Friday, September 24, 2010

Gleaning Raspberries at Rideau Pines Farm for the Ottawa Food Bank

As I had briefly mentioned in my last posting, there's been a lot of gleaning going on around Ottawa this summer. We are very fortunate at the Ottawa Food Bank to be surrounded by such a generous agricultural community.

Our first produce gleaning event took shape back in late July when I began calling local farmers to promote the Community Harvest Ontario program. After having spoken to only three growers, I had already been presented with two offers to glean produce; raspberries at Rideau Pines Farm and sweet corn at Ovens Berry Farm. The only catch to accessing this produce was the short timeline required as both the raspberries and the corn were ripening fast. Following my initial call to John Vandenberg of Rideau Pines Farm, it was determined that a harvesting window of only a couple days remained before the raspberries would be overripe. With the very warm, dry spring and an extremely hot summer this year the crops had matured 2 to 3 weeks ahead of schedule. A volunteer group needed to be assembled very fast.

Two days later Lindsay Irvine, the OFB Volunteer Coordinator and I had managed to assemble the first ever Ottawa Food Bank - Community Harvest Ontario volunteer gleaning group.
Some of the volunteer raspberry gleaners at Rideau Pines Farm 22/07/10 (left to right: Lynn and her three kids, Harold, Martin and Gerry)
The event went off without a hitch. 10 volunteers gleaned raspberries for a couple hours and we returned to the Ottawa Food Bank with a total of 200 lbs of raspberries. This generous gleaning donation by the Vandenbergs was further boosted by a direct farm donation of 5 large boxes of cauliflower. The berries and veggies were delivered to some of our member agencies the following morning.

Raspberry pickin' 22/07/10

The gleaning event garnered a lot of media attention. Steve Fischer, a CBC Ottawa video journalist, came out to the farm and filed a report for the local evening news. Similarly, Alan Neal, the host of "All in a Day" on CBC Radio Ottawa interviewed me live during the event.

As we hardly seemed to make a dent in the field that Thursday afternoon, the Vandenbergs generously offered us another round in the field the following day. And so we did...and with even more volunteers.

That Friday and additional 14 volunteers entered the raspberry rows and quickly gleaned another 200 lb of fruit.

On behalf of the Ottawa Food Bank, our member agencies and the clients that received the fruits of your labour, a big thank you goes out to Rideau Pines Farm, the volunteer gleaners and to CBC for taking an interest in the Community Harvest Ontario program. We wish the Vandenberg family a prosperous end to the growing season.

Some of the volunteer gleaning group on Friday morning 23/07/10

My next post will recount the corn gleaning event at Ovens Berry Farm that occured the following day, Saturday, July 24th, 2010.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Addressing the Need with Carrot Seed

Carrot Growing Project at Roots and Shoots Farm
Wow, what a whirlwind the last couple of months has been. After a bit of reflection on all this controlled chaos, I decided to lock myself up in my office this week to catch my breath and attempt to bring you up to speed on our recent Community Harvest Ontario activity in the National Capital Region. This posting only describes the progress to date with regard to the Ottawa Food Bank Carrot Growing Project at Roots and Shoots Farm. My next posting will recount all the fun that’s been had during recent produce gleaning events at other local farms such as Rideau Pines Farm, Ovens Berry Farm and Rochon Gardens - not to mention the generous amount of produce donated and the contributions of our volunteer gleaners.

How it all started
Back in early-June, Robin Turner and I, driven by a shared desire to do something good, walked the pastures of his farm trying to figure out what we could possibly grow on an uncultivated half acre of land and still yield in a sizable fall crop.  We quickly settled on carrots…a lot of carrots.  Soon afterwards, Robin began what was to become a month-long, weekly go round on his 79’ Farmall; turning tall grass into a beautiful sandy loam.
Robin Turner (proprietor) and Jess Weatherhead (Farm Manager)
The trusty 79’ Farmall (left) taking a break from cultivation
Danny (farm intern) and Kate (farm friend) 
admiring the newly plowed field #1
Bring in the brave volunteers!
The elbow grease and sweat began to flow on July 8th. As the tractor was unable to provide a perfect seedbed for the carrot seed, many hours of manual labour were required to finish the soil prep work. The volunteers who worked through the extremely hot days in early July - sometimes 42 degrees Celsius with the humidex - will forever be etched in my mind as the greatest superstars of all time.  The task of bed prepping was completed on July 15th after a combined effort from 25 volunteers; a total of 67.5 hours of manual labour!

