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Looking forward to local food
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Looking forward to local food

This weather can suck a lemon. Two lemons, actually.

I can’t bring myself to look at the forecast, but there’s allegedly another Colorado low on the horizon. So, instead of dwelling on this endless winter, let’s focus on warmer thoughts. One of my favourite warm-weather traditions is walking to the farmer’s market to pick up my weekly allotment of local vegetables. It’s an experience I usually have to wait until June to enjoy, but CSA (community supported agriculture) season arrived early this year.

On Tuesday, I headed over to R.A. Steen Community Centre to collect an order from Jonathan’s Farm — a direct market operation near Lockport that sells produce at the Wolseley Farmers’ Market. We’ve had a summer and winter CSA subscription with them for the last few years, and I was stoked when they recently introduced a spring veggie option.

This week’s pick-up, however, was a bit surreal. The community centre hockey rinks were still intact and Jonathan himself was bundled in a winter parka. Even with snow on the ground, packing fresh radishes, lettuce and bok choy into a tote bag filled me with excitement for the season to come. With the cost of groceries on the rise, I’m also pretty happy to have already paid for the bulk of our produce until October.

Prepare to eat seasonally with a CSA subscription. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

If you’ve never purchased food directly from a farmer or signed up for a CSA, but are interested in the process, here are a few things to consider (based on my own experiences):

Finding a farmer

Direct Farm Manitoba is a great resource for rooting out small-scale producers. The organization has a directory of farmers from across the province and you can narrow down the search by product (beef, eggs, grains, fruit, etc.) and region. CSA Manitoba keeps a list of farms offering CSAs, and Fireweed Food Co-op members can get access to a regular veggie box. You can also look into the lineup at your local farmers’ market to see if any of the vendors offer a subscription service. A convenient location will make a weekly pick-up schedule easier to manage.

What to expect

Prepare to eat seasonally — this can be both a blessing and a curse. Unlike the grocery store, produce selection will be limited to what’s ready for harvest each week. This has given me better insight into the ebbs and flows of Manitoba’s growing season, but if you’re not a fan of, say, zucchinis, mid-summer might get a little overwhelming. When it comes to ordering bulk meat you will likewise have less control over the cuts you receive. You can’t, for example, order a half pig and expect all bacon. The upshot is that you know exactly where your food is coming from and the kind of agriculture you’re supporting. Cooking is also more exciting with new and changing ingredients.

How much to order

Think about how many people you’re feeding and how much storage space you have. Buying direct often means buying in bulk. Most farmers offer different subscription sizes and my advice is to go smaller — at least initially. This will help you avoid food waste and a freezer full of beef with no room for ice cream. Splitting an order with friends or family is another option. There are also plenty of farms that do à la carte ordering for meat, vegetables, eggs and other things. This is a great way to sample products and test out the ordering process before committing to a whole season.

What it costs

Our 18-week summer CSA subscription cost $374 this year, which works out to about $20 a week. It’s more than enough food to feed two adults, and we often have leftovers week to week. We still go grocery shopping during the summer, but rarely buy vegetables unless we need something specific. The going rate for farm eggs is about $6.50, which is less than what you’ll pay for free-range eggs from a big-box grocery store right now. Meat prices vary, so I’ll leave the comparisons up to you. Yes, it can be daunting to pay for a large amount of food in advance, but I appreciate the set cost and being able to shop my freezer throughout the year. I also recognize that eating local can be cost- and logistically prohibitive for many people. Most farmers’ markets operate in affluent neighbourhoods and prices don’t mesh with everyone’s budget. I did a story last year on Fireweed’s Veggie Van pilot project, which aims to get affordable, fresh produce into inner-city neighbourhoods. The co-op also runs a pay-it-forward program at the South Osborne Farmers’ Market.

Fireweed’s Veggie Van pilot project aims to get affordable, fresh produce into inner-city neighbourhoods. (Alex Lupal / Free Press files)

Hope that answers some of your burning questions (if you in fact had any burning questions) about community-supported agriculture! Feel free to reach out if you’d like more info or want to chat about your own CSA experiences.

