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Food

URBAN FORAGING


A growing movement toward wild-harvested food has no trouble seeing the forest for the trees. “Production right now is relatively minor, but in two or three years we’re going to start seeing our first flush of fruit,” remarks Kenton Zerbin, permaculture teacher and consultant. Zerbin is referring to the St. Albert Community Food Forest across …Read More
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A growing movement toward wild-harvested food has no trouble seeing the forest for the trees.

“Production right now is relatively minor, but in two or three years we’re going to start seeing our first flush of fruit,” remarks Kenton Zerbin, permaculture teacher and consultant. Zerbin is referring to the St. Albert Community Food Forest across from the grain elevators, the first of its kind in town.

Together with local urban agriculture enthusiasts, Zerbin designed this site using permaculture techniques, an approach to growing food that mimics the design of natural ecosystems for self-sufficiency. He estimates that in five-to-seven years the forest will reach its capacity, offering a safe nutritious source of edibles such as plums, red currants, gooseberries, haskap berries, saskatoons, comfrey, and more. And lots of it, by the sound of things—free for whoever wants it.

Ripe for the Picking

Food forestry and permaculture might be unfamiliar concepts to many, but they’re part of a growing realization that cities, like St. Albert, are chock full of potential when it comes to food. The free variety, that is. It’s literally all around us—in city parks, in the woods, alongside rivers and roadways. Numerous books detail the variety of edible fruit, plant, and mushroom species available in Central Alberta—much of it on public land, available to anyone with a bucket and a little know-how. [Editor’s note: It’s easy to mistake edible for poisonous mushrooms because they can look very similar. Best to leave this to the experts.]

The appeal of urban foraging is understandable, as any trip to the grocery store will uncover. Healthy food ain’t cheap. In 2013, the Edmonton Community Foundation reported that food costs had risen by more than double the overall inflation rate over the past 10 years. Food prices are notoriously volatile, and it’s worth noting that in 2012 the Edmonton Food Bank distributed more than $17,000,000 worth of food. In light of this, it’s easy to see why interest in food security and less expensive food options continue to run high. Add to this, the burgeoning interest in organic and locally grown produce, and free food forests make good sense.

A World of Foraging Possibilities

On paper, it seems there’s little stopping us from getting out there and taking advantage of the cornucopia of produce that’s growing wild all around us. But in practice, obstacles do exist. The first is knowing where to look. Cue the Internet, where maps have been popping up pinpointing the precise locations of fruit trees and other edible plants around the world. The St. Albert map came online last year, created by a local resident using Google Maps. It shows where people can get their fill of saskatoons, apples, crabapples, pears, Nanking cherries, hazelnuts, rhubarb, and more—all accessible to the public and free for the picking.

The biggest roadblock, however, is probably time and energy. Supermarket produce might be pricer, but it’s easy, and this is the likely cause of why so much backyard fruit goes to waste. Considering that an average apple tree can produce more than 100 kg of apples in a year, for some households even a single tree can be too much. And when you consider how many trees a city may have, both public and private, this adds up to a staggering amount of food that’s, unfortunately, for the birds.

Seeing an obvious need, fruit rescue organizations have emerged across the globe. Not Far From the Tree, a Toronto-based outfit, estimates their urban canopy produces 1.5 million pounds of fruit a year, and most of it goes unpicked. Likewise, Sweden’s Urban Fruit Initiative claims that although Swedish gardens boast more apples than commercial producers and imports combined, only 10 percent of garden apples are consumed.

Locally, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE) musters volunteers to harvest backyard trees of homeowners who are unable to use their fruit. Like other fruit rescues, the haul from each pick is divvied up, with roughly a quarter each going to the homeowner, the volunteers, OFRE, and a charity such as the Food Bank or Hope Mission.

Reshaping Cities and Attitudes

“I truly applaud these organizations,” says Zerbin, commenting on OFRE and similar groups. “But it doesn’t reduce in the slightest the call to action to put systems in place where people will use them, own them, and be proud of them.”

