January 28, 2015

Steen’s milk discontinued, but many choices available

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Steen’s brand of milk products is no longer available on store shelves, but local consumers still have many choices – including Jersey milk from Miller’s Dairy in Creemore, sold in returnable one-quart glass bottles.

Fred Steen started Steen’s Dairy in 1944. It became a major independent brand in Southern Ontario, with the Steen’s Dairy Bar known as an icon of Erin village. Unable to expand at its downtown location, it formed a partnership with the Organic Meadow farmers’ co-op, and in 2010 shifted production to a new plant in Guelph.

“Organic Meadow has been proud to partner with Steen’s Dairy to offer consumers access to both organic (Organic Meadow) and local (Steen’s) dairy offerings,” said Michelle Schmidt, Marketing Manager at Organic Meadow.

“Last year, we made some strategic changes to our business, specifically the elimination of our in-house distribution service, that we had used to primarily service local customers carrying the Steen’s brand. And so while Steen’s dairy products continue to be available (primarily through food service channels), by and large, they are no longer readily accessible on retail store shelves.”

Erin outlets do not appear to be carrying any Organic Meadow milk, but shoppers still have a variety of options. The Beatrice brand is available at some convenience stores, along with Lactancia, while Valu-Mart carries mainly the Neilson brand, with a small quantity of PC Organics.

Foodland in Hillsburgh sells Sealtest and Natrel, but in December after Steen’s was discontinued, they brought in Miller’s milk. That dairy uses bottles that only people of a certain age will remember – one-quart returnable glass, now with a refundable deposit of $2.00. The company also distributes half-gallon glass bottles to some outlets.

“The reaction of people has been very good,” said Foodland owner Mary McArthur. “It’s more of a country item.”

At $3.19 plus deposit for 946 ml, it won’t be practical or economical for families that consume lots of milk. But for low volume households, it creates a new option in a marketplace that for many decades has been quite homogenized.

Since 1965, under the milk system organized by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, milk from various farms is routinely pooled for efficient processing and marketed under major labels. Organic milk and other specialties are kept separate.

More than 90% of milk is from Holstein cows, with only 4% from Jersey cows. Now the industry is encouraging on-farm microdairies, partly due to consumer demand for local food, enabling Millers to offer pure Jersey milk. It comes from a purebred Jersey herd of 120 milking cows that has been tended at the same farm, by the same family, for 50 years.

“People want to know where their food comes from and we want to make that personal connection,” says the Miller family on their website.

After buying a bottle of Jersey milk, I did an informal taste test. The new milk tasted slightly different from regular milk, but was quite satisfying. It had a richer feel, even though it comes with the standard butterfat content levels – skim, 2%, whole (about 3.25%), 10% cream (half & half) and 35% whipping cream.

All the feed for the Miller herd is grown on the farm where they live. The milk is pasteurized, but not advertised as organic. The glass bottles keep it extra cold, naturally slowing down its aging process.

According to the American Jersey Cattle Association, Jerseys have a 20% lower carbon footprint, and their milk offers higher nutritional value, providing 15-20% more protein, 15-18% more calcium, 10-12% more phosphorus and higher levels of vitamin B12, compared to most milk on the market.

January 21, 2015

Gourmet groceries at new downtown restaurant

As published in The Erin Advocate

Chef Pam Fanjoy has taken an opportunity to combine her passion for local food with an interest in local history by opening the Mill Run Eatery on Main Street in downtown Erin village.

It is part gourmet grocery store, with some products not normally available in a small town, and a 14-seat breakfast-lunch restaurant that offers Sunday brunch and features a large community table.

Located in the building vacated by Carver’s Block, the Mill Run is two doors up from The Friendly Chef Adventures (formerly What’s Cookin’), which Fanjoy started just a year ago. The locations are on either side of Erin’s historic millrace, which once diverted water from Hull’s Dam on Church Blvd. to the mill behind Budson Farm and Feed, running directly under Debora’s Chocolates.

“I was concerned as a new business owner that Carver’s Block had closed, and I saw an opportunity to expand,” said Fanjoy, whose motto is, “Eat well with friends.” She says the new location has been doing OK even though they haven’t got a sign up yet.

Her primary business was already expanding and in need of more space. In addition to prepared foods, gift baskets and kitchen-related products, Friendly Chef Adventures is now fully licensed and serving lunch, providing catering, offering cooking classes and renting out space for parties.

The Mill Run Eatery has its restaurant seating by the window, then inside are displays that include a selection of cheeses and fresh meats. Each Friday, they bring in a different supply of fresh seafood for the weekend. There are also sections for frozen foods, and fresh produce such as lemon grass.

“I asked the community what they wanted,” said Fanjoy, who is a partner in the Taste•Real initiative for Guelph and Wellington, promoting the benefits of local, organic products. Information on events and incoming specials is available at www.thefriendlychef.ca.

