Meet and two veg: Discovery Organics tell us about the produce we eat

As I’ve cycled through Mexico I’ve managed to find a lot of interesting, locally-produced fruit (and the odd vegetable too). Easily available fruit that I’ve been enjoying – mangoes, guava, bananas, melon, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, pineapple, coconut…exotic stuff! Even though I have missed out on the summer Vancouver produce I feel I’m getting a pretty good deal here.

But those of us back in Vancouver, US and Europe have to go to a bit more trouble to sample these kinds of fruit. We’ve got used to seeing most of those on our shelves for at least a good part of the year and pretty much take it for granted nowadays.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to step back a bit and think about how this all gets to your local shop.

The other day I read a blog post from Discovery Organics, a Vancouver-based produce importer/distributor that promotes organic, Fair Trade and local produce through developing long-term relationships with small-scale farmers. It’s owned by Randy and Annie, two passionate advocates for good quality food and fair working conditions. They do a fantastic job bringing organic, and especially Fair Trade, produce to Vancouver and western Canada.

I read a blog piece by Randy about a visit he made to Peru just over a week ago. It really brought home to me how connected we are to the places our food comes from, even if we pay little attention to that fact.

You can read the piece below, and for more info about Discovery Organics, check them out on the link below.

Randy’s produce update: climate change and produce supply

I was in Peru last week, and was lucky enough to be involved in a rather impromptu get-together with produce importers from the U.S., England, France and Italy.  Our conversation turned quickly to climate change, and the impact on agriculture.  This was after I had been talking to our three different co-ops of mango producers, all wondering how they are going to survive.  Pollination is down 80% in some areas, and one variety of mangos is ripening 2 weeks ahead of schedule, while the other, normally shipping in early November, won’t be ready until after Christmas, potentially overlapping with the Mexican crop, instead of falling in a perfect window.  This year, Chile lost a huge amount of their avocado crop, with the coldest, most brutal winter on record – including snow and hard frost in areas that have never seen them. 

Interestingly, the biggest impact the Europeans are seeing is the dramatically different quality in citrus, with rapid ripening, quick ‘re-greening’ and low juice content.  Juice content in limes from parts of Mexico have lowered 10% over the last 2 years.  Warming in certain areas is allowing tropical diseases to migrate farther and farther from the Equator, where growers have been caught off guard.  The Veracruz area on the Bay of Campeche in South Central Mexico has lost 70,000 hectares of citrus production this year to a new disease. In New Zealand, kiwi growers took a hit with production expected to drop 20% next season. 

As suppliers, we are going to have to watch, very closely, as many crops, including some vegetables are going to do weird things, both in the tree, as well as in storage and on the shelf, and adapt quickly to these changing times.  Even wheat harvests, even in a good growing year like this one, have been reduced 20% because of the largest ozone hole ever recorded over the Arctic stretched across Russia, and scorching the plants with excessive UVB levels. 

This past growing season locally may also be a warning sign of tough times ahead, and B.C. growers will also have to adapt to different planting times, and innovative strategies, to move forward profitably.   

Not a great Thanksgiving message, as we celebrate the hard work of all farmers out there at the end of harvest-time. 

Once we become part of this huge global food system, whether as a farmer or a retailer, we become enrolled in the love of feeding people – especially healthy, organic food.  The entire Discovery team wishes you all a great Thanksgiving weekend, and eternal thanks for what you do!

Edna Ruth Byler and 65 years of Ten Thousand Villages

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I named my bike Edna. The inspiration for the name came from Edna Ruth Byler, generally regarded as the founder of the modern Fair Trade movement. Well, 1st October was the 65th anniversary of Ten Thousand Villages, the current organisation that was founded upon Edna’s earlier work.

Less well known is that she had some skill in the kitchen, if her cookbook and baking classes are anything to go by.One of her master recipes below is an inspiration at annual MCC relief sales. Edna’s famous recipe can be found on page 65 of the More-With-Less Cookbook.

October is Fair Trade Month (in the USA) so if you can, make a little extra effort and try to find a Fair Trade product to buy instead of your usual purchases. I can virtually guarantee it won’t be as hard as you think!

You can find out more by following the link above, and if you’re impatient to get started on her recipe, here are some instructions. I’m pretty sure Edna wasn’t vegan but these can easily be improved (sorry, I mean adapted) to cater for vegan tastes.

It’s Fair Trade Month in the USA and there are a number of events this month in Vancouver, culminating with Halloween so be sure to buy your Fair Trade chocolate this month!

