Not Far From The Tree – picking local fruit

In September, I joined a really cool Toronto group called Not Far From the Tree. They harvest fresh fruit from people’s backyards. The group is made up of volunteer gleaners. Everyone benefits: the tree owners who get a share of the harvest and their yard cleared of falling fruit, the volunteers who get exercise, social interaction and a share of the bounty, and homeless shelters who are the main recipients of this free harvest. The program is also very good for the environment as it supports locally-grown produce – you can’t get more local than a backyard tree. Eating this way avoids agricultural pesticides and herbicides as well as the fuel for long distance shipping.

John (who lives at the house) and I went on a couple of pear picks this Fall. We were assigned to a huge tree with an enormous bounty of fruit. At the end, our share amounted to over 50 pears each. I climbed high into the tree and took the following photos.

Picking pears

John picking pears with Shannon and Jen, two other volunteers

Hellen bravely climbs up to pick up another heavy bag of pears.

Helen bravely climbs up to get another heavy bag of pears that I am about to hand her.

A couple weeks later, we picked another pear tree. This time I recorded the count: 12 large bags (and one bucket for the owners). Together they weighed about 250 pounds (over 110 kilograms). I estimate we got 1150 pears from that single tree. There were still a lot more that we couldn’t reach and others that weren’t ripe enough yet. And before we arrived much fruit had already fallen. The owner reported that a small branch weighted with pears had come crashing down a few days prior.

Pear bounty. On the left are the tree owners. I am in the center.

Our team of gleaners including the tree owners on the left. I am in the center. We picked this pear bounty in just a few hours with the help of the blue tarp in the photo. With a person holding each corner, it was held suspended below the tree while I was high up in the canopy shaking branches.

Fruit trees produce a lot food using very little land. Years ago, I researched how much land it takes to feed people. I wanted to know how the land footprint compared between vegetarians and meat-eaters. If you divide all the agricultural land in North America by the population it comes out to about 3.5 acres per person. But it turns out that vegetarians can subsist on a fraction of this amount.

Picking pears this Fall really proved to me how true and important this is. Just a few trees can produce more food than you could possibly eat in a year. Other plant foods such as potatoes and grains are also very productive. Eating low on the food chain frees up farmland that can be returned to wilderness. It also means less soil erosion, less dams, less pesticides and less energy use.

In addition to pears, Not Far From the Tree has picked apricots, apples, elderberries and grapes. So far this year they have picked over 3,003 pounds of fruit that would have otherwise fallen to the ground.


Past residents

In a large house like ours, there are always people coming and going. Some of us leave for a few months and sublet, others move on to other places and situations.

Here are some of our past residents. For a list of who currently lives here, see the House page.

Bridie birthday

Past work-exchanger and resident, Bridie, celebrating her birthday with Sam (left), Alicia and past-residents: Chad and Emilio (right). Emilio still visits often to hang-out, play guitar and make food.

Olivia from Poland. She started here July 2018. She originally wrote us:

“I am a full of energy 30yo vegetarian girl and try to turn myself into vegan diet. I love cooking and I love to speak and read about the well-balanced healthy food. I believe that we are what we eat and I really like your food philosophy as well. currently I am living in Iceland with Icelandic family and I am working at Blue Lagoon Spa resort. I just got my one year work and holiday Canadian visa and I am more than happy. I would be really happy and grateful if I can start my Toronto’s experience from your place as I feel that I can help you a lot based on my experience and your requirements.”


He lived here starting June 2016. He has worked as a bike courier and was into film making, meditation and dance.

Rael and Mélanie from France

Angie from Mexico and Pete from Australia were two wonderful work exchangers who spent time here in the winter months of 2018.

Andrea started as a work-exchanger in May 2017 and stayed until about April 2018. Currently he is riding a bicycle across North America to raise awareness of elephants being killed by poachers. From his profile on HelpX: “I’m Andrea, a 36 years old guy from Bergamo, Italy. I’m the second of four brothers. … I have work experiences such as gardening, agriculture, construction, house maintenance and hostelry. I’m a resourceful guy who wants and likes to work helping people how he can.
After the animals (the dogs in particular) my passions are the photography, web design and Ferrari cars. I’m not a photographer, but recently I reach to 14k followers in my Instagram account (@safariyamaisha) and I’m creating a photo travel site. That is becoming a very important hobby for me.”

