In the midst of building our rooftop deck. That’s our edible rooftop garden in the background!
Work exchange is like a holiday with a purpose. If you’re looking to learn how to live a ‘greener’ lifestyle, this is the work exchange house for you. It gives people the chance to work in exchange for food and board and experience what it means to live in a ‘sustainable focused community house’.
So what are the kinds of jobs you would be doing? Without a word of a lie, these are some of the things I have worked on, which have been more like heavenly learning experiences than ‘work’ (see photos at the bottom of this post):
Dehydrated kale chips
- Brewing kamboocha
- Picking cherries & apples from neighborhood trees to make jam
- Making chemical-free paint and painting walls
- Making kale chips in the dehydrator
- Building a roof-top deck
- Making sauerkraut
- Growing food for our kitchen – tomatoes, herbs & edible flowers
- Shopping at local farmers markets
- Helping out with tidying around the house
Spring has sprung here in Toronto. Along with the first crocus flowers, there are tender edibles in the backyard and burdock and Jerusalem Artichokes to dig up. There are also more mice scurrying about our kitchen, and a few black ants.
Horseradish sprouts are one of the first harvestable plants in the Spring. They are spicy but quite delicious especially in a sandwich or with corn chips. They don’t last long, in a few days they will be too spicy and tough to eat. But by then the stinging nettle will be ready.
Stinging Nettle shoots. These are another early edible green. You have to cut them with scissors as the pricks will sting your skin, but once you boil the young leaves for a few minutes they go limp and are quite delicious in soup or by themselves. A friend of mine transplanted some for me several years ago. We keep them in a separate shady part of the garden as they grow like a weed and spread.
In the backyard we also have burdock roots and Jerusalem Artichokes (kind of like a potato) to dig up, and there is always dandelion greens and roots.
This year, once again, I forgot to trim the grape vines during the winter. Once Spring starts, any cuts will result in sap pouring out. A solution is to break several of the buds off with your thumb nail. Pruning a grape vine makes for larger grapes, and one advantage of pruning just the buds, is that you will end up with a thick network of grape vine branches that will help block raiding raccoons from reaching the finished grapes that hang down from the vines.
John caught this little mouse in the sink by putting a glass over him. Later we released him outside. We also trapped a little guy that had gotten himself locked in one of our cabinets. I also found one dead in the shower. I suspect that the neighbours maybe poisoning them. We share a party wall. Veg.ca has a good article called Dealing with mice and rats: A humane approach to pest control.
At the house we aim to eat a fair bit of local foods which isn’t always so easy in the winter. We shop at the nearby Dufferin Grove Farmers Market where the selection has whittled down to potatoes, beets, cabbage, onions, squash, leeks, turnips, shiitake mushrooms, celery root, carrots, apples, fresh baked bread from the brick ovens, and baby greens from a greenhouse. That last item turns out to be not necessarily the best choice for the environment. Greenhouses often require large amounts of energy for heating and lighting. See previous article.
Many of these items were harvested a couple of months ago, but hearty roots, cabbage, squash and apples are technically still in season since they are easily stored.
Eat local, seasonal and low on the food chain to minimize climate chaos gas emissions
According to a UN study reported in the Guardian, climate change emissions from shipping amount to 1.12 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, or nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas. This is almost three times higher than previously believed. Ships exploit a ready supply of the world’s cheapest, most polluting “bunker” fuel. Marine heavy fuel oil, which is burned by all large ships, is the residue of the world’s oil refineries. It is as thick as tar. Burning the stuff also releases alarming levels of cancer-causing air pollution (see pdf graphic). The industry has grown rapidly – to the point where it now carries more than 90% of the world’s trade by volume, and has tripled its tonnage carried since 1970. Cargoes also have to travel further due to a shift of production away from the US and Europe to China and south Asia.
“Food imports from China have exploded over the past decade, rising nearly 300% to more than $705 million last year,” says a May article in the Toronto Star that cites Statistics Canada. China is now Canada’s fifth largest supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables. Another big category is fish and seafood. At the Toronto Food Terminal, Chinese peas sell for ten dollars a case. A vegetable wholesaler told the Star, “In Canada you couldn’t do it for that price if everybody worked for free!” There is the risk of Canadian farmers being priced out of existence.
On a positive note, sea-freight emissions are much less than if you were to ship the same weight by airplane. The aviation industry is responsible for about 650 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. And due to their huge cargoes, ships are usually more efficient than trucks, and you don’t have to build highways.
Local foods not always best
The New Yorker has an eight page article titled Big Foot that takes a close look at carbon footprints. The local 100-mile diet – eating only foods produced within a 100 mile radius – has been promoted as the ultimate in ecological eating. But it turn out that when evaluating food, you have to consider the entire life cycle of the product. For example:
- Importing New Zealand apples and other foods may result in less carbon emissions because the country receives plenty of sunshine and gets most of its power from dams.
- “Importing beans from Uganda or Kenya – where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure – tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems.”
- Greenhouse-grown roses in Holland require six times more energy than roses flown from North Africa to Europe.
- Because of methane emissions and feed crops, local meat has a much higher climate change footprint than imported vegetarian alternatives (more on this below).
I buy imported avocados, limes, rice and lentils. But learning about the environmental costs of shipping reminds me to keep the focus on locally-grown and seasonal foods. Seasonal means eating stuff when it is in season (such as strawberries in June), or hearty foods such as roots, cabbage, squash and apples that have had their season extended by proper storing. Dry foods like grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are effectively always in season because they easily store for months and months. Preserving local food by freezing, drying or canning is another solution.