Report from the Board

It’s that time of year again when we gather for Karma’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and provide you with an update on the health of our Co-op. There, we’ll review the Board’s activities over the past year, the co-op’s financial status and board member changes. We’ll also take this opportunity to share some exciting news with you about strategic planning we’re engaged in for the Co-op. As well as look back on other milestones in the past year including our social media and marketing initiatives and new changes to our bulk bins. This year has been a busy one for the Karma board. We have been fortunate to have a number of new members join our ranks to support these new and exciting initiatives. Though ultimately the AGM signals a changing of the guard and we need our members to join us in continuing to provide valuable leadership and support going forward. From my personal experience, being on the Karma Board has been an intensely rewarding experience. I am both humbled by and appreciative for the opportunity to become President and the valuable skills and experience I have gained throughout my time. It has been an inspiring and remarkable journey working as part of such a value-driven, passionate, and dedicated team and something that is totally unique to the community that Karma cultivates. I am certain that spirit will continue to drive the Co-op forward.

by Alli Floroff, President, Board of Directors, Karma Food Co-op

What to call an egg: a visit with the Howick Community Farmers

First published in The Chronicle (Spring 2016)

What do you want to know about the eggs you buy? This is no idle question. I set out to interview some of the people behind the Howick Community Farmers (HCF or Hoffnung) eggs; but they interviewed me, too.

HCF is a three-year-old partnership of farmers in an old-order Mennonite community near Wingham, created to share infrastructure (such as an egg grading station) and sell the combined output from their farms. Besides eggs, HCF sells certified organic flour from their new mill, certified organic maple syrup, pastured beef, ketchup, and more. Since their church community made the collective decision not to use any genetically modified inputs on their farms, the starting point for their egg branding is a clear non-GMO message. Beyond that, however, the labelling gets tricky. Each farm — there are roughly 15 delivering eggs to the grading station each Tuesday — is different. Most of them have flocks of up to 100 laying hens, the maximum allowable number without buying quota. Two farms were grandfathered when quota rules took effect, so are allowed 500 hens. Together, they sell over 15,000 eggs per week. On the day I visited, they were about to print new labels for their pastured organic eggs, while keeping the original label for the conventional eggs. They wanted to hear my perspective on wording, as a city-based consumer.

Organically fed. Elias Brubacher grows organic chicken feed, which most of the other egg producers buy from him. They also buy certified organic mineral supplements, even though the eggs are not certified organic.

Pastured. The hens are on pasture in warm months, with access to pasture in winter. Access does not mean the hens want to go outside – chickens will brave the cold, but they don’t like to walk in snow. At Adam Brubacher’s farm, the hens range freely around the property (he says foxes got quite a few this year), while Elias’s flock of 500 birds is enclosed in the barn beside other livestock when I arrive. Some hens surge outside when Elias opens the doors, but most are content to hang out at the feeders inside the airy barn. Patches of snow keep any from venturing far beyond the doorway.

 

Small flocks. If you do not think of 500 as a small flock, consider that industrial egg producers jam tens of thousands of hens into windowless barns. Last month, Elias’s hens did start pecking each other. (Henpecking can occur even in backyard flocks, but is exacerbated in enclosed space.) He and some helpers clamped little pieces of plastic in front of each hen’s eyes, eliminating aggressive behaviour by preventing them from seeing directly ahead. It feels surreal to walk among the hundreds of active, curious birds … all seemingly decked out in bright red and yellow sunglasses.

 

Harvested forage in winter. After detailed discussion, I am certain that most consumers do not know its significance or meaning (preserved greens, for high nutrient quality in eggs). Adam notes that the amount of harvested forage they get varies across farms, which concerns him even though it is not a focus of consumers.

Quality and integrity are paramount. For example, Adam tells me that one of the farms does not offer enough pasture to sell its eggs under the new pastured organic label. It’s a good-sized barnyard, but he feels there is not enough grass for the size of the flock. Adam has also run experiments to improve yolk quality, which is how they determined that sunlight in winter is a key factor.

As we talk, it becomes clear that Adam is a driving force behind HCF. He is not just working to build the customer base for their farm products, he is working to persuade all the other farmers in his community of the benefits – and the viability – of farming organically. Understanding what their customers value is not just a marketing exercise, it’s part of the mission.

 

by Amy Stein

Spotlight: Karma’s vegan products

First published in The Chronicle (Spring 2016)

Whether you’ve chosen to go vegan as an ethical lifestyle decision or are just trying it out for health reasons, Karma’s got you covered for all of the tough-to-cut favourites and alternatives to items you might be surprised contain animal-derived ingredients.