Lena did partial work-exchange here offering yoga classes. She was here from Aug 2017 to November. “I love to cook vegan and vegetarian dishes. I also recently completed my 200 hours yoga teacher training and second level reiki. I was born in the states, grew up in Israel and moved to Canada when I was 17.”

Sabina lived here for 3 months from mid Aug to mid Nov 2017. ” I’m 25 years old, I grew up in London and have been living in a few different cities. For the past 3 years I have been living in Paris, doing a PhD in the environmental sciences. I am coming to  Toronto as part of my programn to work with Environment Canada. I live outside paris in a similar co-living house. We are 7 (although often it can be more), ranging from 21-65 years old. We cook, garden, clean, and have fun together. I love nature, cycling (I bike everywhere), camping, anything outdoorsy, late night discussions around a bonfire, growing veg, swimming..the list goes on!
I’m vegetarian, pretty much chemical-free (make my own soaps, creams etc), do yoga and I only have odd socks.”

Tonia. She is staying in our Airbnb Cabin for the winter of 2017/18. She wanted to experience community living with us. She is a personal organizer who has done some great work here in the past helping us get super organized. She is into dance and rock climbing as well.

Mary stayed with us now as a work-exchanger while she was visiting her family in Toronto during the summer of 2016. She came back in 2017 and spend several months here.

“I work/volunteer with an organization called Sadhana Forest.  I am the “Project Development Officer” at our project in Kenya (  In a nutshell, we plant trees.  Our aim is to sustainably bring back water and life to this degraded land. I have been living off-grid (we have a wind/solar system), striving for zero-waste, using only vegan and biodegradable products, eating a vegan diet, and practicing water conservation (pretty strictly), amongst other earth-friendly ways of life. …We try our best to practice gift economy, no competition, and un-schooling.”

Jeannie joined us in August 2016 along with Silk and Soleil (see below). She moved out May 1 2017.
“I’m 27 years young and a calm yet bubbly person. I’m vegan and a Taoist. I moved here from Australia two and a bit years ago and love it so much! The reason for my move to Toronto is for work. I miss working with Interactive Technologies.”

John had lived at the house for many years but moved out April 2017 to take care of his dying mother. He has been involved with vegan and animal rights activism and had a sideline business fixing up bikes – including the bikes of fellow house members. He works at bike shop now. He is very active with karate and has achieved a black belt. He also likes miso soup, road trips, hiking, found art and other stuff.

Silk and Soleil. Silk moved here from Victoria with her 5 year old daughter Soleil from Aug 2016 to Feb 2017. Before us she used to live in a community house there with Jeannie. She is friends with a few of us in the house, and has stayed here on and off in the past.

Kat lived at the house from Sept 2012 to Aug 2012, and from Aug 2013 to Aug 2016 and twice in the past. For some months her partner, Marco, stay with us too. She studied naturopathic medicine and is now a doctor. In between living here, she has visited many different spiritual centers and spent last year in India. “I was living in Delhi running a vegetarian cleanse business and yoga centre from my home with a business partner and mentor.”

Alina  joined the house Feb to Oct 2016. She worked at Bampot, a tea house on Harbord and Bathurst and makes a quinoa soup for them and tea blends. She is also an artist and actor. And has led dance workshops.

She is also a good photographer.

Sam lived her for a few year until Sept 2016. He originally wrote: “I am a guitarist and private music teacher.” He is also into playing chess and go.

Steven joined the house in July 2011 and moved out June 2016. While here he helped out with the Veggie Challenge.

Carola was a work-exchanger and artist here from Oct 2015 to Jan 2016. She first wrote us: “I have the desire to discover Toronto and to spend some time in this great city. Indeed very great for an Italian girl: =). I would like to be part of your vegetarian community house in Toronto. …I am a painter and draftsman. I mainly paint the nature and the animals. I love a lot the life’s colors.”

Alicia spent several months here in 2015.

