Spotlight on Sustainability – Santropol Roulant

This week’s Spotlight on Sustainability comes to you from Montreal! Introducing Santropol Roulant, a community hub that strives to unite Montrealers through producing, preparing, and distributing food.

market

The Roulant runs a Meals-on-Wheels program for community members who have need help accessing healthy food. Young Montrealers are given the opportunity to assist others through volunteering, participating in gardening and cooking workshops, or working at the Roulant while older residents and receive a nutritional boost and a chance to connect with the younger generation. “These relationships strengthen not just our community, but also an entire future generation,” says the Santropol Roulant website.

farm

Santropol Roulant runs three different agriculture sites for the fresh ingredients in their Meals-on-Wheels: a large farm on western tip of the island of Montreal, a garden on McGill University’s lower campus, and a rooftop garden on top of Roulant headquarters. The Roulant’s agricultural practices all aim to support a “healthy, just, and sustainable” food system. For example, food scraps from their rooftop garden travel down to the basement, where the Roulant’s worms turn them into compost, which is in turn brought back to the rooftop garden.

Santropol

From June to October, Roulant vegetables can be purchased at their weekly farmer’s market at the corner of Roy and Coloniale. The community hub also runs a weekly CSA program and sells low-cost vegetables at the Little Burgundy Citizen’s Market, which encourages local growers to bring fresh produce to their neighbourhood to make up for the absence of any major grocery stores in the area.

basket

The Roulant runs an impressive variety of activities and services. Frozen meals can be purchased from the Roulant kitchen, similar to those for the Meals-on-Wheels program and the Roulant office building has a general store which sells preserved goods from their gardens and farm. They also have a catering service and a bike shop—there is an endless wealth of creativity at Santropol Roulant!

To learn more about Santropol Roulant, visit their website.

– Arianna Cheveldave

Spotlight on Sustainability – Week 21

This week’s Spotlight on Sustainability features Carol Berry of Courtenay, B.C.! In 2014, Berry became concerned about the plight of bees how their decline would hurt food production. So, she decided to do something about it.

Berry reached out to the Comox Valley Beekeepers Association and proposed that an unused area of the gravel pit where she works for Lafarge Canada, Inc. become a location for beehives. Today, beekeeper Chris Woodrow cares for somewhere between 60,000 and 180,000 bees in three hives, tucked away in the corner of the pit where they go undisturbed and have access to plenty of food and water.

Bee hives

But Berry didn’t stop there. After reading about a farmer who donated squash to the food bank, Berry was inspired to make further use of the gravel pit. She repurposed an old bathtub abandoned on site and started growing a salad bar in it, planting cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, and green onions. She also planted blueberries, strawberries, carrots, watermelon, zucchinis, pumpkins, potatoes, and more in raised beds and a patch 15-feet in diameter.

patch

“I think with all the problems in the world we need to help out any way we can,” said Berry, via email. “Something as simple as providing a place for bees can have a big impact on food production in the area. Without bees, there’s no food. And a simple garden can provide fresh food for many that are struggling with expenses. You do what you can.”

veggies potatoes

So far, Berry has donated 40 pounds of potatoes, 36 pounds of zucchini, 5 pounds of peas, and 5 pounds of green beans to her local food bank. She shows no signs of stopping, and serves as an astounding example of how small changes can make a big difference. So, what will you do?

– Arianna Cheveldave

A Look Into Victoria’s Flourishing Food Culture

Review of Dockside Dialogue #2 – July 14, 2016

by Sarah Hughes

There’s a lot happening with Victoria’s food scene. At least, that’s what I gathered at the second event of the Dockside Green Dialogues 2016 series at the Café Fantastico Bar and Deli. The venue buzzed and the crowd ranged modestly from ripening professionals to seasoned residents. I stumbled in in my farming attire and quickly snuck away to change into something less eau de manure and soak up the liveliness of the space.

As folks ducked to the bar to grab a last minute craft beer or cider, the room hushed and CBC Radio Victoria’s Khalil Akhtar made the introductions. Fantastico’s curator and manager, Kalynka Cherkosh, sat beside the beaming Hayley Rosenberg from Nourish Kitchen and Café. Cliff Leir, owner of Fol Epi bakery and new downtown restaurant Agrius, took a seat beside Daniele Mereu, the culinary specialist and brand manager at Sysco. And last but not least came rising urban farm star Chris Hildreth of Topsoil.

