01 September 2011

tales of a food journey, part two

Continued from Tales of a Food Journey, Part One... 

What was in Nova Scotia, you ask? Chris went to volunteer at a few organic farms! A food pilgrimage, if you will. We'd been researching farm volunteering for some time now, and for Christmas I bought him a membership to WWOOF Canada-- a chapter of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. They hook up organic growers with interested volunteers. In return for their help, volunteers are provided with food, lodging and the inside scoop on organic farming. Chris divided his time between two farms in Nova Scotia, hitching a ride with a half-baked lumberjack from Alberta who drove with a road soda to get from the first to the second.

He did a lot of weeding. The amount of labor that goes into maintaining an organic farm is incredible and very much accounts for any price difference between organic and conventionally farmed food. Those of you maintaining organic gardens know all about it; now imagine maintaining a commercial farm! When you are lovingly (or begrudingly) weeding through entire gardens and fields, you enter into a much more intimate relationship with that food than when you throw it into your cart beneath the glare of fluorescent lights. Or as Chris says, "when you are wiping that baby's ass until it's big enough to defend itself from weeds, you begin to care about it a lot more". Well-said. When things need to be done on farms, they need to be done. They don't wait until the morning or until next week. That's why we see tweets from our CSA farm or from Kristin Kimball's Essex Farm about hosting weeding parties or pushing to get the hay baled by the end of the day. It just has to get done.

He helped the farms prepare for market days and deliveries to local restaurants. The day before, volunteers and workers spent all day cutting, washing, culling, bagging and weighing salad greens.Chris went to markets both in Truro and Halifac, NS. How glorious is the indoor section of the Halifax market?!
Chris also got to hang out with these adorable, gross little pigs and some chickens.

Chris cooked, ate, cleaned and lived communally with others. He worked alongside two Jamaican helpers, Monk and Palmer, at the first farm. The made him traditional "rice and peas", which is actually what we call rice and beans. The three of them built small fires to keep away the bugs out in the field and listened to slow Motown jams while weeding and harvesting. I have a really great mental image of the situation, for the record.

At the next farm, volunteers, workers and the host family all shared in cooking meals together. They took turns preparing a dish of their choice for the others and everyone pitched in with the preparation and clean-up. There was no microwave or dishwasher, but plenty of cast-iron skillets. No one started eating until everyone was sitting at the table and had served themselves food, when they would then pause in appreciation of the bounty before them. They had a rotating schedule of cleaning and chores to keep the big farmhouse in tiptop shape. Raw food scraps went to the chickens, cooked scraps went into the compost pile. At the end of the work day, they would crank up the US3 on the stereo, open a crappy Canadian beer and relax. The German workers drank shandys instead, a cocktail of beer and ginger ale.

I love the simple structure of their workday and their meals. Someone would sound this conch shell (seriously) to call the troops in at each meal. Around 7 in the morning, everyone had a bit of light breakfast to start the day, maybe a piece of toast with peanut butter. Second Breakfast came around 10, when they came in from the fields to a huge pot of hot oatmeal and freshly-brewed coffee. Lunch happened around 2 or 2:30 and could be anything from pitas with hummus and veggies to grilled cheeses or egg salad sandwiches. The typical workday finished with a dinner feast. There were always vegetarian and non-vegetarian options available. Chris dined on culinary masterpieces like stir-fries, lettuce wraps with Asian peanut sauce, carrot salad, breaded haddock and miso soup.

This is the magnificent Bay of Fundy. Looking through all of Chris' pictures, I think I will save them for another time altogether. They are breathtaking and deserve a post of their own.

If you are a commercial farmer, this isn't news to you. If you are a home gardener, just imagine the scale of what these family-owned, organic growers operate. The recent flooding of so many farms in the Northeast is gut-wrenching, precisely because we all understand the level of commitment, hard work and painstaking care that goes into growing a diverse range of healthy, organic food. Chris and I have been committed to learning more about our food system, nutrition and from-scratch cooking. In doing so, we've made a few lifestyle changes that we hope better reflect our ethics. Personally, I'm hoping to live a bit more thoughtfully and consciously. But I still have fun. Lots of fun, when possible :) Because, you know, it's about having a good time too. Taking care of ourselves and our bodies, crafting things when we feel like it, buying things from better sources when available, understanding the impacts of our actions and then trying to take it all in stride and aim for being better, not being perfect. Sometimes, I'm still going to want a big plate of cheese fries. Ain't no shame.

While I stayed busy with food swaps, cheesemaking and listening to Beyonce's new album without judgement (oh, and work), Chris was getting a first-hand glimpse into the world of organic commercial farming. He walked the walk and put his beliefs into practice. He brought back information for the both of us to use in our ongoing food journey. He also brought back a bunch of dried herbs to make our own tea blend, which was pretty awesome too. I'm full of admiration for his decision to hop an overnight train in a different country, stay at farms he had only read about, work and live alongside complete strangers and remove himself from our comfort zone. All while having to constantly explain and defend it to others and deal with the occasional guilt trips I threw his way. Like I said, it was bad-ass.

How apropos... today is the kick-off of NOFA-NY's Locavore Challenge! The challenge is "a month-long campaign aimed at engaging consumers across the state in eating local organic foods." You can sign up for a bite-sized, meal-sized or feast-sized challenge depending on which level of commitment matches your schedule and interest. The challenges fall in three different categories: Grow, Cook Eat; Join the Movement; and Take Action.You can earn Locavore "points" by indulging in a local beer, attending a potluck or volunteering at a community garden. Fun! Free! Local! To learn more and register for the (fun, free, local) Locavore Challenge, click here. I'll be playing along here and over at From Scratch Club, which happens to be the official blog sponsor of the challenge.


  1. what an adventure! way to go guys- you both are setting a great example :)

  2. "Ain't no shame."

    Love it.
    And, I learned more about his trip from this blog than I did from asking him about it. Go figure ;)

  3. Beautifully written. I feel the same about food and general lifestyle choices - if it's not (somewhat) fun and accessible, then people won't do it. Unfortunately, many sources come across as very elitist about the matter, and so I also believe the pretense surrounded by the lifestyle needs to be eliminated, too. Great stuff, Christine! And Chris, welcome back!

  4. Life lived ones' twenties should be all about adventure, learning, observing and pressing limits. You two are doing it in spades.

  5. Heartwarming, thoughtful and amazing. I'm so proud of you both and a big KUDOS to Chris. You are both such people of substance - you don't just talk about doing things differently, you really do them. Way to go Chris!

  6. Great pictures (looking forward to seeing more) and a wonderfully told narrative of the adventure. You work together like peas and carrots. The world is a better place, and could use a lot more folks like the two of you. :)


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