Bridie spent several months with us on and off from May 2014 to May 2015. “I grew up on a farm in Australia… My career background is business & communications. I love to chat about the world, I practice yoga, meditation & pranayama.” Before Canada, she spent several months in Guatemala.

Khadeja moved in Feb 2015. “I really love the philosophy of the house, and having the experience of living in such a sustainable community is so valuable to me, and something I’ve been actively seeking to create around myself and try to inspire in others. I’m really looking forward to spending time in and contributing to this energy! A little bit about me: I’m a practising yogi and a working artist. The goals I’m working towards with my life look a lot like what’s happening in this house: home grown foods, self-sustainable living, building before buying, creating community with like-minds and shared interests, and putting the natural human experience of living at the centre. Ultimately, I’d like to buy a plot of land, build an earthship of my own, grow my own food, and open it up as a yoga/artist/meditation retreat for those who are looking to live that life (the really good life, if you ask me).

Sambam joined us Dec 2014 and stayed for 6 months. He found out about the house on HelpX and did work exchange here. “I am is a photographer, filmmaker, and writer. I have been on the road for the last year and a half. Being welcomed into the Lotus Feast community has been a time of grounding and healing. It all starts with the food. The house is stocked with ingredients that are produced by people who are conscientious of our health and the health of the environment. Then the housemates get ahold of it and put even more love into it when we prepare meals for each other. Everyone who lives in the Lotus Feast community is energetically aware. We give each other space when we need it but we also at times, meditate together, do yoga together, exercise together, share meals, and spend evenings around the fireplace. It’s very fluid. There is space and time to engage with each other in addition to having enough physical and energetic space to be alone and take care of ourselves. This is a strong foundation from which everyone here actively pursues their own beautiful, unique, and fascinating life journeys.” Find Sam’s photography, filmmaking, and writing on his website

April 2015: Ashley joined us in May 2014.  “I am a yoga instructor/writer… I have been in Toronto for two years, before which I lived all over South America and Vancouver Island. Your home reminds me of the many communities I lived with abroad and sounds like a wonderful place to spend the summer. I am a healthy vegetarian, spend my Saturdays at Brickworks, the rest of my days at yoga/meditation or biking around the city. I love to cook, drink tea, and am happy to clean and support the home as needed. You can learn more about me at my website(s). I am a serial entrepreneur as well 🙂  ”

Jan 2015: Chad moved in here in Nov 2014. He writes: “I’m a world traveller who’s settling in Toronto because where else? I’ve been translating Russian into English for the past ten years, but also have variously written short stories, recorded albums and have created some fine vegan dishes. Now my dream is to continue writing and producing short films, particularly in the comedy and musical genres. I like drinking coffee in coffee shops. Now it’s time for a jam session and feast.”

Nov 2014: Emilio joined the house in Aug 2014 after he showed up on our front porch one morning. He is originally from Mexico but grew up in BC. He spent several months living and working at an ashram in BC before coming here. He loves travelling and change, as well as cooking, yoga, guitar, etc.

Nov 2014: Erika has moved to Guatemala with her boyfriend, Tristan. She had stayed with since May. She wrote us originally: “Im a 22 year old sustainable designer. I have my own business making sustainable clothing and home decor. using organic and natural fibers and herbal dyes. I believe in the most ethical and sustainable way of life. I am a vegan gal, and i LOVE to cook/ferment/bake the most beautiful healthy food. last nights dinner was soba noodles tossed with ume and tamari, roasted kaboocha squash topped with some black sesame seeds. I also love to share 🙂 Why communal living?: well, i love to feel connected to the people i am living with. I look to them for inspiration for my artwork, and creating together is one of my favorite ways to create. I also am a WWOOF ‘r so working on organic farms with a tribe of like minded folks has left me with the most enriched memories and views on communal living. I also love jamming with people ( i play mountain dulcimer)”

July 2014: Suzanne joined us in Dec. 2013. She writes: “I’m completing my studies at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition next month. I’m interested in the holistic lifestyle. My passions include: healthy food, sustainability, spiritual practice, building community & expressing creativity. I’ve lived in community before while working at Omega Institute retreat center and visiting Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.  I want to connect with a conscious community again. I love to cook and would be happy to share in that way. 🙂 ”

