A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

[URBAN NOTE] “The House that Riesling Built”

Torontoist’s Andre Proulx looks at how Ontario’s wine industry is continuing to develop.

Cave Spring Cellars made their first vintage in 1986. It was a small 500-case batch of wine. This date is a reminder of how early we are in the history of wine in this province. It was one of the first eight wineries in the province and second on the Beamsville Bench.

I recently had a chance to speak with Len Pennachetti, the president and founder of Cave Spring Cellars (and brother of Toronto’s former city manager). He got his start in the wine industry when he was tasked with working vineyards that were purchased by his father.

Not all grapes are created equal; neither are Canadian wines. Prior to the founding of Inniskillin in 1974, Ontario wines were made using labrusca grapes—those Concord grapes found in farmers’ markets at the twilight of summer.

Today, the European grape, vinifera, is used to make most fine wines. Even by 1986, 10 years after Inniskillin had been founded, there were still only a handful of farmers who had made the switch. The challenge with growing vinifera in Ontario isn’t so much the summer but the punishing winters. When the temperature starts to dip below -15, frigid temperatures begin to cause damage or even kill vines.

As one of the founding members of VQA, Pennachetti had a hand in crafting the rules that determine the quality of Ontario wines. The VQA ensures not only that the grapes are 100 per cent Ontario grown, but also that the grapes are vinifera.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 19, 2017 at 5:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Two centuries and counting for Toronto’s last farming family”

Chris Bateman described how the Reesor family in north Scarborough remain the last farmers active within the borders of the city of Toronto.

Dale Reesor figures he’s the last farmer in Toronto.

Since his elderly neighbour Jim Murison passed away in December, Reesor’s family is the only one he knows of that’s still growing crops commercially in the city.

From their 136-year-old farmhouse on the south side of Steeles Ave. E. in north Scarborough, Dale and Lois Reesor and their five kids work about 350 acres of land within the Toronto city limits under the name Sweet Ridge Farms. They grow mostly sweet corn, about 10 to 12 varieties, plus soybeans and wheat.

It’s a way of life that stretches back more than 200 years.

The Reesors “came to the Toronto area, Markham and Scarborough, in 1804,” Dale said. “It’s a Mennonite family. They came from Pennsylvania. They travelled up and bought land in this area. It’s been the same family ever since.”

Written by Randy McDonald

February 11, 2017 at 8:00 pm

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Beyond the Beyond shares Yves Behar’s thoughts on design in an age of artificial intelligence.
  • blogTO makes the case for the east end of Toronto.
  • The Big Picture shares photos of a family of Congolese refugees resettled in New England.
  • Centauri Dreams hosts an essay looking at the prospects for off-world agriculture.
  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of the beauty created by graffiti removal.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks for signs of possible cryovolcanism on Europa.
  • Joe. My. God. shares audio of the new Blondie track “Fun.”
  • Language Hat remembers the life and career of linguist Leon Dostert.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money argues protest is needed in blue states, too.
  • The LRB Blog warns people not to forget about Pence.
  • Marginal Revolution considersa trends in the British economy.
  • Neuroskeptic shares disturbing findings about the prevalence of plagiarism in science.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russia does not expect Trump to take all the sanctions down at once.

[ISL] “White wine and canola oil: N.L.’s budding crop opportunities”

CBC News’ Cherie Wheeler reports from western Newfoundland, where an experiment in growing canola and wine grapes in this historically non-agricultural province has yielded success.

Thanks to the success of some unconventional crops grown last summer, western Newfoundland might soon add canola and grapes to its list of agricultural products.

Working with independent farmers, the provincial Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods experimented with the two crops that aren’t traditionally grown in the province.

The hope was those first-time crops could sow the seeds for new farming industries.

While canola farming is big business in the prairies, it’s unheard of in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Yes, we’re a lot different from Saskatchewan, but perhaps we might have a little better conditions than Iceland or northern Norway,” said Kavanagh, the province’s alternative feed co-ordinator.

[. . .]

It turns out she was right. Planting 12 hectares on private farmland on the island’s west coast, in Pasadena, Kanvanagh said the yield was ¾ of a metric tonne per acre — which is on par with the rest of Atlantic Canada.

[. . .]

Like canola, the idea to grow grapes in Newfoundland was germinated in another province.

“There was a huge opportunity for grapes [in Nova Scotia],” says Newfoundland and Labrador’s fruit-crop development officer Karen Kennedy. “And there was no one commercially growing grapes here.”

Buoyed by stories of backyard gardeners growing grapes, Kennedy planted the first experimental vines four years ago in Humber Village, a small community in Humber Valley, as well as in Brooklyn, on the Bonavista Peninsula.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 12, 2017 at 6:30 pm

[LINK] “Agroecology Booming in Argentina”

The Inter Press Service’s Fabiana Frayssinet reports on the popularity in Argentina of agroecology, a variant on organic agriculture.

