Warm days bring more local food

Local foods like meat, dairy and root vegetables are available year-round, but spring provides an opportunity to really celebrate the greener things in life.

In Ontario, the variety of local foods available at markets, on roadside stands and at grocery stores is tremendous, and for those with access to it, something to be cherished. See what’s available each month with Foodland Ontario’s FOOD AVAILABILITY GUIDE.

Looking for local food in Ontario? It can be easier to find than you might think!

Curious about how your food is produced on Canadian farms? Visit FarmFood360.ca

The Earth needs you – and good science too

Everything’s gotta eat.

All life needs food, and everything relies on a healthy environment for it. Since we humans cultivate our own, farming and the environment are naturally inseparable.

Here in Ontario, and Canada more generally, farmers have a lot to draw from when it comes to environmental improvement. Cover crops like clovers and grasses can help reduce topsoil erosion and increase organic matter; GPS makes for more targeted use of fertilizers and pesticides; higher quality feed means healthier and more efficient animals; conservation projects help growers reduce their water use, establish wildlife habitat, and much more.

A farm – and the family behind it – can’t operate for generation after generation if environmental sustainability isn’t taken seriously, after all.

Agriculture exists the world over, and each farm has its own set of challenges, opportunities, and triumphs when it comes to the health of our air, water, and soil. What suits one farm may not suit another – though there are often a few ways to approach new challenges. Indeed, both agriculture and our planet’s environment are incredibly complex, and that’s something to celebrate.

Politics and narrow thinking, however, have a habit of oversimplifying things to an unhelpful – and dare I suggest dangerous – degree. It’s a problem to be sure, and one that takes a constant, global effort to confront. The health of our planet relies on our understanding of both the positives and the negatives of agriculture’s relationship to the environment, as well as ways to continuously improve how we produce food.

So, for this year’s Earth Day, go to the source – check out what the environment means to farmers, get the science, and give politics the boot.

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Curious about environmental initiatives here in Ontario? Check out these links:

Best Management Practices – Methods farmers use to promote environmental stewardship

The “Soil Your Undies” test – Farmers measure soil quality with underwear

Faces of Farming – Profiles of Ontario farms and the families behind them

Farm & Food Care on Facebook – Quick facts on Canadian food and farming

Farm & Food Care on YouTube – Videos of all kinds, from on-farm water conservation to how chickens are raised

Have questions about farming, the environment, and science in Canada and around the world? Get some answers through the links below:

Best Food Facts – For any and all questions about your food

Cornell University Alliance for Science – Profiles of science in the field, from Alberta to Uganda

Cucumbers, Peppers, Tomatoes, Oh My!

Our friend Fresh Air Farmer is visiting 52 farms in 52 weeks! Check out the latest video where he tours a vegetable greenhouse, one of Ontario’s most technologically advance farm types.

Want to see more Ontario farms? Check out Fresh Air Farmer on Twitter and Youtube for more.

 

Better eating through chemistry

Chemists develop solution to make kale palatable

 

Kale comes in many forms, from fresh steamed greens and salads to on-the-go shakes and chips. It’s a vegetable that’s been successfully labeled a “superfood” by clever marketers, and one that appears to be increasing in popularity throughout the country.

Unfortunately, Kale also tastes terrible – and that’s caused a major plateau in sales.

Recognizing this obvious barrier to the plant’s marketability, researchers at Ontario’s North Buxton University have developed a chemical designed to make Kale leaves both more palatable and more tender.

“Kale is a close cousin of collard greens, and that’s a vegetable most people find significantly more enjoyable,” Says Anna Fitzgerald, lead researcher and head of science communications at the University’s chemistry department. “We decided to breakdown what it is about collard greens that people actually liked, and develop an application that can improve the plant’s edible qualities before being harvested.”

“If you change what it’s exposed to, you can change things like sweetness, bitterness, and so on.”

Fitzgerald and her colleagues quickly recognized the general affinity for collard greens had largely to do with other ingredients commonly paired with them – bacon and sweet onions more specifically.

While this may seem counterproductive to their strategy of using a sister plant, however, Fitzgerald says it was actually a boon to their process.

“Once we realized – as some of us suspected – that it was additives during cooking that really made the difference, we were able to skip a number of steps and immediately develop an additive based on salt and sugar flavours,” she says. “We then started working directly with the school’s culinary department to perfect a flavorful growing additive derived from natural sources.”

