Photography by Josh Tenn-Yuk courtesy of Canola Eat Well
Earlier this month I celebrated Canada’s 150th with Canadian nutritionists, dieticians, food writers, farmers, bloggers and chefs. We broke bread over an incredible meal inspired by Canada. Matt Basile (Owner of Fidel Gastro’s, Cookbook author & TV personality) hit the grill and presented a feast of Alberta Beef, Ontario Duck wings, PEI mussels plus salads of heirloom tomato and potato… and each of the recipes incorporated Canola oil. Why is this significant? I had the unique pleasure of dining with Canadian farmers.
150 years ago, Canadians would have had a very different relationship with their food. If you were not responsible for growing what you ate, you would at least know more or less where your food came from. The relationship to the grower was key. Present day, only 2% of Canadians are farmers, and that connection and those conversations are lost in a lot of communities. In Toronto, we have a prolific farmers market scene and have access to Ontario farmers from May until October. The markets have grown in popularity over the last few years as the slow, local and farm-to-table movements are gaining in popularity in the urban centres. The market is a place for the community to come together and meet with and support their local farmers. For parents, the market is a place for children to get involved in the community, to explore new foods and to develop a healthy relationship with produce and purveyors. Plus they usually have entertainment and face-painting so that helps get the little ones excited about picking up some veggies.
In between bites of pork belly lettuce wraps (and sips of local Ontario craft cider) I had the opportunity to meet Jeanette, a farmer from Alberta who grows Canola. Jeanette and I have a lot in common. We are parents, we work with our husbands, we are children of small business owners, and we understand how consuming a family business can be – especially in times of uncertainty. Farming is tough work, even with the benefits of modern technology (which they use to preserve resources, keep better track of the crops) and it is not for the faint of heart. Many of Canada’s farmers are university educated, returning to the land committed to doing the best job that they can with their knowledge. This education comes in handy, for their farms and for Canadians overall. What I didn’t know about Canola is that it is a large export for Canada. 43,000 family farmers on the Canadian Prairies plant an average 20 million acres of canola each spring.
Jeanette’s son is a third generation farmer. And she wants to see the farm thriving when she passes it on to her son full time. He is in his early twenties, and instead of chasing dreams in a big city, he has decided to do what his father, and grandfathers have done before him and work the land. “Preserving the land is important to us.” says Jeanette “For the farms survival, and for the health of the earth, but also for the community, and so we have something to pass down to him.”
Canadians are becoming more and more removed from the source of the foods we eat, and it is important to come back to these family run farms. Our relationship with farming has an impact on the health of the Canadian people, Canada’s economy and the environment. It got me thinking about how if I paid a little more attention to how these farmers grow food for our table, and where the items in our pantry come from, I could make a huge impact as well. And what a lesson this could be for my daughter.
So you want to be a Locavore? If you have ever tried to find local produce in winter, you know what a challenge it can be. So what can you do if the “100 mile diet” just isn’t your thing, but you still want to contribute? “Local means different things to different people.” Says Matt Basile after just telling us that he owns an acre of Canola-grown farmland. “To me, it means supporting the Canadian farmers, but it also means buying supplies from the shops in our neighbourhood.” “West Queen West” (Where Matt’s popular restaurant Lisa Marie is,) can be a tough neighbourhood for small business owners. “So when someone opens a new business there, I am the first to go in and introduce myself and see how I can support them.’” “It is all about the community.” So if you can’t get to the prairies, at least get to your local purveyor. Canadians supporting Canadians is what the next 150 is all about.
Why Canola Oil? Because it’s local, healthy, versatile. Canola oil is a good source of vitamins E and K and is packed with omega 3 fats. It also has the lowest amount of saturated fats—half that of olive oil. It’s neutral flavour and light taste makes it great for baking and cooking. And Canola oil is great to use on the barbeque because it has a high heat tolerance (as high as 242 C/468 F.) so it won’t break down and lose nutritional value.
My Birthday Wish for Canada! I love this country. At Hip Mommies we are huge believers in supporting environmental initiatives, and making an impact where we can. Let’s support Canadian farmers and work together to keep our land in good shape for the next 150. Have a birthday wish? Share it in the comments!