Easy Cheesy Baked Cauliflower

Currently cauliflower is abundant, affordable and fresh from the field thanks to our amazing local vegetable producers! A friend gave me this recipe years ago and it has since become a family favourite.  A perfect dish for potlucks as it can be put together a day ahead and kept in the fridge until ready to bake.  

Easy Cheesy Baked Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Leave cauliflower whole or cut into large pieces. Set into large pot with an inch or two of water and steam for 20 minutes.  Drain & let cool slightly.

Place cauliflower in greased 9″ X 13″ baking dish.  Blend mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt, shredded cheese, dill & cayenne pepper.  Spread evenly over cauliflower.  Bake 15—20  minutes until bubbly and brown.

 

Precision Plant Breeding – Clarifying ‘What’s in a name?’

Originally published April 26, 2018 in the The Manitoba Cooperator 


Canola Blossoms

Science has always led the way in agriculture, and continues to do so today. Yet advances in plant breeding are being met with skepticism, fear and vehement opposition by many consumers.

Perhaps we aren’t listening closely enough to their concerns. Because we understand the science, we assumed they would too. We’ve failed in telling our story, or at least to the right people. Farmers are great at connecting with other farmers but we need to go beyond our online echo chambers and ensure we’re reaching the end-users.

While we’ve lagged behind, fear-based marketing campaigns have swayed consumers while activists continue to stand in the way of efficient, leading-edge plant breeding methods.

We’re frustrated, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

At medical appointments when doctors use confusing terminology, we stop and ask them to explain in terms we can understand. The same can be said for any expert – they know the technical terms and acronyms specific to their fields, but if they’re trying to convey a message, layman’s terms are needed.

Yet in agriculture we continue to use terms such as GMO, GE, GM, transgenic, CRISPR, TALEN, genome/gene editing and biotech crops. No wonder there is apprehension and confusion. Even when people do not know what a GMO is, they believe it something that should be feared and avoided. See “What’s a GMO?” for Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the subject. He sent a camera crew to a farmers’ market near his studio to ask people what they thought GMO meant.

GMO is now a widely recognized, often misused and misunderstood term. It’s used extensively by media and marketers alike. We can’t abandon it, but we can shift to clearer, all-encompassing terminology which covers all the latest advances.

No matter the type of plant breeding used over the last 10,000 years, the goal has always been the same – genetic improvement. Make the plants better – disease and insect resistant, improved qualities and yields. With newer technologies now available, the process has become extremely precise and efficient. “Precision plant breeding” covers it all in clear, concise and understandable language.

The term is a welcoming, open door to further the conversation as to the benefits on our farms, to the environment, the consumer and those in developing countries.

Precision plant breeding is one of the tools available to help feed our ever-growing world and adapt to changes in the environment. It offers solutions to famine, malnutrition, drought, flooding and disease.

We can’t expect unequivocal acceptance without explanation. We need to effectively communicate to the masses the what, when, why, where and how.

Clearer language is a positive step forward in taking down fences of fear and building bridges of understanding.

Not everyone will be on the same page. But hopefully there will be enough consensus to lead the world to the ultimate goal – abundant, safe, affordable food for all.

Maple Quinoa Salad

With spring’s arrival the desire for quick and easy make-ahead meals increases. This whole-grain quinoa salad fits the bill, plus it incorporates one of my favourite flavours — maple! 

I use locally grown “Prairie Quinoa” along with Manitoba maple syrup produced in our area.  An excellent salad to add to your meal-prep repertoire!  

Maple Quinoa Salad

Main Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 6 -8 green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup kernel corn (frozen or canned)
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup pecans, walnuts or almonds, chopped

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup

Directions:

Place water, quinoa and 1 tbsp maple syrup in medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover pot, reduce heat and simmer for 15—20 minutes until cooked through.  Remove the saucepan from heat, fluff quinoa with a fork and let sit 5 —10 minutes.  Cool completely and transfer to a serving bowl.

While quinoa is cooling prepare peppers, green onions, corn, black beans and nuts.  Whisk together apple cider vinegar, canola oil and maple syrup.

Add veggies, beans, nuts and vinaigrette to cooled quinoa. Toss well and refrigerate until ready to serve.

So much more than ‘just potatoes’…

                        Originally published in The Manitoba Co-operator November 16, 2017                              “Building their community one potato at a time”


How does it feel to give away 35,000 lbs of potatoes in just under 5 hours?

“It was awesome…a lot of fun,” recalls farmer Mark Peters with a wide smile. Peters and his wife Yanara, of Spruce Drive Farms, grow certified seed potatoes 12 miles northwest of Portage la Prairie.

On Saturday, October 14, 2017 they brought in two potato trucks and a conveyor to a vacant lot in Portage and set up for their second Community Potato Give-Away.

Gathering spuds along the 36-foot conveyor

Word about the event spread throughout the week and people were already lined up by 8:30 — a half hour before the give-away was slated to start. While many had driven, others walked, pushed strollers, rode bikes or scooters. As the potatoes were unloaded from the truck onto the 36-foot conveyor, folks gathered around filling bags, boxes, containers of all sizes and even backpacks.

