Eat Local, Taste Global

17 Aug

It’s raining so much today that the soil has turned into clay and my flip flops have grown 3-inch wedge heels of mud and grass. The toe strap keeps popping out of its socket as I tramp through rows of veggies. But the people I’ve been brought to meet by Emily Van Halem, author of Eat Local, Taste Global, are enjoying the downpour: It has been a hot dry summer.

We’re at Downsview Park in Northern Toronto with urban farmers Amy Cheng and Damian Adjhoda. They grow onions, lettuce, carrots, kale–all the Canadian farmers’ market standards–but they’re also planting okra, tomatillos, callaloo and many other veggies originating from outside of the country.

It’s a long commute here for Amy from her home in Scarborough, and she’ll easily put in 60 hours a week sowing, weeding, watering and harvesting her crops, which are among the tallest, greenest and most abundant on the community farm.

Amy was gardening on a small scale for years before becoming a farmer and has always tried to eat local and organic. Having noticed an absence of locally grown organic vegetables like bok choy and Asian eggplant in the grocery stores where her parents and members of the local Chinese community shopped, she became committed to filling that gap in the market.

She has learned a lot from Damian, who has been farming for over a decade. His family is originally from Saint Lucia, and he’s experimenting with vegetables typically found in Caribbean cuisine, to sell at the farmers market in nearby Markham, where he lives.

As well as producing impressive yard-long beans (they look as cool as they sound) and amaranth (great in pepperpot soup), he has coaxed African sweet potatoes into thriving in Ontarian soils.

Amy and Damian are just two of many farmers and gardeners across greater Toronto growing world crops. Their work helps prevent the environmental damage of importing produce from thousands of miles away and serves the diverse communities of the multicultural city, who sometimes find themselves living in food deserts without proper access to affordable, fresh and familiar produce.

After touring Downsview, we all head to McVean Farm in Brampton. There we meet a husband-and-wife team: Rodney Garnes, originally from Barbados, and Margaret Zondo from Zimbabwe. Their city farm, Southern Horizons, sits on a 3-acre plot. The couple grow dozens of vegetables and herbs from around the world, including ginger mint, West Indian red hot peppers and Vietnamese coriander.

“Farming is a rite of passage in Zimbabwe,” says Margaret, who had no formal training before taking on the land. “Your grandmother would teach you how to plant peanuts and then how to process and serve them–fresh, dry roasted or ground into peanut butter. Every kid had to work and learn.”

Margaret and Rodney sell their produce at accessible prices at The Stop Community Centre, in nearby Etobicoke and informally to members of their church and neighbours. Having grown up in a village where the chief had everybody contribute food to a granary system that provided for widows, orphans and the infirm, Margaret values the principle that everybody has the right to eat well.

Photo from:

As we stand out in the fields and snack on sweet cherry tomatoes straight from the vine, the growers fall into animated conversation about topics like learning to appreciate thistles, saving seeds and how to cook some of their lesser known vegetables.

Buchi, a microbiologist-turned-urban farmer, volunteers for Rodney and Margaret in exchange for a personal plot where she can experiment with growing seeds from her country of origin, Nigeria.

And it’s just that kind of information that has been brought together in Emily’s book, Eat Local, Taste Global, which she launched earlier this week. To encourage producers and consumers to learn more about world crops, she discusses some of the veggies, fruits and herbs that can be successfully grown in Ontario and covers everything from planting calendars, to pest control to watering tips, as well as offering recipes for dishes such as chicken and okra curry and quick kimchi.

The guide was produced for The Stop in collaboration with Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, the World Crops Project, the Carrot Cache, Ontario Market Investment Fund and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, more organizations supporting culturally diversified growing initiatives in Canada.

Its content is relevant to farmers, gardeners, home cooks and chefs–and not just in Ontario. This is a concise and easy-to-use tool for anybody in Canada curious about growing and eating more organic produce from around the world. You can find out more, order a copy of your own or download an excerpt by following this link.

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I’m interested to know what world vegetables you’ve successfully grown in Canada this year and what dishes you’ve made with them. Bragging in the comments section is actively encouraged.

10 Responses to “Eat Local, Taste Global”

  1. S August 17th, 2012 at 12:21 PM #

    Can you please sell these in Oakville, Ontario?

    • Valerie Howes August 17th, 2012 at 1:30 PM #

      Hi S, I believe you can contact The Stop to order copies. Just follow the link at the end of the story. Happy growing!

  2. August 19th, 2012 at 9:31 PM #

    My folks are from the Mediterranean, so grilled spinach, lots of ruby red tomatoes, fennel, red peppers for grilling, zucchini (for pie, bbq, fritters), and then oregano, several varieties of basil are a must in my wee Canadian garden.

    • Valerie Howes August 20th, 2012 at 10:30 PM #

      Lovely that you’re growing several different types of basil, Mira… must be fun choosing just the right one to use in every dish.

  3. Hannah August 20th, 2012 at 1:05 PM #

    Cherry tomatoes straight from the vine, my mouth is watering! Fresh tomatoes and snap peas are my favorite things from the garden. Wish I had my own garden this year because I love the fragrance of growing tomatoes!

    • Valerie Howes August 20th, 2012 at 10:32 PM #

      Have you tried growing tomatoes in a pot either on a balcony or in a sunny window, Hannah? I have one pot of cherry tomatoes this summer, and it keeps on giving… just enough for a side salad or two each week.

      • Hannah August 21st, 2012 at 6:48 AM #

        Thank you Valerie thats a great idea! Yeah I guess most of us think we need to have a lot of land to have a vegetable garden. I think I’ll try growing them in a sunny window because then I can enjoy both the sight and the fragrance of the plant, plus Ive read that house plants are really good for air purification. Thanks again!

  4. Faz Khan August 26th, 2012 at 9:37 AM #

    For the last 28 years I have been growing a variety of vegetables and fruits not only in the ground but in pots.
    For example, Indian spinach(or callaloo), okra, hot peppers(including mari weri), squash, eggplants, herbs(basil, lemon balm, spearmint,oregano, lavender, celery, parsley), seim, bora, jingee( chinese okra),tomatoes, shallots, onions, cucumbers, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.
    Some of these plants/herbs do very well in pots expecially, the eggplants, squash, jingee, spinach(calaloo), hot peppers, tomatoes, etc.. An added bonus is that I am able to bring the Indian spinach and hot peppers indoors during the winter months and they still produce peppers and spinach.
    Pesticide free and I am still able to bottle my tomatoes, freeze my squash, spinach, etc. make strawberry and raspberry jams and jellies(I had a bumper crop this year with the result that I was to make 70 bottles).
    All it takes is a little work and you are rewarded with lots of vegetables and fruits

    • Valerie Howes August 26th, 2012 at 12:25 PM #

      Hi Faz,
      Thanks for your comment; I think there are a lot of people quietly growing world crops across the country, who have been doing so for years, and I’m excited that groups like the World Crops Project and Vinelands research are now talking with gardeners like you to learn more about what works well in our climate and soils so they can share that knowledge with farmers. I’m impressed with your success growing produce indoors… something I haven’t had so much luck with yet.

  5. Denis Genereux August 28th, 2012 at 10:54 AM #

    Hi Amy,
    What a nice article on growing locally of global fresh vegetables. It good to see that these items are available locally because of hard working people like you. Keep up the good work. P.S. I know your Mom and she is a hard worker to.

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