Left to Right: Allan, Jean, Freya, Dan, and Jesse 
bed prepping by raking out the clumps of grass, rocks, etc.
Left to Right: Jean, Jesse, Freya, Allan, and Dan sporting 
some serious sunhats on bed prepping day 1 (July 8th, 2010)

Left to Right: Andrew, Freya, Nicole, Jesse, Michael, Nancy and Natalie providing more sweat equity on bed prepping day 2 (July 14th, 2010)
Left to Right: Jung-Yung, Jeremy, Justin, Jade, Hanna, Emmanuelle, and Hollis. 
“The Crew” bed prepping field #2 (day 3). 
Seeding and Irrigating 
Next came the seeding (July 15th) and irrigation setup (July 16th and 17th).  The seeding when fairly smoothly, the only issue being that I probably worked a lot harder than I needed to due my unfamiliarity with the seeder.  The assembly of irrigation pipe, valves, joints, and sprinklers was my volunteer contribution to the project. Let's just say I was very lucky to get assistance from my partner Jen and Robin.  
Showers had been forecast for the weekend following the carrot seeding. However, we ended up with another couple scorchers, hence, the rushed irrigation setup.
Jason negotiating the manual seeder. This job got a lot easier once
I realized that the handle could be raised :: ):
With irrigation came a crop…
 ...A crop of weeds that is! Once a week, for the last 5 weeks, our crews of hardcore volunteers have hoed, pinched, pulled and cursed weeds. To date, the task of weeding has involved 117 hours of volunteer labour!
Left to Right: Jade, Sean, Hollis, Alice and Jean-Yves hoeing those nasty weeds away on Aug 5th, 2010
Jade rockin’ the wheel hoe in field #2 on Aug 12th
An evening weeding work party with Cathy, Heather, John, Alex, Kyle, Liam and Suzane-Renée on Aug 16th
13 volunteers joined the evening weeding party on Aug 16th, 2010!
Things are looking good
All this work has certainly not been in vain; yesterday I pulled a carrot that was 4 inches long, orange, and about ¼ inch in diameter at its top. They’re certainly on their way meeting our yield expectations (10,000 to 15,000 lbs).  The carrots have got another 43 days of growing to do until harvest. 
Shout Out!
Here’s a huge shout  to the 51 volunteers who have generously given their time and energy to this project. We couldn't do this without you. Thank you.
More to Come
Please stay tuned for more updates.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Plum Picking for the London Food Bank!

On August 16, 2010, 14 volunteers from the London area headed out to Van Brenk Fruit Farms and Nurseries ( to pick Burbank Plums for the London Food Bank. We all had a great time at the Van Brenk's beautiful orchard, and were able to pick 1000 lbs of plums for the London Food Bank! Thanks to Brian Van Brenk for having us out to his farm and donating his plum trees for us to pick; and to all of the volunteers for giving your time and energy to help create a healthier, hunger-free community!

(for the full set of pictures, go to

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ready, set, grow: Food Banks launch innovative new farm program

The Ontario Association of Food Banks launched Community Harvest Ontario, a major farm partnership program to dramatically increase the amount of fresh, healthy food acquired and distributed by food banks across the province through innovative partnerships between farmers, food banks, and corporate partners to grow, glean, and donate local fruits and vegetables. The program is generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation, Direct Energy, and many other partners. The initiative was launched at Whittamore's Farm in Markham.

