Ok. Before you all think that I've fallen off my brioche-lined rocker, the diet I'm on is the 100 Mile Diet. In fact, I'm such a believer in this diet that I'm leading the campaign to spread this way of eating and consuming through the Rusty Coast. The diet focuses on eating foods grown within 100 miles of where you live. We even have a website! For me here in Nanaimo, 100 mile is from Campbell River, to the west coast of the island, past the southern end and all the way east past Agassiz. That's a pretty big garden to draw from.
The 100 Mile Diet Nanaimo campaign is being launched with a Challenge Week from Sept. 11th to 17th. I figured, I’d get a head start and start upping my local produce consumption this week. Though with a produce box from Nanoose Edibles, local free-ranged eggs from Nanaimo Sausage House where I pick up my produce box and oodles of fruit gleaned from friend’s trees and berry bushes, I’m well on my way.
On Saturday, a ravishing redheaded friend and I wandered over down the island to the Duncan Farmers Market to do a little chatting with the farmers and their patrons. Farmers are such real people. You know? They are literally and figuratively grounded. Some are a tad too grounded
All the farmers I spoke to were thrilled by the idea of a 100 mile diet campaign in the area. They pressed business cards in my hands, they waxed poetic about their product, and they invited me up to their farms for a tour. They spoke of the simple joys of being part of a community and enjoying good whole foods and a real meal. I met Steve Miller from the Shadybrook Farm who raised cattle and lamented the possibility of not being able to sell their beef to the public due to bureaucratic red tape that’s trying to shove them down. From his stand, I picked up an inside round steak for dinner that night. All his cattle are raised in an ethically and environmentally sound manner. His stand also carried chicken in every cut imaginable, from stock bones to boneless breasts to whole chickens.
A few stalls down was the Cottage Farm stand where I found strawberries and blueberries still being sold. I picked up a huge box of prune plums, a bunch of huge oblong beets, a bunch of multicoloured carrots (yellow, purple mixed in a with their orange buddies, a beautiful head of cabbage). I spoke briefly to Helma Stewart, the farm’s proprietor, who insisted that call her to chat more and even gave me her cell phone number. Right beside her was the Gabriola Gourmet Garlic guy, who also makes the wonderful Definitely Different Chocolate line. He sold me a bag of garlic for planting and when asked when I should pop them into the ground, he advise that it be best that I plant them on midnight of October 15th, naked by the light of the full moon. Frisky vampires beware!
One of my favorite cheesemakers happens to sell at the Duncan Farmer’s market: Hilary’s Cheese Company. Hilary Abbot is a cheesemaker after my own heart. A charming man who loves cheese and the craft of cheesemaking. His Belle Anne, a French inspired cheese that has been washed in a locally made blackberry port is one of my favourite cheeses. He also an ash-ripened camembert that has revived my love for camembert. The milk for his cheeses comes from a farm minutes away from his cheese operation. That day I picked up a goat feta which tastes nothing like the industrial frog farts cheese that you find shrink-wrapped in the grocer’s dairy case.
We popped over to Hilary’s store in Cowichan Bay shop later that day. He shares store space with Tru Grain Breads, a real artisan baker who also brings in a Red Fife wheat grown in Saskatchewan and a spelt grown in Armstrong, BC. I picked up a couple bags of Red Fife wheat and some spelt. I know, Saskatchewan is way out of the 100 Mile radius but it is milled right there in the bakery and it’s organic. There’s no way I can make it without bread. The original 100 Milers got some precious flour from The Roost, a bakery that’s part of the Highland House Farm in North Saanich. On this hobby farm, Hamish Crawfood has planted Red Fife wheat which he turns into bread for the bakery. I may just have to plan out a Southern Vancouver Island food trip and see if I can beg or bribe some of this flour from him.
Many of the stands were boasting the first harvest of local apples. Organic apples for a buck a pound! Yippee!! I picked up a bag of Gravensteins, which are a wonderfully tart, crisp apple perfect for baking. I also love it with some good old cheddar. I also picked up a bag of Galas which are sweet and aromatic and put those industrial farm gala apples to shame. My backpack was already getting pretty full so I only picked up 3 pounds in total. It’s crazy that produce aisles at big grocery chains are inundated with mediocre apples from everywhere else but only offer one or two local apples. And usually one of those is the industrial farmed Red Delicious which looks great on the outside but has the taste and texture of wood pulp. Thank goodness for small local farmers that are keeping a variety of apples going and understand that there are some of us that don’t like the plastic aftertaste of the factory farmed apples.
I got to talk to wide range of folks from farmers to their patrons. I even ran into Mara Jernigan, resident chef for the Fairburn Farm B&B in the Cowichan valley. The farm boasts the only herd of authentic water buffalo in North America. There is a freaking water buffalo dairy in my 100 Mile region! (Jen does happy buffalo mozzarella dance). She’s also a rep for the Slow Food movement and a cooking instructor. And she has great tastes in shoes :)
It’s amazing how the farmer’s market has become a true community hub. Farmers, food producers and chefs that have organically (pun intended) formed a network of culinary wisdom and culture. There were many food and beauty producers selling as well. From soap to lavender products to jams and preserves to baked goods, one would wonder why anyone would ever need a grocery store.
It was apparent which vendors there were there to be part of a culinary community and which ones were there to simply make money for themselves with no intent of supporting the larger community. I suppose those vendors that don’t utilize any local produce in their products would have little immediate financial advantage to helping out the local farmers. Luckily, not all of them are of that mindset. Many of the other vendors were was happy the chat and were supportive of the 100 mile diet campaign even though it wouldn’t profit them directly, however others were downright chilly when I visited their booth.
BTW, I found gomashio at the market which is basically black sesame and salt. Who would’ve thought that this standard Japanese macrobiotic diet condiment would show up at the Duncan farmer's market? It was all packaged up pretty and labelled and, of course, overpriced. My Japanese friends would have a good laugh over how much people pay for this prepackaged condiment considering that most of them make it in bulk at home for pennies. You can make it yourself for a fraction of what it costed there by picking up a bag of black sesame seeds for $2 in the asian food aisle and adding a bit of sea salt. I use 1 tsp of salt for a ¼ cup of dry-toasted black sesame seeds. Just toast up the seeds in a dry pan, whirl it in your grinder with the salt or pound it in your mortar and pestle. It’s easy!
Check back soon and I’ll be telling you all about this great restaurant I found in Duncan! Maybe I'll even share one dressing turned my farmer's market bounty into a great 100 Mile diet meal.
Until then, treat yourself to a locally grown apple.