April and May 2010 Review

**So I had this update written for the beginning of June, but just forgot to post it. Here it is, a month late, but better late than never.**

Another month has passed and it’s time for my monthly review. Since May of last year (2009), I was on a pretty good streak of keeping up with these updates, until this past April when I was just too busy to even think about writing an update. So here goes a double header update for both April and May.

April Review
Lots of things were happening, with the majority of my time focused on my business in terms of going out on sales calls, prepping materials for our upcoming jobs, and networking within the local food community. It was a busy month

1. Elected to be a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council
First up, I got nominated to become a member of the TFPC. This is a volunteer council, though there are a couple paid staff members, which is part of the Toronto Board of Health, that advises the city on food policy and related issues. The council is primarily made up of people who have been involved in the local food movement for many years now, and have lots of experience in a whole variety of sectors. I had a chance to skim some of the bios of the other members, and they have a long list of accomplishments which I think seriously overshadow some of the things that I’ve done in the past. Despite the wealth of experience of council members, they are bringing in some more young people to voice their opinions, and it is through the relatively new Toronto YOUTH Food Policy Council (which I am also a member of), I got nominated to be one of the two youth representatives on the council.

More information on the council canbe found here (http://www.toronto.ca/health/tfpc_index.htm), though I’ve been told the website is many, many years old and is not regularly updated

2. Spoke with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning
Towards the end of the month, I got a call from one of the producers of Metro Morning asking if I’d be interested in going into the studio to speak about my involvement in the local urban agriculture secene. Not wanting to turn down such a great opportunity, I accepted wholeheartedly. It was a whirlwind experience where everything happened very quickly. I got a call on Monday asking to see if I’d be interested in participating, got a call back the next day to confirm the time, then on Thursday morning, I found myself sitting in the studio with Matt Galloway as well as with another urban farmer Daniel Hoffman. The interview took place early on Thursday morning (around 6:45am), I arrived at the studio around 6:30, the interview lasted less than 10 minutes, and then I was out the door and on my way for the rest of the day right afterwards. It was a cool experience and I’m happy to say that we got some more business for both the CSA and our private service out of this interview.


3. Grant approval for our non-profit
One of the most exciting news to share this month was that our non-profit Young Urban Farmers CSA got approved for a grant from the Big Carrot. Lots of time and effort went into preparing the application, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help from many of our great volunteers. I know I definitely breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we have some funding to help sustain our operations for this year. As with most non-profits, funding is always an issue and it’s nice to see that all of our costs will be covered through our shareholders and this grant for this year.

4. The Drake Hotel
Another piece of exciting news was that we landed a pretty high profile commercial account. While the garden that we set up for them is tucked away in a back alley behind the hotel and not very visible, it is still a great opportunity for us to expand to more commercial customers in the future.

5. Online store sales orders

Back in March, we launched an e-commerce store as a way to help get our brand out there and service more people than just in our current geographic reach of the GTA. Not really expecting too much, I was pleasantly surprised as many people somehow were able to find our website and placed a couple orders with us. No SEO or web optimization or anything was done (which is on my to-do list once things start to settle down) to draw people to our site, and some of these customers mentioned that they found us through a simple web search. Maybe this is just one successful example of the phrase “build it and they will come”.

6. Easter
Easter was a bit of a low-key time of year for me. My parents were out of town, but I had the chance to be there for my friend Derek’s baptism. It was also great to see a bunch of old Queen’s people I hadn’t seen in a while too.

That about sums it up for the month of April. I’m sure more things happened that I’ve forgotten about, but that’s all for now.

May review
May has been a hot and dry month. I was able to get my farmer’s tan on, setting up a ton of gardens this year (I’ve actually lost track of how many I’ve put in so far). I’m glad things are starting to slow down a bit more as I can’t keep up the same pace of work for so long.

1. Three Feature Articles in The Globe and Mail
Over the past year, we’ve been very fortunate to have a number of high profile media outlets speak and profile us in their publications (Toronto Life, Toronto Star, CBC Radio). This month, several opportunities came up where YUF was profiled in the small business section, I was profiled in the May 24 gardening special, and our CSA was also talked about in the same paper on the same day as well. I know it’s been huge in terms of generating awareness and will only help business in the future.

2. Selling Seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market
Also in May, we had the chance to sell lots of seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market. Not knowing what to expect, I would say we did quite well selling lots of plants each time we were there. We definitely learned a lot being at the market as well. And it was more of the little things that we learned like arriving early to setup, having a banner and some sort of tent cover to help protect us from the elements, knowing which plants to bring, and more.

3. Avoided 2 parking tickets
There was one day during the middle of the month where I almost got 2 parking tickets. In both places, I knew I was parked in a spot where I shouldn’t have been, and both times I was getting back to my car just as the parking officer was showing up to write a ticket. One of the parking officers was really nice about it, and the other was a real jerk about it. I know they are just doing their jobs, but unfortunately they’re in probably one of the professions where most people don’t like it when they do their job well.

4. Start of the Ultimate Season
May also marked the start of our frisbee season. I’m playing on two teams again this year (Tofuriuos and Slam Dunks) on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I forgot how much I missed playing frisbee until I stepped on the pitch for the first time this season. There’s been a bit of turnover on both of my teams, but there are still lots of fun people on both teams that I know it’s going to be a great season!

