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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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Farming

Naramata Seed Company – farm-based rare and historic seed varieties – what’s old is new again

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Some of the Naramata Seed Company’s unusual varieties illustrated by Tim himself.

“I’ve been doing this for a little more than 20 years, ” says Naramatian Tim Skrypiczajko as he shows me around one of the two plots of land he farms on North Naramata Road.
“I learned to garden from some old-school organic farmers, they saved their own seed, so to me it’s always been a part of the process.”

Over the past 50 or so years seed growing has changed dramatically as part of the industrialization of agriculture that resulted in commercial vegetable seed growing becoming specialized and in the hands of a relatively few companies and people. Farmers like Tim are working  hard to preserve and maintain unique seedstock suited to particular micro-climates. He quotes John Navazio, the author of The Organic Seed Grower, “The seed was part of their farm and their farm was part of the seed. Each variety that was selected over time to meet the environmental conditions and the farmer’s needs became part of the whole system used on the farm.” That was the way it had always worked and Tim is doing his part to continue that valuable tradition in Naramata.

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Tim takes me on a tour of one of the plots he farms along North Naramata Road on late winter’s day.

Germination

“I’m a curious person by nature, so I just started to try to grow as many different things as possible. If it was something I’d never heard of before, even better.” Tim started saving seeds and expanding the variety of seeds he grew in earnest. “I would seek out new and different varieties from small seed companies here and there, as well as a few other sources and started to amass a large collection.” His collection grew to the point that he turned his hobby into a business in 2010 and began selling seeds. He has now at the point that the Naramata Seed Company is his primary focus.

“I still treat it like a hobby though. Growing so many different things keeps it interesting. The only part of the business that feels like a real job is the marketing stuff,” he adds.

Tim says his philosophy has always been to work with the farm — it’s soil, climate, topography… and farm in a way that’s suitable for that. “At some point I realized the place where I live is the ideal place to produce seeds so it made sense to focus on that. I feel the plots I farm are the best place in Canada to produce certain kinds of seeds.”

 

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Tim at the top of one of his plots.

“I discovered that growing and selling seeds is a good way to make a viable income from a couple acres of land, while being able to do most of the work by hand and not having to use lots of machinery, which I like.

“Sometimes I wonder how I ended up doing this, and think that somehow the seeds chose me to be their custodian, not the other way around.”

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Tim cleaning some seeds before packaging.

The Naramata Seed Company’s seeds are open-pollinated, untreated and of course non-GMO and Tim farms using traditional chemical-free farming techniques. He is dedicated to the preservation of genetic diversity and is focused on rare and historic varieties.

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Starting your own seeds is easier than you think

Tim says it’s easy to grow plants from seeds and encourages everyone to give it a try. “You will soon realize it’s not as daunting as it seems. There are lots more people who want to try growing from seed all the time.”

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My greenhouse where I grow many of Tim’s seeds every year.
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Farming is not for the faint of heart. After years working around a large rock Tim has decided this is the winter it’s going.
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Along with growing seeds, Tim loves illustrating and his to scale and beautifully coloured pictures are on his seed packages.

A tomato is born

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New for this year, is the Sweet Pit Tomato, which Tim developed out of an accidental cross between Summer Cider, a large orange tomato and another unknown variety. It is a unique colour, a dusty orange with green shoulders and when sliced is orange in the centre and the edges with green gel around the seeds. It has a creamy texture and sweet rich flavour.

Naramata is a great place to grow anything, he says. North Naramata’s isolation from other farms and gardens reduces the risk of potential cross-pollination he adds.

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Tim’s land as a summer storm sweeps in. Photo by Tim Skrypiczajko.

Growing the company

As for the future, the Naramata Seed Company will soon have an upgraded website making online ordering easy. His goal is to grow the company to the point where he can focus on the growing and seed cleaning and turn the marketing over to someone else.