Zerbin is talking about the original St. Albert Community Food Forest and others like it in the St. Albert and Edmonton regions. In addition to the first St. Albert food forest, Zerbin has done consulting and installations with homeowners and at schools, including one this past spring at Brander Gardens School in South Edmonton.

In downtown Edmonton, a food forest has sprung up on public land along the River Valley—in the MacKinnon Ravine, just west of downtown. The MacKinnon Food Forest began in 2014 as part of Root for Trees, an initiative by the City to plant trees, with a minimum target of 16,000 a year in order to increase Edmonton’s canopy cover from 10 to 20 percent. (St. Albert’s canopy cover is 13 percent, according to the 2017 Urban Forest Management Plan, and there’s hope to also increase this to 20 percent.)

The MacKinnon Food Forest bears highbush cranberries, currants, beaked hazelnuts, saskatoons, chokecherries, pin cherries, raspberries, elderberries, and strawberries. All are native plants, as designer Dustin Bajer points out.

“That was one of the ways we were able to do something like this,” Bajer says. “I don’t think the City would’ve been onboard had it been non-native species.”

That these forests are being funded at all means the benefits of wild-harvested food is clear and something to be encouraged. And St. Albert’s forest plan recognizes this, too. But while the plan doesn’t offer any concrete ideas for building more, it does list the food forest as one of several examples in the city of “treed environments optimized for functionality.” The plan also notes that the demand for food-growing space from residents who lack gardens and yards still outstrips the supply. In other words, we could be seeing more food forests sooner than later as the city goes greener (and woodier).

Building a Food Forest 101

Yet, it was conversations among local urban agriculture enthusiasts, rather than any municipal initiative, that brought about the first food forest in St. Albert. Regular meetings brought like-minded people together who arranged for information sessions, City funding, supplies, plant donations from local retailers, and volunteers. And Zerbin designed the forest following the tenets of permaculture.

To recap, permaculture aims to re-create ecosystems that not only produce food, but are also self-sustaining. Fortunately,
Mother Nature gives us a pretty good model to riff on. Forests are made up of layers, from the canopy and understory to the ground cover and roots—and each has a function.Canopies provide shade and protection so lower plants can thrive; meanwhile, perennials in the herbaceous layer die each year, feeding essential nutrients back into the soil. It’s this interplay between layers that makes a forest more than the sum of its parts, and it’s an incredibly efficient and resilient system that sustains many species of plants and animals in a small area.

As such, a good food forest design optimizes available sunlight, water, and soil through the careful arrangement of elements. For instance, plants can be ‘stacked’ so each one gets the appropriate amount of sunlight, while swales (low moist tracks of land) can retain or redirect water to where it’s needed. Installation of the St. Albert Community Food Forest began in 2016
through what Zerbin calls “perma-blitzes,” with volunteers planting and building earthworks, such as swales. Now with the building and planting done, much of the work is maintenance. “We try to plan at least one blitz a year for upkeep,” Zerbin says. Beyond that, the forest is more or less left to its own devices.

Looking Forward

But will people use it? It’s not a question Zerbin seems to be sweating. He’s only onsite now and then, but he often runs into locals checking it out because they heard about it through word of mouth.

“I actually think there’s going to be more of these popping up,” Zerbin says. “It’s a growing movement. People can see that these spaces are possible, that they can be beautiful, and that they can produce a lot of food without a lot of work.”

Bajer is equally positive. “The cultural narrative we tell ourselves, consciously or not, is that humans make nature worse.” He explains that this pessimistic sentiment doesn’t give us a roadmap for the future. However, he believes that food forests are turning this around through the optimism associated with them, and with the message that with a little creativity, cities can coexist with nature and harvest abundant rewards. t8n

Foraging Etiquette

Keep these tips in mind so you don’t inadvertently vex other foragers, or the law. Or karma.