The chemical developed combines concentrated forms of sugars already present in leafy greens like Kale, with proteins from an unexpected source – bark from red cedar trees, which is highly toxic if ingested. That might seem frightening, but Fitzgerald says it’s that very property that makes their yet-to-be-named additive effective.

The additive works by spraying a crop of kale with the researchers’ sweetening-chemical shortly before harvest. The sugars are quickly absorbed by the plant – creating a sweet burst of flavor – while the cedar proteins help break down cell walls, leading to a more easily cooked and chewable plant.

Fitzgerald and her team have only been able to perform two seasonal field trials so far, but they are hopeful their efforts will lead to a greater demand for an otherwise healthy vegetable.

“I think people will be very open to this type of application,” she says. “I can’t foresee anyone having any issues with this.”

 

 

DISCLAIMER **** This post is a joke. Happy April Fools day!

Is Roundup Poisoning Us?

By Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Glyphosate is a herbicide — a type of pest control product used to kill plants. It is the active ingredient in the now infamous chemical Roundup, and is one of the most used agricultural chemicals worldwide.

Google glyphosate, originally released as the product Roundup, and you’re faced with results like ‘horrific’ “new evidence about the damage Roundup causes” and “Roundup chemicals are lethal.” One quick search and I can understand why society might have concerns about the pervasive use of glyphosate in agriculture. Reading these statements does lead us to question: is Roundup poisoning us?

Let’s examine the science.

A small amount (think: pop can) is mixed into a tank of water on the back of a special machine called a sprayer. Farmers use these machines to spray the mixture onto the weeds over a large area (that one pop can treats an area nearly the size of a football field) where it is absorbed by the plant. Once inside the plant, glyphosate binds to an enzyme (EPSP synthase), preventing it from building essential amino acids that a plant needs to live and grow. With this enzyme disabled, plants die. Now, the really interesting thing is that EPSP synthase is found only in plants and bacteria; humans and animals do not use this process.

Remember that Google search which told us glyphosate is one of the most toxic chemicals around? Not so. The general standard for acute (short term) toxicity is a value called an LD50. This refers to the median lethal dose, the amount of a chemical needed to cause death in 50% of the animals it is tested on. An LD50 is one way to measure the relative short-term poisoning potential of a compound. The lower the number the more toxic it is. For example, the LD50 of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, a common ingredient in baking) is 4220 mg/kg; table salt 3000 mg/kg; caffeine (as in our precious morning coffee) is 192 mg/kg; and nicotine (cigarettes) is 50 mg/kg.

So where does glyphosate fit? Glyphosate has an LD50 of 5600 mg/kg. Yes. It is less toxic than baking soda, table salt, and coffee.

Our entire world is comprised of chemicals. Water, salt, and vinegar are chemicals, and even our bodies can be considered walking, talking chemical bags.

You’ve probably heard the old adage of toxicologists “the dose makes the poison”. Even those regular household compounds like salt, vinegar or yes, even water can be toxic if ingested in high enough doses. When glyphosate is used as it is intended, just like salt, vinegar, and water, it has minimal toxicity to humans and animals because the amount used is small.

But how do we know we are not consuming high levels of pesticides? Health Canada scientists review the data from over 250 separate studies before they approve a pesticide for sale or use in Canada. As part of this extensive review before a chemical is approved for sale, they identify the amount of a pesticide that a person could be exposed to without any adverse health effects. These levels are then compared to the maximum amount of residue that might be found on crops after use of the pesticide (a value known as the Maximum Residue Limit or MRL) in order to ensure that consumers are never exposed to an amount that could pose a risk to health. Indeed, MRLs are typically 100-1000 times below levels that are still considered safe.

Thanks to the MRLs established by Health Canada, based on science, we can be confident that if small amounts of glyphosate are ingested through exposure in our food system, we know they won’t be at toxic enough levels to cause damage, even if they are consumed every day over a life time.

I should probably also mention that it is not just Health Canada that has assessed the science around glyphosate. Most other major regulatory organizations around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority, the World Health Organization, and the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency, have also reviewed data on glyphosate (available here).

Glyphosate is easily and relatively quickly broken down in the environment. It does not bioaccumulate, meaning it does not build up in the bodies of fish and wildlife (read an example of mercury bioaccumulation here). And finally, it is excreted by our bodies if ingested. Their overwhelming consensus? When glyphosate is used according to label directions, it poses minimal risk to people, wildlife, and the environment.

