Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre: Meeting the Needs of Saskatoon's Growing Population


The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre (SFLBC) receives over 12,000 requests for food a month. Almost half the respondents to a 2014 client survey said they pick up a food hamper every two weeks. Over 60% have been using the Food Bank hamper program for more than two years. Shocking statistics in a city that prides itself on urban growth and prosperity.

When the Saskatoon Food Bank opened its doors in 1983, I’m sure they thought it was a temporary fix for a short-term problem. That hasn’t proven to be the case (almost a third of Saskatchewan's single-parent families can't afford healthy food), and the SFLBC’s services continue to evolve to better meet the needs of their clients and to address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty. They’ve expanded their programs to include literacy and work experience programs, cooking classes, urban agriculture, a clothing depot, and advocacy.

The SFBLC held an open house in February and I was intrigued by some of their survey results and future plans. I had lunch with Brit MacDonald, Community Developer/ Urban Agriculture Manager, to obtain more information.


Healthy Food 
It seems like a no-brainer to provide as much fresh, healthy food as possible in the emergency food hampers. And yet it’s not quite that simple. The SFBLC conducts an annual need assessment survey to help them meet the needs and wants of the community that relies on them for food. The Fall 2014 survey asked clients what kind of food should be provided by the Food Bank. The #1 choice was lots of food, even if it’s not healthy. The #2 choice was food that is quick and easy to prepare, even if it’s not healthy. Last, by a wide margin, was fresh fruit and vegetables.

There are many complex, inter-related factors that account for these results. What we do know is that nutrition education and food skills training increase the uptake of vegetables by any population. Food Bank clients need the opportunity to try samples of unfamiliar foods and attend food demonstrations or cooking classes. And the interest is there. SFBLC’s urban agriculture survey indicated that over two thirds of clients were interested in attending cooking classes, 47% were interested in canning classes and 43% were interested in learning about herbs and spices.

The SFBLC currently offers some cooking classes, but a very small kitchen limits their ability to expand this service.

Bridging the Divide
I make regular donations to the SFBLC, but I’ve never stepped through their doors. I suspect that I’m not alone in this regard. There’s an invisible wall that separates those of us who donate to the Food Bank from those who use its services. It’s an artificial barrier and one that the SFBLC is working hard to remove so that everyone feels comfortable at the Food Bank.

Shared interests – preparing and eating meals, gardening – provide a common meeting ground. The Garden Patch on 3rd Avenue North is a wonderful project and has done so much to raise the visibility of the SFBLC and to switch the focus from emergency food rations to healthy food for all. Over the past four years, they’ve harvested over 90,000 pounds of produce thanks in large part to over 1,000 visitors who planted, weeded and harvested the site.

Unfortunately, in our northern climate, the Garden Patch is only operational for a few short months. In addition, it’s not located next door to the SFBLC, so there are fewer opportunities to build community around common interests in healthy food, gardening and food security.


Community Greenhouse 
Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a year-round facility that was accessible to everyone in Saskatoon and that was equipped to meet a wide range of needs – from emergency food hampers to cooking classes and harvest festivals?

I’m sure those are the thoughts that immediately sprang to mind when Tom Allen, an Associate Professor in the College of Agriculture with a strong interest in northern food security, approached the SFBLC to see if they would be interested in partnering with him to establish a greenhouse fueled by biomass.

The SFBLC was eager to be involved. A greenhouse could expand their impact and provide opportunities for individuals from all sectors of the community to connect and learn. It would be a positive space, bringing together people from all parts of society, and – unlike the Garden Patch – it could operate year round.

The greenhouse could provide fresh vegetables for the emergency food hampers, but that’s only a small part of its overall goal. First of all, it would be difficult to produce enough vegetables on a consistent basis to fill all the food hampers. Secondly, a focus on food production would mean the emphasis was on quantity, cost effectiveness and meeting short-term needs rather than on addressing underlying issues.

The long-term potential of the greenhouse is so much greater as a community centre. People could learn how to grow their own food. The fresh produce could be used in food demonstrations and cooking classes that brought people together from all parts of our community – newcomers, people who didn’t learn how to grow or cook vegetables as children, master gardeners and community-minded volunteers. Abundant harvests could be shared with other community organizations, such as the Friendship Inn.

