We are wrapped up in some typical spring weather in Calgary, and by typical I mean gale force winds and alternating rain and snow. So while we wait for some sunshine to peek out from behind the clouds I wanted to share my impressions of the organic grocery delivery service that we’ve been using for a couple of years now – SPUD! The name is an acronym for Small Potatoes Urban Delivery and they arrived here from Vancouver in 2005 with current locations in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and LA.
Running a well designed website they provide an array of organic choices aiming for mainly local producers – from fruit and veggies to bread, milk, meat and prepared foods, to cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items. While they were very fruit and veggie heavy at first, I’ve seen their lineup expand over time to include more and more convenient products. While I generally much prefer to go to a farmers market to stock up on food, there are many a time, especially in winter where such a trip is simply not happening. Left to choose sad looking veggies at the local grocery store (even if they look good I’d rather support local farmers with more sustainable practices), or schlepping across town on slick roads SPUD! Gives me a great alternative to both.
While their prices are fair to farmers, and there’s the convenience of delivery, they are often not cheap. It is not uncommon to see a single bell pepper or a zucchini hover around 2.50, especially out of season. A half pound of salad greens is typically over four dollars and organic, cage-free eggs are around six. Even when I understand deeply that the real cost of food is often not reflected at the grocery stores, sometimes SPUD!’s prices can be hard to swallow. I suppose the cashier till is where most abstract intentions to eat locally and support sustainable food break down in the face of limited budgets. I also reflect on the fact that I’m cooking for two, and our food budget is easily our largest expense outside of the mortgage. Having said that, I think we’ve developed a system that allows us to maximize our food choices for the way that we eat, and it clearly works for us. For around a hundred dollars a week we get six litres of milk, a couple of great Hoven farm steaks, a loaf of bread, a couple heads of garlic, zucchini and mushrooms for the week, six to twelve apples, a few lemons, two to five tomatoes, sometimes cukes or green onions, whatever seasonal fruit may be on sale, occasional toothpaste or tea, or crackers or burritos or eggs, as well as hazelnuts and mac’n’cheese. Some combination of those comprises our weekly baskets.
The best way to eat in a manner that does not cause damage to my ethical sensibilities and wallet is to deal with local farmers directly. When you purchase bulk meat from local suppliers, freeze/can seasonal produce, you mainly need milk and bread as well as some fresh stuff throughout the week. Dealing with a delivery service at the very least eliminates the many middlemen that reduce farmers’ earnings to nothing.
I love the fact that they provide pretty detailed info on some of their suppliers and you can find out who grows your food and where. I love the fact that you can buy bulk items in caselots, which is great when it’s say, peach season and they’re affordable and you want to freeze a few bags. I love the fact that they have great info on most of their products, telling you what’s in it, how to store it and how to use it. Their weekly delivery sheet has the bill on one side and a neat newsletter on the other, where they profile green websites, provide a seasonal recipe and share tidbits of news. You can find out exactly why there is a shortage of onions and potatoes – apparently it’s because farmers underplanted due to vast overproduction in previous years, or how the earthquake affected blueberry farmers in Chile. I love the fact that they interact with the community, they are on Twitter with updates and are supporting the Calgary Horticultural Society Fundraiser. I love their reward points that you can redeem for discounts, and the fact that THEY DELIVER! Their customer service is also pretty good with prompt refunds on bad produce (only happened twice I think), and relatively quick replies to questions.
Here are some features that they don’t have, and I wish they did. Product reviews. This is elementary, and many is the time I took a chance on something and found it too… granola for me. This is especially common with some soy-based, organic, vegan-whatever foods. They are so healthy that the taste is like cardboard. The product reviews would quickly weed out the stuff that consumers actually like and the stuff that is only for the hardcore health warrior. I guess I’m a gourmand first. I also wish they carried small lot seasonal stuff. Like now all the food boards are aflutter over morels, ramps, fiddleheads, etc. Have I seen any in Calgary? Nope. This is not only applicable to SPUD! but also to all the restaurants claiming seasonality on their menus. Yeah? Where? I also wish they carried more local products that I know are good but aren’t partnered up with SPUD! for whatever reason – Lundt carrots, or Hotchkiss tomatoes for instance. I’m sure there are many reasons why certain farmers would not be a part of SPUD, but since *I* don’t know them I can only sigh. Surely there are local greenhouse farmers that grow tomatoes, they can’t all be from Mexico or wherever.
So like every business they have their good side and some room to improve. But they deliver ethically sourced products and the vast convenience of delivery. And I support them for trying for a vision where farmers get paid a living wage so that stories like the plight of these tomato pickers happens less often. Since the government blatantly disregards our votes, voting with our dollars is often the most impactful way we get heard.
In yet another example of government stupidity and shortsightedness the federal government announced the closure of the six farm programs operated by Correctional Services Canada, a decision that they reached without consulting anyone, least of all us, the little people that they are supposed to be answerable to. Canada’s inmate farm program has been operational since the 1800’s, costs less than four million to run (according to the numbers I’ve been able to find), and produces about six million dollars worth of food.
