Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

With Home Ec being all about Honey this month, I thought it would be fun to learn and share a bit about the Honey Bee this week.

We’re far from experts (although we’re lucky to have a few Bee Keepers and Bee Experts coming to Home Ec this week) but I thought I’d share this 3-minute video on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  It’s less than 3 minutes and is in the style of an infographic.  It’s a little hard to read at first but it’s a neat way to present a complicated subject matter (though I turned the sound off to make it easier to concentrate for me):

If you know more about CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), what feedback do you have about the video?  Do you have any great honey bee resources to share?  We have a whole lot to learn!

Graffiti in Kensignton Market Protests Unsustainable Fish

Toronto’s Kensington Market is a little bit of a world unto itself.  It’s a village within a city – a village with a unique view of the global village, politics and creativity.  It’s a place we visit a few times a month and rather enjoy.

The market is home to several fish stores.  Like most fish mongers, the ones in the market sell fish that many organizations and individuals consider less than sustainable.  As we walked through the market a few weeks ago we found giant pieces of graffiti on the road which protested the stores it lay in front of:

Graffiti in Kensignton Market Protests Unsustainable Fish Kensington Market

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The Risks of An Early Spring on Farming

I’m a classically trained project manager which means I view ‘risk’ as being potentially harmful as equally as I view it’s possible benefits.  Many people think of risk as only being a bad thing – yet we buy a lottery ticket and risk a small amount of money hoping for the potential benefit that far outweighs the almost certain loss of the money expended.

Like much of North America, we’ve had an abnormally mild winter (I’ve seen snow twice) and an extra warm March (there were shots of people in their bathing suits on the beach in the news yesterday).  It’s still early to tell if this is truly the start of spring or a pause of the inevitable but most are convinced that the worst is over.  One farmer I spoke with on the weekend told me they are almost 60 days ahead of schedule and are hoping for a record year.

Time will tell if we’re in the throes of spring or just being teased but there are risks for farmers either way.  Here’s a few of them:

  • The most obvious is the positive possibility of an early growing season which means harvest could be ready sooner.  This means possible early cash flow for farmers as well as a potential longer selling season.
  • There is also reports of increased yields based on early planting (such as these indications from Manitoba last year)
  • A less-than-obvious side-effect from the unseasonably warm winter is that some plants (i.e. Kale) were hearty enough to survive the winter enough that the sun and some water is enough to bring them back to life; enough to bring to market in the next week-to-two.

The Risks of An Early Spring on Farming


Once we’re past the optimism, there’s a considerable list of concerns:

  • Warmth is not the only thing a seed needs to grow – an early spring (or weather that’s a false indication of such) can lead to moisture problems.
  • If frost or a freeze hits and destroys the seed, federal crop insurance (this is in the US, not sure what is in place in Canada), will not cover for the loss of that seed.
  • An early spring brings the threat of different types of plant viruses (such as these discovered in peanuts planted in early spring).
  • An early heat wave can cause fruit trees to bud which is good unless there’s a subsequent freeze which can kill the delicate buds.  This link claims almost every fruit was lost in Tennessee in 2007 after as an Easter frost followed a warm March.
  • The warmth helps other things – like pests and insects who get an early start as well.  The lack of frozen ground allows them to return to activity early in the year which can threaten the yield of a farmer – or result in crops which are sprayed with more chemical than normal for the concerned consumer.  Here’s another article which shares more of the same.
  • Statistics show that when March is warm, April and May are often colder than normal.

The Risks of An Early Spring on Farming


So let’s get out and enjoy the weather and the moment that’s here now – but also be cautious and hopeful when it comes to planting and for those who depend on the sun to bring us our sustenance!

Do you think it will be a warm, cold or moderate summer?

Slow Fish Toronto – Good, Clean and Fair Fish

We’ve been championing sustainable fish for the last year or two.  It’s one of the last remaining natural food sources we have and many of the options that we’ve been provided as consumers are either endangered or leaving tremendous damage in their wake (pun intended).  My Mother grew up in a fishing village in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I’ve seen the results of the collapse of the fisheries in 30+ years of visiting her home.  The impact on the ocean has a direct impact to the people who once depended on it for a livelihood that no longer can.