There could be classrooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, office space and an industrial kitchen. (The Invermere Community Greenhouse, a similar endeavour in British Columbia, offers a wide range of programs, including carsharing, a community greenhouse, composting services, and a permaculture garden.)

In addition, solar panels, biomass heating using waste wood, and water catchment techniques would ensure that the building served as a model for green building practices.


What Happens Next? 
The plans for a community greenhouse centre are evolving. An Urban Agriculture Workshop in 2014 provided input from community members with expertise in related areas. A grant from the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan has funded a feasibility study to further understand the needs of the community and how the greenhouse centre would fit with the SFBLC’s other operations. The report will be available to the public by December 2015.

A community greenhouse would be such a positive way to build a shared commitment to healthy food for all our City’s residents. I really hope it goes ahead.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Flavourful Saskatoon, April 20, 2015


Urban Ag Film, Apr. 24
Saskatoon Food Council is hosting a screening of Urban Roots, a film about the urban farming movement in Detroit, at 7 pm, April 24, at Station 20 West.

Chatty’s Indian Spices
There’s a great article in Bridges about Chatty’s Indian Spice Mixes. Chatty explains that “No one dish is typical 'Indian food' as it varies throughout the country. In Calcutta, cinnamon and nutmeg are typical, whereas in the north, fried spices, onion and garlic are more prevalent. In southern India, the food is usually very spicy.”

SK Lentils
Saskatchewan used to be the breadbasket of the world. Now it’s actually the protein basket

“The number of acres planted with lentils and peas in Saskatchewan has almost doubled since 2002 to an expected 7.5 million acres this year, according to the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. Sixty-five per cent of the world’s lentils are grown in Canada, mainly in Saskatchewan.”


Brewing History Tour
Edmonton City as Museum Project “tells the stories of the People, Places, Things and Moments that make the city of Edmonton what it is.” They’re hosting a bus tour of Edmonton’s brewing and malting history – from historic locations, such as Molson’s, through to new craft breweries, such as Alley Kat. It sounds like a good idea – and one that we could imitate in Saskatoon.

The Temporary Bride
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec. I learned so much about Iranian culture and food as well as being absorbed in the story of two people from vastly different cultures who meet, form a relationship and eventually marry. It’s not a love story per se – rather it’s an account of the impact that culture has on our social interactions.


Sweet Treats
Here are a few of my current favourite sweet treats:
Salted chocolate rye cookies – The Night Oven Bakery
Lemon curd pudding – The Griffin Takeaway
Goat cheese brownies – Earth Bound Bakery

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Saskatoon Co-op Liquor Store


The Saskatoon Co-op Liquor Store opened on March 28, 2014. As of one of Saskatchewan’s first specialty liquor stores, I was curious to find out more about what is involved in setting one up. Dawn Wreford, the store’s Liquor Procurement and Marketing Manager, was happy to oblige.

Dawn started working in a restaurant when she was 14, so she has lots of experience in the hospitality industry. She’s completed the first two levels of the International Sommelier Guild’s program and in 2010 she started working for Select Wines & Spirits. As a manager, she was responsible for promoting their products and getting them listed in Saskatchewan. It was a switch from serving wine to selling it, working closely with SLGA on logistics, pricing, promotion and supply.

Dawn now had a good feel for both sides of the industry and was well placed to help the Co-op set up their new store.

Selecting the Products 
The Co-op currently stocks approximately 4,000 different products, substantially more than the 2,400 products you’ll find in SLGA’s full-line signature stores (e.g. 8th Street, 2nd Avenue, University Heights).

Approximately 60% of the store’s product is warehoused at the SLGA distribution centre out of Regina. It represents the most popular brands that people will expect to find when they come into the store. The Co-op carries just about everything that SLGA carries so that people aren’t disappointed.

The other 40% is where the Co-op can really differentiate itself by carefully selecting wines, beers and spirits that they believe are under-represented. These products come from various sources, including Alberta, BC and individual wineries in Argentina, Chile, Italy, France, and Spain.

“It takes some training to fill out the sections,” Dawn explains. “You want a fair selection of wine from each region of each country. You don’t want all the same varietal or the same price point.”