Dockside Dialogue panelists

Dockside Dialogue panelists: Hildreth, Cherkosh, Rosenberg, Leir, and Mereu

The event opened with a broad question about what Victoria has achieved in the past 20 years. Mereu snapped it up and said technology and the ability to look up anything on the Internet has made consumers more informed and prepared. While Mereu’s answer was a bit ambiguous, Leir commented on the expansion of farms and local markets in Victoria, along with the population willing to support these producers.

Cherkosh agreed. “There’s a real push for businesses to produce quality, wonderful, and beautiful fresh food,” she said, “because consumers are far more aware and intelligent and more involved in the process of eating, and more appreciative.”

Growing consumer awareness around food has brought a positive mind shift, but also expensive trends. It’s something that I’ve talked much about with friends and colleagues—the dichotomy between affordable, well-grown food, versus the artisan products that throw my monthly budget out of whack. Mereu used Moss St. Market as an example of where novelty foodie culture has overtaken the notion of simple, affordable, but good, food. And I don’t blame him. Moss St. boasts stalls of perky, organic bunches of kale, felty green pints of heirloom tomatoes, and intricately woven braids of garlic, but those three lovely items also leave you short 40 bucks.

But maybe that’s just the case with some of the niche markets. Responding to Akhtar’s following question about the high price of food, Hildreth said that the market model is only one solution for farmers growing for urban consumption. Hildreth opted out of selling at markets and instead created a business model that brings in the cash and serves up his greens fast. Topsoil, originally intended as a rooftop agriculture business and now located at Dockside Green, uses urban spaces to efficiently produce greens for local restaurants in Victoria. Unlike conventional farms, Hildreth works within the inner city and connects with restaurant owners on an almost daily basis.

Dockside Dialogues logo

Dockside Dialogue logo with Topsoil growing space

“If we [farmers] want to produce a lot of food we need to make it efficient and we need to make it more profitable,” Hildreth said. “The proximity we [Topsoil] have to our buyers really makes a difference for us. We can get our produce into the restaurant fridges about three-and-a-half minutes after it’s been harvested.”

Working closely with restaurants instead of relying on a middleman to sell his food means Hildreth gets firsthand advice from the chefs and owners, and customers. This allows him to better plan crops ahead of time and adjust them as much as he can within the season.

Defending markets, Nourish’s Rosenberg, who seems to have grown up in the garden, said that places like Moss St. Market promote the feeling of community. Many people don’t grow their own food–for lack of time, money, or space–and farmers’ markets provide a place where folks can absorb the atmosphere and connect with growers and farmers.

“Growing food is a craft, and most people don’t associate that right now,” Rosenberg said. “It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of investment, it takes a lot of care and a lot of love, and going to Moss St. Market also offers that opportunity to see the care and see the love.”

Overhead view of Moss St. Market

Overhead view of Moss St. Market

The community theme progressed as the dialogue stretched into the dusky evening. Cherkosh discussed the changing nature of restaurants in the city, from table service to long-tables and counter service. Some restaurants are reshaping the concept of “bubble dining”–traditional table service–to make room for more personal interactions between customers and servers, and to expand the conversation around food. Leir, whose bakery shares the Dockside Green space with Fantastico, said customers once had to leave Victoria to find interesting and satisfying restaurants–now they don’t.

While some have predicted the farm-to-table or urban growing trends will die out, this dialogue described why they can succeed. Food quality is important, and when people are aware of that, they tend to care more. The gap between affordable organic produce and artisan goods is still wide, but it’s closing year-by-year because of people like the panelists, and those in the audience. The interest in local food and urban farming is picking up momentum and fuelling a culture that is changing Victoria’s restaurant landscape. It’s a landscape that ultimately aims to bring people together and eat good food.

Early in the discussion, Mereu said that “farmers will be the rockstars of the future.” I agree, but want to push that notion further. Farmers have been rockstars of our past; they are also ones today, and they certainly will hold that status for years to come. But they have never done it alone. The panel highlighted how Victoria’s growing food scene encompasses a community of passionate farmers and restaurateurs, but to ensure that local producers can continue providing the fodder, consumers need to bring the dialogue back to their own dining tables.