SEED STARTING

Seeds in Hand
Pouring the Pellets
Peat Pellets
Heirloom Seed Packs
Seeds in Pots
Seeds in Peat Pots
Oh boy, is this ever overdue. Although not that overdue, because I definitely dilly-dallied on starting my seeds. Like, three weeks of dilly-dallying. What can I say, except that I've been finishing up the school term?

Anyhow. 

I took yet another sustainability course this term (can't get enough of 'em), and for my final project I needed to pick an area of my life to make more sustainable. It could be anything from an eco-trip to making my home or workplace sustainable. I, along with a bunch of other folks, chose to garden. Of course I did! Food? Sustainable food? Anytime I get to read/write/talk about sustainable food for pages/hours on end is fine by me. It was interesting to see how everyone's projects differed even thought they were on more or less the same topic. I knew exactly what my project would be right after going over the course outline on the first day of class, but me-being-me, I left the actual book reading until March.

For as long as I can remember, there has always been a vegetable garden in our family backyard. One of the only perks of growing up in suburban Calgary is that we have a large backyard with ample room to grow. While I'm sure that my brother and I were excited to see the plants grow, our participation was only dropping seeds into the soil one day and returning to the plot a few weeks later to see that it had manifested into something tangible. Although through generations my family have been gardeners, up until last year it was never a hobby that interested me. Last summer, I once again took on sowing the seeds and left the handiwork to my mother. I did, however, take great care of herbs and tomatoes.

I can't believe that I haven't talked about it here yet, but I went to a talk given by Joel Salatin in March. JOEL FREAKING SALATIN, PEOPLE. It was a sold-out show, which I found super surprising. It's not often that I think of Calgary being sustainable in regards to the food system, so it was kind of amazing to see just how many people really are interested. Salatin talked about the disconnect between society and the food system, and made some wonderful points that really resonated with me. A point that he made was about the self-actualization of todays youth being more centralized on working technology than working the land. I can relate to this, in that growing up, most all the food I ate came from the supermarket and I had little to no idea about a seasonal, moving diet. While at uVic, I took a life-changing environmental studies class and things have absolutely not been the same since. At the beginning of that term, my professor asked the class if we would grow our own food and work on a farm if we had the opportunity to. My answer was a strong "NO," and that I was fine with picking up my goods from the farmers market. Well, well, less than two years later all that I can do is look back on that moment and laugh.

The deal this year is that I'll be fully responsible for the vegetable garden and containers. Yup, zero to hero in one season, my friends. The plan is to "reclaim my food system," in one of the final ways possible. Well, maybe the final way possible. I'll be getting my hands dirty all summer long by sowing, thinning, weeding and watering. I'm excited.

Since Calgary's growing season is so stupidly short (hey, hey seven months of winter), seed starting is a beneficial way to extend the season and obtain higher yields. The last frost date isn't until the end of May, so prior to that no planting can be done outdoors. Early in March, my aunt + uncle came over to do some winter sowing, a process in which you make greenhouses out of milk cartons and keep the greenhouses outdoors. I missed the process due to work, so I'm not all too sure of the logistics. There are milk jug greenhouses hanging out in my backyard right now, and come to think of it, I should probably check on them to see if anything has happened. I have learnt so much about gardening over the span of two months, but up until recently it's all just been theoretical. What I've recently done is indoor seed starting. I used peat pellets to sow the seeds in, as they can be planted directly in the soil once they've matured. This diminishes the amount of root disruption, which is ideal. So far, I've started some broccoli, a mesclun mix, two varieties of lettuce and arugula. In a couple weeks, I'll start some more greens, so that we have a steady supply for the early weeks of summer. The rest of the veg (the list is extensive) will be planted directly into the soil once the last frost has passed. My seed starting set-up is chilling on a heating mat with the lid on until the seeds germinate, and then they'll be placed under lights for around sixteen hours per day. 

I'm excited! There is something truly magical about making something out of nothing, or um, a teeny tiny little seed turning into a plant that will eventually FEED you. It's kind of amazing.

IN MY PANTRY


BULK BINS
The bulk bins at your local natural foods store are your friend. I buy most of my legumes, grains, nuts + seeds and obscure ingredients from the bins. They are great because often times you can save a few bucks, you have more freedom over quantities, and they can greatly reduce waste (packaging) so long as you bring your own bags.

Black beans
Chickpeas
Mung beans

Amaranth
Buckwheat groats
Forbidden rice
Oats - The rule of thumb here is the quicker it takes to cook, the less nutritious/more processed it is. Steel cut, groats and thick old fashioned are good options.
Quinoa

Almonds
Cashews
Pecans
Pepitas
Walnuts

FREEZER FOODS
Frozen berries, either from last summers harvest or purchased.
Food For Life Genesis 1:29 bread, Ezekiel 4:9 english muffins + brown rice tortillas. Food For Life products are definitely more expensive than your average loaf of bread. I don't eat a lot of breads as it is, so I go through them quite slowly. Folks should be wary of store-bought loaves or even homemade bread due to additives and added sugars. I stay away from ALL bakery bread, as I've seen preservatives, white sugar and hydrogenated this-or-that on labels. When making bread at home, it's important to source the flour. Due to what I imagine is just a whole lot of processing, flours are often fortified to add back nutrients that were stripped and stabilizers are sometimes added.