I am thrilled to share the arrival of Slow Fish Toronto to our vibrant foodscape:

Slow Fish Toronto   Good, Clean and Fair Fish

Slow Fish was announced a few weeks back with the first event (as part of a series called “Fishing After Dark”) being hosted at Hooked.  Slow Fish is being championed by Slow Food Toronto and is part of an International Effort by Slow Food to inspire reforms to the choices we have and the ethics behind them.  The mandate is a simple one: Good, Clean and Fair Fish.

Slow Fish will run several events to raise awareness and call to action.  They are starting with a lecture series (called ‘Close Encounters’) that will bring people closer to their food and how it is sourced.  I’ve been told of a few of the possible lecturers and I am truly blown away by how amazing this program is likely to be.

Slow Fish will also be launching a series of events in the summer and are looking to launch a fishing trip as part of their vision.

I’m thrilled that this program has arrived in our city and will be excited to share as events are announced and happen!

Birth Control for Deer Approved In Maryland…

Some of our newer readers may be surprised to find that sustainable hunting is a topic on WellPreserved.  It is a topic I continue to struggle to write about and something I typically reserve for the fall when the hunt occurs.

If the topic makes you squeamish, I understand.  If you’re curious to see more about my perspective on the topic (and how I’ve struggled with the decision to consume meat and hunt and preserve part of our diet), a good intro to my struggles and process around deciding to hunt follows (there are NO pictures of deceased animals):

It has also become a fall tradition that I share my complete journal entries from 9-10 days in the woods for the moose hunt.  Again you’ll find no pictures of dead animals but I have tried to share an intimate perspective on a way of life that spans 100′s of years (if not longer) in my family.  Each of these series is 8,000-12,000 words (over multiple posts) and they were a labor of love to write – and to read (the easiest way to navigate is through a link at the top of the page or you can find the complete index here – just read from bottom to top):

The choice to eat what we eat is deeply personal and emotionally complex.  I encourage questions, comments and opposing views – as long as we all remain considerate of each other.  I was trained to not talk about hunting for most of my life as it can raise a lot of emotion with others.  In this age of factory farming, genetic modification and irreversible changes to our environment I believe it is essential to discuss such things.

Wild game is, by most definitions and in most environments it is naturally found in is free-range, ethically raised and hormone-free.  The selective harvest of the species allows for surveying the population (we have to submit a report on how many we see in our area every year), the health of the population (the jaw is examined by the Ministry for Health in many cases), and helps ensure that the population is not over-harvested or under-harvested.

According to Car-Accidents.com (who attribute the following to the National Highway Traffic Safety Act) there are:

  • 1.5 million car accidents per year involving deer in the US.
  • 150 human fatalities
  • 10,000 personal injuries
  • potentially much higher numbers as there are inconsistencies on how different states report deer accidents

This doesn’t include agriculture and other losses.

I should be clear that I don’t think deer are vermin and part of the problem is how we are encroaching on their wild habitat.  I’m simply trying to demonstrate that, in some cases, there appears to be a very real conflict and competition between the number of deer and the number of people in our world.  The solution is not to mass exterminate.

Dramatic shifts in populations of a single species can throw an entire ecosystem out of balance.  Beyond the ‘inconvenience’ to humans, large populations of deer populations provide more food for wolves.  A significant boon of deer is generally cycled a few years later by a boon of wolves who feast until the population falls significantly enough that the wolf population begins to starve off.  Uncontrolled pendulum shifts can throw the entire system into vast chaos (whether humans are capable of managing such populations is an entirely up to debate and one that I haven’t even resolved for myself let alone others :)).

The State of Maryland has become the first state to approve a chemical contraceptive for deer (source article from the CTPost).  According to the state’s director of wildlife, the intention is to use it sparingly.

The current process to apply to contraceptive is as follows:

  • Tranquillize the deer
  • Inject it with the chemical
  • Tag the animal with a notice that it’s been injected and that it should not be consumed by humans.

