Sunday, 23 November 2014

2014-11-20 - Vancouver

Vancouver is such a great city, day one was near perfect, room service in bed for breakfast, local food truck Feastro for lunch, and fresh local oysters at Joe Fortes for dinner.  Combine that with lots of sunshine and a 10k sea wall jaunt pretty darn perfect. 

Day two I meet an old friend.   My old friend and I go back to Ancaster High School as with most of my besties today.  In the early 90’s my friend and I hopped a greyhound at the old Hammer bus terminal down on King William to Vancouver, along with the lead singer and bass player of the Hamilton RockaBilly band “The Crawl Daddies”.  After a night of music and everyone crashing at my apt at 33 Hess Street, (back in the day when the Gown was still the Gown, and everyone in the village knew everyone in the village) we decided that we would all spontaneously move to Vancouver to make a new life.  In a drunken stupor we cooked up all the food in the apt, called our next of kin, and for me left a key to my apt and car with my other still bestie (thank you Nona), and literally got on the bus the next day still hungover.   
We were sober when we arrived in Vancouver 3 days later, un showered, tired and hungry, and rented a hotel room above a classic  seedy strip bar with a big neon sign called Hotel Niagara.

There we stayed until we got an apt in the west end near Bute and Harwood.  Me, bestie and bass player found jobs reasonably quickly them styling hair, me selling leather clothes and singer dude busking on Granville, and often he had more cash than us, and in the beginning we lived off the busking, we were sure he was going to be the next Stomping Tom.  We eventually had a small steady income and our food supply was bologna lettuce, white bread, pasta and tomato sauce.  We really had to make 10$ go as far as it could, and often that meant eating at MacDonalds,  Triple pizza’s were about the best deal and served for breakfast as well.  Stubby beers, nights at the historic Railway Club, Grapes of Wrath, and backstage at White Snake.
We had no furniture, no beds, we all slept on the floor, and we were poor.  Eventually the
excitement wore off and the reality of our existence sunk in.  I found a bachelor apt, and was now the Assistant Manager at Danier in the Pacific Center, so I bought a futon and some plastic patio furniture and called it home.  I lived like that for 6 months, when I realized, I missed the Hammer, I gave my meagre possessions to my still furniture-less ex roommates, and caught a plane home.  My bestie at home had amazingly and thankfully relocated my life on 33 Hess to her apt on Markland Street and I was grateful and still am.  I moved into a shared house on Market Street, one of my roomies being the left us too soon amazing guitar player ageless Brain Griffith.   My friend stayed in Vancouver and remains there to this day, and she is happy now I think.

 6 months of poverty was a life changing experience.  I learnt a lot during that period of time.  Mostly I learnt that being poor sucked and it affected my health.

 During that 6 months of eating junk and drinking beer, I acquired an extra 20 lbs and towards the end of the 6 months I had developed a rash that covered a good portion of my upper body that the doctor told me was viral and untreatable.  I came back to the Hammer, tired sick and with a dreadful set of hair extensions, it was the 90’s after all.

 Danier gave me a job as manager in the Hammer square, and within days of returning home my rash was gone, I had started running again and was well on my way back to healthy mind body and soul.

Poverty is a terrible thing, in my case it was a self induced choice, one that I vowed never to make  again. 

I recently took part in the Peoples Platform, a grass roots initiative in Hamilton, that really tried hard to get people engaged in Municipal politics.  I attended round tables in the down town and Dundas.  I was one of a few that participated from Ancaster in the first rounds.  I was interested in attending to try to create dialogue around the new emerging policy on Farmers Markets. 

 It's easy to live in a bubble, work, kids, mortgage payments, the never ending perpetual cycle of the rat race.  And while the Peoples Platform did not rock the vote as hard as it had hoped only a pitiful 34% voter turnout from the complacent Hamilton public.  It did raise awareness of some of the social issues facing many Hamiltonians,  poverty especially among children and the elderly, lack of public transportation and  family doctors, with each pocket of our community having similar but different concerns.  It is a good initiative and needs to continue.   I was disappointed that our Ancaster Councillor elect did not bother to address the questions of the Peoples Platform.

 I took away a broader perspective on my first world Ancaster issues, and my week in Vancouver was a grounding reminder on how poverty can be buried in wealthy neighbourhoods.  Luckily for me my trip was business, and room service in bed overlooking the harbour in my super lush robe, propped up by awesomely plump pillows, was an easy choice, and it is even easier to forget that my 26$ breakfast delivered hot to my bed, would feed a small family multiple meals if shopped right.