FRUIT + VEG
I will admit that my diet is not really seasonal. It is hard to do in Calgary, as our growing season is significantly shorter than many places. I do make a point of only eating distinctly seasonal items like berries during the summer months, or indulging only in our frozen yields from last season. I’m a lot more lenient when it comes to vegetables. A goal of mine this year is to eat more seasonally. I’ll need to be much more creative in the kitchen, that’s for sure.

MILK ALTERNATIVES, DAIRY + EGGS
Dairy I could live without and most often do. Eggs are another story. I LOVE eggs and use them daily.

Cheese - Goat cheese and feta make appearances in my diet. I prefer Daiya to regular cheddar (weirdo, I know). I'm partial to other cheeses when Gabi and I have fun wine + cheese nights! 
Eggs - The "right" type of eggs to purchase is such a wishy-washy topic, as there are no clear sort of regulation on them. "Cage-free" is more so a marketing ploy than anything. "Free-range" is the pinacle of farm-washing, and only means that chickens have access to the outdoors at some point. Commercial eggs are produced as you would imagine, very intensively. I'm on the hunt for sustainably raised eggs here in Calgary, but have found that they're a hot commodity and very difficult to find on the reg. If I buy from the supermarket (which I most often do), I opt for free-range. I eat mostly egg whites and up to three whole-eggs per week to keep my cholesterol in check.
Nut milks - I make my own almond milk these days. I haven't experimented with making other nut milks, but hope to in the future. They are so easy to make at home and lack all of the preservatives that store-bought ones do.
Yogurt - Greek all the way! I eat only plain yogurts, and if I want extra sweetness I'll add my own fruit. Greek yogurt is great sweet and savory. Almond yogurt is pretty tasty too, but I only eat it on special occasions, because it does contain added sugars.

OILS (For more information on oils, check out this post)
Coconut oil - Unrefined, virgin.
Extra virgin olive oil - Buy in dark tins/bottles.
Flax oil - High in omega-3s. Look for non-GE. Should be kept in the fridge or it will become rancid.
Toasted sesame oil - Nice for stir-frys. Often refined, so use sparingly.

PROCESSED FOODS
Some foods are a lot easier to purchase ready-made instead of attempting to make them yourself. My reasoning behind this is my lack of food processor. I own a Vitamix and have tried to use it as a food processor, but have been really freaked out that I'm going to break it. Yeah, the last thing that I want to do is break the most expensive blender on the planet. I did do without most of these while I was participating in October Unprocessed, but since they have been reintroduced.

Daiya - A great vegan "cheese" option. I eat dairy on rare occasions, but prefer to use Daiya most of the time. 
Hummus - There is a great recipe on Smitten Kitchen for hummus, but I've still had difficulty making it without a food processor. It's a lot easier to buy, but be wary of the types of oils used in production, as well as preservatives.
Nut butters - Whole Foods 365 are my favorite, and I MAJORLY stock up whenever I'm in the US. No, Skippy is not a good option. I don't know about you, but I'm not really interested in icing sugar or hydrogenated anything in my peanut butter. I've tried to get my family to go the natural route, but a common complaint is that the consistency is very different (not as smooth). Well no, it's not. It's just ground up peanuts and maybe some salt, so obviously it's not going to be as silky smooth. Once you get used to it, natural peanut butter is really wonderful.

SOY PROTEINS, ETC.
These are a great option if you don't have time to cook up a batch of beans, or really if you're just looking to shake things up. 

Seitan - Seitan is an option if you are not gluten free. It's made from vital wheat gluten, and I'd say it is the option that most resembles a meat product. I've never seen it in stores in Calgary, but I understand that it is available at stores such as Whole Foods. It's not particularly difficult to make either.
Tempeh - I tend to gravitate towards tempeh more often. It is made from whole, fermented soy beans, is less processed than tofu and is higher in nutrients. The first try might be a little off-putting, but I've become quite partial to its nuttiness. 
Tofu - Tofu gets a lot of hate, but if you pick organic, non-GMO varieties it is really not that bad

SWEETENERS
I am adamant about following a refined sugar-free diet. It's easy enough to do if you don't eat many processed foods and cook your own meals. On occasion, I'll have unrefined sugar. I opt for honey purchased from the farmers market, organic maple syrup and lucuma powder. I find that I don't need those very often either, and when I'm craving something sweet I'll usually just snack on a banana or Medjool dates.

*Note: I'm clearly not any sort of health professional. The above is just what works for me.
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