RECIPES (note that Edna is clearly from the ‘old school’ – who has a deep fryer or uses shortening these days!?)

Produces 100 doughnuts or rolls.

Preheat an oven to 400º or deep fryer to 375º, depending on recipe

3 pkg. dry yeast in
1 c. lukewarm water

Mix in large bowl: 1 qt. scalded milk
2 c. mashed potatoes (no milk added)
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. margarine
1 c. sugar

Let cool to lukewarm, then add:
yeast mixture
6 c. flour

Let stand until mixture foams up (about 20 minutes)

2 eggs, beaten
1 T. salt
11-12 c. additional flour

A little more flour may be needed, but dough should be soft. Turn out on floured board and knead until satiny. Let raise in warm place until doubled in bulk.

Doughnuts: Roll out dough, cut doughnuts, place on trays and let raise until not quite double. Fry in hot shortening (375º). When drained and while still hot dip in glaze mixture. Insert a stick through holes and let a number of doughnuts drain over glaze bowl until next ones are ready to do.

1 lb. powdered sugar
1 T. margarine
1 t. vanilla
dash of mace
enough rich milk to make thin icing 

Cinnamon buns: Prepare a mixture of butter and margarine and a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Roll a piece of dough to about 18×9″. Spread dough with butter mixture and sprinkle on some of the sugar mixture. Roll up the dough as for a jelly roll. Cut 1 ½” chunks and place in greased pans, pressing down lightly on each chunk. Cover and let rise in warm place until nearly double in size. Bake at 400º for 15-20 minutes or until browned. These may be iced with doughnut glaze as soon as they are taken from the oven.

Sticky buns: Handle dough same as for cinnamon buns, except make a mixture of brown and white sugar, cinnamon, and a little white corn syrup and water. Spread in bottom of heavily greased pans with nuts, if desired, before putting in rolls. Immediately after baking, invert pans over trays and let syrup run down before removing pans.

Dinner rolls: Shape dough as desired, place on greased pans, and bake at 400º starting on a lower rack and changing to upper rack about halfway through for 15 minutes of baking time. Brush tops lightly with butter to remove any floury appearance.

Coffee cake: A good way to use all the leftover bits of dough – put dough in greased pan, dab or punch holes in it, and spread leftover sugar, syrup, or butter mixtures over. Let raise and bake as for cinnamon buns. 

To freeze: Let baked goods cool. Wrap or place in large plastic bags freeze the same day.

mexican raves

After my last post I reflected and didn’t want to make people think I haven’t enjoyed some things here. So to point out some things I’ve found funny, interesting or just uplifting, here’s a few of my observations:

  • Fresh tortillas – fresh and hot from the tortilleria, they are inexpensive and tasty, particularly for my peanut butter and banana ‘quesadillas’. As well as looking out for them along the street, I can often find one by listening for the cranking of the machine that churns these things out. Amazingly they are everywhere and huge packages of them are wrapped up into plastic coolboxes that are carted around on noisy mopeds delivered to the local mini-markets and corner shops
  • The people seem to be hard-working, or at least work long hours. Little shops are open early and close late, though a lot of them rarely look busy. Also people like to set up stands or just out of their own home, perhaps with some home cooking too. In Zihuatenejo I bought some clothes from what turned out to be someone’s house. After I’d tried on a pair of shorts I was getting the money together when the lady of the house popped out of her kitchen with some cheese and promptly offered me a piece. No vegan Daiya here though, I’m afraid
  • Most people are sociable and genuinely friendly. More so than in the US I would say
  • I love the fact there are a lot of small cars on the road, particularly the ones that I see in the UK – Ford Ka, Fiesta, GM “Corsa”, VW types, even Seat. I’m not a big car enthusiast but it makes me wonder if Mexicans can drive these, why can’t those further north do the same!
  • The local markets are always interesting, whether just for comparing hygiene, the kinds of things available, or just the type of ‘stuff’ that’s on sale
  • Traffic light jugglers. Vancouver has the ‘squeegy’ kids but here I’ve seen drivers get ‘entertained’ by juggling and handstands. Truly bizarre
  • I don’t understand what they’re saying but it’s a common sight (and sound) to hear announcements or advertising wares by way of loudspeakers precariously attached to the their roofs
  • One shout in my direction I’ve noticed is being called guerro (pronounced goo-erro as the u has an umlaut), which means ‘blonde’. I assume it’s a friendly greeting rather than an insult. I always smile back though
  • And strangely the day after I posted my previous entry it felt like I had the most friendly shouts and encouragement on the road of all my days so far. I don’t know if it’s just a more friendly region or just the luck of the day, but it was nice all the same





Beans does not mean Heinz

It’s fair to say I haven’t quite got into the spirit of the food here in Mexico yet, as I don’t often eat out at one of the numerous stands or restaurants that offer the typical Mexican comida. Mostly I make my own vegan creations using the same ingredients though, and that’s generally good enough for me for the moment. Yes there’s a limited choice for me – plenty of tortillas and beans but beyond that it’s hard to pick out new things and get people to understand what I do and don’t eat.

