Some thoughts on the Food “Free” Frenzy

By Crystal Mackay, CEO Farm & Food Care Canada

Trends continue to snowball with labels about what’s in a food product being expanded to how that food was grown or processed. Gluten-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, cage-free, everything-else-free labels are multiplying. It seems almost every day I see a new announcement from a company or a grocery store ad or a label on something I go to buy that has a claim like this.

With so much noise, how does one cut through the clutter and make an informed decision about what to buy and eat? Here are a few principles I feel that need some attention:

1. Isn’t choice awesome?
Let’s start here. I think we are extremely fortunate in Canada with so much food that we can have all these choices. For example, the fact that the egg counter at the grocery store can be a 10 minute experience reading about all the options for types of eggs is awesome. Some people in other countries might be happy to have one egg. Continue reading

Local pickled bean makers snap up Premier’s Award

Product shot Extreme BeanBy Lilian Schaer

The new pickle is a bean, says pickled bean aficionado Steve McVicker.

He’s one half of Matt & Steve’s, a Mississauga-based company that just won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation for their popular “Extreme Bean” Caesar garnish.

McVicker and business partner Matt Larochelle used to tend bar together and felt that the many Caesars they were mixing needed a better garnish than the traditional, bland celery stick that everyone was using.

Their search for a vegetable long enough to stick out the top of a 12-inch glass led them to the Kentucky Flat Bean, which is longer, sweeter, and crunchier than the average green bean. The two were also roommates at the time, and they cooked up their first batches of pickled beans in their 600 sq. ft. rented Mississauga condo using instructions provided by Larochelle’s mother.

“We were a bit like mad scientists with hand me down pots and adding various spices to jars,” laughs McVicker. “We weren’t very good at it in the beginning, but when we took some to work to try, they were pretty good so we scraped together some money to get started.” Continue reading

What about hormones and food?

What about hormones and food-The very word ‘hormones’ conjures up a lot of concern for many people. Hormones occur naturally in people, plants and animals. Here are some important facts and examples for you to consider.

1. Are there hormones in poultry?

One of the biggest myths we hear in agriculture is that of the use of hormones in poultry. No chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens are ever fed hormones. Today’s farm animals grow faster because we’ve learned how to feed them exactly what they need and through choosing animals for their good genetics over many generations.

2. Are there growth hormones used in milk production?

Continue reading

Enjoying local food in Eastern Ontario

By Resi Walt, Farm & Food Care Ontario

A taste of local food in eastern OntarioLike most people, I enjoy day trips and exploring new places – especially when those places specialize in food! Over the course of Ontario’s Local Food Week from June 1-7, I had many opportunities to celebrate the food that is grown and produce in Ontario. One highlight from the week was the trip I took to Eastern Ontario.

Farm & Food Care Ontario partnered with Foodland Ontario to offer a local food experience for food enthusiasts from the Ottawa-area. Farm & Food Care Ontario has been organizing these farm tours since 2006, and each year they grow in popularity. The goal is to showcase different commodities and types of farming every year, and the tour participants include chefs, recipe developers, food writers, culinary instructors, and professional home economists. The tour is always such a great learning experience and good fun too. Continue reading

Innovative school programs bring food and farming to Toronto students

By Lilian Schaer

Toronto’s South Riverdale neighbourhood – also known as Leslieville/Riverside – isn’t one usually associated with farming and food production.

School Grown tent at the farmer’s market

School Grown tent at the farmer’s market

However, Eastdale Collegiate, a small, inner city high school near Broadview and Gerrard, is changing that. An innovative approach combining a culinary program with a rooftop garden is teaching students where their food comes from, building life skills, and instilling healthy eating habits.

Students in the school’s culinary program prepare the food for the cafeteria, feeding between 30 and 60 people daily. Culinary instructor Jan Main says the students make from scratch a daily soup, quiche or pasta, salad and four types of sandwiches, as well as baking all the bread, biscuits, squares and sweets they use.

“The veggie wrap is now our most popular sandwich, which is great because many students didn’t know what this was when we first started serving it,” she says. “For many students, fast food and frozen food was all they knew, and now they’re eating salads and asking for things like pesto, which we make for pizza, pastas and appetizers.”