Dawn felt that Ontario’s VQA wines were under-represented in Saskatchewan so the store has dedicated a section to them. “They’re really good wines,” Dawn says. “The VQA program is solid and they’ve been making wine for so much longer than BC. They have a different climate too; their Riesling is really good.” The Co-op stocks Hidden Bench wines that are hard to come by as they often sell out at the winery.

When asked for more recommendations, Dawn directs me to the French and Italian sections, which she believes are under-shopped.

If you’ve been looking for a product, say so. “If more than one person requests a wine, I’ll try to bring it in,” she says. “It feels really good when we see someone with a huge smile on their face because they’ve found something unexpected or something that they’ve been looking for.” The store has already been able to meet requests for Underberg Bitters, Aperol, Pastis, good-quality grappa, and some high-end whiskies.


Working Together 
Dawn credits a great deal of the store’s success to the Co-op employees and the store’s partners.

The Co-op has 32 liquor stores in Alberta, but this was their first in Saskatchewan. All the Saskatoon staff came from other areas in the co-operative. “They weren’t wine people,” Dawn says, “but they’re learning all the time and really interested in helping people.”

All the products are channelled through the SLGA. “The SLGA has been a very good partner,” Dawn says. “The team on the special orders desks has been very helpful and supportive. As long as the supplier can provide the right information, SLGA is game to order it.

Suppliers approach Dawn directly and small distributors, such as Doug Reichel Wine Marketing, have been very supportive.


Beer 
The walk-in beer cooler has a huge selection of craft beers that changes from week to week. There are often limited edition beers, one-time-only offers from sales agents. “We try to react quickly and bring in new products so that people don’t get bored,” Dawn says.

The Co-op was the title sponsor for Premier in 2014 and presented beer for the first time.

Tastings 
One way to discover new products is by attending a tasting. The store’s tasting room is well equipped and you’ll receive a plate of bread and cheese to accompany the drinks.

The tastings are listed in the monthly newspaper flyer, but they can also be found online. Guess the Expensive Wine is one of the most popular tastings and there is a monthly beer tasting. The store also hosts winemakers on a regular basis.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Flavourful Saskatoon, April 13, 2015

Riversdale Delicatessen

Steep Hill Food Co-op
I stopped in at Steep Hill Food Co-op last week to pick up some Passage Foods sauces. According to their website, they have a wide range of international flavours.

I’ve been able to find Chipotle Lime and Tikka Masala. They’re a great way to flavour a quick stir fry with tofu and vegetables.

While I was browsing, the Screamin Brothers Frozen Treats, made with organic coconut milk, caught my eye.

Food Trucks
 With warmer weather, I’m hoping the food trucks will soon be out on the streets. Here are a couple that are new to me.

Rebel Melt“fresh made hillbilly-inspired grilled sandwiches and other yummy vittles”

Soom Soom“fresh from scratch world foods, focusing on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine"

“Pulled Pork” for Vegetarians 
Pick up a can of green jackfruit at a local international store, such as Fiesta Pinoy, and treat yourself to Barbecue Pulled Jackfruit Tacos.

Bell Peppers and Cookie Dough
Rock climber Alex Honnold loves chocolate chip cookie dough, red bell peppers and is minimizing his impact on the environment by eating mostly vegetarian/vegan. If you’ve never watched Alex Honnold climb, he’s amazing!

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flavourful Saskatoon, April 6, 2015

Appreciating food from a very young age

Seed Starting Workshop, Apr. 9 & 14 
Learn the basics of starting your own plants indoors at a Seed Starting Workshop sponsored by the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre’s Garden Patch. The workshop is being held at the Core Neighbourhood Youth Coop from 10-11 am on April 9 and from 7-8 pm on April 14. All supplies are provided.

Station 20 West Fundraiser, May 2 
Support Station 20 West at a supper and silent auction catered by Touch of Ukraine Restaurant on May 2.

Gangsters Italian Sandwiches Food Truck 
Bill Matthews sold Two Gun Quiche House and bought a food truck. Gangsters Italian Sandwiches Food Truck will serve classic Italian sandwiches made from local ingredients (e.g. bread from Earth Bound Bakery, herbs from Floating Gardens, peppers and tomatoes from Grandora Gardens).