Aug 2014: Yana joined us May 1. “I am working as a raw food artist but I really do just love art in its full spectrum of mediums. I would describe myself as a social friendly person with healthy boundaries of respect for private space and possessions. With gratitude to my proper eastern European upbringing, I enjoy a very clean environment and maintaining it as such. I am out a lot during the day and some evenings and like to bake and do fun things in the kitchen geeking out on food science when I’m home. As recreation I like to draw, share good food, good energy, laugh, spend time outdoors, learn new things, make crafts, paint, act, sing, write, discuss books and philosophies, and stay fit and healthy with yoga, exercise and meditation. Not a smoker or drinker, no pets. I enjoy good things in life, beauty and harmony and looking to share a similar space with people who share those values.” Her blog:

Jan 2014: Nelson lived here since Sept 2012. “I’m interest in issues of housing, sustainability, building technologies, and I earn my living mostly as a self employed designer-builder-renovator. The idea of helping keep up, and improve the place, to in part cover my rent expenses, and to have a place house where to house use my tools in the downstairs workshop are mutually beneficial possibilities. I recently graduated from the Environmental Design program at OCAD. I want to learn more about and be involved in vegetarianism and food security issues. I am a committed bicycle commuter. I enjoy swimming and have done some Tai chi and yoga in the past, and would like to incorporate more of these into my life and routine. I play guitar and have been singing with a community choir (Common Thread) for a number of years, so taking part of music making and sharing gatherings is something I do and very much enjoy, and could even use more of.”

Feb 2014: Lorraine moved here in Jan 2014 from the UK and has been doing a half-time work-exchange. Before that she was as a full time work-exchange visitor here twice in the past spring and summer. When she departed previously she did so by bike – and rode across Canada and down the west coast – a 4 month cycle tour of 5000 miles! See “I’m someone who thrives on new experiences, new people, places and challenges, and travel is one of the best ways to combine all of these.”

Dec 2013: Ana  joined the house in Oct 2013. She did a half time work-exchange here. She has taken up guitar and loves to jam with us. She wrote originally: “I am a 23 year old Spanish girl. I am flying to Toronto in order to begin an American sign language course in the canadian hearing society. … I somehow ended up reading your profile in workaway. Wow! It happens that I became a vegan last November after a trip to northern India. It has been quite a challenge for, as you might already know, Spain and Mexico (where I also reside) are huge meat-eaters. I was very inspired by Brendan Brazier’s plant-based diet and I tried to become a Spanish version of him trying to triathlon fueled by plants. But I have to say I failed first time out. However I did learn a lot on the way. Why would you want me there? I am an excellent cook. I like improvising and have become great at preparing banquets out of left overs. I have worked in many different places and with many different people. I am fluent in four languages. My family is not exactly small either, so I have learnt to respect and be respected when we co-exist in the same household. I am active, very positive, calm and responsible.”

Oct 2013: Maria moved here April 2012 and subletted off and on in the past. She was born in Portugal and spent her first seven years on a farm. Her family immigrated to Toronto when she was eight. As a young adult she pursued karate, macrobiotic (vegan) cooking and permiculture gardening. Later she had two daughters who are now in their early 20’s. They visit the house often for dinners and music jams. Maria also loves walking on the Earth, gardening and spiritual activities. She likes to share her knowledge with others.

Aug 2013: Lina joined the house in October 2012. She wrote us: “I am 26 years old, i am about to start a new amazing job as a Therapeutic Field Instructor. I am originally from France, i don’t have my family with me here, my friends are my family. Your house seems like a good place to recreate a family and community where i could belong. I have been a vegetarian for 14 years, i also have an intolerance with wheat and dairies. I am a very good cook, i know a lot about raw food and healthy food due to my diet. I enjoy cooking for other people ( Not much just for myself). I practice Mysore ( Ashtanga yoga) since 2009. It opened my vision on spiritual living and healthy diet. I love hanging out on a porch talking about how amazing the world is, traveling, adventures.”