 For many of us it is a choice but when do we have enough? If you can afford to choose, when do we start making the right choices?  Amassing wealth so you can die with millions in the bank seems so completely pointless.  We should all be encouraged to use what we amass, and leave a zero foot print.  When will the average person value the item that costs a little more and supports a local mom and pop business over the cheapest comparable item on the shelf.  Buying on price alone creates poverty, and we are all guilty of it.

Each of us could change the world tomorrow simply by saying no to companies like Walmart that source on price point and keep employees in working poverty.  The lines at the cash register are thick with people cash in hand buying junk, creating poverty.  We choose every day at the cash register.  Consumers have so much power and yet we choose not to use it.  Just don't buy crap and then it won't get made.  Simple supply and demand.

My Vancouver dinner at Joe Fortes, my favourite dinner place in Van, fresh oysters bottles of wine, and friendly dinner companions they were subject to my rant on choosing to save the world thru just saying no to junk.  Easier said than done, but maybe one person at a time, put down the preservative laden mass produced junk.  Let's all cook a little more and be thoughtful of how we spend, support your local farmers and stop putting people on pedestals that hoard wealth.   If you cannot possibly use it in your life time why do you need it? 

So my trip is over, Manitoba is below me, it's a red eye and I have the most leg room on the plane, I am feeling blessed and inspired to open up the ojo kitchen tomorrow and save the world with local ketchup.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

2014-11-17 - and so it snows

And so it snows – my 5 am wakeup for my 6:45 am flight was a stark reminder that winter is now upon us.  The gentle white blanket just barely covering the lingering maple leaves on the grass and still poking out from my eavestrough is the warning sign, that old man winter is waking up.

Still dark driving to the Hamilton airport, cars were sliding and slipping and 4 way flashers abundant.  I missed the luggage check in cut off and was sent home to make my way later out of Toronto.  The joy of air travel.  Now  tucked into my window seat and thankful to be on a direct flight to Vancouver, I slept.  I always wonder if I snore on a plane.  The other half says I snore.  

Awake and my flight now thankfully more than half over I peer out the window at the snow on the ground and think of garlic and our little market.

Our little market day was yesterday, I call it a little market cause it is a little market.  We like our little market.  We officially decided to make the closing time 6pm because of the winter darkness.  And I was glad to be home to spend time with the kids before I took off again.

Snow on the ground and markets, when the ground is frozen, there is not much growing.  The season is officially over for farmers.  As we fly over Lethbridge, Alberta, I realize that the season has been over for some time now in the prairies.  Snow is everywhere.  I often think what it would be like if you lived in a time before convenience foods, the snow comes, and if you live in Canada and do not have at least a 3 month food supply you might soon die.  For real.

Susanna Moodie Life in the bush, a first hand account of one families struggle to survive the harsh Canadian winter.  It’s a good read.  She was a resilient lady, who managed to overcome, the harsh reality, that canned goods should be valued over fine china,  and dandelion tea was a staple.

When I first started to research food preservation for ojo’s and fast forward to today, there is an abundance of preservation websites, and they are very much dominated by preppers.  Yep prepping for the big collapse, zombie apocalypse or similar.   

I am not sure that the world is going to collapse, but there sure are a lot of people who think it will, and there has been for much of humanities existence.  Food security should be on the minds of everyone, all the time, and shopping and eating local is the most  important thing that any of us can do as consumers to build a resilient food economy.    That along with protecting our fresh water.

Now flying over the rockies how majestic and awesome, small pockets of human development on the edges of lakes  amid towering jagged mountains.   Water and the ability to grow food is the backbone of civilization.  We take it for granted, the grocery store has become our pantry.  Many homes have barely a weeks worth of food let alone 3 months.

In the winter especially the food in Canadian supermarkets has travelled a long distance and often has been processed with preservatives and additives to make it “safe” to sit on the shelf and not produce mold. Food that is safe to sit on a shelf, is it really safe for us to eat.

We are what we eat, and we eat a lot of junk.

The rockies are behind us now and the gentle slopes of Cologna and the BC interior make me look forward to 5 days in Vancouver.  I like Vancouver.  I also get to spend some time with my boss of almost 17 years.  Not too many people can say that, and like them!  I don’t just like my boss I am fiercely loyal to my boss.  I would never for a moment wonder if he had my back.  I always felt and feel that he does, and I have his.  That is important in corporate culture.  No one wants to work in an environment where you fear job loss or your boss belittles you.  So much of our time is spent working that we don’t have time to think about preserving food.  

