May 01, 2013

Erin FoodShed project promotes local sources

As published in Country Routes

Cathy Hansen is on a mission to change people's eating habits, promoting the benefits of choosing local, seasonal foods through the Erin FoodShed project.

Unlike a river watershed, a foodshed is not so much a defined geographic territory as it is a way to think about the sources of food. The whole world has become a foodshed for a prosperous nation like Canada, but critics say the long-distance food system is too expensive and harmful to the environment.

Hansen is an organic farmer and chef based in Ospringe, known for her efforts to educate people about the links between food and the effects of climate change, especially at Erin's Fast Forward film nights.

"One of the actions we can take to try to alleviate some of these catastrophes that seem to be coming down the pipe towards us, is to learn to feed ourselves well," she said recently.
Cathy Hansen teaching kids at St. John Brebeuf school about organic veggies.
LolaJean Gentles

"Climatic variation will inevitably alter the production and availability of food worldwide. The way we fertilize our fields and transport food around the globe has already had a big impact on the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"We'd like you to start thinking about food as something that comes from something similar to what you would think of as your watershed. It's food from nearby, and if it's going to help us with some of these dilemmas, it should be organically grown."

Organic farming uses practices that preserve water, and is done without the use of pesticides or fossil fuel based fertilizers.

"It takes 32,000 cubic feet of natural gas to make one ton of granular nitrogen fertilizer. In organic growing, the nutrients come from biological fertility. I know we've been talking about things that seem insurmountable, but organic food is a route that we can all take to try to avoid some of these seemingly catastrophic circumstances in the future."

Consumer demand for non-local, non-seasonal food results not only in a waste of energy, but in direct damage to the environment. Many of the foods we eat travel more than 3,000 kilometers to get from the producer to the dinner table. One third of all greenhouse gases produced in Canada are created by using fossil fuels to grow, process and deliver food.

The FoodShed project has been developed by Hansen with her daughter Emily, Heidi Matthews and LolaJean Gentles. They added to the hospitality of the film nights this year by providing simple, nutritious snacks, along with recipes for people to take home.

"One of our principles is 'Simple' – we wanted to make sure that the recipes are easy for people to adopt and enjoy with their families," said Emily.

Local food has the advantage of using minimal fuel to transport it to market, and requires less petroleum-based plastic packaging. Choosing seasonal food means adapting your diet to what is currently available fresh, or what can be practically preserved and stored for the winter.

The advocates of local food do not suggest that people should abandon foods that cannot be grown in Ontario. Products such as lemons, chocolate, curry or pepper add valuable variety to any diet.

"The final principle is 'Storied Food' – food that comes from our community that has a face," said Cathy. Many people appreciate knowing details about their food – the farms, people and growing methods in the FoodShed.

There is a plan to carry on the Erin FoodShed effort through Transition Erin, an umbrella group for a wide range of activities including the film festival, climate change issues, sustainable development, wastewater solutions and skills for a conserving lifestyle. They have created a FoodShed working group, and their website,, has an introduction and all the current recipes.

Hansen is active with the Canadian Organic Growers ( and recently presented an Organic Backyard workshop for Transition Guelph. She is also a Canadian Red Seal Chef, a program that sets inter-provincial standards and administers exams in various fields.

She and her husband Kaj operate Bernway Farm near Ospringe, specializing in organically grown vegetables and eggs from their flock of free-range hens. They also have a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) plan, where people buy shares in the produce and get a regular batch of seasonal vegetables.

Bernway Farm is a founding member of Erin’s Homegrown Harvest, a local network that includes All Sorts Acres, Deerfields, Everdale Farm & Environmental Learning Centre, Golden Innisfree Farms, Heartwood Farm, Mockingbird Farm, Whole Circle Farm, Whole Village Farm, Willow Creek, and 5 Acre Farm.

You can find out more at It includes information on the 200 Kilometre Lunch project, where Hansen went into schools to teach kids about the value of local food.

That effort also motivated the creation of a curriculum package for Ontario schools called "Take a Healthy Bite out of Climate Change" by Hansen, with Liz Armstrong, Heidi Matthews  and Amy Oucheterlony of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin. It is a free package that teachers can choose, to help students learn about climate change and develop healthier eating habits.

"Food is one part of life where kids can actually make some direct (+ delicious) decisions which have an impact on their carbon footprint," said Armstrong.

Piloted at area schools, the program is a tool to help meet Grade 5-6 curriculum objectives in areas like Language, Science & Technology, Geography, Social Studies, Math and Health.

Of course, there are many different efforts to promote the benefits of buying local food. At the Erin Fair Grounds on Main Street, the Erin Agricultural Society will once again host its Friday Farmers' Market, 3-7pm every Friday from June 14 until September 27. Vendors are being recruited, with the priority on local (Ontario) food. For more details, go to

The Rural Romp, a self guided tour to farms, nurseries and food businesses in North Wellington, will be held on Saturday, May 25, 11am - 4pm. The 8th Annual "taste•real" Guelph Wellington Local Food Fest will take place on Sunday, June 23.