Feb. 2013: Doruk lived here starting June 2012. He is now in Peru, South America running tours. “I am 32 yr old male (from Turkey). I worked in software industry until 2 year ago in waterloo, on and then left to travel in South america. after magical and spiritual 6 months, i went to Esalen Institute in California for 7 months as farm&garden apprentice. living in a community and growing our own food was a great experience. after California, i spent 3 months at Salt Spring Island in almost solitude at a local farm. Sorry i cannot type well with phones.

Feb. 2013: Katherine moved here Sept 21, 2012 for a short term stay. “I love to cook ( when I cook its almost always vegan) and would most definitely be more than willing to cook a couple times a week! I am a vegetarian now and have been since I was 14 (I’m 26).  I was vegan for 3 years but have only recently stopped as I was unable to maintain the lifestyle in a healthy way. I am aware of the challenges and benefits of communal living – about 3 years ago I founded an urban intentional community in Glasgow, Scotland which is still continuing today (I left to spend a year in Haiti).  Our home upheld many of the same values – living in the most sustainable and mindful way possible, supporting the local community and businesses and running an organic food cooperative out of the house and doing work in the community by hosting documentary nights, potlucks and helping out at the community gardens.”

Spring 2012: Natalie is a longterm housemate who had lived here since 2000.  Over the years, Nat has been very active with painting and helping with renovation plans.  She is also an excellent cook and loves preparing large meals without ever using recipes. She often spends the summers volunteering/cooking at yoga retreats and selling clothing. Recently she moved to Japan to teach English for over a year, but is back in Toronto studying to become a school teacher.

Spring 2012: Basil moved back to the house after living in Ottawa for a couple of years as well as working on art projects in Dubai and France. He is a multimedia artist, “I’m a 29 years old guy. Nomadic – lived in about 5-6 countries for more than 6 months in each country! I love food and cooking, performance and non-traditional art forms, gardening, and much more.”

Sept 2011: Sairah – “I am originally from Regina, Saskatchewan but have lived in cities across Canada and throughout the world. I made the move to Toronto in the summer of 2007 in order to attend the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I am now a certified holistic nutritionist and enjoy doing public nutrition seminars to students and adults of all ages. After studying Holistic Nutrition, I decided to return to university in order to obtain the mandatory bachelors degree that is required for Naturopathic medicine. I am currently in third year at York University studying Environmental Studies. Other than school, I am enthusiastic about yoga in all of its shapes and forms, and attend a regular satsang, and am off to India for the summer. I am also passionate about animal rights and have been vegetarian since the age of 7 and enjoy shopping and eating vegan.“

May 2011: Alora was with us for several months. She has been involved on cycling tours with the Otesha Project, a youth led charitable organization that mobilizes and equips Canadians to create local and global change through individual and collective choices.

Dec 2010: Mojo is a musician from Ottawa. She was in Toronto living with us for the past several month while she one of the coordinators working at FoodCycles, an organic farm located right in the city at Downsview park.

Sept 2010: Joe is a Master’s candidate at U of T and an avid cyclist who bikes year round in Toronto and on trips that have included Italy and the Gaspe Penninsula. “After 15 years of running my own import business (or was it running me…?), I fired myself and  returned to U of T to work towards my Masters in Education. Both my academic and non-academic interests are varied and involve both service to self and others. I seek balance in life although a little imbalance tends to keep things exciting.”

May 2010: Mike moved in with his girlfriend – “When I am not agonizing over how to write about myself, I try to invent and implement creative ways of applying my talents (in probability theory, statistics, finance, risk management and strategy) in my consulting work, volunteer efforts and civic life. Some of the issues that I am concerned about include civil liberties, civic engagement, public health, public education, climate change, ecological responsibility, cultural diversity, electoral reform and democratic work practices. I enjoy organic and locally grown foods, yoga, pilates, cycling, travel, quirky personalities, surprises, my new MacBook and trying to become a better writer.”
Mike moved into the house in Oct 2008.