"Community Harvest Ontario is an innovative, simple and effective solution in the movement towards a new focus for food banks to provide fresh, local food," said Adam Spence, Executive Director of the OAFB. "We are delighted to launch this program with the support of local foundations, farms, and community partners."

The first of its kind in Canada, this program provides the "technology" to acquire food through volunteer gleaning and harvesting, planned growing projects, and direct donations from local farmers. With local projects being coordinated in Toronto, London, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay, the objective is to increase fresh food for food banks by an additional 500,000 lbs in 2010 and an additional two million lbs annually by 2012. Community Harvest is on target to reach its goal for this year with 15 farm partners already in place across the province.

"The Community Harvest Ontario program connects food growers and food banks who share the same goal - feeding our families, friends, and neighbours," said the Hon. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. "With the support of this program, they will be able to work together to bring healthy, fresh food to those members of our communities who need it most."

The need for the program is great. Over 375,000 Ontarians are forced to turn to food banks every month across the province. In fact, 72% of Ontarians turning to food banks do not consume their required daily servings of fruit or vegetables. Hunger is a persistent problem, as food banks continue to feel the after-effects of the recession on the front line. This significant demand puts pressures on food supplies that were stretched during the recession by sharply rising numbers and closures of many major corporate food donors. Fortunately, the solution is in our own backyard: there is an available supply of high quality food and farmland that can help meet the need for food for low-income Ontarians. Over 25 million pounds of fresh nutritious food is disposed of or ploughed back into the soil on Ontario's farms every year. Community Harvest Ontario can ensure this food gets to people who need it most.

"This innovative project harnesses the passions of both rural and urban partners who care deeply about these issues and in an area like the Greenbelt, where country and city are side by side, clearly articulates how together they can create a better future," said Burkhard Mausberg, President of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.

Another important part of the program is growing partnerships, where a farm designates a growing plot for local food banks. For example, the OAFB has established a partnership with Plan B Organic Farms of Branchton to grow carrots, potatoes, onions, and green beans on 25 acres of land. Community Harvest Ontario also includes a major web component which will allow volunteer participants to create teams and raise funds online at Key focus days for volunteers include: Gleaning the Greenbelt Day (September 9th) and the Community Harvest Ontario Corporate Challenge (October 5th).

"Our partnership with, and support of, OAFB gleaning activities exemplify community investment in the truest sense of the word - the OAFB, farmers and volunteers coming together within the community to glean thousands of pounds of fresh food for local food banks," said Sharleen Mascoll, Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility of Direct Energy.

For more information on Community Harvest Ontario, please visit Media representatives can also download the program backgrounder. Launch and program photos will be available for download following the event.

The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is a network of 20 regional food banks and over 100 community food banks across the province from Windsor to Ottawa and Niagara Falls to Thunder Bay working towards a hunger-free Ontario. It is our mission to provide food, funding, and solutions to reduce hunger in the province. For more information about OAFB as well as hunger and poverty in Ontario, please visit


A leading grantmaker in Canada, the Ontario Trillium Foundation strengthens the capacity of the voluntary sector through investments in community-based initiatives. An agency of the Government of Ontario, OTF builds healthy and vibrant communities.

Wrapping around the Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt is 1.8 million acres of potential to make Ontario a better place. Encompassing the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park, hundreds of rural towns and villages and thousands of farms, Ontario's Greenbelt is the largest and most diverse in the world. The Greenbelt Foundation began in June 2005 as an independent, charitable foundation with a mandate to promote and sustain our Greenbelt as a beneficial, valuable, and permanent feature, enhancing the quality of life for Ontario residents.

The Metcalf Foundation helps Canadians imagine and build a just, healthy, and creative society by supporting dynamic leaders who are strengthening their communities, nurturing innovative approaches to persistent problems, and encouraging dialogue and learning to inform action.