We need to evaluate claims on the basis of overall weight of scientific evidence behind it. The stronger the weight of evidence, the more confidence we can have in the scientific findings. Glyphosate has been investigated by many scientists from around the world, in hundreds and hundreds of studies (again, available here) all of which have determined that, when it is used as it is intended, it is safe for people, for animals, and our environment.

Being a science geek, I follow facts. And the evidence tells me glyphosate is not the problem a cursory Google search might suggest. If you would like to know how glyphosate is used, the label (which is a legal document authorized by the Pest Control Products Act) can be found here. And if you still have questions, we want to hear them.

For more information/resources:

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/glyphosate/

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/glyphosate-in-food/

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-2012_en.html

http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/1287975/reload=0;jsessionid=osa7mo59kVxNtcafSkkP.18

http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2014/06/salt-vinegar-and-glyphosate/

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/jmprsummary2016.pdf

 

White Stripes in Chicken — Should you be Worried?

By now you may have seen a few click-bait worthy articles highlighting a concern in chickens known as “white striping”, in which white lines can be observed in chicken meat purchased fresh at the grocery counter.

Farm & Food Care asked representatives from the Chicken Farmers of Canada to comment on what consumers were seeing and being told, and whether or not we might see this in Canada and if it’s of concern. Here’s what they said:

The research (in regards to white striping) in question has been conducted with birds that grow much bigger than they do here in Canada. The data references birds processed at 59, 61, and 63 days of age whereas in Canada, chickens are not grown to be as big and are most commonly processed at around 35 days of age and weigh about 2 kilograms. We do see some incidence of breast meat “striping” in Canada, but these are likely not as frequent, because our birds do not grow as big.

It’s important to note that white striping and other similar conditions present no food safety risk and chicken remains a nutritious choice. A recent nutrient analysis conducted by Silliker labs shows that chicken is a healthy, lean, source of protein.

“As part of an overall healthy diet that includes a variety of both animal and plant-based foods, Canadian chicken remains a great source of nutrition. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, not only do I recommend chicken as a healthy option, I will continue to do so and not change my advice in light of this report. All cuts of chicken, both light and dark meat, are a source of important nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and B vitamins such as B1, B2, and B12 to name a few which, are needed for health by all ages.”

Doug Cook, RDN MPH CDE

Read more here.

It’s true: Chickens grow faster today than they did in the past. However, this is due to breeding programs and feed efficiencies. In fact, the mortality rates, lameness issues, condemnation rates, and ascites concerns in chicken have all seen a marked decrease at the same time that growth rates have increased (See references below). And it’s important to note what is not making chickens grow faster: hormones or steroids. These have been illegal in chicken production in Canada since the 1960s.

Since birds are more efficient at converting feed to muscle, less land is needed, less manure is produced, fewer fossil fuels are used, and fewer emissions are generated, resulting in reduced environmental impacts.

Canada has a mandatory, enforced, and audited national animal care program, which is based on the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Code of Practice.  It was developed in consultation with over 40 stakeholders, and support for its implementation has come from animal care organizations, veterinary associations, industry professionals and more.

To learn more about how chicken is raised in Canada, talk to a farmer. Visit www.chickenfarmers.ca for all the info about production practices in Canada.

[1] National Chicken Council, “U.S. Broiler Performance,” September 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/u-s-broiler-performance/. [Accessed February 2017].
[2] D. N. Kapell, W. G. Hill, A. M. Neeteson, J. McAdam, A. N. Koerhuis and S. Avendaño, “Twenty-five years of selection for improved leg health in purebred broiler lines and underlying genetic parameters,” Poultry Science, vol. 91, pp. 3032-3043, 2012.
[3] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Poultry Condemnation Report by Species for Federally Inspected Plants,” October 2016. [Online]. Available: http://aimis-simia.agr.gc.ca/rp/index-eng.cfm?menupos=1.01.04&action=pR&pdctc=&r=133&LANG=EN. [Accessed February 2017].

Food Freedom Day— Canadian Food Privilege Is Inconsistent

By Matt McIntosh

It’s pretty hard to beat food. We need it, we like it, and it can be an incredibly significant part of who we are.

As any shopper knows, though, food can also be expensive.

The good news for us Canadians is our national food dollar isn’t actually that high. Despite what our grocery bills suggest, we have access to some of the highest quality – and cheapest – food on the planet.