Spring 2010: Miriam moved to Madonna house, a Christian farming community near Bellville. She originally moved in January 2, 2008. “I just graduated from Social Work at Ryerson. After finishing up courses, I did my final practicum with an NGO in the northern Philippines for five months. I worked with students in a dormitory, did some microcredit development work in two villages, spent time with local indigenous rights activists and danced a lot at different ceremonies. I returned to Toronto in October. I love to read, my favourite authors are Bell Hooks, Rohinton Mistry, Miroslav Volf and Henri Nouwen. I watch a lot of documentary films, I like to debate local Toronto issues, and have a keen interest in international politics and human rights issues. I’m just figuring out being vegetarian and changing my lifestyle/personal habits to be more earth friendly. I’ve been playing around with being vegetarian for about 2 years. In the last six months being vegetarian and having a more earth-conscious perspective has taken root in me, especially after returning from traveling and interacting with different people in my faith community, Freedomize.

Diana subletted from Joe for the first half of 2009. She writes: ” One year ago I moved back to TO from Victoria BC, where I was applying my music education to teaching piano, as well as: learning and instructing social Cuban Latin dancing, practicing yoga, learning and performing belly dancing, experimenting with art therapy and researching spiritual practices of healing.  Recently I travelled to India for several courses at meditation centers and hope to make travel part of my life. For about 2 years now I practice vipassana meditation and planning to attend my first long meditation course in Merrit BC this spring.  Currently I instruct piano privately to children, teenagers and adults under “Fun Piano Lessons” and would like to develop a practical teacher training program for first time teachers. I have been a vegetarian since 2002 and I am hoping that living in this house will enrich my intention of conscious living, making consumption choices that are good for the earth, and challenge and stretch my boundaries in awareness and active participation.

Dec 2008: Jasmine moved out to travel in Mexico. She had just finished her BA in religious studies at U of T.  “With her degree she will make bowls out of clay and travel to warmer places.”

Spring 2008: Basil moved back to Ottawa for work, but is now back in Toronto living nearby with his partner. Update (Nov 2010): He is now living at the house again.

Jan 2008: Meaghan moved on to Edinburgh to pursue a Master’s degree. She writes: “This past year, I worked in sub-Saharan Africa with HIV/AIDS related issues, and lived in community in South Africa as well, sharing a home with a single African mom and her son, and fellow volunteers. I am returning to school to pursue a degree in international public health, with the dream of getting back to Africa to work within these communities again. I love jogging, sewing, crafts, jazz music and reading books that change my mind.”

Nov 2007: Darrick left to go to South East Asia to make a film about orphaned wild animals. He has been a vegan/animal rights activist and environmentalist for many years. Prior to that he was involved with peace activism. He is a member of the Sea Shepherd Crew, works as a fire fighter, and does renovation jobs to raise money for worthy causes.

Eight mice that no longer live here

Mouse under glassAs mentioned last month, John caught a little mouse in the sink by putting a glass over him. Later we released him outside. When you can actually catch a mouse with a glass, that is probably a sign that you are over-run with them.

At the following house meeting we decided to get some live traps. I was down at the Green Living Show a couple of weeks later and Green Leaf pest control was there selling the Ketch-All trap for $20. We gave it a shot, and its a magnet for mice! Caught 8 altogether over a period of about three days with no bait.

 I thought it was some new technology, but I googled it, and the trap has been around since 1924. What makes it so effective is that it takes advantage of a mouse’s natural curiosity to explore. The trap has a tunnel through it. When a mouse enters, a spring-loaded baffle side swipes them into a spacious side chamber. Then we release them outside. I found a good spot by some railway tracks.

Side view of the trap showing the tunnel.As more mice get caught and released, they leave behind their scent inviting more mice to explore (or perhaps they are looking for their friends). It is suggested that you place the trap against the wall. The trap’s tunnel then seems like a shortcut to mice running along the wall. While no bait is necessary, I placed a piece of apple inside so that the mouse wouldn’t get too thirsty once caught. It was pretty obvious, though, when a mouse was inside as they chew on the metal, making a loud sound.

I think we caught them all. The trap has been silent for over a week and there is no sign of mice.

