I’ve been meaning to tell you about Underground Organics since back in the spring when buckets of their beautiful flowers first started showing up at my local weekly market, the Dufferin Grove Farmers Market.
Underground Organics are a trio of farmers living just outside Toronto who are organically growing annual and perennial flowers and selling them locally at farmers markets and health food stores in the region. I had all but given up on buying cut flowers since learning about how bad the industry can be for both the environment and the people who work on big cut flower farms. My gardens aren’t big and are primarily dedicated to food so having flowers to cut and enjoy in my home is a rare treat reserved for the times when my flowers are blooming abundantly. Since this spring I’ve been enjoying a new bouquet every week.
Here’s what I bought last week.
Shane and the gang grow all kinds of interesting flowers and unique varieties, many of which I have never seen before. There’s a new selection of tempting colours every week making it difficult to choose. And they’re affordable too. Most bouquets run in he $4-8 range with bouquets of really fancy blooms at about 12 bucks. You can choose a ready-made bouquet from an assortment on display or choose your own blooms and have Shane, a gifted farmer and floral arranger, assemble it and wrap it up. They even use old-school butcher paper and beautiful hemp twine — none of that clear plastic or tacky floral nonsense used to package bouquets at your run-of-the-mill corner store florist.
If you’re in the Toronto area, Underground Organics sells every week at The Trinity Bellwood Farmers Market (Tuesdays), The Dufferin Grove Farmers Market (Thursdays) and other local stores (see the site for listings). If you’d like to learn more about the flower industry check out Amy Stewart’s eye-opening book Flower Confidential. And if you know an eco-conscious flower farmer or florist in your area please add it to the comments since many of us want to buy organic flowers but don’t often know where to find it.
I am standing in front of a community garden taking photos when a youngish dude (I am not good at guesstimating age) holding a guitar and a large, open bottle of vodka approaches me.
Him: What are you doing?
Me: I’m taking pictures of these beans and bean flowers.
Me: Because I think they are beautiful and I am impressed by this garden.
Him: Why are you wearing a bike helmet.
Me: I was riding by on my bike and stopped to take a few photos.
Him: [Laughing] Are you afraid you’ll fall off?
Me: I’m afraid I’ll get hit by a car. I value my life.
Him: [Takes a swig of vodka] What are you doing after this?
Me: I’m working. I’m working right now. This is my work. I take pictures. I write about gardening.
Him: Do you like your work?
Me: Very much.
Him: So I don’t get it. Why do you do this?
Me: Because I love gardening and I love good food. And I want to share what I know. Because people need good food but they can’t always access it either because it’s just not available or they can’t afford it. And because gardening makes people feel good and it makes them feel good about themselves.
Him: So you don’t make porn with that camera?
- Homesteading — the kind that involved living in tents and no machinery — was terribly difficult. I’m sure of it. Of course I already knew this, camping merely drove that point home in a new way. Simple tasks take longer, requiring more planning.
Who wants tea? Well, first you’ve got to make a fire. This might require collecting wood. It will also require making flames first thing in the morning when you are still half asleep. Then you’ve got to wait an eternity for that fire to get hot. Then you’ve got to wait another absurd length of time for the water to heat up. You will probably give up and settle for a lukewarm beverage, if you can wait that long. If there is one thing I hate to go without it is my morning genmaicha. Some campers look forward to that first indulgent post-camping meal. My favorite post-camping experience came the next morning when I got up to make my morning tea. The whole thing was accomplished in minutes with a mere flick of a button. No dangerous half-asleep fire starting required.
- Here’s something you should know before setting out to camp in the wilderness. There are these little insects called Deer Flies. They look an awful lot like regular flies with one exception: regular flies are annoying but basically harmless, while deer flies slice off chunks of your flesh using their special slicing mouth parts. I am convinced that they are collecting human meat for Satan. There is no other explanation. After suffering through five days of their menace, mosquitoes are beginning to look downright civil, polite even. Sure they leave a bump that itches for days and days but by god deer flies have left an indelible scar on my psyche that no ointment will ever heal.
- Note for the future: Do not allow me to camp with small children. Not because camping is hard (except that it is) but because when faced with legions of biting insects, strong winds, and four hours of arm-breaking canoing I am unable to prevent the steady stream of elaborate cursing that will inevitably come pouring from my mouth. Please, think of the children.
