Notes From the Road

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A collection of thoughts and impressions from eager cyclists on their quest to discover inspiring models of food sustainability. 


T.A.N. Coffee Shop is teeming with grinning, safety vest clad, somewhat* grungy, recently caffeinated celebrators. To an onlooker, the scene might seem a bit confusing. To me, this image is worth ten thousand words. I see a group of friends, a family, a team that has learned to work together, play together, and challenge one another to expand our horizons. I see eyes that shine with joy and pride despite the weariness behind them after nine intense but rewarding days. It is 2pm on Sunday, and we’ve just made our triumphant re-entry into the city of Ottawa.

 As I write these words, two weeks after returning from tour, I know that the wonder and inspiration we felt on the road was not a fleeting, momentary magic. I see tour members supporting each other as we take on new and exciting initiatives, like Leonard’s ambitious “FUN(d)raising for YOUR Cause” Tour of the Underground Railroad Cycling Route in the US. I see members of our team reaching out to maintain valuable connections made with hosts along our route, like Frank scheming up building projects to do at Covenant Farm. I see myself noticing ordinary things in a different way, like the swarms of Queen Anne’s Lace on the roadside, bringing me back to the discoveries I made in our workshop with USC Canada andGreta’s Organic Gardens (did you know that Queen Anne’s Lace is the flower of the wild carrot? True Story!).

 Nine days on the road was exhilarating, empowering and educational. Now, after tour, is when the real fun begins: reflecting, synthesizing, and acting on all of the lessons learned. Taking steps to advocate and take action for a food system that is vibrant, healthy and fair, from the soil to our bellies. Enjoying the friendships and support gained on tour. Dreaming about doing it all again next year. Only 12 months to go.

 *some may consider this an understatement, given the hot 50km ride we just completed


Video Blog #4: Rainbows & Reflections of a Radical Bike Tour

Follow the thoughts of two tour members as they describe their experience during this magical week of growth, nurturing, and transformation.  



Day 8: Backstage at the Abbatoir

by Margot McComb

Hello again, this time from Covenant Farm.

Yesterday morning we separated into two groups - a few riders sampled the wines at Domaine Perrault, a local winery in Navan, Ontario. While they enjoyed a glass of wine with their lunch, a second group was at Bearbrook Game Meats, where deer, buffalo and peacocks roam. The most interesting part of our visit was the abbatoir, where we got to see where animals are kept before they are slaughtered and the machinery used in the process. They can slaughter about two buffalo and three to four goats in an hour. An inspector must supervise every step of the process. We all left the place feeling a little chilled - it really puts a face on a burger, you could say. This was a very small scale operation, so we could only imagine what it would feel like in an industrial abbatoir, where cows are killed much more efficiently and in larger quantities.

Our visit to the abbatoir was followed by a 35km ride to Covenant Farm, at 36 degrees Celsisus -- not such an easy heat. I was also pulling the sweep trailer (the sweep always rides last to make sure everyone makes it our destination). However upon our arrival we discovered a wonderfully refreshing pool. This morning we helped out on the farm, mulching and pulling stakes, but a lot of us are withering away in the heat at this point. The idea of rain, even while biking, seems like an awesome prospect. Tonight is our last supper, so Frank and a few helpers are preparing a feast. I heard mention of a buffalo tourtière? Time to rest up for our 60km victory lap into Ottawa tomorrow!


Video Blog #3: The Magic's in the Mustard with Iva!

What started as an informative workshop at Ferme Girouette on condiment making by gourmet foodie queen Ivana Borojevic turned into a joyous family bbq using the newly concoted mustard and mayonaises. Mmmmmmmmm delicious! 


 *Musical serenading & scrumptious brownies by Rising Tide Tour 2012 O-lumnus Ben :)


Day 6: Veggie Underground

by Margot McComb

Today, after visiting a nice little farm about 10km cycle from our “camp ground” a lot of us were struck by a nagging question: to certify organic or not to be certified organic, that is the question. (!) Our last farm stay at Roots and Shoots introduced us to a great farmer named Robin, who did have his organic certification. In order to maintain this “label,” he has to pay an annual fee of $700, and keep all his receipts and paperwork. Having spoken to a few organic farmers during my Katimavik program, I had definitely heard a lot about the pros and cons of getting this specific certification.

Although I will admit that the organic label is not as important to me as meeting a local farmer and seeing first-hand how my food is grown, Robin brought up the point that the reason farms can call themselves organic is because of the people who are investing time and money into getting certified. On the other side of the debate, you have Alex. Alex practises organic farming, but has never been certified. He believes that the organic label serves as a “middle man” between him and his customers, creating a divide between people and their food. He much prefers that his CSA subscribers visit his farm, and even aid in cultivating their own food. Meeting someone as down to earth as Alex gave me a new perspective on farming, and how I can in the future “get to know” my food on a deeper level (with or without the official “organic” certification).