For more information, see’s excellent article called Dealing with mice and rats: A humane approach to pest control. The ultimate solution is to seal up all your cracks. Our kitchen is full of holes which will eventually be filled when we get to the pending renovation. Until then, we will have to rely on humane mouse trapping.

Update: Since this post, two mice have been seriously injured in this trap and two others died. We contacted the manufacturer and this is a known problem with the Ketch-All trap. He recommended a more humane (and apparently equally effective) trap called the Pro-Ketch. Also, I was able to modify our trap and appear to have fixed the problems. Keep reading for more on this.

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Signs of Spring – crocuses, the first garden edibles, and mice

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. has a good article called Dealing with mice and rats: A humane approach to pest control.

Eating local organic in February!

de-local-feb.jpgAt 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.

Does the food you eat involve burning dirty fuel?

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[image: part of a world map showing particulate pollution from shipping. Click on the pdf link to see full map.], 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.

Continue reading

Treasure from another person’s garbage. Tips and finds


A few weeks ago I wrote about how to give away stuff you don’t want anymore. The other side of that is finding free stuff. It can be fun and rewarding to go scavenging for treasure. You never know what you may come across. Currently, I stick to non-bagged residential “garbage.” Foraging for stuff behind stores, known as dumpster diving or skipping, is more involved.

Below are some reasons, tips and suggestions, as well as photos of recent finds.

Why pick up garbage? You can …

  • find free stuff that you need.
  • discover treasure.
  • prevent useful things from being trucked to landfill or incinerators.
  • find gifts for family, friends or strangers.
  • give new life to an item that needs some simple fixing.
  • rescue cans, bottles and papers that belong in recycling.

 There is an excellent photo series at Instructibles called Dumpster Dipping (for a small planet or just for fun). The author describes it as:

“… an enjoyable activity involving a pleasant bike ride, a hunt, the thrill of discovery, the mystery of recent archeology, forensic storytelling, good Karma recycling, and a form of shopping with green environmental impact. It helps me get in touch with my early human hunter gathering roots. It is similar to gold panning, … It is also possible to undo your entire carbon footprint through the recycling of other people’s former stuff.”


  • Go around your immediate neighbourhood. Nearby finds are easier to carry back.
  • Garbage day offers the best selection, and the last chance to save stuff from landfill.
  • Look for houses that are throwing away a large amount of stuff – after a Spring cleaning or someone moving out. The first of a month is a good time to find stuff left behind by former tenants.
  • I don’t bother opening up bags, unless they are located beside a lot of nice unbagged items, and look like they may contain useful stuff. Continue reading

Creativity in the kitchen

de-basil-cracker-dish.jpgRecently, Basil created this unique dish consisting of a layer of rice and lentils on top of a large Swedish cracker. It is topped with slightly burnt fried onions and nuts. Basil got distracted half way through cooking by seeing (and trying to catch with a bucket) a mouse, hence the burnt food. But it was very delicious anyway.

We believe in being as humane as possible when dealing with our mouse residents. has a good article called Dealing with mice and rats: A humane approach to pest control. I will post more about mice later.

Garbage is another person’s treasure – how to give away junk


I am always amazed at how easy it is to give away stuff in front of our house. Even things that I consider to be complete junk get snapped up, and I am no stranger to scavenging. Many of the items in our house were found in the trash. This is a great way to cut down on the “garbage” that gets sent to landfills or incinerators, while at the same time helping people in need.

Meagan moved out this month and left behind an old bed (see photo above), wobbly shelf and a bunch of stuff that she intended to throw away. Joe claimed an old chair for his room, then helped me move the rest of the discarded furniture to the curb. The wobbly shelf made of white particle board was grabbed by the time we got back to the front door!

I knew the old stained bed would be a harder “sell”. So I attached a note that read: “Good Bed. No bed bugs, no cats, non-smoking house.” The bed was gone after two days! I was amazed. All the smaller items have also been picked up. Only the old pillows remain.