However when it comes to fruit and other things I’ve got plenty of options and though I miss (in particular) the BC blueberries it’s been more than compensated by mangoes, pineapple, papaya, melon, oranges, guava…and now plenty of coconut! This area has lots of coconut dulces (sweets) and though much of it also contains milk I’ve found enough without to keep me in coconut dessert for many a day.

Entering Puerto Vallarta I knew I’d have a lot more flexibility, though I’m used to getting just one or two options (it’s almost disconcerting to get lots of options…). So the first place on my hit-list proved to be the only one I needed. Good food, plentiful portions (buffet), and very reasonably priced. For breakfast it’s got a mix of Mexican dishes (including beans of course, plus pancakes that I skipped on) and I went back again for dinner. I piled on the vegetables (grilled and fresh), various salads (tomato and basil was particularly good as I haven’t had basil for ages) and some hot grilled veg with soy chunks (pretty tasty). Alas I had to pass on the stuffed peppers and creamed cauliflower. And I topped it all off with a small portion of (non-Heinz) beans…

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And for those of you who have no clue what the title means, or just want to remember a classic, take a look at ‘clever’ Kev…

Imagine if we lived like this…

Nostalgia is often given a generous helping of exaggeration. We (of a certain age) like to think how life was better in the old days, at least for some things. Playing football in the street? Amiga 64? Wandering off for a day or afternoon as a kid and nobody panicking and texting the world to make sure nothing’s happened…it did used to be like that didn’t it??

In Mexico it feels a little like a nostalgic return to those sort of days. People here still have their mobile phones and cars and televisions but there’s a more relaxed sense of living and far less paranoia about cleanliness and living that we (in the west) have lost over the last several years. I haven’t been diligent in keeping examples, but here’s a few things I’ve noticed lately:

  • Lady in market store opens a fridge door, slices off a piece of cheese and pops it her mouth then wanders off
  • Man driving a knackered scooter, wife/girlfriend on the back, baby on her lap, just held with one arm
  • People shop for what they need today and tomorrow, not next month. The fruit and veg are ripe now(!) and don’t need to wait a week (except the peaches and pears which are from the USA
  • Man in supermarket picks up some squid from a frozen stand, checks it over and drops it back on
  • Worker in supermarket takes little cakes out of one plastic packet and puts them in another to make it more full (all by hand of course)
  • On a shelf of dried plums I noticed that they’d been there a few days. Some clever dick had gone and replaced the labels on most of them to pretend they had been placed there the day before, when it was the same batch
  • Strangely, in the tortillerias, they are very careful about putting gloves on to take your money to avoid cross-contamination. Well, the tortilla is a matter of national pride I suppose
  • Walk across the road wherever you like. In fact, walk on the road if you want, no one cares. Cycle the wrong way down the road. Don’t signal if you’re driving.

I guess most of these are tiny details but there are many, many more and the overall effect makes me realise just how over-the-top we are in the west with regard to cleanliness and responsibility. We know this already but seem caught in the juggernaught of modern living that has no reverse pedal. I’m not saying life is better here, it’s just different.


On a (sugar) high

Fresh after my haul of figs in Vizcaino (which also included a couple of mangoes) I rode to San Ignacio – an oasis in the desert. As well as being famous for its Jesuit/Dominican Mision, it is surrounded by date trees (and it has a lagoon!). For many a day ahead of time I looked forward to finding fresh dates, or at least vast quantities of local dried ones. Being a sometimes-ignorant developed world individual, I had no idea when date season actually is, considering their year-round availability (how many of us could actually say when the banana/mango/pineapple/lemon etc season is?). Turns out I’m a few months early. But after wandering around staring up at all the dates patiently hanging in huge quantities, I found a little shack in the village that was selling some. I’d even taken to foraging again (and found several of mixed quality) but the dates I bought hit the spot.

Dates and figs – I’ve gone from the lows of the dry, hot desert to the high of my favourite kinds of sugar-filled fruit. It’s still hot, dusty and half of me is in the desert (the other half next to the Sea of Cortez), but the dates and figs have made life happy again.