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Slow & Seedy Sunday

Tim is playing a key role in Slow & Seedy Sunday taking place in Naramata February 11 from 11 – 3 at Columbia Hall. The free event hosted by NaramataSlow will include seed and garden-related vendors, a preserve exchange and information on a backyard chicken project. Speakers include James Young, who has obtained farm status on a relatively modest plot of land in the Village, beekeeper Tim Bouwmeester of Desert Flower Honey and Chris Mathison, the owner/operator of the Grist Mill Garden who will talk about seed starting and diversity. Check out the NaramataSlow Facebook page to learn more.

R.I.P. Baroness

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Just a pile of feathers…

The Baroness is Resting in Peace all right. She is resting…not having any eggs…trying to re-grow some feathers. Having gone through 21 one days of broodiness, with not a nice warm brown egg in sight, she is now post-Henopasual and has decided to go bald…otherwise known as molting vs. melting. 

The chicken keeper is the one melting down. During the molt lots of nasty stuff can go down, including and pretty importantly, still no eggs for cakes.

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Just when I thought I was out of the woods…The Baroness takes herself off her imaginary eggs after a normal hatching period of 21 days and decides to give up her broody nasty ways. All my folk remedies including frozen peas and ice cubes under her ass…had no effect. Times up. She takes herself out of solitary and begins hanging with her pal Maria doing happy chicken things like scratching around for bugs, chatting with friend, and chilling. Yippeee! Problem solved. Time to start laying eggs again which usually takes three days after the broodiness ends. Not.   Feathers, feathers everywhere!
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So many feathers that I feared a predator had snuck in the coop and ended it all…
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Still here…just super itchy.

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Looking bedraggled

Putting myself in her claws life sucks right now. She has just spent three weeks alone, hardly eating or drinking, fighting with me when I try to remove her from her fake children and now she is loosing her crowning glory, one feather at a time. It’s so much worse when hens loose their hair. Bald is in for men and they boldly own it. Not so much for women…

Molting can also cause bullying. It’s even more sinister than you think. The bullying is not about picking on the hen because she is not looking her best. The bullying is related to cannibalism! New pin feathers growing in have visible blood showing which brings on some survival base instincts. Other chickens want to eat their molting friend and peck them mercilessly.

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So far Maria is empathetic and is not shaming or trying to eat The Baroness.

IMG_1519.jpgSo, my chicken research says molting is pretty common after a broody hen hatches her chicks. The Baroness bought into this whole hatching thing despite no fertile eggs to sit on or any eggs at all…big time… so it’s not surprising that her changing hormones triggered a molt. It’s also a pretty common time of the year for molting as well. The molt happens not only for aesthetic reasons but also for health reasons. Brand new feathers help trap warm air during the cold winter months better than old feathers.

Now she needs my help in the form of extra protein. One book offers a helpful recipe for Molt Muffins which include oats, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut milk, peanut butter and…. mealworms. Don’t think I’ll be baking those anytime soon but I will offer her some of the ingredients.

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How do you solve a problem like Maria? You don’t have to. She lays her egg, every single day, without fail or fuss. The Baroness is the high maintenance one….

Where beer begins – hop harvest on the Naramata Bench

It’s harvest time on the Naramata Bench and Square One Hops is an anomaly where it’s vines, pears and apples being harvested. The only hopyard on The Bench makes an interesting photo essay subject.

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The bines are cut from the trellising and a tug-of-war ensues.
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The bines grow to a Jack-and-the-beanstalk towering height before harvest.
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The aromas in the hopyard are a wonderful mixture of citrus, herbal, piney, spicy, garlic, onion, grassy and tobacco. Each step I take on left-behind hops and bines releases these subtle yet heady IPA scents.
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A season’s worth of growth is astounding.
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Part of the crew cutting the bases of the bines. This perennial plant will tower again next year.
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It’s a science to determine when the hops are at their hoppy best.

 

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Smoke from area wildfires makes for some moody photographs.

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Feeding the beast. The hops harvester is a beautiful thing as many small operators pick the hops off the bines by hand.
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Brian Tarasoff, who along with wife Kari, own and operate the two-acre Square One Hops operation in Penticton, is in his element and covered in hops.

