December 7, 2016

How technology can help nations navigate the difficult path to food sovereignty

This insightful article presents how nations can manage their food sovereignty in a globalized world.

ECVOntario, University of Guelph. 
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October 24, 2016

Culture and Food: A Summer in Vancouver

For the summer of 2015 I found myself living in Vancouver, partly looking for a change in my own life and partly looking for new experiences to build upon what I already learned. What amazed me the most was how everything I discovered as a research assistant shaped the way I saw Vancouver. Each time I turned a corner I saw something related to food security and culture. By the end of my summer three things stuck out to me about Vancouver’s foodscape:
1)    Community and home gardens seemed to be everywhere

            There are community gardens scattered across Vancouver.  According to the City of Vancouver there were over 75 community gardens in Vancouver in 2013 (City of Vancouver, 2013). I was surprised to see that a few of these gardens were in the midst of downtown’s hustle and bustle on Davie Street and another on Hastings. In my neighbourhood, the East Side, I regularly walked by six community gardens on my way to the market or the skytrain station. ‘Unusable land- such as plots beside train tracks, underneath the skytrain tracks, or on little slivers of land at sharp intersections- were used to produce food. The dedication to growing local food was not only shown through community gardens, but also by the immense popularity of home gardens. Home gardens of varying sizes were everywhere, whether it be growing Swiss chard and peppers in planters on their front step, or dedicating every inch of their free lawn space to growing food.

2)    There were resources easily accessible to learn about food production

            Before going to Vancouver I heard about the Burnaby Village Museum. The museum’s main attraction is its 1920s village.  However, the museum also has vegetable gardens, and runs several food-related educational programs and workshops. Their main gardens are a series of raised beds that contain mainstream vegetables such as varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, mixed in with several ethnic vegetables including bitter melon, winter melon, menthe, shiso, suyo long cucumbers, saag, mustard greens, black gram, garlic chives, tromboncio squash, chayote, long beans, etc. For each of the vegetables grown in the garden there is a plaque describing where and how the vegetable is used.  This garden shows just how successfully ethnic vegetables can be grown in Canada. Their workshops are on a variety of topics such as container gardening (growing plants in small containers at home), low sugar jam making, pickling, harvesting, winter gardening, seasonal eating, and more. These programs encourage local food security through local production, seasonal eating, and preserving foods. They teach people how to grow their own food and provide hands on experiences.
            Another interesting resource I came across was University of British Columbia (UBC’s)  Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. The Gardens are a living museum of plants from around the world- everything from local rainforests, to a garden dedicated to plants historically used for medicinal purposes. There is also a food garden full of a variety of fruits and vegetables including kiwis, grapes, gooseberries, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, swiss chard, etc. Again, this food garden is an excellent resource to teach people about food production and the variety of crops that can be grown in Canada.
            Even though these are the only educational resources I visited, I learned that Vancouver has dozens of other resources to learn about local food and agriculture.  For instance, there is an Urban Farming society that holds workshops and provides resources to the public. There is also an organization called Farm Folk City Folk that has a website that provides lists upon lists of farming resources, including contact information/websites for urban farms, gardening and composting resources, community gardens, and garden support. The resources available to the people of Vancouver are astounding and the very fact that they exist shows how the people of Vancouver value local food and food security.

3)    There was a high availability and exchange of ethnic foods

            Vancouver is a city that celebrates diversity and culture, with cultural festivals happening most weekends in the summer. With the vast array of ethnicities and cultural expressions, it is clear why the foodscape of Vancouver is so diverse. There is also an enormous cross-over and exchange between ethnic groups through backyards, restaurants, and grocery stores.  For example, the Burnaby Village Museum highlighted that there is an exchange of seeds, recipes, and gardening tips between neighbours of different origins. There are also ethnic restaurants everywhere in Vancouver- everything from Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Caribbean, Malaysian, Jewish, etc.- that are filled with people from all different backgrounds. Some restaurants embrace this cross-over and exchange by featuring fusion foods, such as Chinese-Indian fusion food, or fusions of various Middle Eastern and South Asian dishes. Even in grocery stores, particularly independently run grocery stores, there is a large selection of relatively well priced ethnic vegetables. However, the availability of ethnic food is a function of the neighbourhood.