Not only does this emphasize healthy eating, she adds, but the program also gives students the opportunity to learn job skills, building their confidence. In addition to the school cafeteria, meals are also prepared for catered and community events, such as the Recipe for Change fundraiser in support of FoodShare Toronto’s Field to Table Schools program.

A perfect complement to the culinary program is Eastdale’s new School Grown Rooftop, a garden on the school’s roof established last year in a partnership between the Field to Table Schools program and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Continue reading

Growing hops for local beer garners farmer an innovation award

By Lilian Schaer for Farm & Food Care

(St. Thomas) One of Remi Van De Slyke’s favourite beers is produced by a small craft brewery in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Remi Van De Slyke receives a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence from MPP Kathryn McGarry (Photo courtesy of OMAFRA)

Remi Van De Slyke receives a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence from MPP Kathryn McGarry (Photo courtesy of OMAFRA)

Not only does he enjoy the taste of Railway City Brewery’s Dead Elephant Ale, but it also happens to be made from the hops he grows on his farm near Straffordville.

Van De Slyke of Kinglake Farms Inc. got into the hops business more than a decade ago when his family was looking for alternatives to growing tobacco.

His efforts at building markets and helping other farmers start growing hops have just been recognized with a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, and he credits the local food movement with helping spur interest in the crop.

“It was tough in the first few years I was growing to get brewers’ attention, but demand is increasing every year for craft beer,” he says. “The local food movement has really helped with opening markets for Ontario hops.”

Hops are a perennial crop that grows up to 20 feet tall on a trellis system. The hops come up every spring and climb up strings that Van De Slyke attaches between the ground and the top trellis. Around mid-June they start bushing out and producing the hop cones, which are harvested in late August or early September. Continue reading

Ontario dairy farmer grows business with on-farm dairy processing

By Lisa McLean

(Creemore) Fresh-from-the-farm milk in glass bottles is a thing of the past for many Ontario consumers. But for John and Marie Miller and their son Shawn of Creemore, Ontario, it is most definitely the future. The family, and dedicated team, at Jalon Farms and Miller’s Dairy work side-by-side at their new on-farm artisan dairy processing facility that produces milk and cream from their 120 Jersey cows they milk twice daily.

John and Shawn Miller of Creemore

John and Shawn Miller of Creemore

The Jersey difference

Jersey cows — which are smaller brown cows compared to their black and white Holstein counterparts — make up only four per cent of the dairy cow population in Canada. John says Jersey cows produce milk that is distinctly sweeter in taste and provides opportunities for differentiation in the marketplace.

“Jersey cows produce milk with higher butterfat, higher protein and more calcium,” says Shawn. “When people sample our milk during in-store tastings, they can’t believe how good it tastes. I like to think our Jersey milk, in a glass bottle, tastes how milk is supposed to taste.”

Jerseys are easier on the environment too. The cows are small in size and require less feed, making them the dairy breed with the smallest carbon footprint.

The journey to on-farm processing

The Millers broke ground on Miller’s Dairy in August 2011, after John and Marie researched similar setups in the New England states. John says his mother’s family had processed milk, and he was keen to return to those roots.

“We met a dairy farmer, Paul Kokoski, in 2010 who has a similar-sized Jersey herd in a region with similar demographics to Creemore,” Miller says. “Later that year Paul told us about some pasteurizing equipment that was available from a dairy that was shutting down in South Carolina, so Shawn and I went down to check it out.”

The Miller’s Dairy facility is located directly beside the family’s milking barn, known as Jalon Farms. Once milk is tested, it passes through an underground pipe into the next building, where it is pasteurized using a high temperature short time (HTST) pasteurizer and sold in custom-branded glass bottles in a large (1.89 l) and smaller (946 ml) format. They produce cream and milk in a variety of fat contents, ranging from skim milk to 35 per cent cream, but they report each week it’s anyone’s guess whether chocolate milk or 2% will reign supreme. Continue reading

Questions about animal and food production – answered!

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Food Care Saskatchewan


I was really excited to take part in Farm and Food Care Ontario’s twitter party a few weeks ago to promote the launch of their latest venture – ”Real Dirt on Farming”.  This is a booklet designed to answer all of your questions about farming and food production in Canada.  It is the real dirt so to speak on everything from livestock to crops to horticulture. It was great to see so many questions from all of you and how interested you were in how your food is grown.  The sad part was that it ended way too soon, and there was so much more to share!  On that note I would like to answer some questions about food production to make your decisions about food purchases easier.