5. Felix and Boris back in town
Coincidentally, two of my high school friends were back in town in May at the same time and I had a chance to catch up with both of them. It was nice getting together and going for a delicious Chinese vegetarian dinner

6. TFPC retreat and strategic planning session
After being elected to become a member of the TFPC (Toronto Food Policy Council), I had a chance to attend my first meeting with the group and it was a strategic planning session. Surprisingly, this was the first time in the council’s almost 20 year history. I had the privilege of meeting many of the esteemed members of the council (people who have definitely been around the food world and done lots of great things) and contribute to the future vision of the council.

Also, for the first public meeting of the council in June (on Wednesday), I’ll have an opportunity to be a part of a panel discussion about the future of the Food Connections Report recently passed by Toronto Public Health and which should be moving on to the main city council for a vote in the future.

7. Interesting Plants
This year, I’m trying out a number of new and interesting plants. As with all plants, it’s about experimenting and seeing what works for you and what works in our Toronto climate. Here are some of the interesting ones that I’m growing this year:

  • Purple snow peas
  • French lavender
  • Ginger mint
  • Globe basil
  • Thai basil
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomatillo
  • Climbing nasturtiums
  • “Curry” herb (smells just like Indian curry!)

Looking forward, I’m sure June will bring more interesting events (I’m never one to just sit idly around) and more things to write about. I want to take some time to reconsider the direction of the blog as there hasn’t been any plan or direction so far. All of our gardens should be wrapped up very soon, and it’ll be time to start reaping the rewards of the harvest.

elderbery black_beauty flower

The Busy and Interesting Month of May

May has been an extremely busy time for me and a whirlwind of new and interesting experiences. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to experience all these new things and hopefully will have many more interesting experiences to share in the future. And so without futher ado, here’s a brief recap of some of the interesting and unique experiences I had over the past month

1. Ontario Food Terminal
This was almost a surreal experience paying a 5am visit to the Ontario Food Terminal which is Canada’s largest wholesale fruit and produce terminal. This is where all the restaurants and grocery stores go to buy their produce, and where convenience stores, nurseries, and other retailers go to buy their flowers/plants. Apparantly all the action happens around 2-3am for the big buyers and it’s just a hive of activity, produce, and plants. Thanks to some inside connections, I was able to go and pickup some plants for my business.

For more info, check out http://www.oftb.com/info.htm

2. Visit to a local flower/vegetable farm
Not many people know this, but farming runs in my family. My mom grew up on a farm up near Newmarket and today my aunt continues to run the same farm growing flowers and vegetables. With several HUGE greenhouses, it was incredible seeing rows and rows of flowers and vegetbles as far as the eye can see. I had the opportunity to go and visit my aunt’s farm a couple times this month to pickup most of the veggies and plants needed for my business.

3. The inaugural Lemon/Herb camping trip
This trip can be summed up in two words – epic failure! Our reliance on only a flint/steel, fishing rod, and our wits for dinner on this camping trip ended up in failure. Granted we didn’t really do any research before attempting to fish, it was our first time attempting to fish, and we were using my dad’s 30 year old equipment which wasn’t in the best working order, we weren’t really setting ourselves up for success. We did manage to get and keep a fire going despite a massive downpour, but the fish and our lures were not cooperating. Despite that, it was an awesome trip and great chance to spend a weekout away from the city out in the woods.

4. A 10 hour teeth cleaning experience
And before you get too shocked, the entire 10 hours isn’t spent cleaning my teeth (my teeth aren’t that bad – promise!). One of my friends is in training to become a dental hygienist and needed some volunteers to help her get some practice and experience. And despite the extremely long time commitment (which isn’t finished just yet), it turned out to be the most thorough and comprehensive oral checkup and assessment I’ve ever had. I learned alot about my teeth, proper brushing technique, and a whole slew of technical jargon that I didn’t really udnerstand, but seemed interesting regardless.

5. Leading a focus group
I had the chance one weekend to lead a couple of focus groups for my business and it turned out to be a very interesting experience. I learned alot about moderating, leading and guiding a discussion, and soliciting input from a variety of different types of people. Thanks to Yafa for the help in creating the discussion guide and general tips on leading/moderating.

6. Visiting a friend’s photography gallery
The month of May was also home to month long Contact photography festival. It features local photographers to showcase their stuff and one of my friends hosting his own gallery during this festival. He’s got some amazing work and I had the priviledge of going to check out his gallery on opening night. Unfortunatly the gallery is wrapping up tomorrow, but you can go and checkout his website here. www.esmondlee.com

7. Spring kickoff BBQ
Spring is in the air and that means BBQ season. It was great having some friends over, sharing some good food and good company. With that being said, I think I’ll host another BBQ in the future.

8. Start of ultimate season
While not so unique, frisbee season has started – and for those who know me, know that I love to play frisbee. It’s a great chance to get some exercise and hang out with friends after a hard day’s work. It’s a great sport for veterans or for beginners and I encourage everyone to at least give it a try!

9. The JC Iron Chef competition
Right at the beginning of the month, I battled Jing in a cooking duel a la Iron Chef. The secret ingredient: BACON! The unexpected dish that I served to wrapup my meal – bacon ice cream! Yes that’s right, bacon ice cream. And it was delicious. Please allow me to explain. It’s not bacon-flavoured ice cream, it’s ice cream with bacon bits in it. Here’s the rationale. You start with your smooth, cold, and creamy ice cream (I used a base of vanilla ice cream). Add in some homemade shortbread cookies for a bit of chewy-ness and a change in texture, and to top it off, finely chopped bits of crispy bacon for an unexpected sweet salty surprise. Sure you may think it sounds unappetizing, but tell that to everyone present who decided to try it and like it enough to finish the entire bowl!


That’s all for the interesting/unique things in May. We’ll see what June brings in terms of more interesting/unique experiences.