So how do you make a business out of preserving food, well I am not quite sure yet, and the market and ojo’s cannot in reality be considered anything more than a hobby if you look solely at revenue.    But as of two weeks ago, our commissary kitchen was finished and  our food truck is closed.  It is about time that we got around to the business of food preservation, but there is snow on the ground and food in Canada is no longer in abundance.

The building blocks are in place, we have all winter to experiment with small scale food preservation and canning.  When the harvesting begins in 2015 we will be ready and it will all be worth while.  In the mean time we need to just off set our costs, and subcontract out our warehouse and kitchen just to pay the rent.  

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

2014-11-11 - I remember

I remember, today and every day I always remember my Poppy.

That’s what I call my grandfather – Poppy.  My Poppy passed when I was 18 and I like to think that he has been by my side ever since, and so do my sisters – he get’s around as a guardian angel.  He brings me great comfort.

My poppy’s nick name was “chopper” in the second world war, he prepared food for the troops on the front line and thus acquired the name.  Kind of like a food truck, my Pop worked in a mobile kitchen following the war across Europe.  My Nanny worked at a cigarette factory, where they encouraged the ladies to smoke to help relieve the stress of war.  In most pictures from that era my Nan has a cig in her hand.  My father was born during the war, my Pop was away, I imagine those days of air raids, bunkers and loved ones in combat would be terrifying.

After the war my Nanny became head of school meals at the local school.  She ran the kitchen, she had a staff of ladies, my Nanny was tough, and an awesome cook.

So both of my grandparents were in the food business and both cooked local, cause that is what you did because it was all you had.

School meals are an important part of English and European culture, schools had a full on kitchen where the food would be made from scratch every day, wholesome, nutritious, and hot.  In most European countries the tradition continues.  We lived in Finland for a year and my children attended public school, breakfast and lunch were served hot every day, much to dismay of my chicken nugget loving 6 year old son.  Community parks, served hot soup every day to kids who brought their own bowl and spoon, and then washed it and put it back in their bags after use.  My kids shunned this service in favor of pizza, but the local kids lined up with bowls in hand.  Parents knew that every day their kids were fed at that it was nutritious.

Jamie Oliver  - I love listening to him talk, local and healthy has turned into fast and convenient.

Improving the nutrition in our schools and hospitals serving real fruit, not fruit cups from china is a start, and a there is a group of engaged citizens in Hamilton trying to do just that.

A young lady named Grace Evans who hails from Ancaster heads up this program – I think she is pretty awesome, and ojo’s wants to get involved, cause we feel inspired to do so.  Dr Wayne Dyer says that inspiration is to be “in spirit” the following of your inner voice, and when your actions are in spirit all is good.

I am thankful for feeling inspired, and thank my Poppy and my Nanny cause I remember.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

2014-11-09 Green Light

Friday was a big day for ojo's we recieved our official green light sticker for the Wilson Street Farmers Market, and permission to produce and sell from our brand new Ojo commissary kitchen it was worth celebrating.

For the last 6 months we have stayed close to home with the food truck, we have stuck it out at our out of the way little spot by Soldaats and the Ancaster Fairgrounds.  Our lunch crowd has not been huge, people are having difficulty finding our driveway, but we hold faith that they will and one day our little. out of the way place for local produce  duck fat fries and locally procurred meats will be the go to for families in search of a locovore family friendly meal, where the kids can play outside, and you can pick up some local fare to go at the same time.  We are almost there.  And then comes winter, snowy dark days are coming soon, and already at the Wilson Street Market it is dark in our west end Ancaster location.  

There are no street lights from the business park to the Ancaster Fairgrounds, our stretch of Wilson Street is dark at 4:30 you can barely see our driveway.  We need lights we need to light the place up, street lights, and sidewalks are in order, we look closed even when we are not.  

Each time we pass a hurdle it seems we meet the next one, building a business from scratch takes time and patience, I can now clearly see the value in purchasing an existing business.  However the business we wanted to create did not exist, and we are lucky to have had the time and patience to endure the process.  It is hard to envision the the end result when you are just coming out of the starting gate.  Our business plan has changed as we feel out the the things that work and the things that do not the main thing we have stayed true to our mission and purpose and I like that a lot.

We are now a fully certified mobile kitchen, fully certified commissary kitchen, and Farmers Market, and while the city still has it out for us with regards to zoning we feel confident that logic will prevail cause in my humble opinion zoning is a racket.  

Zoning, while some may argue that it serves a useful purpose in civil society by allowing and restricting the business that can operate at any given address.  I think that it is too much govenment.  If a land owner or business chooses to conduct a business that does not interfere with the rights or liberties of others and is accepted by the neighborhood, and has a valid business license and meets all the health and safety requirements why would the Municipal govt actively try to prevent the said business from operating.  The Pearl Company Theatre is a prime example of bad zoning policy.