The d├ęcor pays homage to Erin’s village history, with a large historical downtown map showing the millrace and photos of four mills from the 1800s. The location even has a trap door leading to the old water route.

While premium offerings do cost a bit more, Fanjoy said she has making an effort to offer people choices and to keep prices reasonable.

The Mill Run sells the Planet Bean line of coffee from Guelph – Fair Trade and Certified Organic – ready to drink or as beans. They have been carrying products from Everdale Farm near Hillsburgh, and meat from Wellington County farms that do not use hormones and antibiotics to enhance growth.

Packaged products include Roasted Chickpeas, Bomba Rice, Soup Girl mixes, 00 Pasta Flour, Smoked Paprika Powder (spicy or mild), and there are natural soda drinks with flavours like Blackberry-Pomegranate-Ginger and Pineapple-Coconut-Nutmeg.

Bottled products include All-Natural Mayonnaise, Rice and Fig Balsamic Vinegar, and various oils – Almond, Sesame, Hazelnut and Walnut.

The eatery is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm, except Friday when they are open until 6 pm. Sunday Brunch ($12.50 for adults, $10.50 for kids) is served 9 am to 2 pm.

January 14, 2015

Bioswales and rain gardens reduce stormwater impact

As published in The Erin Advocate

Credit Valley Conservation is urging municipalities and landowners to use techniques that allow more rainwater to soak into the ground, instead of simply dumping it into the closest stream.

It’s part of a trend called Low Impact Development (LID) that sees the asphalt and concrete surfaces of urban areas as a threat, leading to excessive sediment and chemicals in waterways.

“We want to reconnect the natural hydrological cycling within our urban areas,” said Cassie Corrigan, a CVC Water Resource Specialist, at a workshop last fall.

Biorention planters and swales allow
more rainwater to soak into the ground.
Photo courtesy of CVC.
Some measures can be required by planning regulations, while others are optional. Not every municipality is forcing developers to incorporate LID features.

“If a developer isn’t forced to do it, they’re not going to do it,” said Corrigan.

LID practices do not just apply to new housing developments. They can be used when roads are reconstructed, when parks or commercial zones are improved and when buildings are retrofitted.

Grants are sometimes available to offset the added costs of LID and municipalities can offer incentives through their water rates to encourage property owners to make specific changes.

In practice, LID starts by dealing with some of the rain where it lands, installing permeable paving, directing residential downspouts away from driveways and sewers, harvesting rainwater for other uses (such as water gardens or flushing toilets) and installing vegetation-covered green roofs on suitable buildings.

The risk of flooding on streets and properties can be reduced with bioswales – the new name for shallow grassy ditches. Other strips of land engineered with good drainage and a variety of low-maintenance plants, shrubs and trees are called rain gardens or bioretention swales.

These slow the run-off and filter out pollutants from roads and parking areas. They improve stream habitat and ease the burden on municipal infrastructure, extending its life and reducing the investment needed to build and maintain the system.

The goal is to allow as much water as possible to infiltrate the ground or evaporate before it ends up in a storm sewer, with the benefit of adding attractive greenery to urban areas.

Even where underground servicing is needed, it may be possible to use perforated pipes that allow some of the water to return to the ground.

Flood control still requires the use of ponds, which can be either dry or partially filled between major storms.

These are not ideal, however, since the discharged water is warmer than normal and not completely filtered, and there can be a build-up of sediment. Vegetated wetlands can also be created, though these have the potential of increasing phosphorus in the discharge.

Former Town of Erin Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said in 2012 that LID would not be suitable for the planned Solmar subdivision north of Erin village, due to the high groundwater and low permeability of the soils in the area.

For case studies, guidelines and more information on Low Impact Development, go to www.bealeader.ca.

January 07, 2015

$5 garbage bag surcharge would improve waste habits

On the bulletin board by my desk, I’ve just posted the Garbage, Recycling and Programme Information Calendar from Wellington County Solid Waste Services.

Having grown tired of calendars with cute animals, race cars and scenic outhouses, I can now gaze upon images of garbage trucks, swamplands being preserved, composting in action, pre-paid yellow garbage bags and employees doing their jobs with enthusiasm.

County staff appear to have good reason to be cheery, since their Human Resources Department recently won an “Oscar” in its profession. At a prestigious gala, Wellington was the winner of the Best Health and Wellness Strategy award from KPMG.

Initiatives have included tree planting, a ping-pong tournament, hockey and soccer teams that challenge other municipalities, fitness events, lunch time education on personal health, a Wellness Fair, mental health training and retirement readiness workshops.

I am always happy to read about my tax dollars being put to good use, but I would be just as glad to read the news in black and white, rather than in expensive colour publications and advertising.