 

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The hops will then be dried and most pelletized.

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Hops pellets are preferred for use by many brewers.
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Perfectly ripe hops awaiting the crew and ultimately the brewmaster.

Henopause — When a chicken goes broody

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Going all Linda Blair on me.

Out of the blue, The Baroness has turned into a maniac. She won’t leave her nest and growls and bites when you try to dislodge her. She is no longer the docile chicken who follows me like a puppy making happy chicken noises.

This new creature has gone broody. Her biological clock has flipped some weird switch and she has stopped laying and is desperately protecting one of Maria’s infertile eggs. When that’s removed she is as hell bent on protecting absolutely nothing and is a fowl in a foul mood.

I now use gloves as I lift her from the nest dodging henpecks. Once out she screams and flaps her feathers indicating her frustration at being ousted from her invisible eggs with their invisible chicks forming in them. She clucks worriedly.

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Pacing all around the run she is locked out of.

Since a setting hen only takes short breaks to eat and drink a bit and stretch her legs, most broodies get skinny. She is not herself when she is hungry. She is also making life difficult for Maria by hogging the prime egg laying box. Maria waits patiently for her turn and then finally squeezes in and awkwardly gives the Baroness another potential chick to hatch. Oh and I’m down to one egg layer now as broodies don’t offer up poached, fried, scrambled or egg salad. The broodiness is also catching and sweet-tempered Maria may fall prey.

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She tries all sorts of crazy cirque moves to try to get back to her invisible clutch.

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The cure includes:

  1. Gloves and courage and picking her up out of the nesting box
  2. Remove Maria’s egg out from under the Baroness pronto
  3. Locking them both out of the coop after Maria has had her morning egg
  4. Inserting a bag of frozen peas or ice cubes under her tummy
  5. Pen the offender in a cage — solitary confinement – with no nesting material

The results:

  1. She sees me coming with the gloves and we go at it until she is removed from the box…literally kicking and screaming.
  2. Baroness doesn’t really care if she is laying on an actual egg or not. She has a vivid imagination.
  3. She finds a suitable “nest” pretty much anywhere, fluffs up her feathers and sits ALL DAY in that spot.
  4. The peas melt and are canabalistically and joyfully eaten by Maria. The ice cubes happily turn into nice warm water in a ziplock.
  5. Last resort… solitary… coming up

“I find that gently removing the broody hen from the nest, taking any eggs she is sitting on, and then releasing her at the far end of the run where I have some special treats for everyone, generally works in just a few days,” says Lisa Steele in Fresh Eggs Daily. Clearly she has not encountered The Baroness. We are on day eight of the battle. She has taken to sharpening her beak on any solid object.

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Steely-eyed determination
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The flap after the scream.

So much for “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The Baroness is haunting my dreams.  My Rent the Chicken  farmer says I can send her packing and get a replacement if she doesn’t get her act together and give me eggs to make fluffy cakes again. Mmmm…would you do that to a friend with Henopause who becomes ill tempered as she copes with a hormonal issue? Maybe if the friend bites…

The great chicken coop escape

 

IMG_8268.jpgThe girlies would tell you this tale if they could but their typing is hunt and peck at best and would take far too long. I think the whole event confuses them as well. An aside… Did you know chickens have a great memory and can differentiate between more than 100 human or animal faces. They love to play, they dream (about eating millions of bugs?), they mourn for each other and they feel pain and distress. They also make great moms — they talk to their chicks while still in the egg and turn the eggs about 50 times a day.

IMG_8288.jpgA week into chicken husbandry I am still getting up at 6 a.m. to check on them. In my pjs, no coffee on board, I duck into their coop to change the water and hear the run latch gently click shut with me inside.

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The run is some distance from the house and the sleeping Handyman who decidedly  does not wake up at 6 a.m.

Three old ladies stuck in a lavatory”

The old weird song lyrics start going through my head…

Oh, dear, what can the matter be
Three old ladies locked in the lavatory
They were there from Monday to Saturday
Nobody knew they were there

I try using a stick to poke through the hardware cloth and lift the latch up.

