Friday, October 28, 2011

A Little Bird Told Me Craft Sale Vendor Profile: Laura's Honey

Over the weeks leading upto our annual handmade holiday craft sale, "A Little Bird Told Me", on Sat, Dec 10, we are highlighting each one of the participating vendors.  Here is a short interview with Laura Stirling, 4th generation beekeeper, of Laura's Honey.

Little City Farm: Describe the products you will have at the Little Bird Sale:

Laura: I will offer gift sized jars of pure raw honey as well as beautiful sections of natural comb, presented in a small decorative container.  There will also be rolled, tapered beeswax candles as well as the "pillar" variety.

Little City Farm: How did you learn this art/craft?

Laura: I am blessed to be the fourth generation of a family of beekeepers.  My great grandfather, Hubert Burke began keeping bees as a profession in the early 1900s.  His son, Douglas Burke continued the tradition, expanding the buisness and managing a large apiary.  My father Randy Burke, began his own apiary in Manitoba and as a little girl I helped my father in his many bee yards.  It was there I learned that bees are a facinating insect, readily approachable and certianly nothing to be afraid of.  I enjoyed watching my father work, helping by smoking the bees, as well as stealing pollen from easily accessable pollen traps!  I recently decided to invest in my own hive and had a profitable first year.  Next year I hope to expand by purchasing additional hives for my bee yard.

Little City Farm: What inspires your art/craft?

Laura: My deep love of the natural world continually inspires my desire to keep bees.  It is very satisfying to open a hive and see freshly drawn out comb, filled with honey produced by the bee who harvests nectar from nearby flowers.  Not to mention pollination, which allows each of us the priviledge of enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables every year.  I love being a part of this natural process.

Little City Farm: Describe how your art/craft is eco-friendly.

Laura: The beekeeper not only harvests the honey, but also concerns themselves with the honey bee's health and well being.  I monitor the health of the brood (young) and regularly check for and if need be, treat for disease.  This promotes the continued health of the honey bee, which as I am sure some of you know, is under some strain right now due to climate change.  Beekeepers are also actively concerned about the use of new genetically modified seed, as some of these seeds are engineered to destroy insects when the fruit is ingested.  Bees consume the pollen of these plants and it is unknown whether they are able to tolerate it.  In addition to this, over the years beekeepers have been an active voice against the use of pesticides, as any pesticide will kill the honey bee. 

Little City Farm: Do you have favorite music to listen to while you work?

Laura: The sounds of the world around me while I work - wind, bees humming and birds!

Find Laura and her beautiful honey and beeswax products at the A Little Bird Told Me Sale, Saturday December 10 at Little City Farm (508 Duke St W, Kitchener). 

Enjoying the frost

We spent the early waking moments of this morning enjoying the frost.  It's nearly November and it felt good to see the frost come - it's time for a change of season.  We've done our canning and preserving; had our last CSA vegetable pick-up day; we have pulled our zucchini, beans and tomatoes, planted garlic, put in flower bulbs for the spring; we have green tomatoes ripening on our window ledge and new fresh green shoots coming up in the greenhouse (including a few rows of french beans, which our 3 year old absolutely wanted to plant but that will likely not make it in a winter garden!); we've stacked our wood on the porch (even though a new woodshed is still in progress) and are feeling ready to enjoy the coming winter.  "What does frost taste like?" our 3 year old wanted to know, so she painstakingly picked frozen water droplets off the kale leaves and tasted them (frost tastes delicious by the way) - and this offered a great chance for a conversation about the water cycle!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Little Bird Told Me Craft Sale Vendor Profile: Two Cent Sparrow

Over the weeks leading upto our annual handmade holiday craft sale, "A Little Bird Told Me", on Sat, Dec 10, we are highlighting each one of the participating vendors.  Here is a short interview with Kristen Ciccarelli from Two Cent Sparrow (ceramic jewellery):

Little City Farm: Describe the products you will have at the Little Bird Sale.

Two Cent Sparrow: I make stoneware jewellery, mainly pendants and earrings. If I could sum up my designs in two words, they would be earthy and simple. My making process is done in intervals. First I cut and shape clay by hand or throw on the wheel. Pieces are then dried, glazed, and fired to cone 6 (roughly 2300 degrees). Afterwards, the pieces are finished by attaching chord, chain, or earring backs. Last, I pair finished pieces with inspiring words and phrases. I want my work to not only be wearable, but also a source of inspiration and contemplation.

Little City Farm: How did you learn this craft/art?

Two Cent Sparrow: I took classes from a few local potters about seven years ago, saved up for my own wheel and kiln, began teaching myself, set up a studio in my basement (which has recently moved to Globe Studios), and the rest is history.

Little City Farm: What inspires your craft/art?