The best way to learn what makes a plant tick is to see it growing in the wild. I consistently glean a lot of knowledge from these experiences. This trip taught me tons about blackberries and blueberries. Both were in season and both were easily found just about anywhere we went. Blackberries were always fully exposed, growing where the sun shone brightly and the soil was poor or non-existent. Sometimes it grew in the sand right at the water’s edge or in open meadows sitting alongside wetlands. Blueberries tended to be underneath the shade of larger coniferous trees or just on the edge of forests. They were always found among the low, sprawling juniper bushes.
Blackberries growing out of a rock.
Check out the view behind me.
Wild Blueberries. Tasty and FREE! Foraging makes me feel like I’ve scored the most awesome deal in town. Sure I have to do the work but still…. FREE. Picking them by hand has given me a whole new appreciation for the price of a pint of wild blueberries.
Picking Blueberries. Note the coniferous trees both big and small. The ground was basically granite and pine needles.
- Here’s a tasty camp dessert that I made up on the spot utilizing our foraged berries and provisions we had on hand. Add some sugar and fruit juice to a bowl of wild berries. Break up a few slices of bread into small chunks and add to the mix. Set it aside for 30 minutes or so allowing the bread to soak up the juices. Wrap it all up in foil and set over the fire to cook for about 15 minutes. Enjoy. Go ahead and lick the foil but try to avoid cutting your tongue.
Making foraged wild berry dessert. I look high here but I promise you the only thing I inhaled on this trip was fresh, super oxygenated air. And a lot of campfire smoke. I like to make fires so fire-starter was my self-appointed role.
- Camping in the rain is another kind of tricky. Have to go to the bathroom outdoors in the rain? Try to hold it in. That’s all I have to say about that.
- I have a lot to learn about plants. And mushrooms… forget about it. Better to assume they are all poisonous.
- Camping is a reminder of how easy we have it, a demonstration in the excesses in our modern lives that we can probably do without. I learned that baking soda really is the miracle powder. You can use it to scrub dishes, wash hair, brush teeth, and remedy bee stings. It really doesn’t taste that bad when used as toothpaste.
- I can tolerate all manner of dry, bland food when forced. Being surrounded by beautiful landscape makes everything go down easier.
Click the image to see full-size.
…But just barely. Camping was hard and beautiful and itchy and wonderful all at once. The 4 hours of canoing to our campsite island was probably the hardest part. The wild berry foraging was very good. I gleaned some new bits of knowledge about growing blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries from the experience.
I have lots to share but also lots of email to attend to. More soon when I get it together.
The above photos were taken from the farthest outcropping of rocks from our campsite. What I’ve assembled is a bit confusing, vaguely representing a 360 view from that rock. Our campsite is hidden in this photo but was located to the right of the middle trees.
We’re going camping! I haven’t been really, truly camping since I was a kid. As a non-driver I’ve never been able to get my feet wet in the world of tent pitching in the wilderness since getting out of the city into the great outdoors is a bit of a jaunt without a car. Sure we could take a bus and then hike it out into the forest or take an epic bike ride to the outer regions but I can’t say that any of those possibilities have ever entered my mind as options. I’m enthusiastic, just not THAT enthusiastic.
Anyways, we’re very excited about this trip and have been frantically preparing for it for the last two months. The very first thing I did was pull out “Let’s Get Primitive” by Heather Menicucci a book I blurbed a year or so back. Reading Heather’s book the first time ignited a spark in me to rekindle a childhood love of camping and the book really proved to be exceptionally handy as a second time read now that we’re really going to do it. Even my partner Davin gave it a read-through, taking notes along the way of items we might need, proving that books with “girl” in the title are useful for those of the male persuasion as well. I think he also liked that it gave him an excuse to indulge in his insatiable love for M.E.C. He’s always looking for an excuse to go in and browse or pick up some such piece of equipment for this or that, primarily bike-related. All I have to say is that we had better become avid campers after this because we’ve got a whole lot of gear and nowhere to store it. I have a feeling that we’re going to be sharing the living room with a tent, sleeping bags, and self-inflating sleeping mats for the next two months. Yes, we have self-inflating sleeping mats. We don’t have proper rain gear during the rainiest summer on record, but by god our backs will be “cushioned” on a pad that inflates itself with air. Unfortunately the mat does not deflate itself. Or generate heat. Or keep biting insects away. For that I plan to employ three brands of herbal bug spray simultaneously.
Of course as a gardener and plant lover I am most excited about the plants. I have already packed my Edible Wild Plants book and am considering creating space for a wild flowers field guide. A bug book might be handy too. And another that covers trees. Davin is packing a bird field guide. That should just about cover it.
We’ll be four or five days without internet access. I have set some photos and posts to go live while I’m gone. However, if you don’t hear from me by next Friday then all I ask is that someone water the plants.