  • Always remember Rule Number One: If you’re not 100 percent sure what it is, don’t eat it. Invest in a guidebook to identify plants so you don’t accidentally gather endangered species or worse—poisonous lookalikes.
  • Learn when certain produce are in season and forage accordingly.
  • Only take what you need, and leave some behind for others (including forest critters).
  • Ensure that your foraging is on public land, or seek out the landowner’s permission.
  • Be careful not to collect food that’s been contaminated by pesticide or fertilizer (not to mention dog pee). Wash foods thoroughly before you eat.
  • Minimize damage to these environments: stay on the trails as much as possible, and leave nature as you found it.
  • Share your knowledge with others interested in this fun and healthy pastime.
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Steaks


Sizzling Summer Steaks It’s Time to Fire Up the Grill & Get Ready for Summer Nothing beats a superbly cooked, flame-grilled steak on a perfect summer evening, in the company of great friends. We reached out to SYSCO Edmonton’s Corporate Chef Michael Brown for his top three favourite steak dishes, and here they are! Besides …Read More

Popsicles, Gelato and more


A Lick & a Promise. Chilling out just got tastier By Carmen D. Hrynchuk Certain things just taste better in the sunshine. Near the top of that list are ice cream and popsicles. Besides being simple to make, the flavour combinations are endless. We made some of ours with yogourt, others with puréed fruit and, …Read More

Volcanic Wine


Volcanic Vino – Making wine from the ashes Like all wine and winemaking traditions, volcanic wines combine a bit of the old with the new. People have long made wine from grapes grown in volcanic soil, but only recently have the distinctive attributes of these wines gained appreciation. Just as no two volcanoes are the …Read More

Cocktails


Let There Be Cocktails!  Ready, set, sip! By Carmen D. Hrynchuk It’s finally here. Patio season. And there’s only one rule to play by: if you live where summer’s short, make cocktail hour long. To help inspire that mandate, we’re sharing a few recipes to raise your glasses to. Some are impeccable classics, a few …Read More

Strathcona Spirits


They’ve got Spirits Yes They Do! Edmonton’s first distillery success story If you were looking to taste some locally produced spirits a year ago, you’d have been out of luck. This year, you’ve got options. Lots of that credit goes to Adam Smith. Over the past four years, he’s been hard at work setting up …Read More

Bread


Bread Winners – Butter up to Edmonton’s bread scene Edmonton has privilege to a wealth of bakeries that have been making waves in the local food scene. But while pastries and baked desserts have been enjoying their well-deserved moment, the spotlight on bread has been a little dim. That, however, is starting to change, as …Read More

Pickling


Bragging Rights in a Jar – A showoff’s guide to making condiments So you’ve mastered your signature Caesar and are known for your epic BBQ parties, so what’s next? How about more bragging rights? Perhaps a homemade pickled bean to garnish your already righteous Caesar or some bourbon mustard that you “just whipped up.” With …Read More