Two Cent Sparrow: I love being able to make something out of nothing. Clay is so malleable and anything you dream up you can do, really. As for inspiration, it might sound cliché, but I’ve always been drawn to natural spaces (the woods, bodies of water, fields) and because clay/glaze is such an earthy medium, it just kind of fits.

Little City Farm: Describe how your craft/art is eco-friendly?

Two Cent Sparrow: Making pottery is not as eco-friendly as it might seem. Firing a kiln uses a lot of energy. Ingredients in glazes and clay are mined, and some are toxic in their raw form. However, I have a very low production studio. Most of my pieces are hand built instead of thrown on an electric wheel. I have a tiny kiln (4x4x8 inches) and only fire it about half a dozen times a year. I rarely do a bisque firing, which cuts down on the total amount of firings. Because of this, I don’t use that much energy or go through materials very quickly, and there’s very little waste. Moreover, I work at home or at my studio – which is a walk-able distance from my house. My products don’t get thrown away, and if broken and disposed of, they don’t have a negative environmental impact. The fact that I’m just a little business helps me to be more eco-friendly.

Little City Farm: Favourite music to listen to while you craft?

Two Cent Sparrow: It changes over time, but right now it’s Ludovico Einauldi and Zoe Keating.

Little City Farm: Do you have a website/blog/online shop?

Two Cent Sparrow:  
Yes I do! My etsy shop is here: 

and my blog is here:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Successful Kombucha!

We just bottled and consumed our first successful batch of kombucha - it was our second attempt to make this delicious fermented live culture tea elixir that has a long list of reputed health benefits.  This time we got a large starter "mother" culture (i.e. a gelatinous mass of bacteria and yeast) from a helpful neighbour (thanks Mike!).  It seems that finding this "mother" is the hardest part of making kombucha.   After a week of steeping our tea with the starter culture and mother floating on top, it had turned into what we think to be just as tasty a kombucha as any we've been purchasing from the health food store.  I think we might be hooked.

Once we have the starter we can keep brewing, sort of the way you keep a small portion of live culture yogurt or sourdough from each batch to start the following batch.  We used a wonderful favourite wild blueberry rooibos (called the "Manitoba Blend", a gift from this tea shop in Winnipeg) blended with black tea - here is our method:

Making Kombucha 
1 litre water
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp loose black tea
other herbal blend to flavour (if desired - e.g. blueberry, lemon, ginger, etc)
1/2 cup mature acidic kombucha from last batch

Make tea, steep with sugar for 15 minutes.  Strain, let cool, the pour into large wide-mouth clean glass jar.  Add mature kombucha (save a portion of each batch for the next starter).  Place mother in the liquid with firm side up.  Cover with fine meshed cheese cloth or cotton muslin cloth, let sit in warm room for 7-10 days.  Taste to see when your preferred acidic flavour is ready.  Then store in refrigerator.

This Moment

{This moment} - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Autumn at our urban farm

Each change of season has such a charm.  We are enjoying these chilly, sunny days as we prepare for the  much colder months ahead.  These are perfect days for eating warm kale and potato soups, sitting by cozy bonfires, taking up forgotten knitting, air drying laundry outside, clearing the garden, tending compost...and starting to wind down for the start of an annual semi-hibernation time where we incubate new ideas, read, research, play, and rest over the winter.

Garlic planting

We spent a chilly (but sunny) morning recently planting garlic in preparation for next year - about 150 cloves (about 10 lbs), in hopes of finally growing enough garlic to last our family for a whole year.  This work took some time, but was a great job for an eager 3-year old helper - digging holes with a stick, peeling garlic, and dropping the garlic cloves one by one into each hole, then covering the entire bed with a mesh screen (to prevent our pesky squirrels from digging up all our hard work!)  Of course, it was nothing compared to the 70 lbs planted by our local Fertile Ground CSA, where they offer their 100 members a small share of garlic during the season.  At last week's CSA pick up we all took turns sitting around dividing up garlic bulbs into cloves, in preparation for the planting.  I also came across a really interesting idea from the Planet Repair Institute in Portland: creating a community garlic planting co-op using a neighbourhood lot as the large communal garlic garden.  Something to try in this neighbourhood next year!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Food Swap!

On Sunday we held our first Food Swap here at Little City Farm!  I had been reading about food swaps taking place in cities all across North America, bringing people together to share their harvests, preserves, and love of local food.  Food swaps are opportunities for local food entrepreneurs to showcase their new food products; for local homesteaders and urban gardeners to meet others; for food lovers to share extra preserves in exchange for new varieties; and communities to gather in a unique setting to practice the ancient art of bartering.  Food swaps are part marketplace, part food festival, part community potluck, part gathering.  Very fun indeed!  For our first swap we had 11 participants (plus a gaggle of kids), sharing 32 varieties of food items: everything from kimchi to wood-fired bread; zucchini muffins to strawberry jam; plum wine to freshly harvested honeycomb; herbs to handmade curry paste; granola to freshly squeezed juice; rendered duck fat to pickled diakon radish; yam cranberry loaves to jarred peaches; gorgeous bunches of kale, chard, beets, herbs and lavender bundles to dandelion jelly, etc. 

