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Get local with choices

<p>As our collective concern over the environment heightens, more people are keeping the earth close to their hearts by getting their groceries closer to home.</p>

Here are 6 steps to learn how to find less-travelled food



Laura Berman/www.greenviews.net photo


Farmers’ markets are hubs of energy and fun, but they’re also great for shopping local and supporting your nearby farmers.





As our collective concern over the environment heightens, more people are keeping the earth close to their hearts by getting their groceries closer to home. Eating local is good for the environment, supports local farmers, and as an added bonus, also usually means fresher fruits and veggies. Compelling reasons to keep things homegrown — and all it takes is a bit of knowhow.






• Get growing in the summer: Food doesn't get any more local than when it comes from your own backyard or balcony. “Even if it’s just little herbs or tomatoes, I love going to my backyard to pick some basil to colour my breakfast,” says Ryerson professor Mustafa Koc, cofounder of the Centre for Studies in Food Security. “It takes little effort and it’s also a pleasure added to my everyday life.” If you don’t have a backyard or a balcony, find a nearby community garden — or start one yourself.





For information about community gardens, see www.toronto.ca/parks/programs/community.htm.






• Learn your seasons: Plan your meals accordingly by finding out when Ontario fruits and vegetables are in season — and then try to have a little patience until that time comes. “Right now, you have strawberries that are not from here, so people gorge themselves on it,” says Debbie Field, executive director of non-profit agency FoodShare. “By the time they’re in season (in Ontario), people are sick of it.” For a list of the seasonality of Ontario fruits and vegetables, see www.harvestontario.com/whatsin.html.






• Hit up farmers’ markets: Farmers’ markets foster community and are a fun way for people to support (and meet) their local farmers. “I think it’s a great way to shop,” Field says. “People who are participating in the local revolution are doing it at the farmers market.” For a list of Toronto farmers’ markets, see www.foodshare.net/farmersmarkets02.htm.






• Make a vacation of it: Take a weekend afternoon and drive to one of the many farms and orchards in the Ontario countryside. “When I’m picking it, that’s fresh,” says Koc, who likes to make his farm visits into family road trips. “It’s not just an outing for us, it’s also a chance to meet our local farmers.” See www.harvestontario.comfor a list of pick-it-yourself farms in Ontario.






• Think inside the box: FoodShare has a program called the Good Food Box, where they load boxes with fruits and veggies they’ve bought from local farmers and the Ontario Food Terminal. Groups of 10 or more people can then order a box and it gets delivered to a nearby drop-off site. For more information, see www.foodshare.net.






•Get demanding: If you can’t find locally grown food at your grocery store, ask the store manager to start stocking up — chances are he eventually will. “All it requires is asking for it,” Koc says. “I think we can make a huge difference if we are a bit more demanding as consumers.”

















It's asparagus for dinner

Local ingredients can be easily incorporated into your usual dishes. Since asparagus is in season right now, Janet Armstrong, the cooking education coordinator with FoodShare, shares one of her recipes for a great Asparagus Risotto.





INGREDIENTS:



  • 12-16 asparagus stalks – Eddy Pattyn’s farm, from Barrie

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1/2 cup diced green onions

  • 1 cup Arborio rice (not available locally)

  • 3/4-cup dry white wine (such as Henry of Pelham Estates, from St. Catharines)

  • 3 cups chicken stock

  • 1/3 cup aged cheese (such as Monforte Dairy Toscano cheese, from Millbank)

  • 1 tbsp butter

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste





METHOD:



  1. Cut asparagus into 1-1/2-inch pieces.

  2. Cook asparagus in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes or until the asparagus is bright green and a little tender.

  3. Drain and set asparagus aside.

  4. Add the asparagus liquid to the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.

  5. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the green onion until soft, 3-4 minutes.

  6. Add the rice and coat with the oil.

  7. Add the wine and stir until absorbed.

  8. When the rice has absorbed the wine, start adding the stock/asparagus liquid in 1/2-cup increments.

  9. Stir constantly; add more liquid just when the previous batch is absorbed.

  10. When the risotto is almost done (approximately 18 minutes), add the asparagus with the last batch of liquid.

  11. Stir until creamy, and rice is tender but firm.

  12. Add the cheese and stir.

  13. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

  14. Finish with the tablespoon of butter and mix until it melts.

  15. Garnish with a little diced green onion, more black pepper and extra cheese.