Geppetto’s Gelato – Inspiring smiles by the scoop


  Ice cream is synonymous with summer. And on a hot day, a scoop or two of this cold, creamy delight is like icing on cake—you just gotta have it. Good thing St. Albert has Victor and Debra Garcia. Each year the husband-and-wife team takes this traditional summer treat to new heights with their little …Read More
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Ice cream is synonymous with summer. And on a hot day, a scoop or two of this cold, creamy delight is like icing on cake—you just gotta have it. Good thing St. Albert has Victor and Debra Garcia. Each year the husband-and-wife team takes this traditional summer treat to new heights with their little labour of love, Geppetto’s Gelato.
It’s their sixth season as ice-cream shop owners, and the Garcias are up to their elbows serving top-quality gelato, ice cream and sorbet to a steady stream of customers. It’s a pace they’re more than used to. Victor has been a business owner in St. Albert for more than 32 years, and Debra works in retail management. So why add more work? That’s simple: they absolutely love it.
“I love serving people,” says Victor. “We have kids who come in, groups of seniors who come in, car clubs that come in, tons of families—everyone leaves happy.” Debra agrees, “We give them a few tastes of ice cream, they find the one they want, we put it in one of our waffle cones—which are wonderful—and they are happy, happy people. It’s really nice.”
Not everyone comes in with wide eyes, however. Many customers know exactly what they want.
“Men over 50 go for the maple walnut or the tiger-tiger,” says Victor. “The kids love the really colorful ones—superhero, rainbow, cotton candy, bubble gum.”
Victor notes that Belgian chocolate gelato is their top seller, but he feels Amaretto gelato is the shop’s must-try. “If a customer comes in and Victor is working, they are trying the Amaretto,” jokes Debra. With between 29 and 40 flavours of gelato, ice cream or sorbet available at any given time, choosing a flavour isn’t always easy.
“We are happy to explain the products, and we listen to our customers,” says Debra. Victor adds, “This year I’ve noticed a phenomenon—people are wanting half a scoop of this and half a scoop of that. We’ll always accommodate them.”
No matter what the flavour, there’s a common ingredient in every scoop: quality. The Garcia’s get their ice cream from Foothills Creamery and from Chapman’s Ice Cream. They get their sorbet and gelato (which are made in Edmonton) from Pinocchio Ice Cream. In fact, Geppetto’s Gelato is one of the only places where customers can buy the Pinocchio brand by the scoop. “I knew Pinocchio ice cream years ago,” says Victor. “Then they didn’t sell directly to the public anymore.” When the Garcia’s were planning to open their ice cream shop, Victor knew he had to bring back his favourite ice cream product. The rest is history. “Because of Pinocchio Ice Cream’s website, we have people coming out from Sherwood Park, from Edmonton, from all over to get gelato,” says Victor. True as that is, if it’s the premium product that draws customers to Geppetto’s Gelato, it’s the friendly, family-oriented atmosphere that brings them back. “Even though St. Albert is getting to be a big city, it still has that small town feel,” says Victor. Debra adds, “This is a little family-run business, and it’s other families who are coming to us … These are our customers, but these are also our neighbours. It’s personal.” There’s no doubt this personal touch is the Garcias’ key to success. From hiring local high-school students (often giving them their first jobs) to their policy to always give customers more than less, the family has created a warm, almost nostalgic neighbourhood hub in Geppetto’s Gelato. “Ice cream people are happy people,” says Debra. “If we weren’t having fun, we wouldn’t be doing this.” “I always say,” adds Victor, “this is the happiest place in St. Albert.”  n Geppetto’s at a Glance Owned by: Victor and Debra Garcia Location: 18 Muir Drive, St. Albert Their specialty: Premium gelato Their mission: To supply a premium product and to get to know people in the St. Albert community Interesting facts: Geppetto’s Gelato is open only in the summer months—usually from the end of April to the end of September. Just enough time to try all 40 flavours.

Did You Know?

Gelato, sorbet and ice cream are all delicious but differ in their characteristics. Gelato: Creamy flavour, smooth texture, no additives or preservatives, two-month shelf life Sorbet: Refreshing flavour, light texture, non-dairy, no sugar added, two-month shelf life Ice Cream: Rich flavour, heavy texture, two-year shelf life (when stored properly)

Fun Fact

The Garcia’s named the shop Geppetto’s Gelato as a clever wink to their main supplier, Pinocchio Ice Cream.   [post_title] => Geppetto’s Gelato - Inspiring smiles by the scoop [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => geppettos-gelato-inspiring-smiles-scoop [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-26 15:00:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-26 15:00:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.summercity.ca/?p=5719 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [_excerpt] =>   Ice cream is synonymous with summer. And on a hot day, a scoop or two of this cold, creamy delight is like icing on cake—you just gotta have it. Good thing St. Albert has Victor and Debra Garcia. Each year the husband-and-wife team takes this traditional summer treat to new heights with their little … ) 1

BEEKEEPING


An ancient craft in your own backyard One of our oldest professions, the ancient practice of beekeeping, is experiencing something of a renaissance. In 2015, a record number of colonies—just over 721,000—were in operation across Canada, with almost 300,000 of those in Alberta alone. When you look at the big picture, it’s no wonder. Besides producing …Read More
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An ancient craft in your own backyard

One of our oldest professions, the ancient practice of beekeeping, is experiencing something of a renaissance. In 2015, a record number of colonies—just over 721,000—were in operation across Canada, with almost 300,000 of those in Alberta alone. When you look at the big picture, it’s no wonder. Besides producing honey and beeswax, bee colonies bring many other benefits, both to the people who care for them and to the communities where they are located.