We estimate that aproximately 150 items were bartered in the span of about 2 hours (no money changes hands at a food swap), everyone going home with boxes and baskets of newly aquired items, fully bellies, and happy smiles on their faces.  Thanks to everyone who came and made this event the success it was!  We'll definitely host this event again - look for it in the spring.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Little Bird Told Me Craft Sale Vendor Profile: Taarini Chopra

Over the weeks leading upto our annual handmade holiday craft sale, "A Little Bird Told Me", on Sat, Dec 10, we are highlighting each one of the participating vendors.  Here is a short interview with Taarini Chopra (functional pottery dishes):

Little City Farm: Describe the products you will have at the Little Bird Sale:

Taarini: My pottery is handcrafted and wheel-thrown. I make functional stoneware and porcelain pieces, glazed in earthy greens, temnokus (browns) and deep blues, and fired in oxidation to cone 10. My Christmas collection will include mugs, tumblers, small and large bowls, pasta dishes, pitchers, and vases.
Little City Farm: How did you learn this craft/art?

Taarini: I am inspired by the incredible pottery of Waterloo potter and my teacher Jason L’Abbe. I began learning how to throw several years ago, on a traditional a kick wheel in India, sitting under a corrugated metal roof with the monsoon rains beating overhead. Jason has helped mould the fascination that began there into the pots I am now creating.

Little City Farm: What inspires your craft/art?

Taarini: I love the concentration and focus that throwing demands, and the feeling of the clay being shaped under the pressure of my fingers. I also love the precision and experimentation that goes into creating exciting glaze recipes, in much the same way that I enjoy cooking and baking. Every pot that comes out of the kiln is just a little bit different and I am fuelled by the unpredictability of the process, as well as by the individuality of each of the final pieces.

Little City Farm: Describe how your craft/art is eco-friendly?

Taarini: Hand-thrown pottery is perfect for those who choose hand crafted over factory-produced, natural materials over plastics, and who enjoy serving and eating out of pretty and personalized tableware. All dishes are food safe, and can be put in the dishwasher, oven and microwave.

Little City Farm: Favourite music to listen to while you craft?

Taarini: I usually throw in silence, often glaze with Lhasa del Sela, and clean up to Bruce Peninsula.

Do you have a website/contact info?

Taarini: I am happy to take personalized orders. Get in touch for more info: taarinichopra at  yahoo dot com.
Find Taarini and her gorgeous pottery at the Little Bird Sale, on Dec 10!

Apple Tasting and Fate of the Heirloom Apples

We love apples - and this is apple season.  Inspite of damp, cold windy weather, we held our annual apple tasting today.  October is an unpredictable month, so when we were planning for this outdoor event months ago we were uncertain as to what the weather would hold.  We lit a nice big cozy fire in our cob oven, and, bundled up with mittens, hats and raincoats, plus a few extra quilts brought out from our house.  It was well worth it to get a taste of the 20+ varieties of apples on display!  And these 20 varieties are only a thin layer of the vast range of apples grown in our country, even though we rarely see more than a handful of options in the local grocery stores or farmers markets.

Our facilitator from Seeds of Diversity, talked about the history of each apple while passing around plates piled with slices to sample.  We tasted everything from the very familiar McIntosh, Red Delicious, Northern Spy, Cortland, and Empire; to the more unfamiliar Snow (possibly the first apple grown in Canada, originating around 1730), Tolman Sweet, Sandow, Greening, Golden Russet, and Wolf River; to the newly developed Honey Crisp (developed in 1991) and Ambrosia (developed in 1980's - actually a "chance" discovery in an orchard in British Columbia).  Some better for baking, some better for cider, some for long shelf life, some for little browning when cut, some with crisp white flesh, others with pink tinged flesh, and on it went.  Today there are about 100 varieties of apples commonly grown in North America.  According to Oregon Tilth, astonishingly historically there have been over 15,000-16,000 varieties of apples (yes, really!) named, grown and eaten in North America. Today roughly only 3000 are available to growers, gardeners, cooks, chefs, etc (and you need to search pretty hard to find them). Our amazingly rich diversity of heirloom apples is in danger of becoming extinct - an estimated 4 out of 5 apples have been lost to consumers and much of this has only been within the past fifty years.  It is estimated that 11 varieties of apples make up 90% of what is sold in big box grocery chain stores - the other varieties just don't ship well, keep well or display well enough for what the average consumer has been told the "perfect" apple needs to look like.  Read more about this topic at Slow Food USA: Year of the Heirloom Apple.