Sunflower Kitchen pesto

Pesto is a product many new vegans don’t realize contains animal products. While primarily herb- or tomato-based, it’s parmesan that gives it the smooth texture it’s famous for. Thankfully, Toronto locals Sunflower Kitchen have created a delicious line of pestos that have all the flavour and texture of traditional pesto, but none of the cheese! In addition to their classics like Basil or Kale & Oregano, Zest-oh Cilantro will please those looking for a little more kick. Sunflower Kitchen also provides Karma with a range of vegan-friendly soups, dips, and pasta sauces, all of which are free of preservatives, nuts, and GMOs.

Culture City tempeh

Toronto fermenting masters Culture City are changing the game when it comes to vegan protein alternatives. Typically a soy-based product, tempeh is one of the healthiest forms of soy and is incredibly versatile. While Culture City does make a traditional tempeh, they’ve also expanded their range to include soy-free options, including chickpea, navy bean, black turtle bean, and even a buckwheat, sunflower seed, and oat mix. Each of these tempehs has its own unique texture and flavour, giving you a wide range of choice to perfect your tempeh bacon or protein-rich crouton alternatives.

Maison Orphée Caesar dressing

Lighter in consistency than a typical Caesar dressing, Quebec cold-pressed oil purveyors Maison Orphée have cut both the animal products and the guilt from your Caesar salad addiction by turning this dressing into a vinaigrette without sacrificing taste. The most authentically flavoured vegan Caesar dressing yet, it combines perfectly with savoury tempeh croutons, coconut bacon bits, and your favourite faux parmesan.

Pleasantville Creamery ice cream

If their tag line Better. Than. Ice Cream. isn’t enough to get you to try it, the unique flavours in this Toronto-based dairy-free range definitely will. With wild combos like the Elvis (sunbutter, banana, cookie dough, and potato chips!) alongside classic flavours like vanilla bean and mint chocolate chip, this hemp heart and coconut oil-based vegan ice cream has all of the creaminess of dairy.

You won’t even know the difference. Pleasantville’s small batch processing ensures you get the most ice cream for your buck, but this also means it’s a bit denser than conventional ice cream. Leave it on the counter for five to 10 minutes before serving in order to get that classic ice cream texture you’re craving.

Field Roast sausages and Chao Slices

Ask a vegan their favourite brand of meat alternatives and without hesitation many will say Field Roast. High-quality nutritious ingredients, well-balanced flavours and a pea protein base are part of the magic formula taking these sausages far beyond your average veggie dog. Karma carries three Field Roast sausage flavours – Mexican Chipotle, Smoked Apple Sage, and Italian – along with their famous Chao coconut ”cheese” slices. Due to government regulations on vegan “meats”, Canada doesn’t yet have the full range of Field Roast products – which includes small ham-like loaves, breakfast sausages, and roasts – but keep an eye out for new arrivals in this popular line.

It’s Not Bacon! coconut snacks

But you might be surprised how similar it is! Now that the WHO has listed bacon as a carcinogen, it’s not only vegans who may be seeking alternatives to everyone’s favourite processed meat. Coconut flakes lend themselves perfectly to the crisp texture of bacon and are mild enough to welcome the sweet hickory flavour of the traditional smoking process. Karma currently stocks two flavours of It’s Not Bacon! bits – Canadian Maple and Zesty Cheddar. Try them on your next BLT or baked potato, or even by the handful – it’s not bacon after all!

MegaFood supplements

Karma’s only completely vegan B12 supplement, MegaFood Balanced B Complex is made from fortified S. cerevisae, better known as the yeast in nutritional yeast. To ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients that are often lacking in vegan diets, this multivitamin also contains folate and B6, and even a healthy dose of spinach.

Gabriel vegan cosmetics

Brand new to Karma, Gabriel Cosmetics are a favourite with vegan and non-vegan makeup enthusiasts alike. Their Zuzu Luxe line offers a range of colours inspired by the European spa tradition, and we’re currently stocking mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick. In addition to being vegan, all products are free of parabens, propylene glycol, and hydrogenated oils. Try them out and let us know what you think!

by Mandy Hindle

Not your traditional farmer: Tony Neale of Wheelbarrow Farm

tony-neale-pigs
Photo by Amy Stein

Have you heard this one before? A boy grows up in Toronto, gets a political science degree, and considers a career in social work. But then he takes up farming instead. That’s not a punchline, but rather the story of Tony Neale, owner of Wheelbarrow Farm in Newmarket and one of Karma’s produce and pork suppliers.

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