Today, February 8, is “Food Freedom Day” in Canada. Determined each year by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, “Food Freedom Day” is when most Canadians have made enough money to pay for their yearly food bill. Where the event lands each year is determined by comparing Statistics Canada data on average individual income ($32,464) and yearly food expenditures ($3,497).

Based on these numbers, the Federation determined Canadians spend approximately 10.7 per cent of their income on food.

Now, 10.7 per cent might seem like a sizeable chunk of your wallet, but it’s an astoundingly low number when analyzed in a wider geographical context. In a 2015 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, citizens of France – another highly developed western country with a particularly glorious culinary history – spend 13.2 per cent of their annual income on food, compared to 9.1 per cent for Canada. Canada and France may not have taken the top spot on the USDA’s list – the United States consistently takes first prize there – but both were still far into the upper echelons.

That same study, for instance, shows the Portuguese spend 17.3 per cent of their income on food, the Russians a whopping 28 per cent, and Nigeria, almost unbelievably, at 56.4 per cent. A similar 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service also put these countries in very similar positions.

Granted, the USDA and Congressional studies were created using different data than what the Federation used for Canada’s Food Freedom Day, but the point is the same – in the global scheme of things, only spending one-tenth of your income on food is pretty good.

The flip side of this is, of course, that Food Freedom Day hinges on what the average Canadian has to spend on food. When viewed within the confines of our own individual experiences – whether it be a trip to the market or a restaurant – food can certainly seem expensive. Indeed, Canadians spend so much money on food that affordability and rising costs are consistently ranked as one of our country’s top public concerns.

As can be assumed in a country as vast and rugged as Canada, different communities also experience vastly differing food issues. Canadians in the far north, just as one example, can spend a small fortune on everyday products such as milk and fresh produce. Contrast that to the experience to those of us living in Ontario’s deep south, and there’s little left in the way of meaningful comparison.

Food Freedom Day helps us understand and appreciate what we have as Canadians. We have choice galore, high quality, and relatively cheap products, and systems that help farmers, processors, retailers and everyone else maintain what is, essentially, a food-privileged society.

Food Freedom Day serves as a reminder that we are a truly lucky bunch. Many folks both abroad and in our own country do not have the same luxuries, and understanding the reasons behind that disparity is never a bad thing.

Solutions can’t be found if problems have no context, after all.

Students to Celebrate #CdnAgDay By Sharing the RealDirt on Farming

Next week, farmers and consumers across Canada are encouraged to share, tell, and post how they’ll be celebrating Canadian food on February 16, 2017, the inaugural Canada’s Agriculture Day.

University students, too, are gearing up to celebrate in several ways. Farm & Food Care reached out to universities and agriculture schools across Canada offering up copies of the Real Dirt on Farming  and call-to-action cards to hand out to non-agriculture students, staff, and visitors on campus.

The goal of the day is to encourage students and staff to seek out answers to their food and farming questions, directly from the students handing out Real Dirt magazines, or through online resources like www.RealDirtonFarming.ca, and through use of the #CdnAgDay hashtag on social media, from Facebook, to Twitter, Instagram, and more.

There’s still time to get involved! Whether it’s hosting a made-in-Canada meal, or Tweeting what you do on your farm each day, or as a student yourself, check out www.cdnagday.ca and scroll down to posted events, and to find images and graphics you can use to celebrate Canada’s rich food and farm culture.

 

More than Farming — Bringing Dairy to the City

By Stephanie Vickers, Farm & Food Care

“How do cows go the washroom?” “Why don’t you bring a real cow to school with you?” These are just a couple of the questions that Dawn Stewart hears regularly in her role as an Ontario dairy educator.

Stewart knew from the start that she wanted to help answer consumers’ questions about their food.

After acquiring a degree in nutrition, working at a private school for over a decade, and taking time off to raise two children, Dawn decided to get back into teaching- which is how she found the position of dairy educator with Dairy Farmers of Ontario. 

As one of 53 Dairy Educators in Ontario, Dawn Stewart and her partner do more than 900 presentations annually to school children in the Toronto area.

As a Dairy Educator, Stewart travels to schools in the Toronto area to talk about the dairy industry. Annually, she and her partner deliver more than 900 presentations to almost 23,000 students about dairy and farming. There are currently 53 educators in Ontario. In 2016, they did 9,403 presentations to 217,126 students across Ontario.