Holly Grinvalds

Edible Dialogue

Tour member Holly Grinvalds is blogging from her tent as the team picks its way across the foodscape of Eastern Ontario. She reflects on visiting Continental Mushrooms:

"On Monday we went to a large scale mushroom operation. The owner's son showed us around. Yes, mushrooms are grown in chicken poop, like I thought, but it's also mixed with hay, gypsum, compost and other stuff. And put into these beds which are stacked one on top of another (like bunk beds) in a climate controlled concrete room.

Inside the room we saw the pickers putting the white button mushrooms directly into those little plastic boxes you buy at the store. We could hear several different languages being spoken, as most are recent immigrants. It was a fascinating operation. Low in terms of chemical inputs, but probably high in terms of energy needed to keep the rooms at a particular temperature (and sterilize each room after each batch. By heating it up tso 160 degrees!). Also the fact that immigrants are used, and are paid so little created lots of debate about workers rights, fair wages, etc. among us Otesha tour members."

Dirk Poole of Continental wrote in to add:

"After reading your site, I decided to subscribe to the blog to follow along with the rest of the locations the group was going to see & in doing so I came across perhaps some confusion when reading Holly's blog. She referred to our employees working in large windowless rooms, which is correct because in order for the product to grow that is the environment that is required. However her comment that they make less than minimum wage is inaccurate as all of the harvesters go through a 3 month training period before switching over to piece work where they get paid for how many pounds they harvest. The majority of the harvesters make well over minimum wage and are encouraged to take breaks as often as they like. I feel as though maybe there was a misunderstanding when I was talking with the group and wanted to clarify this. It was a lot of fun giving the tour as this group asked many intelligent questions & I hope that Otesha may use Continental as a location for future tours."


Day 6: Goat Cheese and Support Please!

by Gabrielle de Montigny

Sitting on this hammock at La Ferme Girouette, life feels complete. A tummy full of wonderful treats made by The Banana Team, one of the cooking squads made up tour members, I begin to reflect on my few days spent as a 2012 Otesha Pedal to Plate tour member.

First off, the food has been incredible. Such an important focus of this tour is to get re-connected with our food. I definitely feel like the meals we have shared have not only been delicious but also have given me an opportunity to appreciate the hard work put into producing it. Knowing that the goat cheese and mushroom risotto last night had products grown from two farms we had visited that day, gives a great sense of respect and empowerment towards the knowledge that I have gained.

Thinking of all the great famers and activists gives me a strong sense of hope and encouragement toward the future of our current food system. The people we have met are working very hard to improve it, and are putting a lot on the line. I feel like they are sacrificing tremendously to do what they do. Everyone should support them as much as they can. We should not only support these farms and activists that we have met, but local farmers all across the world that are putting their blood, sweat, and tears into their practice. Not only do they need to be recognized, they also need to be directly supported. By that I mean to support your own farmers close to you. Join a CSA, or even shop at a farmers market. These things are increasingly accessible and could... no, CAN change our current food system if we have enough people supporting them.

Being from Toronto I wish I could have done this tour near my city because the amount of knowledge I am gaining from all of these local farmers is so great that I would love to keep supporting them by buying their products after this Otesha tour. However, I do think I am gaining the experience here to go off on my own and do some exploring around Toronto. I am looking forward to exploring and learning some more throughout the rest of the beautiful adventure. 



Day 5: A Delicious Breakfast and a BBQ Sauce that Could Rival Texas!

by Margot McComb

Update!! We are now partway through out tour and are having an absolute blast! Yesterday was a physically challenging day for everyone, as we did a 50km trek to Josée Belanger’s house-garden fully loaded, trailers and all. I applaud everyone who took on the task of pulling them!

We started off our day with a delicious breakfast dream up by Frank, our tour food coordinator, of a French toast sandwich with cherry in the middle, topped with apple and yogurt, a favourite of everyone’s. Bellies full and gear in place; we set off to Castor River Farm to meet George Wright. He gave us a tour of his wheat farm and after buying some delicious oats, honey, eggs and pork from the generous farmer, we completed the final leg of our journey to La Ferme Girouette.

Josée Belanger’s farm is a large garden in her backyard where she grows everything from pumpkin to cilantro to potatoes. She runs a program on Wednesdays where mentally disabled individuals can come in and help out with her garden. These individuals may help be weeding or watering, or with something else that needs to get down. It is unique in that it takes place outside and allows everyone to gain important knowledge growing plants. A hearty supper of polenta, mushrooms, and lentils, pork and sausage wrapped up the day wonderfully. Today was a very relaxing day. The morning consisted of weed pulling (which the snap peas and corn are very thankful for!) and an afternoon workshop. Local Ottawa foodie Ivana Borojevic taught us how to make our own mayonnaise, mustard and gave us many helpful tips on salad dressings, BBQ sauce, and the best places in Ottawa to buy our spices. Tonight we will be enjoying her amazingly delicious condiments on equally delicious veggie burgers. Can you say Yum?



