ones. You can literally pull up the white tuberous roots by tugging gently on exposed stalk. Hardly any forkwork is required here.
Unfortunately, the field is very wet, so the mud clumps alarmingly to our rakes, giving the harvest a madcap feel. As I galumph between mounds in my mud-caked boots, I laugh.
“What?” asks Tim.
“I have bragging rights,” I tell him, wiping my leaky faucet of a nose. “We have bragging rights,”
I correct myself, offering him a tissue.
Some small animals have been chewing on some of the uncovered chokes, so those ones are only good for making mash. The unchewed ones will be cleaned and then sold to local businesses and farmers’ markets. Tim will also deliver some of his harvest to local soup kitchens.
As we pick up the harvested chokes, Tim and I also pick each other’s brains. He wants to know how long I’ll be in town, what I want to get involved with. Advocacy and writing, I tell him. He’s pleased that I’m keen on bikes, because he’s looking for help with wrenching. We both know Yellow Bike Action (http://opirgkingston.org/projects/yellow-bike-action/). Frontenac Cycle, Cyclepath
Kingston, Gears and Grinds, J & J Cycle, Ted’s. As we trade names, we’re both impressed at how connected I am already, after less than two weeks.
After harvesting some of the chokes, we go back to the rows of uncovered spinach and place plastic covers over the metal frames. Once in place, the edges of the plastic are rolled up. Large rocks hold the plastic rolls in position in each of the four corners, while more rocks rest inside the rolls along the sides.
Curious, I ask Tim about this implementation. He tells me that it has two purposes. First, any water that accumulates on the plastic runs down into the rolls and collects there as ice. The ice doesn’t have a chance to damage the spinach or the plastic that way. Second and more important is that the ice becomes heavy in the roll, which then assists the rocks in holding down the plastic against the strong winds that blow across these fields. It’s pretty intelligent farming.
Two hours later, we have three tubs of sunchokes harvested. Hauling the harvest back to the shed, we tie down the heavy tubs on the bike trailer in the dark, hoping that nothing falls off as he rides. Tim has a very common-looking bike hooked up to the trailer.
Impressed with his impending ride home, I ask about the weight he‘ll be pulling behind his bike. Tim tells me that each of the three tubs weighs about sixty pounds. The trailer weighs about seventy or eighty pounds. The green bin, which he brought from home so he could empty the contents onto the compost pile, is still probably twenty. There are three forks, each at about ten pounds. Tim, my height and slender build, is about to drag about three hundred pounds behind him, on a mid-range bike. Looking into his eyes, I realize that I‘ve missed a statistic. He‘s going to do this feat happily.
When I point all this out to him, he says, a little sheepishly, “I left a car at home in the driveway with skis in it, but I prefer to take the bike.”
Tim climbs on his bike and begins the most arduous part of his cycle home: getting the bike through the sodden field and onto the paved road.
“I should have put the winter tires on the bike because these slicks don‘t do very well in the mud,” he explains. Tim guns it to get traction through momentum, and I get behind the trailer and push when I feel resistance. Together, we get the load to the street without too much trouble. We shake hands and he heads off into the night, waving. I begin walking, musing on all that I‘ve learned and on the sense of accomplishment I carry with me. Farming is very satisfying.
Seven minutes into my walk, I notice Tim up ahead unexpectedly, circling the bike on the street and parking on the sidewalk.
“Did you lose something?” I ask, now sorry that I didn‘t do my share of tying down.
“No,” says Tim, a big smile on his face. “I realized I hadn‘t transferred the edamame from my backpack to yours, and I knew you‘d be a fast walker, so I just turned around.”
The thoughtful farmer had come back to repay me for my work today. This ‘urban farm outing’ is the kind of story that keeps me coming back to bikes. It‘s not the bikes I’m in love with, it’s the bike stories. Welcome to Kingston.
by Christine, WWOOFer
Cooperative tasks are rewarding. A crew of home-educated children got some teamwork experience, and the reward of fresh mushrooms, when they helped out with shiitake production last week.
Our urban log lot uniquely located centre-ville in Kingston Ontario is getting a boost this year – a run of new logs. Each log plugged is an accomplishment, and an opportunity to learn cooperation, accuracy, communication and time-management.
And, at the end of the day, when the mushrooms appear, what a tasty, meaty, shiitake treat. Salads, sautees, omelettes, sauces, burgers, stock, soup and yum!
Nothing is better than a summer day at Oak St. Community garden; this beautiful description by Richard Jefferies inspired me to write about my own experience in nature.