Organic agriculture is rapidly expanding in Argentina, the leading agroecological producer in Latin America and second in the world after Australia, as part of a backlash against a model that has disappointed producers and is starting to worry consumers.

According to the intergovernmental Inter American Commission on Organic Agriculture (ICOA), in the Americas there are 9.9 million hectares of certified organic crops, which is 22 per cent of the total global land devoted to these crops. Of this total, 6.8 million of hectares are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and three million in Argentina alone.

The Argentine National Agrifood Health and Quality Service (SENASA) reported that between 2014 and 2015, the land area under organic production grew 10 per cent, including herbs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and oilseeds.

Legumes and vegetables experienced the largest increase (200 percent). In Argentina there are 1,074 organic producers, mainly small and medium-size farms and cooperatives.

“The organic market is starting to boom. We have been producing since 20 years ago, when this market did not exist in Argentina and we exported everything. Now we sell abroad, but about 50 percent remains here,” said Jorge Pierrestegui, manager of San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, an agroecology company that produces olives and olive oil on some 1,000 hectares in the Argentine province of Córdoba.

“Opting for organic was a company policy, mainly due to a long-term ecological vision of not spraying the fields with poisonous chemicals,” Pierrestegui said.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm

[LINK] “Who’s Killing the Women’s Land Movement?”

Vice‘s Allie Conti looks at the reasons for the decline of the women’s land movement, a back-to-the-earth movement started by lesbians in the 1970s that now seems to currently be on its last legs. The general drift of non-heterosexuals to cities, as well as the declining popularity of traditional lesbian identities among the young, are equally responsible.

[A]fter the Vietnam war, as thousands of Americans moved away from cities to adopt an agrarian lifestyle, scores of lesbians simultaneously became disenchanted with the emerging women’s liberation and gay rights movements, which many perceived as being either homophobic or misogynist. They reacted by forming closed-off, utopian societies—farms and communes where women often took on traditionally male activities like mechanics and engineering, in what would come to be known as the women’s land movement. But like religious sisterhoods and lesbian bars, these male-free communities, which once boasted thousands of members, are in clear decline today.

Young queer people who want to get back to the land today have more options than women like [Susan] Wiseheart, who decades ago relied on the women’s land movement to provide safety in numbers and reclusion from a society once hostile to their sexuality.

Terri has long since moved on from Aradia, but Wiseheart has remained, and says she never plans to leave. It is, after all, her life’s work. But once she’s gone, it’s unlikely that anyone will be willing or able to continue her mission. Signs of that are written across Hawk Hill—where chickens, dogs, donkeys, guinea fowl, cattle, horses and a flock of sheep once roamed its fields, calling it a farm today would be a categorical misstatement. Wiseheart now lives there with a few friends, also in their sixties and seventies, and a straight woman helping to pay the bills while they seek out a lesbian renter.

“We’re still sometimes nervous, because we live in a fundamentalist Christian area,” she explains. “We’ve managed to be safe and fine so far. We just don’t want to be advertising it widely.”

Meanwhile, there may be few modern women left willing to live a relatively cloistered life on a lesbian-only tract of land in the Ozarks. Young queer people who want to get back to the land today have more options than women like Wiseheart, who decades ago relied on the women’s land movement to provide safety in numbers and reclusion from a society once hostile to their sexuality.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2016 at 2:00 pm

[LINK] “Study explores ancient wetland-gardening site in British Columbia”

The Globe and Mail shares Geordon Omand’s Canadian Press article looking at the exciting research into ancient wildlife engineering for food production in British Columbia, with the design of marshes optimized for the yield of a tuber known as the wapato.

An ancient wetland-gardening site unearthed during a road-building project in British Columbia is as culturally important as any other wonder of the world, says a member of the indigenous group who directed the excavation project.

A study published Wednesday found that as early as 1,800 BC, ancestors of the Katzie First Nation in B.C.’s Lower Mainland were engineering the wetland environment to increase the yield of a valuable, semi-aquatic plant known as a wapato. The report describes the finding as the first direct archeological evidence of the cultivation of wild plants in the Pacific Northwest.

“This is as important to us as the Egyptian pyramids, or the temples in Thailand, or Machu Picchu,” said Debbie Miller, who works with an archeological consulting firm owned by the Katzie Nation.

Road-building crews uncovered a rock platform measuring about 12-square metres made up of flat stones that would have rested several feet underwater four millenniums ago. The distribution of the stones into a pattern of single and double layers, as well as their closely packed arrangement, suggests they were placed deliberately, the study published online in ScienceAdvances found.

The stone “pavement” would have prevented the wapato from penetrating deep into the sludgy, wetland sediment, making it easier for gatherers to use long, sharpened digging tools to locate the buried plant and cut it free.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 22, 2016 at 9:30 pm