Five reasons City Farm School is the best.

Farm School co-ordinator Jackie Martin shows us her skills
You may remember lots of talk about vegetables here last Fall. Well I'm back at Concordia University's City Farm School this Spring and I just wanted to tell you a little more about what you learn there. The Farm School is open to students and non-students (and people much older than students) throughout the year. You have to commit to a set number of hours of work in the garden, selling produce at the Farmers' market and attending workshops and there is a fee (bursaries available) but here is why it's so great:

1. The People.
Jackie Martin and Chesley Walsh are co-ordinators here and I'm very impressed not just with their knowledge but with their patience - the best kind of teachers. Come rain or shine they are enthusiastic and it's infectious. Plus they have an excellent cast of experts who visit to teach us about everything from beekeeping to food forests.
But your fellow apprentices on the market gardener or medicinal herbs courses are also likely to be inspiring folk too. Courses like this attract like-minded people and I met folk who make furniture, spin yarn, make wine and keep wormeries - all before they even set foot in Farm School.

Learning how to plant garlic.
2. Learning stuff.
 I was surprised at the variety of knowledge I gained on this course. It's not just about digging. Our flat became testament to that. There were jars of fermenting Jerusalem artichoke on the kitchen counter (an experiment to see if this makes them less wind-inducing) herbs hanging in the kitchen window to dry out, jars of hot sauce and sauerkraut in the fridge from the school's farmers' market and Fire Cider and herbal balm in the kitchen cupboard which I made to get me through winter. (The last two we learned about at a medicinal herb workshop with Chesley).

3. Killer recipes

 I also have a lot of new recipes to cope with the weird and wonderful vegetables I bring home from farm school like this beautiful black radish (above) I dug up one day. I had no idea what it was but was encouraged to take it home and try it. So I looked up recipes and put this beauty in a jar to make a delicious pickle. Another day I was sent home with gorgeous purple tomatillos and I made a salsa (not verde but violetta because of the colour). Delicious. Then there was tomato chutney, ground cherry jam, chile jam and recipes with delicata squash and Chinese eggplant  -  which I'd never cooked with before.

My share of the harvest at Farm School on a single afternoon
4. Inspiration for my garden

Confession time: I showed up for the Fall course without completing the Spring or Summer courses so I ended up harvesting vegetables that other people had grown. But the school and my fellow growers were adamant that I take my share and I dutifully ate them all.
Now it's Spring and I've bought a ton of seeds to try growing different vegetables in my own garden in the country. Everything from Armenian serpent cucumbers to mouse melons. I would never have dared have a go at these until Farm School. Helpfully they also recommend the best seed sellers in my region with the greatest growing potential. (No more packets from Garden Centres for me). I bought mine online at ferme tournesol.
Purple tomatillos which taste like nothing else!
5. Spreading the word.

I'm not sure everyone who came to buy fruit and vegetables at the Farm School Farmers' market realised just how fresh the produce was but we often picked it or dug it out of the ground just an hour before it went on sale - purple beans I remember in particular. One of my favourite things was chatting to customers at the market as we sold the produce. They mostly are growing some things at home on their balconies or gardens and often want to share their experiences. It's really sweet. The fruit and veg is grown at the Loyola campus but many start their lives as seeds at Concordia Greenhouse - an amazing space on the 13th floor of the Henry Hall building of Concordia University downtown. (open to the public and many students go there to study among the tropical plants) That's where I was this week (first week of the new Farm School)- learning the secrets of planting seeds effectively (drop your tray of soil onto a hard surface to get rid of air pockets) and start the whole process of life off again. There are currently celery, eggplant and chive seeds starting their new lives in trays high above the city - planted by Farm School apprentices. I will be tracking them as they grow as well as following the life of the Farm School over the year in a new documentary I'm making.

How to mouth-winnow your seed pods.

Making winter balm at the medicinal herb workshop.

Fire cider - a teaspoonful on  winter mornings can keep colds at bay.

For more information about City Farm School check out their website. Here's a few shots from filming the first class of the year at Spring Farm School. Soundtrack will be added when I put the whole doc together.


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