“It is especially important [in Toronto schools], because there are a lot of kids these days that don’t have the experience on the farm, and they don’t have any idea where their food comes from” says Stewart. Stewart is one of 50 regional educators in the province that are employed by Dairy Farmers of Ontario.

Once hired as a dairy educator, Stewart spent lots of time in training, visiting modern dairy farms to see how they are run. She and her colleagues also visited the University of Guelph to find out the milk is tested before going to the consumer, and a processing facility to see how milk is packed to be taken to the store.      

Stewart works with the teachers to make the content she talks about relevant to the curriculum. When going into the classroom, Stewart’s main goals are to have the kids understand:

  • How cows are milked, and the respect they receive on farms
  • To respect the food we eat, and the process it takes to get the food to the table
  • The different healthy options that are available, as well how easy it can be to pick those options
  • By talking with the students about where their food comes from, it allows them to better connect to the food they eat and gain a greater appreciation for the work that is required to get it from the farm to the table.

“It has always been important to me that students understand what constitutes good food and bad food, and how they can make those choices, so they can live heathy lives… and I think kids can have a more active role in the foods that they eat” she said.

Dawn Stewart talks to visitors at the Canadian National Exhibition’s farm display about dairy cows

One of her favourite memories as a dairy educator Stewart says, was during a session at a special education high school “We were trying to make butter and I asked the students to help me shake the whipping cream container. One student was very excited to shake the container, so I passed it to her and with the biggest smile on her face she began to shake… her whole body moved with a fabulous enthusiastic shake but the container did not. It made my day!”

If you would like to get more information on how you can get a dairy educator into a classroom in your area, visit their website www.education.milk.org   for contact information. The program is free and can be linked to the curriculum from JK to grade 8.

Celebrate the Food You Love on Canada’s Agriculture Day

We’re part of a vibrant, forward-thinking industry that feeds the world. This is something to be proud of and celebrate, whether you’re the one consuming the food or the one growing it. We have the opportunity to do that during Canada’s Agriculture Day on February 16.

Canada’s Agriculture Day is a time to come together as an industry to celebrate the business of agriculture and engage in positive dialogue about agriculture and food. It’s a time to showcase all of the amazing things happening in the industry and help consumers draw a closer connection to where their food comes from and the people who produce it.

The theme of the day is “Let’s celebrate the food we love”. And there are many ways to get involved and celebrate the day. Whether you’re interested in participating on social media, taking a personal farm or food challenge or getting your community involved, there are plenty of ways to share your love of Canadian agriculture and food. You can make it as small or as big as your imagination can make it.

Farm & Food Care encourages all farmers, agribusinesses, and consumers to think of a way of getting involved and then take action. Perhaps it’s handing out copies of The Real Dirt on Farming booklet at your local grocery store, bus station, campus centre or book club. Maybe it’s scheduling a talk to a local service club that day, or visiting a school or inviting a classroom of students to visit your farm. There are so many ways that you can celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and show consumers how passionate you are about food and farming!

Once you’ve got a plan, post your activity to the event section at www.AgDay.ca to help extend the reach. This event page contains a complete list of activities happening in your community — many farm industry associations, businesses and Ag More Than Ever partners are hosting their own Canada’s Agriculture Day events that are open to the public. It’s all about celebrating Canadian agriculture and food in engaging, fun and respectful ways.

Here are a few additional ideas to get you started:

  • Challenge yourself to make a meal for your family with all Canadian-grown foods.
  • Snap a pic of what you’re doing and share it on social media – include hashtags like #CdnAgDay, #IWorkInAg or #FarmLife
  • Are you a foodie and huge fan of Canadian food? Use this day to ask your food questions!
  • Host a potluck and encourage your friends to use all Canadian ingredients. Tweet about it with #CdnAgDay as well as food-based hashtags, such as #LoveYourFood and #Foodie, to connect with those outside the farm audience
  • Visit AgMoreThanEver.ca and take an agvocate challenge.
  • Give back to the community by volunteering at your local food bank or soup kitchen.

For additional suggestions, check out the tip sheet at: http://bit.ly/2hRT319

Visit AgDay.ca for more ideas to celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and downloadable resources to help you out. The website has merchandise, graphics, message templates, print ads and more.

Farm & Food Care is proud to support Canada’s Agriculture Day and encourages everyone involved in the industry to get involved and celebrate the day in their own way!