Volunteers worked alongside the Peters, helping load and carry the spuds as well as encouraging those who were unsure of what to do to find a place along the conveyor and help themselves. The atmosphere was light and jovial. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, everyone was welcome to as many potatoes as they wanted.

“What I loved about it, is that we’re not just targeting one sector of our community. We had people of all ages, all income brackets and walks of life stop by,” said Mark. Many people on fixed incomes and social assistance came up to him to express just how much this was helping them out, shake his hand and thank him. Others stopped by out of curiosity or because they knew the Peters. Some didn’t even need the potatoes but just thought it was a cool idea.

For Yanara, the feeling of community was incredibly gratifying.

“Discovering how people are there for each other, like those taking potatoes for perogy fundraisers to support other needs in our area. Or the grandmothers who cook extra meals for the children in their community,” she said. “We’re all the same and we all have a story.”

“You had people that come back two or three times,” Mark added. “But they’re not coming back for themselves. They’re coming back for their neighbours, their friends, their families.” And that is exactly what the event is all about. The inspiration to reach out and help others. Filling a need. Building and extending community.

Inadvertently it also bridges the farmer-consumer gap. The young ones in the crowd often opened up the best conversations. “Why are the potatoes dirty?” ”How come there are so many different shapes and sizes?” “Why are you giving them away?” Many discussions ensued on food waste, what happens to produce before you find it on your store shelves, and why it feels good to give back when you can.

The inaugural event in 2016 was a result of circumstance. Seed potato production standards are very precise. That year, some of the Peters’ crop did not meet seed specifications but was perfectly suitable for the consumer market. However, without a contract to sell consumer potatoes, there was place for those spuds to go. They could have left them in the field and avoided incurring any more costs, but that type of waste didn’t sit well with the Peters. They opted to dig the crop and the “Community Potato Give-Away” was born.

Being cognizant of local vegetable fundraisers in the community, they waited until those were over before proceeding. The event was a success, in more ways than the Peters could have imagined. The heartfelt gratitude and connections made were powerful and lasting.

“It was always on my heart,” said Mark. “I really I wanted to do that again.”

However, this past summer rains eluded his area. Only the smaller of his two potato fields had access to irrigation. The potatoes in the larger field suffered under the intense summer heat, not looking healthy at all. Peters worried, unsure if he would even have enough to fill his seed contracts.

Once harvest was underway, those worries slowly receded. Whether it was divine intervention or answered prayers, that field with little to no rain, produced amazingly well. On the last day of harvest, Peters had a good idea of what was left in the field and didn’t think it could all fit in his storage bin. The give-away would happen.

He set up a sizer to separate the larger potatoes (less desirable for seed) as they were unloaded. One and half truck loads were set aside for donation. Along with the Portage la Prairie event, six 2,000-pound totes were filled to be delivered to remote reserves across the province. The fact that the Peters don’t even mention the effort, cost and time that goes into this, speaks volumes.

Many asked if this will be an annual event. When it comes to farming, it all depends on the year and success of the crop. The Peters remember and appreciate how generous people were with them when they were young adults, so when they are in a position to give back, they definitely will.

“It’s only potatoes, but it just brought so much to the community,” Mark said. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with people and hear their stories. The most basic need is being met with most basic vegetable.”

“Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation” begins National Tour

Originally published in the March 2017  issue of Canola Digest


Sandi Knight photo

What happens Canada’s 150th birthday and Canola’s 50th anniversary collide? The Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum (CAFM) in Ottawa celebrates with a nation-wide tour of a new travelling exhibition, “Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation”. This exhibit made its debut at Canola Council of Canada’s “Good As Gold” 50th Annual Convention in Winnipeg on March 7—9. It will be on display at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport in the arrivals hall through March 23rd.

Designed to tell the story of canola to Canadians, this 500-square-foot exhibit is interactive, hands-on and designed for all ages. It is comprised of two C-shaped configurations — one to make you feel immersed in a field of canola, the other as though you are walking into a processing plant. It will highlight canola’s versatility from cooking oil to canola meal, biofuels, ink, plastics and cosmetics. Visitors will learn the history — from a crop that didn’t exist 50 years ago to the multi-billion industry that exists in Canada today. They will discover the on-going science, research and innovation behind canola.

Credit: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Credit: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

 

 

 

 

 

Over the next five years, it will travel to museums, science centres, indoor and outdoor exhibitions, hospitals, shopping malls and airports. A map and links can be found on-line at CAFM.

The main gallery of the CAFM will also house a long-term, more in-depth, 2,500-square-foot exhibit.  It will connect to the museum’s demonstration kitchen, providing access for hands-on learning food experiences. The museum, which hosts 200,000 visitors/year, is a working farm, so as guests tour they will see canola growing and learn how canola meal is used in food rations for livestock and poultry.

The CAFM wants to ensure the canola story is accessible to all Canadians, so those unable to visit either exhibit will be able to access information and resources on the website.

