Archive for March, 2011

When I started dating my husband-to-be, he served me lunch with fresh cherry tomatoes and homemade mint tea, picked moments earlier from his backyard. I was impressed.

Then we moved, he got a full-time job, and we had a baby. Somehow the mint and tomatoes got left behind. For the past three years I’ve been saying, “I must plant some vegetables in our yard.” It hasn’t happened.

But this is the year. As of a few minutes ago, I am committed: I have just pre-ordered two different varieties of organic, cherry tomato seedlings from the Coop la Maison Verte, through its annual Big Vegetable Seedling Sale.

For the 6th consecutive year, Coop la Maison Verte is teaming up with Ferme du Zephyr to offer a large variety of organically grown heritage tomato, vegetable and herb seedlings. Some 150 different varieties will be available at the Coop’s NDG store from May 7 to mid-July. But you can place your order now, either online at boutique.cooplamaisonverte.com, or in person at the store.

Stéphanie Guico, the Coop’s marketing coordinator, says the seedlings are organically germinated from heirloom seeds in the greenhouses of Ferme du Zephyr, a certified organic farm located in Senneville on the island of Montreal. “It’s a good compromise between sprouting your own seeds at home and picking up ‘whatever’ at the hardware store,” she says.

Heirloom or heritage plants are open-pollinated varieties that grow from rare seeds that have been preserved for generations. “By growing these plants, gardeners take part in preserving biodiversity by cultivating unusual varieties that are not offered by mainstream producers and are at risk of being lost completely,” the Coop’s press release states.

Ten years and 8,000 members strong

If you need help choosing what to order (I was a bit overwhelmed by the 70 different varieties of tomato plants), staff at the Coop are happy to help. Is it for a balcony or a backyard? Do you want your tomatoes for cooking or for salads? There’s also broccoli, cucumbers, squash, melons, sweet and hot peppers, lettuce, Swiss Chard and more. If you order online, you can opt for one of four delivery locations: Coop la Maison Verte (NDG), Coop du Grand Orme (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue), Cabaret des Bons voisins (Pointe Claire village), or Terre à Soi (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve).

Workshops related to the seedling sale will be offered in April and May, on topics such as food security, food sovereignty, permaculture and gardening. Stay tune via the Coop website or Facebook.

Much more than just a store

Coop La Maison Verte was founded 10 years ago, following Montreal’s infamous 1998 ice storm.  “Community organizers working with people in the weeks following the storm were astonished by the level of isolation in the community,” Guico explains. “They wanted to create a place, a community hub, where people could meet. They also wanted to do something about climate change, through people’s daily actions, starting at home.” (For the full story, see History on their website.)

Buy your laundry detergent (and lots more) in bulk

In keeping with this mandate, the Coop runs a store and café in the Montréal borough of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG), where it offers ecologically sound, sustainable products — school and office, personal care, home cleaning and home renovation — and whole foods. “Our policy is that food should be as local as possible, and organic if possible; if not local, then within North America; if not within North America, then Fair Trade,” Guico says.

La Maison Verte also hosts workshops on a variety of topics, from composting to bee-keeping.  In the summer, the Coop offers organic food baskets through Equiterre’s Community Supported Agriculture project, and it hosts a farmer’s market run by Ferme du Zephyr on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Guico says an important part of the Coop’s philosophy is to keep things accessible, realistic and within people’s means. “We provide information, we suggest, we propose, but we will never push or make people feel like they are not doing enough. We don’t want to belittle anyone’s actions because they are not ‘green’ enough; we want to build on what people are doing.”

Drop in for a coffee at Coop la Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke Street West, corner Melrose (bus 105 from Vendôme metro).

Marketing coordinator Stéphanie Guico (front right) with co-workers Jacqueline Tremino, barista, and Kurt Houghton, store coordinator

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I am having trouble writing this post. It is very hard to write a cheery, inspiring article on something as seemingly insignificant as getting ready to plant tomatoes in my back yard, when the newspaper headline on the table beside me screams: 10,000 feared dead.

Four days ago I conducted an interview for what was to be my next blog post; that night, the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

We can always donate to the Red Cross or another aid organization with people in the field, on the ground — as many of us did for Haiti, for Pakistan, for New Zealand. Yet it seems like a paltry gesture.

What does it matter that today I chose to buy whole mangoes, instead of the conveniently cut-up ones in a Styrofoam package, or a loose slicer cucumber instead of an English one sheathed in plastic?

Of course, the more cynical will say, why does this trouble you now? What about the poverty and human rights abuses and conflicts raging across the world every day? Millions of people are suffering all the time, and yet most of us here in North American just go about our daily lives.

The truth is that it always troubles me, but the human brain has a way of pushing these things aside.

I am one of the luckiest people on Earth because I can buy whatever fresh fruits and vegetables I desire, for myself and for my healthy family. Later we will eat them in our comfy, heated house. My son will take his mango for his morning snack at school, where he is being well-educated by highly qualified teachers with access to an ample stock of books, toys and supplies; my daughter will do the same when she is of school age.

I suppose that is the point: living in the land of plenty, free and fortunate as we are, it is not just shameful but downright embarrassing that we waste, that we over-consume, that we over-package, that we produce mounds of garbage, that we pollute and pollute and pollute.

Changing these habits will not prevent earthquakes. But, as we go about our daily lives, perhaps they can inspire a positive shift in the world that is still standing.

I promise I’ll tell you about the tomatoes tomorrow.

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