Vancouver is a fascinating city full of culture and food. During my adventure in Vancouver I found community and home gardens around every corner, stumbled upon numerous resources for local food production, and witnessed exchanges between cultures. To say I found experiences that built upon everything I have learned with the ECV Ontario project would be an understatement. Now that my summer in Vancouver has long since passed I’m left wondering how much I missed while I was there- What other intersections between cultures and food exist? What are their food sovereignty initiatives? Maybe someday I’ll find myself back in Vancouver trying to find the answers to those questions.

City of Vancouver. (2013, Dec 16). Join a community garden in your neighbourhood.

Morgan Sage, ECVOntario, Guelph, Canada. 
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August 4, 2016

Ontario Goat Farming: Demanded but Challenging

I couldn’t say I had tasted goat’s milk before my trip to River’s Edge Goat Dairy. Now I am hooked. Lately, fresh goat milk and cheese have streamed in and out of my fridge. This all started on a bright sunny day in June, when my fellow researchers and I drove up to River’s Edge Goat Dairy to see their operation. As a small family-owned dairy farm, located just outside of Arthur, Ontario, they currently have 84 milk producing goats. We had the pleasure of being showed around by Will, who owns the farm with his partner, Katie.

 Goats at River's Edge Goat Dairy
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May 18, 2016

Globally Loved Drinks Now Locally Known : A Story of Hibiscus and Moringa

“The Farmer’s Market, as always, was busy on a Saturday morning. The tastes and smells
surrounded me, with a host of different foods; from freshly made doughnuts to crunchy
samosas baked that morning. I was amazed as I took the sights in, and I followed the aromas
as I explored the surrounding foodscape. And, then I saw it. I was filled with so much
excitement and great memories. I saw Zobo, a drink made out of Hibiscus flowers that had
become a luxury since my move here. In Canada, I have only been able to enjoy Zobo when
someone brings the Hibiscus flowers from Nigeria. Now I can get this drink right here in Canada.”
~ Olaitan Ogunnote

Melku’s warmth permeates her store as she welcomes us on a bright, sunny afternoon in November. Her zest, or laza, for the work she does truly radiates her store’s meaning as she leads us on a tour of Laza Catering. The bold art works and woven baskets hang proudly on her walls, and pay homage to her rich Ethiopian and Eritrean roots. The spice blends grace her store as they silently tell a story of the diverse and cultural foods they help create. Foods on display temptingly awaken our taste buds, water our mouths, and provoke a growling in our stomachs. Melku opened her business in 2009, with the goal of sharing the traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean food from her homeland with us here in Guelph. As Maya Angelou once said, “Eating is so intimate. It's very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you're inviting a person into your life.” This honour describes how we feel as Melku invites us to sit in her store, and begins to tell us the story of her life’s work. She walks us into the kitchen, and shows us where she makes her injera out of teff; a well loved product she sells. She offers us some of the injera along with a spice rich veggie sauce, that the injera readily soaks up.

We sit down by a sunny window and chat with Melku, as she tells us the story about her work to bring  traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean foods and drinks to Guelph. She offers us a homemade hibiscus tea she recently bottled. The tea is a deep burgundy colour that demands our attention, and the taste is flavourful with a melodious mix of her secret spice blend, local honey, and steeped hibiscus flowers. A true entrepreneur, Melku seeks reliable sources for the hibiscus flowers, as the flowers are difficult to grow in Canada. Melku sources her hibiscus flowers from Africa and Asia.