The first one’s name was Elizabeth Porter
She went in to be rid of some overdue water
And she stayed there far more than she ought to
And nobody knew she was there.

Maria and The Baroness are watching me curiously. (Re side note…they are smarter than you think.) I then try pushing the hardware cloth out, with a fair bit of force, in several spots. The Handyman is really good at building things and the coop is racoon-proof, or so we thought.

The second one’s name was Elizabeth Pomphrey
She went in and made herself comfy
Then she said: “Girls, I can’t get my bum free.”
And nobody knew she was there

After only a week with my new pals we aren’t super comfortable with each other. They are eyeing me suspiciously and making low murmuring sounds. Another aside…Researchers have shown that there are at least 24 different sounds chickens make and maybe as many as 30. While chickens don’t have nearly the vocabulary that us humans have, and their chicken brains don’t allow for abstract and deep conversations, they are still a very vocal and conversational critter.

I finally hit on the solution and break a few zip ties that are securing a set of overlapping panels of the hardware cloth and make my great escape. Coffee!

The last one’s name was Elizabeth Carter
She was known as a world renowned farter
She went in and played a sonata
And nobody knew she was there.

Later that day The Handyman installed a rope gizmo allowing the latch to be opened from the inside as well.

 

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The day after the escape from the coop I woke at 6 to find the nesting box door hanging open. I ran to the coop expecting it to be empty or a scene of indescribable carnage but found the girlies milling about in the run, all feathers accounted for. The new bungee addition makes the coop really racoon proof.

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Chicken TV

Because chickens are clever creatures, each occupying a different role in the pecking order, keeping them in your backyard gives you a chance to see the individual personalities and quirks. Maria is fascinated by holes of any kind. She is also the boss.

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Here she is sorting out the perfect spot for a dustbath. Distracted momentarily, The Baroness steals her spot… not for long. After a dust up Maria reclaims her throne.

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The girls and The Handyman

Despite being told I am the chicken lady and in sole charge, I catch The Handyman letting the girls out when he is working on the farm…and he talks to them and makes a special clucking noise. The exercise king, here he is taking them on a little jog…which is funny itself. Something about chickens running cracks me up.

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A taste of country life

I love our chickens. Who would have thought it. They are curious, interesting, sweet creatures who demand little and give us eggs daily. I feel good about giving them great food, room to roam and a nice, cruelty-free life.

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Hens with Benefits

They give us breakfast in return and lovely fluffy cakes.IMG_8150.jpg

Farmer’s Market – in micro

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A photo essay of the Penticton’s Farmers Market and Community Market — up close…a microcosm of the Okanagan in June.

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How do you solve a problem like Maria?

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My Rent The Chicken, named Maria, is a rare Partridge Chantecler.

This year’s Christmas present is a pair of laying hens from Marie and Ron McGivern’s farm  in Kamloops, a coop, feed and some help getting up and running. My RentTheChicken.com pals will be delivered in May and picked up again in October, unless I get so attached I will need to give them a forever home…

Marie has indulgently agreed to let me choose my hens now and says she will band them and help them get used to their new names… Maria and The Baroness. They are such smart feather-brains that they will come when called or when called and a bowl of feed shaken…same, same.

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The Baroness is Black Sex-Link, so called because the hens and roosters are different colours as chicks so easy to tell apart.

 I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things — anything and everything I think and feel.

It will be interesting to see how the two ladies will get along. They will get a trial run paired up together before being delivered Marie says as, “hen pecked and pecking order” are real things. I may be dooming them from the start with their names but without Rooster Georg in the mix they may be OK with some brown paper packages tied up with string, whiskers on kittens, snowflakes that stay on my nose and my lashes…

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Marie kindly sent me a photo of Maria who is a pretty special Canadian.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun. Auf Wiedersehen, darling.