Tips on how best to give away junk:

  • Arrange items as neatly and attractively as possible.
  • Put items out well ahead of garbage day. Or if garbage day arrives, remove the items for give-away from the curb, then put them back after the garbage truck has passed.
  • If a plug-in item such as a toaster, stereo or tool works, attach a note saying: “It works.” If it is broken, leave a note explaining this. Someone may know how to fix it or may want it for parts.
  • de-garbage-sign.jpgWhen giving away old couches, bedding or carpets, leave a note explaining if the home was free from smoking, bed bugs, cockroaches, cats or dogs. Recently bed bugs have become a problem in Toronto. Some people are discarding infested items, but if the temperature outside is below freezing this will kill them. During warmer weather, if you see a nice item without a note, the only way to tell if it is safe would be to knock on the door of the house.
  • If rain if forecast, cover items with plastic or move them to a sheltered place until the rain stops.
  • If you have the time and energy, hold a garage sale first. If people have to pay something, they are more likely to value and make use of it. At the end of the day, leave the unsold stuff by the curb.
  • Online, you can make use of Craigslist or FreeCycle to get rid of stuff.

Eating local organic in December


Last week, I went to Dufferin Grove organic Farmer’s Market where there is still a good variety of local produce. I got a large Chinese cabbage, apples, potatoes, red onion, beets, fresh fennel, baby bok choy and a buttercup squash. Behind the red onion (see photo) is a piece of Maria’s delicious organic Spiced Fruitcake. I also bought greenhouse-grown coriander, homemade granola and buckwheat flour from one of the farmers. The radicchio and celery root are from the previous week and the carrots and burdock root are from Karma Food Coop (also local and organic).

I was surprised to see local greens. The farmer told me that greens can be covered with special sheets of plastic or burlap to protect them from the cold and extend the harvest season. The sheets are reusable.

Tonight, using the above greens, squash and red onion, I made a quick but tasty stew. I just fried the onion and squash for a few minutes in the bottom of a large pot, then added some spices, salt, a dried hot pepper, some black beans and water. Right near the end, I added chopped cabbage and bok choy.

Foods from our kitchen

Delicious Earth banner small

Our banner has been updated with a picture of some the food in the kitchen of our co-op house. From left to right: fresh soymilk from our automatic soymilk maker, red onion, apple and beet, ginger, hot pepper seeds, giant while corn (also known as maiz mote pelado or hominy) that Natalie uses to make a delicious vegan version of Mexican Posole (thick soup), black beans, local baby bok choy, buttercup squash and a potato. All the veggies came from the nearby Dufferin Grove Farmer’s Market.

A whole lot of pumpkin

How to turn a large pumpkin, into bountiful amounts of delicious food.


Natalie, who lives at the house, was given two pumpkins back in October – the kind that typically get used for Halloween then thrown in the garbage or composted. No one got around to carving them, so they sat on our front porch for a long time. The larger one was eventually conquered by squirrels. They slowly gnawed away at the thick skin until they had made a large enough hole to get inside and gather all the seeds. The other one was more or less spared. We brought it inside and put it in a cold room where it sat until a few days ago. I figured it was time to try to cook something out of it. I hate to see food go to waste.

It was a fair bit of work to chop it up, and separate out the seeds. I found a great recipe for roasting pumpkin seeds at (an excellent site for peer rated recipes) that involved soaking the seeds in salted water, then roasting them. They turned out delicious!

Next, I used the seed soaking water as a soup base. I made a large soup with some of the cooked pumpkin pieces, greens, ginger, spices, fresh dried hot pepper (from our neighbour’s garden), lentils, and a few things that needed to be used up in the fridge. The soup is not shown in the picture above – it was eaten too quickly.

I still had a lot of pumpkin pieces, so I decided to have a go at making pumpkin pie filling to eat as a pudding. I found a promising recipe at recipezaar and tried it out. It tasted too bland so I doubled the spice. I also added some roasted chestnuts that we had on hand. I only used a third as much sweetener – maple syrup. Turned out great.

Braun MR 430 HC MultiQuick 1 Speed Handheld BlenderTip: Typically these kind of recipes call for a food processor or blender. I don’t like using such devices as they are a lot of work to clean out. Instead I used a handheld blender (see photo), a very convenient tool for mixing stuff right in a pot or bowl. I also used it to turn the soup from chunky to smooth, right in the pot.