Melku’s customer base is culturally diverse. Melku mentions that her target audience is not Ethiopians or Eritreans, as they know how to make the same food at home.  That being said, when Ethiopians or Eritreans see the Hibiscus drink, they show an immense sense of pride and joy. Also, this is not only true for them, but for people here from many different regions around the world. As James Beard once said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” That is very much true of this globally loved drink, the drink is known as; karkade (in Egypt , Sudan, and other countries), Sobolo (in Ghana), Zobo (in Nigeria), Agua de Jamaica (in Latin America), Gudhal (in India), Roselle (in Australia), and Sorrel (in some Caribbean countries). We savour the tea and Melku tells us about the many health benefits of this drink, such as preventing illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and lowering high blood pressure. No wonder it’s so well cherished.

As our conversation continues, Melku passes us a brown paper bag, and tell us to smell inside. We look in it and see a dull green powder. We take a big whiff of it, and smell absolutely nothing! Although the green powder is rather unimpressive at first, our opinion quickly changes. She explains to us that the moringa plant is packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and protein, giving it great healing power.

The miracle of tree, as the moringa plant is fondly called, is highly versatile in its uses. Its powdered form can be consumed as a tea, mixed in a smoothie, or sprinkled over a salad at dinner time. Standing tall on the table is Melku’s bottle of moringa tea. As Melku takes a sip of it, she tells us how she drinks the tea every morning before breakfast and every afternoon. Back in Eritrea, the government has greatly increased the popularity of this drink by launching a campaign offering free moringa plants to all citizens. Following the footsteps of the Eritrean government, Melku also wants to make moringa more accessible right here in Guelph. Though moringa is offered in some health food stores at a higher price, Melku aims to sell her moringa more affordably while sourcing directly from the farmers in Ethiopia and Eritrea. She has just begun to sell this product.

Looking ahead, the hope is that many more people in Guelph will come to know and love these healthy drinks. So why not try something new? Take a stroll down to Melku’s booth at the Farmers Market in downtown Guelph on a Saturday morning, or go pay her a visit at her store Laza catering at 74 Ontario Street.

 Samuel Dent & Olaitan Ogunnote, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
Visit Laza Catering online for more information

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March 25, 2016

Community fights against Food Insecurity and aims for Healthier Lifestyle in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

For my last reading week as an undergraduate student, I wanted to experience something new and also learn more about a particular issue. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I have heard amazing stories from students who participated in Project Serve ( When thinking of which programs to choose, I decided to learn about the issue of race and poverty in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. There were three volunteer placements to choose from which were: Habitat for Humanity, Edward St. Fellowship Center, and Hawkins Elementary School. Out of the three, I decided to pick Edward St. Fellowship Center ( knowing that they have gardens and a food bank.

Edward St. Fellowship Center used to have community gardens where they would administer classes on how to do home gardening. They would provide a container or a piece of land to help communities in improving their health by gardening their fruits and vegetables. The only reason why they decided to end their program is that the gardener who administers the classes passed away.

The tasks that we did were helping at their gardens (planting apple trees and pear trees, and taking out the weeds in various blueberry bushes), packing food for food distribution, and organizing the thrift store. The organization not only invests in ensuring the food security of their clients but they also invest in their well-being. For instance, they try their best to only distribute food that is healthy.  Also, they plant fruits and vegetables on their land.  With regards to food resources, the fellowship center receives donated food but also purchases food. In the end, these efforts contribute to the food security of the community at an individual level. Many individuals on the receiving end are nourished because of this program.

Throughout my experience as a volunteer for Edward St. Fellowship Center, I notice that the organization tries to work with the community to fight against food insecurity. Moreover, not only do they aim to feed individuals, they also work hard to help their clients maintain a suitable lifestyle.
To be specific, I learned that:
1.      Food is a very important part of people’s culture.
2.      Community gardens are very important.
3.      Race and food deserts are related. 
4.      Food banks should be better designed.

 Florenz Gail Ongkingco, URA, ECVOntario, SEDRD, UoG, Canada

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