Maria may never be a nun but a monk is responsible for her breeding. The Chantecler breed was developed in the early 1900’s by Brother Wilfred Chatalain, a monk who resided and worked at the Oka Agricultural Institute in Quebec, my home province. He was in charge of the poultry yards there, and one day gave his visiting father a tour of the facilities. After viewing the various breeds housed at the Institute, his father remarked that there seemed to be no uniquely Canadian breed. That gave Wilfred the idea to create the first Canadian breed of chicken. He decided it would have all the traits necessary for superior winter laying ability and at the same time be a superior meat bird. He worked on his creation from 1908 until 1918 when the first Chantecler was released to the public.The breed is very suitable for colder climates. They have a super small comb so their head literally doesn’t freeze off in winter. They are very good layers, also in winter months, with an average egg production of 200 a year that weigh around 60 grams. The egg colour is pale brown.

The Partridge Chantecler was developed approximately 30 years after the White Chantecler, by Dr J E Wilkinson of Edmonton Alberta, my other home province. Just as Brother Wilfrid made a series of crosses to come up with his “ideal”, so did Dr Wilkinson. Ultimately he came up with a bird that he called the “Albertan”. It is important to note that they actually had nothing at all to do with Brother Wilfrid’s White Chanteclers and that they were essentially completely different breeds. However when Dr Wilkinson submitted his “Partridge Albertan” birds for recognition by the American Poultry Association, they did accept them but then rather arbitrarily renamed them as a Partridge Chantecler, much to his huge disappointment.

Chantecler, Partridge Albertan… both developed in Canada these breeds almost went the way of the dodo but thanks to farmers like Marie and Ron this Canuck breeds are making a come back. It is a friendly breed that is reliable towards it’s fosterer. I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence in confidence alone that I can raise chickens… Helps to have a friendly one I imagine.

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Marie’s photo of The Baroness.

Oh Georg, if I had known we were going to have a sing along I would have brought my harmonica.

Black Sex-links are cross-bred chickens whose color at hatching is differentiated by sex,  making chick sexing easier.  Sex-links can be extremely good egg-layers which often produce 300 eggs a year or more depending on the quality of care and feed. The Baroness is going to be an omelette queen. The color of their eggs vary according to the mix of breeds and blue-green eggs are possible. (How cool would that be?)

Blacks are a cross between a  Rhode Island Reg or New Hampshire or rooster and a Barred Rock hen.

You know how Sister Berthe always makes me kiss the floor after we’ve had a disagreement? Well, lately I’ve taken to kissing the floor whenever I see her coming, just to save time.

I may be counting my chickens before the hatch anticipating my May Christmas gift but it feels good to put faces to the names. Next…chicken raising research…so I can solve a problem like Maria…

Rentthechicken Black Friday sale – (is that a headline or what?) My Christmas present!

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I’m all in a flap over this year’s Christmas present from The Handyman.

Who doesn’t love a sale? But how many regrets stem from snapping up a bargain that maybe didn’t fit quite right, didn’t match your decor or really wasn’t needed at all? My rentthechickens will not fall into that category as the Black Friday bargain was an “item” already on this savvy shopper’s list and eggs never go out of style.

My two laying hens, 100 pounds of chicken feed and portable coop will arrive in May from Kamloops’ couple Ron and Marie McGivern’s farm and will be picked back up in October. These rentthechicken.com hens are a perfect way for us newbies to get our feet wet. If we chicken out, no harm, no fowl. Ron and Marie will come and pick them back up.

For about $500 including delivery and pick-up, the hens will lay the equivalent of eight to 14 golden eggs a week…somewhere around $2 an egg.  The point is not to save money but to give us the chance to test out a risky purchase before making a commitment to longer term chicken husbandry.

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Not as feather-brained an idea as it first appears… right?

Rentthechicken.com was started by an enterprising couple from Freeport Pennsylvania. “Your chickens will come from our affiliate homesteaders in Kamploops,” says Jenn Tompkins. “We started out thinking we could rent chickens to a few Pittsburgh hipsters and that would be it. We were dead wrong. We now have more than 35 affiliates all over the U.S. and Canada and are renting out more than 1,000 chickens. People are really interested in having their food closer to their tables without a longterm commitment.”