The County has been politically and environmentally correct by printing their 36-page calendar booklet on 100% post consumer paper fibre. In the spirit of waste reduction, however, I suggest that the booklet is a luxury that most taxpayers would prefer to do without.

When I want to download the waste calendar, or read about what is allowed in my blue box, I will go to www.wellington.ca. When I want to learn how to keep re-usable materials out of the waste stream, I will go to the Recyclopedia page at www.wellington.reuses.com.

To be notified about a change in my garbage collection day, I’d rather sign up for an email or text message service.

Also, to promote frugality and waste reduction, I propose that the price of large yellow garbage bags be raised by $5, from $1.75 to $6.75 – on one condition.

A portion of the revenue would be used to cover the actual costs of collecting garbage and recyclables, but all of the excess money would be returned as an annual equal payment to each household in the pick-up areas.

By raising the price and providing an equal payback to each household, Solid Waste Services would expand a key benefit of the user pay system, as outlined in their calendar:

“It encourages diversion. The more residents reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, the fewer garbage bags they need to buy. It gives residents some control over how much they want to spend on their garbage each week.”

With a $5 surcharge per bag, it would cost $27 to put out four large bags. With pickup every two weeks, that would total $702 per year. The annual rebate would certainly be less than that.

A household that put out one bag every two weeks would pay only $175.50 a year, and could expect a rebate that would be higher than that – unless everyone cut back to one bag.

It would be a bit like the Carbon Fee and Dividend system that has been proposed to reduce gasoline consumption. You actually pay people to change their wasteful ways.

Of course, if we all become super waste reducers, garbage bag revenues will decline – and it is still going to cost about the same to drive garbage trucks up and down the roads. Maybe then we can switch to once a month rural pick-up, and urban folks can learn how to get by with pick-up every two weeks.

Erin Radio is back in town

As published in The Erin Advocate

After a brief stay in Fergus, the Erin Radio studio is back on the Main Street of Erin village, with a team dedicated to local programming.

“We’re starting fresh and getting back to our roots,” said Ronia Michael, who took over as Chair of the CHES-FM Board of Directors last week.

Weekday content will include popular music and community information, but they are planning to have more specialized shows with local hosts, guests and musicians in the evenings and on weekends. There is a new website, erinradio.org, and an Erin Radio 88.1 Facebook page.

The radio station still broadcasts at 88.1 FM from the Erin water tower, as it continued to do when production was shifted last year to Centre Wellington Community Radio in Fergus as a way to cut costs.

The Fergus group, which operates The Grand FM 92.9, had come to the rescue of the Erin operation in 2012, investing in equipment, operating a local studio as the Headwaters New Mix, adopting a more commercial style and hoping to tap into more of the Orangeville market.

With lack of advertising revenue from Erin and the recent refusal of the CRTC to allow an additional transmitter in Orangeville, the Fergus group was not willing to continue. They have returned the station to some of the people who founded it in 2006.

“It was great to build a station, but we couldn’t make it work,” said Chair Larry Peters. He has resigned from the board along with Scott Jensen and Vic Folliott. “It’s community radio, but you have to run it as a business,” said Jensen.

Remaining on the board are Ronia Michael and Sales Coordinator David MacDonald, while returning are Treasurer Jay Mowat, Music Director Phil Taylor, Fundraising Co-ordinator Ray Young and Producer Rob Dodds.

“I want to thank 92.9 for being supportive,” said Michael. “We’re very grateful for your help through this transition period – for two years you have kept us on the air. You’ve gone above and beyond.”

Taylor said while listeners can still expect some familiar popular music, there will be more variety, with a greater focus on independent Canadian artists.

Erin Radio will continue as a volunteer-based non-profit venture, keeping costs as low as possible. Erin United Church has donated space for their new studio, which went live on January 5. Arrangements are being made for on-line listening.

Michael appreciates the local community cooperation she has experienced while bringing the new team together, and has special thanks for Doug Bingley of Barrie, whose company Central Ontario Broadcasting operates the Toronto-based radio station Indie 88.1.

She said Bingley supports community radio and has made a partnership with CHES, providing a donation to help with transition costs.

Bingley won the competition to use the 88.1 frequency in 2012 after the Ryerson University station lost its CRTC license. Indie 88.1 plays 60% of its Canadian music from emerging artists – those who have never had a hit single.

Bingley’s station shares the 88.1 frequency with Erin Radio and is not allowed to overpower the Erin signal. The transition of radio reception between the two stations occurs in the south part of the Town of Erin, near 5 Sideroad.

When the Toronto station wants to increase the power of its transmission, it has an interest in helping Erin Radio boost its power, to balance the signals and maintain the territories. Mowat said Erin has benefited from this situation, and may do so again.