Day 4: Holy Ghost Trance

Daniel Wenzel encounters the Beautiful, the Fraudulent & the Heavenly

"Rick asked. He wished to God he had a horse, in fact any animal. Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article."

- Phillip K. Dick

This quote has turned some gears in my mind.

I find that these words function as a perfect metaphor for human connection to earth. the connection I speak of is the gaping disconnection. Until now I believed that my relationsyhip with nature could be re-established by swapping the indoors for the out. That is a mirage. A beautiful idea that is too easy to fall prey to.

Each time I left my apartment I was wishing for that figurative horse as well. I now know that my 21 years on earth have been in the servide of a fraudulent ideal. this ideal was demoalized by the very features that painted my mirage with such vivid detail.

Details like catching the scent of black dirt, feeling sun's rays hot on my neck, drops of sweat rolling down my nose, hearing the wind whisper into my ears. All these events seemed so real. But now pale in comparison to what's been discovered. The discovery is that of knowing that cultivating an inner peace can manifest an outer world of equal or greater beauty. By this I mean that we are all living in Heaven right now and don't realize it.

Until every other person understands that, the capacity for Hell to reign free will continue. this is the mechanism that allows the illusion to exist. That illusion also exists in feeling fulfilled in your day's work. I believe you cannot be truly fulfilled until you give back to that which has given you life. That's a nice way of saying Love your Mother - both of them.

Love 2 Roots & Shoots, 4 if you did not exist neither would this discovery.



Video Blog #2: Radical workshare at Roots & Shoots Farm!

On the second day of their food tour, during their first farming work-share, Pedal To Plate members get down & dirty digging their hands into the rich soil of Roots & Shoots' onion rows to weed out some pesky plants.

Their host, Robin Turner, gives them a farm tour and explains the merits of being an organically certified farm to support a healthy, sustainable community as well as support environmentally-conscious agriculture.





Day 2: Notes from Margot McComb

A great big Otesha hello to you all! Just checking in on our second day of the Pedal to the Plate Tour.

Today was a fun-filled, yet extremely exhausting, day. Frank, our Food Coordinator, sang us a nice wake up call at 6:41 AM (!) and after a hearty breakfast of rice flakes, almonds, and breakfast zucchini, Robin, the owner of Roots and Shoots Farm, gave us the grand tour of the farm. He talked to us about the challenges of running an organic farm, and introduced us to his wide variety of vegetables, from eggplants to onions, with over 100 species of yummy produce! Afterwards, we got our hands dirty and weeded the onion plants until lunch (we had quinoa and hummus!).

In the afternoon we got acquainted (or re-acquainted) with our gear, and after a few popped tires and lost parts, we all learned how to change a flat tire! Woo! What a sense of empowerment for everyone in our crew! One of our cooking crews, The Mango Team, was in charge of supper tonight, and prepared a wonderful spread of veggies from the farm and rice and chickpea goodness.

Our panel of speakers tonight lead a workshop (or ''playshop', because who can call this "work" when we're having so much fun!) on food distribution, and the diversity of speakers (from Cathleen Kneen of the Ram's Horn, to Danny Beswick who manages Roots and Shoots Farm to Kelly Bowden of Oxfam) gave us a wide array of perspectives on the issue, from discussions happening internationally to the concerns of local farmers. Overall, it was a packed day, and frankly, I am exhausted and can't wait to curl up in my tent and have a well-deserved sleep. This day certainly gave us a lot of food for thought!



Day 1: Notes from Mike Tkacz

It's the first day of the Pedal to Plate bike tour. We are 14 riders in total: 10 participants, 1 logistical coordinator, 1 food coordinator, 1 food assistant, and 1 videographer.

We set out this morning from St. Paul's University in Ottawa and took a series of bike paths to get us out of the city (early this morning my host and I had a lovely ride along the canal to get to our team's meeting spot). Roads are always so busy and only seem to take one to and from businesses; they are for getting to a certain place at a certain time. Bike paths are more like the backyard of a city, behind and shielded from the hustle and bustle. It's where the city (and people) can de-stress, meander, go at one's own pace and take in the sights. We went through parks, over bridges, and passed many a community garden thriving with leafy goodness.

Finally, we were out of the city. Arriving at Roots and Shoots Farm with sore legs, we were excited by the sights of organic garden beds and a kitchen in a semi-trailer powered by solar panels. Oh, the many ways food brings us together: around the table to share a meal, in the fields or gardens to work for a bountiful harvest, in discussion exchanging recipes or debating food practices, or on our bikes to tour a region and learn about the food systems that support us. Oh food, how you bind us together. Yum.

Food, biking, and community: what wonderful things to indulge in for 9 days.



Video Blog #1:  A Merry Market Meet-Up!

Here is our first account of the 2012 Pedal To Plate Bike Tour through rural Ottawa, as the bright shiny new Otesha team headed on its merry way from the Main Street Farmers' Market towards the wonderful hospitality of Roots & Shoots Farm in Manotick. Stay posted for our regular video adventures from the road!