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Will they like me?

Jenn says the hens will quickly become my pals. It’s all a matter of who feeds them and who brings the yummy table scraps, she says.

What’s in a name?

Downtown Abbey characters like Lady Mary and Edith are trending chicken names, according to Jenn as are Laverne and Shirley with the older demographic. Younger renters are leaning toward characters from Friends or the Big Bang Theory. Charlotte and Mrs. Feathers have made the cut.

Our hens will be named Maria von Trapp and Baroness von Schrader, Maria and Ness for short.

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Roosters need not apply.

Rentthechicken does away with the four to six months rearing period until the hen is ready to lay and also the risk of ending up with a rooster chick – no eggs, lots of noise.

My farm neighbours will be incredulous at my rental hen scheme but I like the idea of an exit plan, no need to winter-over the girls or deal with “end of life issues”. My ladies will come in their egg-laying prime and Maria and Ness can be rented in following years if we bond or we can adopt them and give them a forever home if we get really brave.

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Ready to strut right into this new venture at Carpe Diem berry farm.

Jenn assures us that two hens won’t make a lot of noise and their portable coop will spread their fertilizer around to help our berry farm. She told a story of a couple of hens that were used as therapy birds for an autistic boy. We all need a little therapy right? Wonder if a therapy session should start with a why did the chicken cross the road joke or would it quickly devolve into the which came first chicken or egg existential question… I wonder if rentthechicken.com could include a sub-business…Rent a Cock to fertilize my hens should we choose to start a brood or How Would You Like Your Eggs incubating service…

Bring on May and Marie and Ness, future blog stars.

Meet you at the market – Penticton revives the town square of old

 

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Joy Road Catering is one of the must-visit stalls at the Penticton Farmers Market. Run by the Okanagan’s top catering chefs, Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart, they sell their signature galletes, wood-fired oven breads, cinnamon buns and these beautiful tarts.

One of the largest and most successful farmer’s markets in British Columbia is in my hood and has become one of our greatest weekly pleasures. Today’s last outdoor market of the season is a time to reflect on the growth of the combined Downtown Penticton Association Community Market and the Penticton Farmers Market and the growing appeal of farmer’s markets across North America.

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This beet “pumpkin” reminds me of volleyball Wilson in one of my favourite movies of all time, Castaway.

A trip to the market is much more than about the food that will fill my wicker market basket. It’s about community, identity, pleasure and as food writer Michael Pollan puts it so well, “about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other.”

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Still life in leeks.

There is a lot more going on at the Penticton markets than an exchange of money for food. Sitting with my Backyard’s Beans coffee, in a returnable china mug, I look around and see a pair of talented musicians signing an old Joan Baez tune. Someone else is collecting signatures on a petition. Kids are everywhere. Every second person has a dog on a leash. Friends are meeting up and blocking foot traffic as they exchange hugs. Someone is taking photos of the cabbages. I overhear a discussion on leek soup recipes between farmer and customer. I see strangers talking to each other in line.

I read a study that calculated that people have 10 times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than they do at the grocery store. Like going back in time, the market has taken on the function of a lively new town square reminiscent of old world markets from centuries past. How great is that?

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Still life in green and purple.
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Parsnip hair…genius.

The rise in popularity of my local market and markets across the province is not just anecdotal. The latest stats from 2012 show that total economic benefits of all farmers’ markets in British Columbia was greater than $170 million, a 147-per-cent increase from 2006. The study said that the five most important factors market shoppers consider are nutritional content, where it’s grown or produced locally, in season, whether it’s grown or produced in B.C. and animal welfare issues. I think a sixth factor should be added, the mre intangible benefit of farmer’s market shopping –the chance to see people, meet friends and have meaningful exchanges with the farmers that grow our food.

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Lemon tart love.

Willis showing off his apple juggling skills which involves a knife spearing as his grand finale. Don’t try this a home…

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