Why I Eat Organic Strawberries 
Hunched over for up to 10 hours a day, Glorietta is a California strawberry picker. The foreman berates her and her wages are inadequate. And the strawberries are making her sick. “As she fills carton after carton, she experiences constant nausea, muscle weakness, and eye irritation from the chemicals sprayed. She says her employer does little to protect its workers from exposure.”

Not only do strawberries contain high levels of pesticide residue, but their production involves chemicals that don’t impact the consumer but do impact the farmworkers.

As consumers, we can make a difference. Boycott foods that are produced in unhealthy conditions. If you don’t feel you can afford to eat an all-organic diet, at least avoid the Dirty Dozen – for your own health and for the health of those who grow and pick our food.

Are CSA Farmers Earning a Living Wage?
As this article points out, there are advantages to becoming a CSA farmer, although your wage will only be slightly higher than other farmers. CSAs also represent tremendous potential:

“Farmers and members constitute a critical mass that can push for national policies to address the common needs of CSA farms …. It is the connectivity and solidarity of CSA farmers and members that holds the greatest promise for improving the business model’s viability.” 

Native American Food Culture in the Modern World
The Sioux Chef specializes in Native American pre-reservation foods of the Dakota and Ojibwe people who lived on the Great Plains with an emphasis on indigenous ingredients. Chef Sean Sherman says,

“The proteins in the meats are easy because it's just the wild animals that are out there. For me, it was a longer study in ethnobotany: what plants are indigenous and were growing around here, how Native American people were utilizing things, understanding Native American farming and agriculture, because it was such a huge scene especially in this region. And understanding how food preservation systems were working for people to maintain and keep a lot of food in their food caches to last them through the long winters. For me, it was basing my food, my pantry items, on those pieces -- the dried corn, the dried beans, the dried wild rice and all the varieties of all of that. When they were making things into meal and powder, all the different dried vegetables that were utilized. Those were the base flavors for me to really think about using in this region.” 

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products. 

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Flavourful Saskatoon, March 30, 2015


Easter Egg Hunt 
Join the Easter Egg Hunt at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market from 10 am to 2 pm, Saturday, April 4. The Market will also be open on Sunday, April 5.

Liquor Tastings 
The Co-op Liquor Store organizes regular tastings: 
April 10, 7 pmConcha y Toro wine (including Bonterra)
April 25, 7 pm – the history and production methods of several rum distilleries
April 30, 7 pmNathalie Bonhomme, Spanish wines, including one made in collaboration with Bodegas Juan Gil, Jumilla

Wally’s Urban Market Garden
It must be spring – or else Wally of Wally's Urban Market Garden is very optimistic. He told me he planned to start planting garlic and onions on March 29!


Cider 
What could be nicer than a thirst-quenching glass of cider in an English pub or a French crèperie? But cider is also popular in northern Spain, parts of Germany and other countries around the world as I discovered when I read World’s Best Ciders by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw. The book highlights artisan ciders as well as providing some background on big companies, such as Strongbow and Magner’s.

BC Tree Fruits is introducing its first cider, called Broken Ladder, in April. One of my favourite Canadian cider companies is Sea Cider on Vancouver Island and I enjoyed Lonetree’s dry cider when I was in BC this past summer.

I’ve started following the Cider Monger’s blog to keep up to date on new Canadian ciders.

Best Food Writing 2014 
If you are interested in the people, places and ideas behind our modern food culture, Best Food Writing 2014 is a must read. The series compiles short essays from a wide variety of sources and I make sure to take it out from the library every year.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.  

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SMAK Ukrainian Store & Coffee Shop


Way back in November, I visited SMAK Ukrainian Store & Coffee Shop at 1002 - 22nd Street West, open Monday-Friday, 10 am to 6 pm. They stock an impressive variety of products as these photographs will illustrate.

Mushrooms - yum!

Marinated vegetables

They also stock no-stir, quick-cooking barley, buckwheat and millet.

Jam

Perogies


Soup in a jar - just add water

Homemade bread and rolls with cherry, plum and poppyseed filling

Spices and marinades

Kvas - a lighly fermented drink made from rye bread


Honey with fruit and nuts

Tea - some with herbs from the Ukrainian mountains