Can’t believe all the events happening in Verdun this first full week of March! We are so lucky.
Tonight, the borough council holds its monthly meeting as usual at borough hall, 4555 rue de Verdun. On tap tonight, approval for a bar at the Nun’s Island Tennis club, summer terrasse at the new Irish bar Le Trèfle – 4718, rue Wellington plus funds for La Station and parking for the Maple Syrup Festival on Promenade Wellington. Read the agenda here.
Tomorrow is the day that the Welcome Wednesday lunches at the Southwest United Mission go weekly! Tomorrow’s meal will be extra-special too, because the lunch will be prepared by youngsters at camp during March Break. The same youth group will offer high tea on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m.! Yummy! Both meals are available for a donation. The whole project is the brainstorm of amazing cook and local activist Léonore Pion. Thanks also to the leadership from David Lefneski, who will be my guest on Unapologetically Canadian, episode 2. Also have to appreciate the amazing work in the background of Amy, Darlene, Frank and everyone else who works so hard for Verdun. Thanks so much!
On Thursday, Women in Mind and the Réseau d’Affaires de Verdun have teamed up under the leadership of Mélanie Boivin to hold a women’s leadership summit from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Quai 5160 Verdun’s cultural centre at 5160 Boulevard LaSalle. Tickets cost $30 for non-members.
Friday is that high tea I mentioned above, and the Grand Potager members’ AGM.
This week finishes at Seedy Saturday in the Verdun Greenhouse, 7,000 boul. LaSalle. Come buy your seeds for the season and visit tables by most of the 15 Grand Potager members who are making Verdun a beacon for urban agriculture, including us, solidarity Coop CAUS with our premium compost, microgreen seeds and honey from the market, the Concordia Greenhouse, Pro-vert Southwest, Urban Seedling, Verte Santé and many others.
Today, 33 major academic and pharmaceutical research partners publicly agreed to share health data in an open science system to combat Alzheimer’s, dementia, mental illness, spinal cord injuries and other diseases that affect the brains of approximately 11 million people across Canada.
They did so because they now have secure computer resources within a network called the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP).
CONP was made possible through a $10 million dollar grant from the Canada Brain Research Fund. David Lametti, Member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard-Verdun and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development announced the grant earlier today.
The project is designed to allow researchers to share, store, analyze, and disseminate data using 8,000-10,000 terabytes of storage space from Compute Canada. Partners have also agreed to create and participate in inter-disciplinary training through the new organization.
This step is the next crucial element in creating the vision announced on December 16, 2016 by Larry Tanenbaum in the presence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Tanenbaum, the Chairman and CEO of Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Limited engineering construction company, donated $20 million dollars to create the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Neuro.
The Open Science Institute operates under five philosophies designed to spur on innovation through unusual collaboration.
Partners agree to:
In addition to the Neuro at McGill, partners in todays announcement included: the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Western University, Brock University, University of Toronto, York University, Queen’s University, Concordia University, McGill University, Université de Montreal, Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval, and Dalhousie University.
Yesterday, the temperature dipped to minus 15, a real shocker after Thursdays two degrees above zero and Friday’s minus five. So imagine our surprise when tons of people began streaming into the Verdun municipal greenhouses for the borough’s first ever Seedy Saturday.
In the end, we counted 357 visitors to Seedy Saturday, though probably more came given that busy volunteers used the click counter.
What a great day! The sun and conversations with amazing people kept us toasty and comfortable all day.
Tons of conversations took place throughout the day. Typical topics revolved around practical tips to grow healthy food, ensuring food security and entrepreneurship and jobs.
Many of the tips emphasized how to take advantage of small spaces and combating wildlife. How can you keep the squirrels from damaging and eating all your crops? Use small and large caging to keep them out.
Which seeds provide the best-tasting fruits and vegetables? Heritage seeds for sure, although getting people to give up nicer-looking fruit and vegetables for better taste can be a challenge.
How do you plant them to make sure they produce? Choose the right time and the right medium for each variety.
Lots of workshops took place at Seedy Saturday, but one-on-one conversations contained the best tips.
Which seeds should I plant now? Tomatoes, cucumbers and basil.Which ones go direct in the garden? Beans, carrots and peas. When? Peas go in as soon as the ground can be worked, while beans get planted after last frost at the end of May. Kale and carrots benefit from either treatment, although they should be staggered over the summer.
There were some diverging opinions on all points, and since I had the worst growing summer ever last year, I tried to listen more than I spoke. Not sure that worked though. I talked a lot.
Food security and using local entrepreneurship to build abundance formed the backbone of many conversations. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that yesterday’s Seedy Saturday was organized by Grand Potager. Grand Potager is a nonprofit organization that includes many of the Verdun-based organizations who are trying to use urban agriculture to ensure that no one in Verdun goes hungry.
Our urban agriculture solidarity coop CAUS is a member of Grand Potager, and our main focus remains building a local economy via markets. We now have spring markets, our farmers’ markets from July until October, and our winter markets.
Our next market takes place Saturday, April 8 at the Church of the Epiphany, 4322 Rue Wellington, Verdun from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Hope to see you there!
The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed how I think about food.
Until reading the now classic 2006 tome by Michael Pollan, I never noticed the extreme lack of diversity in the modern North American diet due to its evolution since World War II. Events have since conspired to show me the extent that corn, dairy and wheat join salt and sugar to form a significant part of a Canadian diet too. Often we think we are eating one thing and it turns out that we are actually eating something else.
The industrialization of our food system has separated us from natural systems while hurting our health, our planet and our soil. Despite that understanding, reversing the habit has been an ongoing struggle. As Pollan points out in his conclusion, everything in our culture encourages us to rely on the convenient, unemotional and often unrecognizable food-like products offered in bulk by giant industrial companies.