Eggs with darker coloured yolks are healthier.  There are actually no nutritional differences between eggs with different coloured yolks.  The colour of the yolk is dependent on what a hen eats.  Any diet for hens that includes a compound called xanthophylls will result in a darker yolk. A hen that eats a wheat-based diet (more common in western Canada and low in xanthophylls) will produce an egg that has a pale yellow yolk. Hens that eat a corn-based diet (most common in Ontario and higher in xanthophylls) will produce eggs with darker yellow yolks.  This is also why free range eggs tend to be darker in the summer because hens will eat grasses or alfalfa which have higher xanthophyll levels.

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

White and brown eggs come from chickens of different breeds

Eggs with brown shells are better because they are more expensive!  Ummm, no.  There are no nutritional differences between eggs with white shells and eggs with brown shells.  Eggs with brown shells come from different breeds of chickens.  But then why do brown eggs cost more?  Well that’s because the breed that produces brown eggs is a larger bird and requires more feed to lay one egg.  Brown eggs are more expensive simply because it costs more to grow them.

Conventional milk produced in Canada is raised with hormones.  Not so!  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle.  It regulates growth and lactation in cattle and has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST otherwise known as rBST is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10 to 15%.  The problem however is that it may also increase the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows which is why Health Canada has not approved it for use in dairy production here.  So what that means for you is that no milk, cheese or yogurt (conventional or organic) comes from cows given rBST. Continue reading

Animals are animals, not people

H with Horses PIC

Jean L Clavelle

A few weeks ago we were sitting around watching a Disney cartoon with our two young children before bedtime activities started. One of the more senior members of our family who happened to be in the room with us (a recent retiree from farming) made a comment that went something like “Disney has ruined society’s perception of animal agriculture”. At first, I brushed it off with a laugh but have been thinking that perhaps that statement holds more truth than I first thought.

Animals are animals, not people. They are not secretly speaking our language when we are not around despite every hilarious Far Side cartoon in the Sunday paper. Cows do not wear aprons, pigs do not ride skate boards, dogs do not have problem solving skills of an adequate level to save the world from imminent disaster (although I will admit all of those concepts make terrific story lines for toddlers).  Even though animals do communicate, form social bonds, have mothering instincts and relationships, they are not humans.  They do not share our social structure, our language, our problem solving ability or our emotions.  They are animals.

So when faced with the overwhelming messages of Disney and other tv shows, movies, toys, and books that show animals as having human characteristics how do we raise our children to understand that this portrayal of animals is not real?

My first thought is that I will teach them the main principles of raising animals on the farm – whether that be a dog, cattle, chickens, a horse or a ginuea pig.  With livestock you quickly learn that their needs come before your own.  It doesn’t matter if you are tired or hungry or cold because you’ve been outside all day, if the animals need to be looked after you better get outside and make sure they are fed and watered and comfortable.  Raising animals means that you treat them when they are sick.  If an animal has an illness that can be treated with antibiotics then antibiotics are used so that animal does not suffer. Raising animals means that you have a responsibility to use the latest techniques that will benefit not just the animal but the environment because that is the right thing to do.

Above all it means that you treat them with respect.  Whether they are simply companions or whether they are giving us milk or eggs or will be butchered they are to be valued with kindness and empathy.  And this does not mean giving them a luxury stall at the most expensive equestrian center or the finest silk day bed to lounge on while you are at work.  We must truly understand what that animal needs as an individual of a particular species.  Just as animals are not humans, dogs are not cats, beef cattle are not goats, horses can not be treated like pigs.  It is up to us, the people who care for them, to understand what they need in terms of their environment, their social activities, their nutrition.  And that is part of the process of respect.

I want my children to know that we will use those that pig for bacon, that beef animal for steak, and that dairy cow will give us milk.  But what a better way to teach them gratitude for the food in their bellies than to show them where food comes from.  It does not come from a grocery store.  As an adult I am now more grateful than ever, each time I sit down to a beautiful bacon and egg breakfast that I am involved in raising the animals that gave it to me.  I hope my kids have that same appreciation.  Even if I to continue to let them watch Disney cartoons.

Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones. Continue reading