Food insecurity

If we converted some of our greenspace–our backyards, community centres, places of work–into gardens, and engaged community members in its upkeep, we could participate in the sharing of two things:
  • The quality, nutritious food that is needed for humans to thrive.
  • The knowledge that we need to grow and prepare food, and to build a sustainable future.
We could help combat food insecurity in our communities.

What is food insecurity?

“Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” (Source: Life Sciences Research Office, S.A. Andersen, ed., “Core Indicators of Nutritional State for Difficult to Sample Populations,” The Journal of Nutrition 120:1557S-1600S, 1990)
Worldwide, it is estimated that 1.02 billion people were undernourished in 2009. (Source: http://www.mcgill.ca/globalfoodsecu…).
Here in Canada: “Every year from 2007 to 2012, approximately 5% of Canadian children and 8% of Canadian adults lived in food insecure households. This means that they did not have access to a sufficient variety or quantity of food due to lack of money.
  • The most recent statistics indicate that in 2011–2012, 8.3% of Canadian households experienced food insecurity.
  • Nunavut had the highest rate of food insecurity (36.7%), over four times the Canadian average (8.3%) in 2011–2012.
  • In 2011–2012, the rate of food insecurity was more than three times higher in households where government benefits were the main source of income (21.4%) compared with households with an alternate main source of income (6.1%).
  • Among various household types, lone-parent families with children under 18 reported the highest rate of household food insecurity, at 22.6% in 2011–2012.” (Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624…)

The costs of food insecurity

“Researchers have found that people who experience food insecurity also tend to report:
  • poor or fair health
  • poor functional health, or an inability to perform key activities due to health problems
  • long-term physical and/or mental disabilities that limit activity at home, work or school
  • multiple chronic conditions
  • major depression
  • a perceived lack of social support, such as someone to confide in, count on, or go to for advice” (Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624…)

Going green?

“The scientists who produced the map [at the following link] estimate that more surface area [in the US] is devoted to lawns than to any other single irrigated crop in the country. For example, lawns appear to cover more than three times the number of acres that irrigated corn covers.” http://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/…

Let’s repurpose some of that land

Starting seedlings indoors, Part two

Last week, we talked about how to start seedlings indoors. I didn’t tell you that I started some pepper seeds, but I did. They’re a bit difficult to germinate, so I didn’t want promise anything. But, we have baby plants. Lots of them. We have seeds that have sprouted roots and we have seeds that are thinking about unfurling their leaves too. You can see some of them above, towards the left of the photo.
These seeds benefitted from the extra heat provided by the heating mat beneath them. This is the one I used: http://www.homehardware.ca/en/rec/i…. But, you don’t necessarily need a heating mat if you have a warm sunny room.
Once the seeds grow roots, it’s important to remove the plants from the heating mat. The roots can fry if they reach the bottom of the tray where the heat is strongest.

Seedling and its root
You might be surprised by how long the roots are already. I was! I chose to carefully transfer the sprouted seedlings to new, larger pots and leave the seed tray on the heating mat to see if any of the remaining seeds were going to sprout.
I also used a second method of germinating seeds. I put seeds in-between two pieces of wet paper towel and placed this in a Ziploc bag, which I placed over a floor vent so the furnace would keep them nice and warm. Each day I checked on them and added more water, if needed.
They’ve been sprouting roots too.

Seeds germinating on paper towel
You can see a root on the seed that is in the middle of the right half of the photo above. I will let the root get a little bit longer, then carefully transfer it to a pot of dirt, lightly cover it, and keep it moist. If the root gets so long that it grows into the paper towel, I’ll cut the paper towel rather than damaging the root.
So there you go. The peppers are growing and the sun is shining.

Trimming the grocery bill in winter

It’s February, and in Canada, most of the produce in the grocery store is imported from the United States or Mexico, or even further away. There are a few Canadian items, such as mushrooms and peppers from greenhouses, or cooking onions and potatoes that have been kept in controlled storage. Let’s face it, though, unless you live in the warmer parts of the country, your options for fresh produce are limited. Unless you are making something that requires fresh ingredients, though, you can use produce you’ve preserved, at a fraction of the price, and without the harmful chemical additives.
  • Want a smoothie or some fruit salad? Berries can be frozen as is. Fruits like peaches and pears are delicious when canned.
  • How about some vegetables for a stir fry, sauce, or side dish? Peas, beans, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, and corn (and more) are usually blanched before they are frozen. Peppers are frozen as is. Blanching is the process by which the vegetables are immersed in boiling water for a few minutes, then immersed in ice water. This removes organisms and dirt, and stops enzyme actions which may cause the flavor, color, and texture to be diminished. It also slows down the loss of vitamins that occurs when plant matter is frozen.
  • How about some mashed potatoes or fried onions? Maybe some squash or pumpkin pie? Potatoes, onions, squash, garlic, and pumpkins can be kept in a cool, dark, dry room for many months. When your potatoes start to sprout, you can save them and use them for seed potatoes.
  • Have a hankering for pickles, or need some tomato sauce for your favourite pasta dish? Pretty much anything can be canned, either with a conventional canner or a pressure canner.
  • How about some chili or refried beans? Dry beans and store them in a dry place. When you want to use them, soak them in water overnight, then cook them in new water the next day until they are soft.
  • Tired of store-bought herbs? Some herbs, such as rosemary and parsley, can be overwintered in pots. You can preserve others by chopping them and mixing them with water or oil before freezing them in ice cube trays: http://www.thekitchn.com/freeze-her…).
These are just some of the common ways you can preserve food. We’ll look into these in more detail as the year progresses.