And the fine print:

  • It costs $1,000 a deer
  • It is 80% effective in the first year
  • 50% of the animals injected will become pregnant the following year if the process is not repeated then (note that the tags do not allow tracking of the animals so this is a ‘hit and miss’ exercise)

This raises so many questions to me:

  • What will happen to the wolf that eats it?
  • What will happen as these animals do produce offspring and how will they be genetically effected?
  • If a hunter harvests one of these animals – do they leave it for waste (I would become physically ill to kill for the sake of killing)?
  • How will this potentially balloon the harvest?  For example, Ontario allows most hunters to harvest a single animal.  Since you can’t consume a drugged deer, does this mean that killing one gives you a ‘second chance’ to kill another?  This would lead to more harvested than planned.
  • Who is paying for this process and who is making money off it?
  • Can we not control it through increasing the harvest and teaching people the ways of the past?
  • Are we slowly evolving the philosophies of factory farming and applying them to our wild resources?

There are so many more questions that I just can’t find the words for.

I understand the emotional, physical and spiritual ramifications of hunting animals for food are very complex and impossible to accept for many.  I hope we can look at all ways to maximize the sustainability of our forests and the world around us and I’ll try to keep an open mind at all techniques.  I’m just going to have to work extra hard at understanding this one…

11% Fair Trade

Posters have started to appear across Toronto as a multinational food producer declares it has gone fair trade.  There`s enough negativity on the web in general and we`re dedicated to not simply criticizing or attacking things we see.  My opinion on a giant corporation supporting fair trade is not necessarily relevant here – and I`d like to look a little below the surface `love it`or `hate it`dialogue.

Further research shows that 11% of the companies product is slated for fair trade.  The product cannot be made locally due to climate and is typically found in the third world.

Is it just me or is it odd that a company would transform 11% of it`s product to fair trade? It almost implies that 89% is not fair trade or not fair?

Fairtrade, as defined by the body that certified the product:

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

Isn`t this a little all or nothing?  89% of their product (which is in a different package and is sold cheaper) does not adjust such injustices (their words)?  Is this exploiting the entire program, confusing people and riding a wave of good will that is not in the spirit of how and what consumers think they are participating in (i.e. could their entire product line be confused as Fairtrade)?  Could this threaten the entire future of Fairtrade and water down the value of the program?

On the other side of the fence, perhaps this is the start of something amazing.  The start of more of their product being transformed to Fairtrade and will add pressure to others to join suit.  Perhaps this is a major victory in the equitable treatment of farmers everywhere.

If there are two products sitting on a shelf from the same company and one is 25% more expensive, will people pay the price for Fairtrade for an otherwise similar product?

The question in my mind (with no definitive answer) is simple: is Fairtrade certifying a company or a product?  Both the questions and the answers seem to get more and more complex these days.

Large companies investigating food ethics?

The last few weeks have seen a few announcements from large food chains that possibly show a changing approach to food.

On January 26, Target announced that they would no longer sell farmed salmon.  Their justification was a shift towards greater sustainability and approaches which preserve local habitats.  I am not qualified to comment on the validity of the argument though Seachoice (a Canadian program supported by 5 Canadian Conservation organizations including the Suzuki Foundation) agrees with their assessment of farmed salmon (placing the wild salmon as an item of some concern).

Farmed salmon has come under fire for a variety of reasons (which of course have counterpoints) which include unnatural diets (including corn), threats to local habitat and use of antibiotics that can alter the salmon and their environment.  I have seen a single salmon farm in my life – it was a series of nets just off the shores of Cape Breton.  I was told by local scuba divers that there was a giant amount of refuse in the area (fish do have to use the bathroom) that they anecdotally felt was altering the local aquaculture.  There were also concerns of the nets breaking and the farmed salmon mixing with the wild salmon in the area.

There are many sides to any argument and now that the second largest discount retailer in the US has stepped in, the argument is bound to escalate.

Whole Foods is a less surprising entrant to the world of food ethics.  They have announced that they are phasing out sources of oil that originate from the Alberta Oil Sands, justifying that they `create higher than normal greenhouse footprints.`

There are many sides to this debate as well and I suppose it`s less surprising that a company like Whole Foods is stepping into a debate like this one.

An any rate, 2 fairly significant stories in a short time.  It`s fascinating to watch and we`ll be looking for more.

trash talking my city.

Let’s talk about trash. It’s a popular conversation right now in my city. Toronto is on day 24 of a city workers strike which includes garbage pickup and it’s getting messy. I know, I know…on a blog dedicated to food, the last thing you want to see is pictures of garbage.

trash talking my city.