Eva

Tasty tidbits

 While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought closures throughout the restaurant industry, you almost never hear of a shuttered eatery coming back for business. But that’s exactly what’s happening with Hermanos, the popular South American-inspired restaurant in the east Exchange District. In a video posted on social media last week, proprietor Noel Bernier announced Hermanos would reopen in its original location on Bannatyne Avenue, after closing two years ago, having left the tables set for the next potential tenant… who never materialized. Hermanos is slated to open next month, with reservations starting May 15. Check its website for more.

 Assiniboia Downs is hosting a new summer festival showcasing Canadian drink makers. The Gulping Horse Beverage Fest runs July 15-16 with more than 30 vendors promoting their beers, spirits, wines, ciders, meads, coolers and spritzers. Details are sparse, but the event also promises food and live entertainment. Tickets are on sale this coming Monday.

 Speaking of summer, tickets are now live for the new Current festival, slated to take place at The Forks, Aug. 12-14. The event is being billed as a “weekend of summer luxury” with the food offerings curated by local chef Ben Kramer and the drink options designed by the owners of the Nomad Box Bar, including beer from Sookram’s, Nonsuch and Barn Hammer. The music lineup was announced this week and features headliners Begonia, William Prince, Royal Canoe and The Bros. Landreth.

 More summer: Anyone who has spent time at Victoria Beach knows all about Einfeld’s Bakery on Birch Avenue. The popular spot was an institution for decades in the cottage community before the owners retired this past year, and the lease for the bakery became available. It appears the ovens won’t be cool for long, as the space will reopen with a new owner (Jen Leslie) and new name — Village Green Bakery. According to social media posts, Leslie hopes to have the bakery up and running in June, with the popular smile cookies sticking around along with other faves such as the beach bread and cinnamon buns. Other potential additions include house-made sourdough, salads and more, as well as the option to pay by credit card/debit card (what a concept!), order in advance for pick up or have goods delivered in the community by bike.

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 Crêperie Ker Breizh has been serving up tasty treats at festivals, farmers markets and from their Esplanade Riel kiosk — and are now making the move into a brick-and-mortar location. The crêperie is slated to open on the ground floor of Sherbrook Flats, located at 267 Sherbrook St. (think across from where you’d turn in to go to the Tim Hortons).

 

Recommended fare

Ben: After having read (and loved) Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 post-pandemic novel Station Eleven near the outset of our real-life COVID-19 pandemic (maybe not recommended in hindsight) and having watched the (excellent) HBO mini-series (via Crave) based on the book a few months back, I recently blasted through the Canadian-born author’s new novel, Sea of Tranquility. The stories of four main characters span centuries past, present and future, and include time travel, lunar colonies, a mysterious glitch in reality and so much more. That might sound weird but it’s a beautiful, propulsive book that weaves together the narrative threads in a way that’s brilliant and satisfying.

We just celebrated my partner’s birthday and ordered what could be deemed an obscene amount of sushi from the folks at Naru Sushi in Osborne Village. The quality is consistently top-notch and the prices totally reasonable. Their delivery range (via SkipTheDishes) doesn’t quite reach our place, but it’s well worth the drive to pick up.

Eva: I recently ripped through Season One of Our Flag Means Death, a swashbuckling rom-com starring Taika Waititi as a jaded Blackbeard and Rhys Darby as a wealthy landowner who dreams of leaving it all behind to become a pirate. It’s full of dry Kiwi humour and unlikely romance. I can’t wait for Season Two. Watch it on Crave.

I’ve been on a big mini-quiche kick lately. No, I’m not filling my dance card with high tea events, I like to make a batch on the weekend for snacks and quick breakfasts during the week. This recipe has a good variety of fillings, but I skip the pastry and use unsweetened tart shells instead.

 

What’s simmering

Low Life Barrel House hopes to open later this month. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ben is checking in one last time with the folks behind Low Life Barrel House, a brewery set to open at 398 Daly St. N., later this month (they hope). Watch for a big feature in the 49.8 section of the Free Press soon.

 

Homemade

In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the Free Press is making a community cookbook. Submit a recipe and be entered into a draw to win a copy of the cookbook and other prizes. You can also join our Facebook group. The deadline to submit is May 20!

Easter weekend has come and gone, but babka is forever. Here’s a recipe for Ukrainian Easter bread from Shirley Kalyniuk.

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