More details will be published soon at their website,, where you can learn about other agricultural and culinary events and download a copy of the Local Food Map with information on a variety of farm and market outlets. Get a copy of the map mailed to you by calling 1-800-334-4519.

Here are some of the Foodshed recipes:

Bumpkin Cake

2 cups organic butternut squash or pumpkin (pureed)
1 cup fair trade organic sugar  OR  ½ cup honey
½ cup organic applesauce
¼ cup organic light cooking oil (Ontario sunflower)
4 organic eggs
½ tsp salt
Beat until well blended.
In a separate bowl combine:
1 cup organic all purpose flour
1 cup organic whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp organic ground cinnamon *
½ tsp organic ground ginger *
* organic spices are readily available from natural food stores.
Add the wet to the dry ingredients.  Stir until well blended.
Pour into a greased and floured 9x13 cake pan.  Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 40-45 min or until well browned and firm to the touch.
Freezes really well.
Tip for cooking pumpkins and hollow squashes:
Remove stem and poke holes with a fork.  Bake in a covered roast pan with ½" of water until very tender.  Butternut squash should be cut in half lengthwise, baked cut side down.  When cool, remove seeds, scrape out the flesh, and puree.  Pack in 2-cup portions.  Keeps 1 year in the freezer.

Maple Oatmeal Cookies - makes 3-4 dozen

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup maple syrup (darker the better)
1 egg
¼ cup plain yoghurt
¼ tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat or whole spelt flour
¼ tsp each cinnamon and ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1¼ cup oatmeal
Beat butter and maple syrup until well blended.  Add the egg, yoghurt and salt and continue beating until well combined.
Mix the dry ingredients (not the oatmeal) and add to the butter mixture.
Finally stir in the oats until just blended.
Drop by small spoonfuls on a lined baking sheet.  Bake at 375 F 10-12 minutes or until dark golden brown.

Potato Cookies

1 lb. organic potatoes - cooked
½ cup nuts *
½ cup local honey
2 organic eggs
chopped nuts
* one local Black and Persian walnuts source is Grimo Nut Nursery in Niagara - they ship!
Grind nuts and add honey, one egg, and one egg yolk (save the egg white).
Mash in potatoes until mixed well.  Roll into 1-inch balls and then roll them in chopped nuts.
Brush with egg whites.  Bake at 350 F for 15 min.

Red Cabbage

1 head of organic red cabbage
2 TBSP organic apple cider vinegar
¼ cup Fair Trade organic sugar
1 tsp salt
½ cup red currant jelly  OR  ½ cup organic apple cider
1 organic apple (sliced thin)
Cut cabbage into 4 parts, cut into thin strips. Add cabbage to large pot along with all remaining ingredients.
Cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Simmer uncovered for about an hour stirring occasionally.  Prepare in advance and refrigerate.  Reheat in oven or on stove top.

Beet Hummus - makes about 3 cups

4 cups cooked, peeled and cubed local, organic beets
2 TBSP organic tahini
½ - ¾ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp organic lemon juice
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp local, organic garlic, finely minced
Boil the beets until very tender then peel and chop into 1" chunks.
Put the beets, garlic, and tahini in a food processor and blend until quite smooth.  Add lemon, cumin, and salt.  Continue blending until thoroughly mixed.
Adjust seasoning.
Tastes better after 1 day!

Great Green Dip

1 cup of Greek or strained yogurt
2 TBSP mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic (roasted or fresh)
Combine yogurt, mayonnaise and garlic in food processor until blended.
1 cup finely chopped kale (fresh of frozen)
½ cup finely chopped spinach or other seasonal greens (fresh or frozen)
2 chopped green onions
¼ cup chopped radish
¼ cup chopped carrot
Combine chopped veggies in a bowl and stir in yogurt mixture.
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
¼ paprika
Season dip to taste.
Serve with fresh veggies, corn chips, or toasted pita.

Raise Your Eyebrows, Knock your Socks Off, Apple Cider-Chili-Bean Dip

Prep. time: 10 min   Makes approximately 2 cups
2 cups organic beans cooked & drained (Kidney & Pinto beans work well together)
1 cup organic dry beans.  Cook and drain.

¼ cup organic olive oil or local organic sunflower oil
1 TBSP organic apple cider vinegar
1 tsp organic lemon juice (or to taste)
2 tsp organic chili powder
½ tsp organic ground cumin *
1 TBSP organic tomato paste
Pinch of salt
* organic spices are readily available from natural food stores.
In food processor (fitted with a blending blade) combine all of the ingredients.  Blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust flavours until it knocks your socks off!
This is great as a snack with crackers, pita, or carrot sticks.

Parsnip Chips

Did you know...  Parsnips are sweeter after a frost!  They can be left in the garden after the frost date and harvested through the winter and spring.
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Slice parsnips into approx. 1/8 inch pieces.
Toss in a bowl with organic olive oil or local organic sunflower oil.
Spread out on cookie sheet in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt if desired.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until parsnips are soft and golden brown.
Serve warm!