Pollen nation: More than just the land of honey

Pollination is the process by which the pollen grains from the male part of a flower (the anther) are transferred to the female part of a flower (the stigma). Plants may self-pollinate (the pollen grains fall directly onto the stigma of the same flower) or cross-pollinate (the grains from one plant from fall onto the stigma of another flower).
Plants such as corn rely on the wind to perform cross-pollination. Here, the wind blows the pollen from the tassels at the tops of the cornstalks onto the silks at the tops of the cobs. If you plant corn, you’ll want to do so in blocks rather than a single row, because wind rarely blows straight down.
80% of flowering plants, though, rely on animals to make their pollen deliveries for them. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and even bats (in tropical countries) are integral to pollination. Monkeys, lemurs, possums, rodents and lizards have also been known to pollinate some plants. Bees, though, are the most common cross-pollinators.

Busy as a bee

When a bee lands on a flower, its feet slip into the groove that holds the flower’s pollen sacs in place, and it lifts them up and carries them away. When it lands on another flower, it deposits some of the pollen, thus completing the process of pollination. While the bee is feeding on its nectar, it is ensuring pollination occurs and a fruit or vegetable is born–and so it is feeding us as well!
As you can imagine, if we didn’t have bees, we’d have a lot less to eat! Here are some of the plants that bees pollinate: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_….
Unfortunately, bee populates are dwindling. There has been a lot of scientific research into their declining numbers; among the reasons considered are neonicotinoids, invasive parasites, climate change, decline in their diets, and cell phone radiation. One species was added to the endangered species list last month: https://www.scientificamerican.com/….

Helping bees help us

There are a few things we can do to make our gardens friendly to pollinators such as bees:
  • Don’t purchase entomopathogenic nematodes. They are used as biological insect control, but in addition to killing “pests”, they kill large numbers of bees: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ar…. Read the label when you buy plants, because some plants have been treated with these nematodes and thus are carriers.
  • Plant flowers that bees love: http://fafard.com/terrific-flowers-…
  • Build a bee house or a bee bath: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you….
  • We know that dandelions are considered unsightly, but they are the first spring meal for bees. Consider leaving them in the ground for our insect friends.

Fun facts

A honeybee can fly 15 mph. Its wings beat 200 times per second!

Plant of the week: Beans

Beans are high in protein, virtually fat-free, and they have more fiber than most whole grain foods. They’ve been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
They’re also reliable producers. You can enjoy them all summer long, and freeze them or dry their seeds to enjoy them in the winter too!

Ideal growing conditions

  • Beans do not tolerate being transplanted; start them directly in your garden after the threat of frost has passed.
  • Plant 1 inch deep and a few inches apart, in full sun or partial shade.
  • If you have a problems with squirrels and other animals who like to dig out seeds, consider covering the planted area with panels of chicken wire until the seeds take root.
  • Beans don’t like to get their feet wet. Ensure they are in well-drained soil, and water them during the sunny part of the day so that they don’t sit in water overnight.

Types

There are two types of plants:
  • Bush beans grow up to 2 feet tall, and do not require support.
  • Pole or climbing beans need trellises, fences, or other supports for their vines to climb. If you’re small on horizontal garden space, you can plant pole beans and extend your garden vertically!
There are a few types of beans:
  • Snap beans are eaten whole and young, before the seeds mature. You can buy string or stringless snap beans. String beans have tough fibres that run the length of the bean; these are removed before consumption.
  • Shell beans are grown for their seeds. The shells are discarded, and the beans are dried and added to soups and similar dishes.
  • Some beans can be eaten in either form.

Friends

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Peas
  • Rosemary
  • Strawberries
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes

Foes

  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Leaks
  • Marigolds
  • Onions
  • Peppers

Fun facts

  • Beans and other legumes can draw nitrogen out of the atmosphere and into the soil, where is an important food source for plants.
  • Beans come in a variety of colours, including green, yellow, purple, and red. If you want to add some pretty blossoms to your garden, consider planting some scarlet runners.

Try this!

Try planting a handful of the dried beans from your kitchen cupboard. That is, the beans you buy for soups and chilis, such as kidney beans and black beans.

Let’s get kids involved

Many of us are familiar with Canada’s Food Guide and its equivalents: http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_format…. This guide, and various scientific studies, state that vegetables and fruits should make up a significant portion of a person’s diet, regardless of their age. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients that are vital for your health and the maintenance of your body. They may reduce risk of stroke, certain types of cancer, heart diseases, and type-2 diabetes.
Despite this knowledge, though, we’re constantly falling short in our daily recommendations. A 2015 study indicated that 87 percent of Americans don’t meet recommendations for fruit consumption, and 91 percent don’t meet recommendations for vegetable consumption: http://www.livescience.com/51500-fr…. In fact, some studies show a decline in the consumption of vegetables and fruits.
But why are we so reluctant to eat what we need to properly fuel our bodies?

What we eat when we are young shapes what we crave when we are older

So what do we need to do, besides cut back on the sweets and snack foods and force ourselves to eat more veggies?

We need to get children involved in food preparation

Anyone who has ever known (or been) a child has witnessed the pride they exhibit when they accomplish something on their own. This , of course, extends to gardening.

It doesn’t have to be complicated

Here are some great tips on getting your kids involved: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardenin….

We can share what we learn and grow together

Your neighbours (or you) may not have enough space to grow plants. There may be gaps in one’s knowledge of healthy food choices, and in food preparation skills. Or, there may be issues with money and or time. But we can do this together. Invite your kids’ friends to try something from your garden, or to take home some plants to their families. Share seeds, vegetables, space, laughs, recipes. Start a community garden. Instill a craving for vegetables that will last a lifetime.
Make it fun.