For countless generations eating was something that took place in the steadying context of a family and a culture, where the full consciousness of what was involved did not need to be rehearsed at every meal because it was stored away, like the good silver, in a set of rituals and habits, manners and recipes. I wonder if it isn’t because so much of that context has been lost that I felt the need, this one time, to start again from scratch.” (p 411)
For Pollan, starting again from scratch meant travelling across America to discover the basic ingredients within four meals: a McDonald’ meal eaten in a fast car, a Whole Foods organic dinner, a Polyface Farm meal, and a foraged meal. Pollan takes readers along with him, detailing every element in each meal from start to finish. He brings us with him into industrial food operations, to small and large farms, and into the forest in search of mushrooms and big game to hunt.
In between the descriptions of places and people, Pollan carefully outlines every element within every meal. Often, many of these elements turn out to have the same source.
In his description of his McDonald’s meal, for instance, he described how three people chose 45 different products almost totally made of corn.
It would not be impossible to calculate exactly how much corn Judith, Isaac, and I consumed in our McDonald’s meal. I figure my 4-ounce burger, for instance, represents nearly 2 pounds of corn (based on a cow’s feed conversion rate of 7 pounds for every 1 pound of gain, half of which is edible meat). The nuggets are a little harder to translate into corn, since there’s no telling how much actual chicken goes into a nugget; but if 6 nuggets contain a quarter pound of meat, that would have taken a chicken half a pound of feed corn to grow. A 32-ounce soda contains 86 grams of high-fructose corn syrup (as does a double-thick shake), which can be refined from a third of a pound of corn; so our 3 drinks used another pound. Subtotal: 6 pounds of corn.” (p115)
The Omnivore’s Dilemma also contains a great deal of information about how many societal norms and regulations have radically transformed when it comes to food. Often these changes were due to marketing by various members of the agricultural industry.
Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida,” wrote Pollan, on page 178. “Naturally this information discomfited the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research. Nowadays U.S. agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true.”
In other places, Pollan speculates about the extent that changes to our food system might be creating problems with our health.
One of the most important yet unnoticed changes to the human diet in modern times has been in the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6, the other essential fatty acid in our food. Omega-6 is produced in the seeds of plants; omega-3 in the leaves. As the name indicates, both kinds of fat are essential, but problems arise when they fall out of balance. (In fact, there’s research to suggest that the ratio of these fats in our diet may be more important than the amounts.) Too high a radio of omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to heart disease, probably because omega-6 helps blood clot, while omega-3 helps it flow. (Omega-6 is an inflammatory; omega-3 an anti-inflammatory.) As our diet—and the diet of the animals we eat—shifted from one based on green plants to one based on grain (from grass to corn), the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has gone from roughly one to one (in the diet of hunter-gatherers) to more than ten to one.” (p268)
Despite multiple examples of dense information, the overall impression a reader has of Omnivore’s Dilemma is an exploration of America through its food and communities. Pollan aptly outlines his deep concern about deep problems in the food system while demonstrating how caring individuals can change how things are done.
Pollan has nicely captured the hurtful and healing attributes of America’s food system. Omnivore’s Dilemma remains a treasure and a great source of hope.
Reading it may force you to change the way you eat, the way you shop and the way you see your local community as it did for me.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
By Michael Pollan
Shortly after moving into a 4 ½ apartment in Villeray, my husband and I got our first shared garden plot. We sought out some assistance about what we should plant in the 20 x 10-foot space and found “The Organic Gardener” by Bob Flowerdew. The book was two years old when we bought in in 1995.
It’s still my favourite gardening book.
Flowerdew gardens in the United Kingdom, so the seasons and the growing schedule doesn’t match Montreal. Still, his experience and confidence about gardening as a way to improve society crosses geographic boundaries.
A healthy soil is the key to organic gardening,” he writes. “Not only does it provide plants with the food they need to live, it also confers health and vitality, making them much more able to withstand outbreaks of diseases.”
He then explains that the best way to create good soil is to “add as much organic matter to the soil as you can get.”
More than thirty years later, and that advice continues to hold true.
Most of organic gardening centres around improving soil through green manures, mulches, and composting. Flowerdew doesn’t focus on permaculture, but he does explain how to design a garden with the ecosystem and human requirements in mind.
There’s a whole chapter on beneficial insects and wildlife and lots about choosing the correct plant for any location.
He goes into types of plants, sowing and growing, plant species and many types of food that can be grown in any garden.
This isn’t a basic guidebook, although that’s its primary role. Organic Garden is extremely well-written and Flowerdew’s slightly persnickety personality shines through. It’s evident that he really cares about food and has thought out his presentation in detail. For example, he explains why nasturtium leaves, celery and marigolds are in the chapter about herbs.
I define an herb, whether it is eaten raw or used in cooking, as one that is added to dishes rather than served as a portion on its own. Thus some minor crops are included here rather than in the section on vegetables.”
To finish off the book, Flowerdew provides a monthly list of chores that can be combined slightly for a Canadian climate.
Unlike many garden books, Flowerdew’s includes a full index and chapter outline.
Recently, I examined all my garden books to see which one I would recommend most. Flowerdew’s Organic Gardening still wins handsdown. Flowerdew has updated his work considerably in the last twenty years of course. If you want a compendium of his latest thinking, consider purchasing his Organic Gardening bible (2005) or his guide to Going Organic (2008). Links to the first are available above through the Amazon and the Abe Books links. The Indigo link goes to the Going Organic book.
You can also just read his blog or join me as one of his 3,050 Twitter followers. Don’t expect him to care about you though. He only follows 35 people.
The Organic Gardener, London: Reed International Books Limited, 1993, ISBN 060057461X.