I used to feel special thinking that some how our little business was being singled out, and after a year of dealing with the city and ranting to anyone that will lend an ear, I have found that we are but one of many small business's that continue to face red tape with the city of Hamilton and the zoning dept.  But maybe it is not just the city of Hamilton it is just a function of govt that is fundamentally broken a system that enables the rich to get richer and small business to suffer.

Properties with low value zoning also have a low value price.  Zoning changes take years, and often, those in the know, the inner circles of those making the zoning changes, can buy up and sit on properties.  If you are lucky enough to be sitting on a property that is destined for a zoning change, its a wind fall for sellers,  if you are a long term investor with time to spare now is time to invest in Ancaster west properties, cause just like the Pearl Company, our zone is set to change to Retail, and that will solve our connundrum we hope.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

2014-11-04 - winding down for the winter


Truck is closed and kitchen has been finished built – just waiting on the final bits from the city before we can go ahead and start production of anything….. but when we do expect some big news….

In the mean time I go back to what pays the bills and I am thankful that throughout this process I have managed to keep working in corporate as a marketing coordinator and event planner.  The season of events kicks into high gear now and runs thru spring, which works out great cause the truck is closed till spring.   To support local –  I treated myself to a new dress for the next event – thanks to BlackBird Studios bought a Hamilton made dress, yes I really do try to shop local for everything.  

With that in mind and getting back at it on the computer and into events it brings me back to my original motivation for this journey in entrepreneurialism.   

I have seen a lot of industry – I have been in just about all the pulp and paper mills in North America – most OSB and MDF production facilities – many wood pellet production plants and I have attended most all Biomass related Renewable Energy events in North America for the last 5 years.   Renewable energy is inspiring – there is so much talent and energy but it does not create the same levels of revenue as traditional fossil  fuel energy – profit margins are lower and when the price of fossil fuels starts to drop the industry becomes less stable as the cost to create renewable energy generally exceeds that of fossil fuel derived energy.  Kind of like local food….   Everyone supports it but when imported food is so cheap – it is hard to justify.  (and FYI yes I do support the gasification plant proposal in Hamilton!)

So wood pellets took me into Animal feed pellets and for a couple of years I was attending Animal processing and feed events,   I saw the equipment used in those disturbing PETA under cover camera movies, yep it is all real.   Antibiotics, growth enhancers, color injections, assembly lines for animals – what has happened to our food production.  Material handling shows based around frozen pizza – ingredients being sold by the ton with package labeling that say “fresh tasting”.    It was all quite disturbing, so much so when I came home I would say – we are never eating that again or never eating there again, and I would try to source local.

I signed up for a local CSA share with Plan B Organic Farms, I started asking questions.  In Fortino’s the meat would say Canada Grade A or USDA grade A, I would ask – which is it – is it Canadian or American we have different standards for Animal feed, no one knew.  Fresh baked in store at Fortinos – love the sour dough – asked for the ingredient list – they could not find it.  Does it use GMO corn syrup?  No one knew the answer.

Shopping local became an obsession and luckily since I worked from home I could pop out at lunch time and visit my favorite spots, Fenwood Farms, Carluke Bakerys, Walden Beef, Wally Parrs, Dearsley Meats, and Soldaats Poultry.   I shunned the Costco shoppers and reminded my friends and family regularly the horrors of the food industry – convenience foods and especially fast foods.    Then came food trucks – small business – out there taking on food industry giants – building small business from the ground up – low overhead – realistic startup costs and flexible hours.  Loved Loved Love it!

So we built the food truck out of our travel trailer and built a business around our favorite local companies.

I love our food truck – I love it so much that even if it does not make profit – I still love it.

I believe in eating local not as a way to make profit – but as a way to make the world better.

In building this small company I had a consultant ask me – are you a food truck on a mission, or a mission with a food truck…..  We are a mission with a food truck!  Yep we just wanna change the world – one bottle of ketchup at a time….. and do it with a cool mobile kitchen, called Avi.

We want to do things for the right reasons, we are not trying to make big profits, we are doing this cause we think it is important and the right thing to do. 

They says that right action is when the right people do the right thing for the right reasons, and that should sum up success.

Fingers crossed for future success for ojo’s – for now this winter we will continue to grow and support local producers and we will be actively producing our own products in our kitchen at our awesome home at Soldaats Poultry.  And we don’t mind sharing – our commissary kitchen is available to share with like-minded folk – who want to join the food revolution!