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Farm and Market: The Short Story
In the 1990s I went on a campaign to eat better, and bought lots of vegetables that turned out not to taste as good as I expected. So, in a story that has a couple of twists and turns, I began growing my own, specializing in heirloom varieties, and became passionate about sharing those flavors with people who knew mostly supermarket produce.

After two years at the Birchcliff Farmers' Market in Scarborough (my first-ever retail experience, and happily I turned out to be good at it), I began working to launch small farmers' markets in urban office environments, as a project in creating new distribution channels for small-scale producers.

The Maplekeys Office Markets were held in 2010-2011 at the Centre for Social Innovation's two Toronto locations. The pictures on the left, taken by Chilion Benedict, are from that market. At CSI we confirmed the effect of internal promotion by the host organization: traffic doubled in just four weeks and that in turn let us expand the market with new producers and specialties.

Constance Dykun, who opened the first Creme Fraiche store in 2012 (on Annette Street in Toronto: check it out) was an amazing working partner in the office-market initiative. The concept took on a life of its own as a commercial venture, Toronto Office Markets.

Farm and Field: The Short Story
For several years I have been privileged to grow with Toronto's amazing FarmStart program, on the McVean Farm in Brampton. A dozen new farmers from all over the city (and all over the world) work plots ranging from a quarter-acre to five acres, growing experience, skills, and markets as a foundation for launching a full-scale farm enterprise.

Peter McClusky, originator of the wonderful Toronto Garlic Festival, worked with me during a difficult first year at the McVean Farm. More recently my sister Meg has been an unbeatable working partner.

Every year I grow dozens of varieties I've never grown before. It's a January adventure to seek them out. In Canada we have many more small seed suppliers than just a few years ago.

In 2011 and 2012, as a member of the thriving Westend Food Coop's CSO (Community-supported Orchard) canning program I learned a few new skills, and I earned a Food Handler's certificate.

In 2012 I focused on heirloom peppers (12 kinds, not one of them a bell pepper!); dry corn (Oaxacan Green, which went to Gabriela Ituarte's beautiful Maizal restaurant just off King Street on the edge of Liberty Village; and heirloom dry peas and beans. Deer, however, got more of the beans than I did.

2013 was a wet and difficult year that ended with little produce. Some stranger harvested my red onions ... three sowings of beets were washed away by the rain... and so on.

In 2014 I was back to the dry beans, this time behind a solar-powered electric fence to ward off the deer. On a new piece of land, May and June were about loosening and amending the soil and pulling twitch grass and Canada thistle. Both have deep, long, jointed roots and can regrow from as little as an inch. This year I also had the real joy of supporting the FarmStart community plotters, a wonderful, mixed bunch from all over the world, each with stories of a grandparents' farm and practices, and also trialed a joint market table for some of the FarmStart farmers at the Creme Fraiche Wednesday market.

In 2015 I continue to work with the community plotters and the joint table at the Creme Fraiche market. My growing focus this year is on dry beans again, specialty peppers, and plenty of herbs.