Direct Energy is one of North America's largest energy and energy-related services providers with over eight million residential and commercial customer relationships. Direct Energy provides customers with choice and support in managing their energy costs through a portfolio of innovative products and services. A subsidiary of Centrica plc (LSE: CNA), one of the world's leading integrated energy companies, Direct Energy operates in 46 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia and 10 provinces in Canada.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Welcome to Community Harvest Ontario Thunder Bay

My name is Tony Curci, better known as the Urban Farmer.

Did you know that there are more than 6,000 local families that cannot provide adequate, daily meals? These families rely on local food banks to help feed their children. My job, as the Community Harvest Coordinator is to help feed these families by seeking agricultural resources that can supply fresh, nutritious food for distribution. Based out of the Regional Food Distribution Association here in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I am connecting with our local farmers to source fresh fruit and vegetables for our neighbours facing hunger.

Don't let anyone go hungry in our midst.

Tony Curci
Community Harvest Coordinator
(807) 622-7440

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Get engaged with Community Harvest Ontario in London

With the recent economic downturn, more Ontarians are turning to food banks for help than ever before; and London has been no exception to this trend. Higher poverty levels often lead to an increase in nutrient deficient diets and obesity, which can contribute to a host of life threatening diseases. This becomes particularly important when we consider that 40% of the people who use food banks are Children.

My name is Catherine Hickey and I am the Field Manager for Community Harvest Ontario, in the London region. Our goal with this project is to help local farmers distribute their high quality, fresh, nutrient rich produce to the most vulnerable members of our community, through food banks. I am thrilled to be working with local farmers and volunteer groups toward ending hunger in our community, and I am looking forward to the coming months!

An introduction to Community Harvest Ontario in Ottawa

Howdy Folks!

My name is Jason and I'm the new Community Harvest Field Coordinator based out of the Ottawa Food Bank. How exciting to be here and to actually be making my first contribution to the Blogoshere!

Just a bit about me: My work and educational background is in Agroecology (i. e. sustainable agriculture). In the recent past, I have been fortunate to work with farmers to implement integrated pest management strategies and to co-manage a small scale organic fruit and vegetable farm.

Just a bit about the program: Community Harvest Ontario - Ottawa is an innovative program that will contribute to a more sustainable food system here in the National Capital Region. The goal of the program is to engage local farmers, agricultural organizations and volunteers in order to increase the volume of fresh, local and healthy food donations to the Ottawa Food Bank.

The Community Harvest Ontario - Ottawa program comes at such a critical and opportune time.

Why is it Critical? During the last year and a half, ever since the beginning of the recent economic recession, many concurrent forces such as unemployment, rising costs for basics, and inadequate government supports have lead to a dramatic increase in poverty across Ontario. A strong indicator of this trend has been a 19 percent spike in demand for food bank services. 375 000 Ontarians now turn to food banks each month. A greater demand for food bank services is forecast for this year.

Locally, the Ottawa Food Bank has also seen an increase in demand during the economic downturn. 43 000 people now receive emergency food assistance each month, of which 35 percent are children. Compounding the issue of increased demand is the recent relocation of an important produce distribution centre out of Ottawa. This centre was a major source of nutritious, fresh and frozen produce donations for the Food Bank.

Why is it an opportune time? Over the last 10 years there has been a constant increase in public awareness and action towards re-localizing agriculture across Canada. Farmers' markets are booming, chefs are sourcing local produce, young farmers are becoming successful entrepreneurs, community gardens are increasing in number, the list goes on and on.

Community Harvest donations will serve not only to create a stronger sense of community by building social sustainability - both through supporting our neighbours in need and by connecting volunteers with their local farms - but it will also benefit farms from greater exposure. Given the proven generosity of our local agriculturists and an increased public awareness about food, I am confident that we will see a strong interest in this program. I'm really looking forward to meeting with members of the agricultural community, volunteers and other stakeholders.

Please spread the word.

For more information regarding Poverty in Ontario, the Ottawa Food Bank and/or Community Harvest Ontario pilot projects, go to and

"Eating is an agricultural Act" Wendell Berry