I walk among the trees; a cloud passes, and the sweet short rain comes mingled with sunbeams and flower scented air. Beautiful it is, in summer days, to see the wheat wave, and the long grass foam – flecked of flower yield and return to the wind. My soul of itself always desires; these are to it as fresh food.” (Story of my heart, pg. 145).
In the garden all your senses come alive filled with smells and colours of nature – the food I eat is grown from its ground, the smell of rain excites me that our fields will be green, and bugs crawling, buzzing and jumping from plant to plant annoy me yet remind me there is more to life than myself. The dandelions tops can be seen by the hundreds lull back forth to the wind and lull my own mind into land of calm thought. The plush clouds in sky slowly moving and transforming let my mind start to dream. I can close my eyes with my head in the grass and the rough bumpy earth on my back and feel at peace. What I am realizing is that nature offers a reciprocal love and that loves come in the form of nourishment of the soul. My experience is similar to Jefferies; in all these things I find my peace. Let me continue to describe my summer days to show you how I have received this blissful state.
The heat of the sun hits my skin and wraps me in warmth that makes me smile with the comfort of a mother’s love. In this loving heat, I work till it becomes too strong. I then take my midday nap under my favourite tree and am relieved by the cool breeze. I awake to kids running in the field, playing with garlic scapes and learning the words of sage and thyme, which scents fill the air. Fun and love is grown in this garden from the people who tend to it to the plants that bloom. The happy friendships I make flourish in the garden to the backdrop of the clear blue sky and green grass. We weed together to allow our food to grow, with giggles and laughter brought on by something deeper in the air. Day by day our vegetables grow alongside us, our relationships and our love for nature.
Farming is beautiful, Farming is life.
Worms in the ground,
Dirt in your nails,
Dew on the leaves,
Heat from the sun.
Life is alive.
To be lived, and felt.
Growth and transformation, slow but sure,
in that dark brown goodness which holds the bulbs, cloves and roots of being.
Basked in the sun’s powerful rays.
Nourished by drops of silky cool water.
This lovely earth holds so much worth.
As farming brings you hopelessly dependent on these awakened elements
When you puff for air, covered in dirt, burnt from the sun and thirsty for water;
You are part of life.
I love the local organic food crowd – the earth crew. They are so accepting, full of life and always looking to learn and improve in a manner that is supportive and encouraging to everyone’s success. Last Monday, the Main St. Market team attended a garlic workshop held by Forest Farms (famous for their award winning garlic). Forest Farms shared a wealth of knowledge about the production and sale of garlic that turned out to be very helpful as garlic season is upon us. Everyone asked thoughtful questions and radiated a great energy that led to lively and fun discussion at the potluck lunch. If you have never been to a farmer’s potluck, I highly suggest it. The majority of the food was fresh salad made with all local ingredients from each of the farms, and bread made from locally grown and milled grains. After all the lovely food, the interns had a chance to get together and discuss the trials and tribulations alongside the joys of working on a farm – this discussion created so many great connections and opportunities for future farming adventures and education. My lesson learned and ready to be shared is connect with the local organic farmers – they are happy and friendly people who are full of great information from life lessons to garlic husking.
Today, I had my first real farm day. We went out Sydenham Road to work at our extension market garden at Limestone Creamery. The Mission of the day was to transplant tomatoes and plant onions. It was incredibly hot and I was unprepared for the work that laid ahead – the work of a “real urban farmer”.
After we had our lunch, we began to work in the blaring sun. I should explain that I was philosophically attracted to the notion of urban farming not the real work. I realized this as the sun burned my back and I dug holes in dirt, filled them with water and then transplanted the tomatoes, I had never associated this much work with the tomatoes I happily cut up and placed in my salads. As my shoulders began to sink and sentiment of defeat by the earth began to arise within myself, Clair, our woofer from France was transplanting the tomatoes non-stop and paid no mind to the hard dirt or the hot sun. This left me to wonder why anyone would want to do this so I asked the farmer Frances (the owner of Limestone Creamery) if he enjoyed farming. He replied with a smile and a chuckle that he enjoyed it as long as the tractor didn’t break down. I shrugged and assumed it was a farmer’s thing. Once we had finished our chat with farmer Frances, Tim hurried back to work, excited as ever to get his hands dirty and get things growing. As I watched him, I wondered what I had gotten myself into…
After a couple of hours of misery, constant breaks and questioning why I ever decided to farm my own food when I could easily go to my local Metro and buy some tomatoes. I began to feel giddy, the tasks became easier and all my doubting began to go away. I started to feel some sort of peace in my work as I gained confidence in my skills. Once the day was over, my perseverance paid off — two rows of tomatoes transplanted and two beds of onions planted. I understood the satisfaction of hard day’s work and decided to see how the rest of the week would go.