Kerry-Leigh Burchill, director general of the CAFM states it was a fortuitous meeting with Simone Demers Collins, market development & promotions coordinator of Alberta Canola, at a Grow Canada Conference in Ottawa that led to this new exhibit to celebrate Canada’s 150th. Burchill said the museum was looking for a crop or a process that had “a very strong connection to innovation by Canadians in the fields of science and technology when it came to agriculture.”  To which Collins replied, “I think that story can be canola.”

Canadian canola grower associations and industry partners then stepped up to the plate to collaborate and sponsor the exhibit.

To ensure accuracy and a balanced representation for the exhibits, a National Advisory Council provided advice and input. The 13 member panel from a wide cross-section disciplines, included Dr. Keith Downey, one of the fathers of canola. Focus groups and surveys ensured terminology used was understandable to the general public.

The goal is to showcase agriculture as an ever-evolving industry, highlight the heritage of this made-in-Canada crop along with the benefits of growing canola from health, food security, environmental, economic and sustainability perspectives. Burchill hopes the exhibit will even inspire young students to chose a career path in agriculture.

Communication and education are key to the advancement of agriculture in Canada. This initiative will be a valuable reminder of just how far the canola industry has come in 50 years.

Courtesy Canola Council of Canada

Thoughts on "Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation" 

Sandi Knight photo

“I think it’s an opportunity to be able to allow the urban population in particular, and farmers as well, to see where canola came from – the humble beginnings, where it’s going and the variety of products available from canola.” — Bruce Dalgarno, Farmer, Newdale, MB

 

Sandi Knight photo

“When visitors have the opportunity to learn from our farmers, hear their stories about growing ingredients for our recipes and food for our tables, a deeper farm to food connection is made. The display will give Canadians an opportunity to #ExploreCanola.” — Ellen Pruden, Education and Promotions Manager Manitoba Canola Growers/Canola Eat Well

Sandi Knight photo

“As the Canola Council of Canada celebrates 50 years in 2017 we couldn’t be more proud to tell the story of five decades of achievement and transformation in the Canadian canola industry and the exciting opportunities ahead. The exhibition is an excellent example of the innovative and collaborative spirit that’s driven canola’s success and we’re honoured to be able to launch the #ExploreCanola tour at our upcoming Convention.” — Patti Miller, President, Canola Council of Canada

Sandi Knight photo

“It is undeniable that the science, research and innovation behind canola changed how a lot of agriculture is done around the world”. — Kerry-Leigh Burchill Director General, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

 

Show. Share. Connect.

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Canola in bloom east of our farmyard

Recently I had the opportunity to host the Manitoba Canola Growers booth at an Ag Awareness Expo. Not having done this before, I was a little nervous. But I was advised to, “Be you. Be authentic. Listen for common ground.”

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“It’s what in the inside that counts”

As people stopped by, conversations began to flow and it wasn’t long before nervousness transformed into enjoyment and ultimately, gratitude.  Parents watched and listened as their children exuberantly ‘crushed canola’ and saw for themselves how it’s possible for those tiny black seeds to make clear yellow canola oil.

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“Shaken not stirred”

Youngsters and adults alike enjoyed picking out ingredients to create and customize salad dressing following the simple 2:1:1 ratio – 2 parts canola oil, 1 part acid (vinegar or citrus), 1 part emulsifier (mustard or honey), adding herbs if they wanted to kick the flavour up a notch.

These hands-on activities led to a variety of discussions on food and farming:

  1.   p1170714The patience a farmer needs to wait for the canola to ripen.
  2.  Bees – how they love canola and so many of us love honey.
  3. Half your Plate– how kids custom-creating their own dressings can lead to trying and consuming more salads and veggies.
  4. Canola meal – how the ‘leftovers’ after the oil are crushed and used in livestock feed, and help dairy cows produce more milk.
  5. Baking and cooking – using canola oil to make cakes, cookies, fries or even grilled-cheese.
  6. Ag in the Classroom – some students had done one or both of our activities at their school though AITC but were either anxious to repeat and/or encourage their sibling or parent to do the same.
  7. The variety of Made-In-Manitoba products and booths around us – using honey, jam or beet juice in a dressing. How quinoa can be used instead of greens for a salad and how lucky we are to have so many prairie fruits to add to flavour to our salads in the summer.

ag-expo-portageThe majority who stopped by were genuinely interested in conversation, with many sharing how they use canola oil in their kitchens. This gave me the opportunity to say, “Thank you,” and, “As a canola grower, I appreciate you using a product we grow on our farm.” Something happened in this moment.  A connection was made. Many did a double take, perhaps surprised. When our crops are sold directly to a grain company or processor, there is no contact with the end-user. I’m not sure I’ve ever had the opportunity to directly thank a consumer, but it felt good.

While hosting this booth was a little out of my comfort zone, I’m glad I accepted the opportunity to show, share and connect. It was enjoyable, gratifying and a reminder to express thanks whenever the opportunity presents itself. While I truly value the sentiment behind “Thank a farmer”, appreciation should flow both ways.

So whether you’re a home cook, chef, baker, dietitian or home economist who chooses canola oil, from our farm to your kitchen – thank you.

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Canola field at sunset