Cheap & Easy

As far as hobbies go, keeping a backyard hive (or two) is neither exhausting nor expensive. Much of what you’ll need to spend, in time and money, will come early on as you’re getting into it. For starters, you’ll need to do some research. Find out what bylaws regulate beekeeping in your area and how to register your hives. Figure out what equipment you’ll need and how to use and maintain it. Also, learn about the different kinds of bees so that you can choose one that’s appropriate for you (subtle hint: don’t start with an aggressive strain). You’ll also need to buy a few things: hives, hive stands, protective clothing, smokers, feed, other tools and supplies, and, of course, bees—all of which will probably set you back a few hundred dollars.

Once your beehive is up and running, the rest will be fairly straightforward. It’ll take a year before you can start harvesting honey, but rest assured, your bees will do all the hard work—which they’re sort of known for—meaning all that’s expected of you is some regular maintenance and, eventually, a honey harvest.

A Little Pocket Money

For many, beekeeping is a labour of love. But it doesn’t hurt if your hobby can provide you with extra pocket money. Once your first hive is a success, you can set up additional hives (provided you have the room). Extra honey means extra honey you can sell, perhaps at farmers’ markets, from your home or in local stores. You’ll also have excess beeswax that can be made into candles, lip balm, hand lotion and so on. There’s even a viable market for renting out bee colonies to farms to help pollinate crops. In Alberta, thousands of hives are rented each year just for this purpose. According to the Canadian Honey Council, the average rental fee for a hive is $120, depending on the crop that needs to be pollinated.

Stress? What Stress?

Urban beekeepers often talk about the stress-busting power of beekeeping. Like bird watching, gardening or watching cat videos, there’s something calming about keeping bees. Plus, there’s a whole social aspect to apiculture. As the activity spreads across the country, many cities and towns now have beekeeping clubs. Newbies can easily join a passionate community of fellow beekeepers, where they can get advice and start new friendships.

Better Gardens

Even if they’re not actively beekeeping themselves, urban gardeners benefit from having bees in the neighbourhood. The reason is simple: most flowering plants reproduce through cross-pollination. This requires an animal pollinator to move pollen from one flower to another, and bees are the best known and most efficient pollinators nature has to offer. Bees visit flowers to gather nectar and pollen, their main sources of energy, fat and protein. As they move about, they inevitably carry pollen grains to the flowers they visit, allowing cross-fertilization to happen. So, the benefit is mutual—gardens feed bees, and bees help gardens thrive, promoting biodiversity and ecological stability in urban areas.

Saving Bees

As you likely know, beekeeping may actually contribute to helping save the world’s bee populations, which have been in decline for some time now. In Canada, a combination of pesticide use, habitat loss, poor nutrition, disease, mites and severe winters has been blamed for colony losses. The good news? The rate of loss has slowed over the last decade, according to data from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists. At the same time, the number of honeybee colonies across the country has increased by 22.4 percent. t8n

Fun Fact

When it’s properly sealed, honey may be the only food that never spoils in its edible form.
This is due to unique antibacterial properties, such as high acidity and an absence of water, which prevent many microorganisms from growing in it. Archaeologists have found (and apparently tasted!) preserved, millennia-old pots of honey while excavating Egyptian royal tombs.

[post_title] => BEEKEEPING [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => beekeeping [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-08 16:42:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-08 16:42:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.summercity.ca/?p=9286 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [_excerpt] => An ancient craft in your own backyard One of our oldest professions, the ancient practice of beekeeping, is experiencing something of a renaissance. In 2015, a record number of colonies—just over 721,000—were in operation across Canada, with almost 300,000 of those in Alberta alone. When you look at the big picture, it’s no wonder. Besides producing … ) 1