None of these numbers take into account peripheral benefits such as donating produce to local non-profits, composting facilities that reduce landfill use, acquisition of great work and life skills, and protection of valuable farm land. Which is really the crux of the issue. Because there is no good reason to terminate this program other than the sale of pricey farm land that can never be recouped or brought back. The government is citing safety concerns with the examples of several escape attempts, and without considering alternative solutions of which I’m sure there are dozens, they just closed the door on the whole enterprise.
To quote Tim Allen of CBC ‘the idea of a prison farm is an elegant one. Inmates get to produce the food they eat, easing the burden on the public purse and, in the process, gaining experience that they can use when they get out and need to find a job.’ But according to our government the skills they gain surely can’t be important in our modern world and unnamed ‘contemporary’ occupations would be better. Never mind the fact that farming is daily work and hard work. Never mind the transferable skills it helps develop such as teamwork and consistency. Never mind the unquantifiable benefits of working with the unmovable force of nature which can’t be rushed and can undo your careful work in a heartbeat. Never mind the fact that food simply doesn’t grow on trees, it’s paid for by our tax dollars and the value of inmates growing their own is surely a benefit to us.
Never mind all that. You see the farm near Kingston Ontario enjoys 455 hectares of some of the country’s best farmland. It happens to feed the prison population and share with the food bank as well. And there’s likely a tidy profit to be made in selling off this prime land for development of more suburbia, because the government doesn’t care about farming as a valuable skill set. But it also doesn’t care about what we, as a community think either. Because the public opinion is rather firmly in favor of keeping the farms, seeing as it makes all sorts of economic and logical sense. If you read the comments attached to this CBC article it’s pretty clear that the citizens to whom the government is supposed to be accountable to really don’t see any reason to shut down these farms. And it’s also just as clear that the govt don’t care.
But see, I just can’t reiterate this enough, the govt is supposed to be representative. And accountable to the people that elected it. I know it often sounds like a joke when you look at most government decisions, and JUST ONCE I’d like to see them do something that we collectively want to see happen. And before we get really angry and sick of the system, and perhaps move to overhaul it from the ground up, I’d like to give the government a fair chance (again), to perhaps, I dunno, follow our wishes. So I encourage you to write a quick letter to the public safety minister Vic Toews and your MP and share with him your opinion of the farm closures, whatever it may be. Here’s also a petition you can sign. That way we’ll be participating in our funny version of democracy, we’ll sleep better at night knowing we did something other than complain that no one cares, and if we don’t see the changes we want – hey at least we gave the government every chance to listen.
Here are some news links for more info.
I know, I’ll make a YouTube video! Kidding.
Never did I think that those words would come out of my mouth, but there’s one of life’s surprises for ya. For the record, I can’t stand Ann Coulter, she’s too easy to make fun of on every level – from the superficial to the intellectual, except for there’s nothing intellectual about her, so never mind that. But really, she makes it too easy. And she’s already hated in the blogosphere with the hatred reserved for child molesters, so I won’t be joining their clamor.
But she’s recently been on a tour of Canada, starting in Ontario where she had to cancel an appearance due to ‘security concerns’, and now she’s enroute to my cold fair town of Calgary to give a speech tonight. If there was anyplace in Canada where she would not be tarred and feathered it would be in this bastion of conservatism, and even here she’s polarizing enough to prompt some pretty unflattering comparisons, an outcry on social media sites and a Facebook group dedicated to forming a human wall to prevent her from speaking. TO PREVENT HER FROM SPEAKING! People, this is ludicrous and contrary to the notion of free speech AND common sense.
A part of what constitutes adulthood is the ability to develop discernment and judgment and freedom to make one’s own decisions. To that end we are free to choose what concerts we attend, where we dine and who’s speeches we listen to. If someone wanted to ban a rock concert from coming to town because THEY didn’t agree with the lyrics, we’d be pretty pissed off and say stay home, right? Why would we not extend that courtesy to the people who want to listen to her speech tonight, whether out of curiosity or whatever. (And believe me, the irony of Ann Coulter speaking about free speech should make you laugh, not bother you. ) All I’m saying is that she’s entitled to her opinion, and we are entitled to either listen to it or not, agree with her or not. Nowhere does that include saying ‘you can’t come here and talk’.
All I’m saying is if you don’t want to see her speech – stay home. It’s hard to preach anything to an audience of one, and I’m sure most of her audience will be there either out of morbid curiosity with which we observe train wrecks, or to try and argue with her in person. But to deny her the right to speak – well people need to get over themselves. Until she takes her hate speech to the level of calling for direct action of causing someone harm, she’s entitled to her opinions, no matter how misguided or offensive. So all ya ‘protesters’ need to get over yourselves and your belief that your opinion overrides hers. Stay home. Don’t listen. And if you want something to really get worked up about, sit there and ponder why the government thinks it’s a better steward of your money than you are.
PS – Stay home – is not a ‘tactic’ that you need to exercise to make her go away. It is YOU exercising YOUR rights, without infringing on the rights and freedoms of others.