But I think it’s a great time to start talking about waste, and a lot of it has to do with our habits of consumption. We can right now look around and SEE how much trash we produce, it’s clogging the gutters, filling up parks and outdoor skating rinks that have been designated as drop-offs, and it’s piling up in back alley’s and garages. There has been a battle waging over whether to spray the heaps at the drop-off locations with pesticides. The pesticide will keep insects and animals away but will mix with the goo seeping from the bags, go into the sewage system and directly into Lake Ontario, not to mention soak into the ground and contaminate where we like to play.

We’re not by any means perfect, I know it’s difficult, but being concious about what you’re purchasing and consuming is a great first step. Just because we usually can’t see (or smell) it all over the city doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We’re all guilty of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ way of thinking, but it has to go somewhere, right now it’s everywhere.

Maybe go get yourself a really good quality travel coffee mug.

trash talking my city.

I got mine at Starbucks last September. It’s thick stainless steel, no handle (handles are hard to fit in the purse/bag), The heavy duty plastic lid seals closed – no leaks, and it literally keeps my drink warm for hours (I’m a slow coffee drinker). It was $22, I could have got one that was cheaper, but I shopped around to find the one that matched my needs, and judging by it’s durability I’ll be carrying it around for years. I have pretty much used it every day since buying it. I estimate that’s about 290 days, which means it’s cost per use right now is $.076 and getting lower by the day, That also means I haven’t used about 290 paper cups/lids/sleeves.

I know that the coffee I drink had to come from far away, but I choose to drink Fair Trade the majority of time. I also know that 290 days of coffee is at minimum $580 (CDN), – Thank goodness I’m not a latte girl or that would be way higher! – the majority of that has been spent in F’Coffee, which is the independently run shop in my neighbourhood, I know the owner, I watched it open, It’s a great meeting place, and going there every day connects me with the community (and keeps me from going insane working on my own!).

Walking downtown the other day past overflowing garbage bins I watched people with their coffee, in the disposable paper cup and wondered where they were going to put the cup when they were finished. Even when the trash is finally cleaned up, think about what you can do every day to reduce the size of the heap you’re personally creating, think about what happens to whatever-it-is you’re buying when you’re done with it.

Joel came across a trailer for “No Impact Man” the other day:

“For one year, my wife, my 2-year-old daughter, my dog and I, while living in the middle of New York City, are attempting to live without making any net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets…”

It’s pretty extreme, but looks like an entertaining documentary. The trailer is on the blog along with a lot of posts and tips on how everyone can reduce their impact a little on a day to day basis without going to extremes. Perfection is difficult, but you can find little ways to slowly change your habits…it might start with a commuter mug but the little things can add up.

Earth Hour…Top 10 Recipes

Yet another Earth Hour – a day to sit in the dark – we typically play trivial pursuit by candlelight.  It’s a fun evening – I imagine that the candle wax farmers are happy!

Just some random brainstorming on 10 foods that could be served tonight without cooking (with no regard to the 100 mile train of thought).  I highly expect that this will horrify most – it’s a loose collection of comfort food and junk food that brings me back to my youth.  Earth Hour reminds me of times when I was younger and decided to make a fort in the back yard and sleep in it with a friend – only it’s for adults too!  My food choices are thus heavily shaped by this association!

Here are some of my favorite no-cook snacks (enough to make a buffet):

1)  Gualcamole with nacho chips.
2)  Shrimp ring.  Gotta have a shrimp ring (it’s all about dipping!).
3)  Cheese – I like hard cheese better than soft in the dark (there’s no rhyme or reason why).
4)  Pickles.  Pickled garlic would be great – but I have none :(.
5)  Hummus, pita and hot sauce.
6)  Meat sticks – even Hot Rods will do!  Nothing too fancy for a dark night.
7)  Chips.  Gotta have chips.  Not Pringles, not Doritos.  Chips.  Several flavors would be even better.
8)  If there’s a campfire handy, I’d throw some marshmallows on.  That may be cheating though.
9)  Pate and crackers.  Mmm mmm meat spread.
10)  Wine in the fanciest glass possible – just feels ironic to have no lights and a luxury glass.

Enjoy your darkness – see you on the other side!