ChocoSoil Blog #3 – Edible Weeds!

Weeds are often viewed as undesirable and unwanted plants in our gardens. After you read this blog you will hopefully come to realize that some weeds are not only edible but are also a great addition to urban gardens and your local diet.

At ChocoSol we recognize that edible weeds are a great asset for our local and eco-gastronomic production kitchen because they are resilient, easy to grow, nutrient dense, and have a significant culinary history both in Europe and the Americas. This growing season has been exciting!  We doubled our mint and lemon balm production and cultivated hardy leafy greens such as Lamb’s Quarters, Sorrel, Epazote, and Watercress for the first time. The next 2 blog posts will focus on our research and experiences cultivating these edible greens. This first post we’ll be taking a look at lamb’s quarters, mint and sorrel.

Lambs Quarters – Chenopodium album

Lambs Quarters (also known as Pigweed) is a prolific seed producer and has become one of the most abundant weeds in parks, roadsides, back alleys and backyard gardens across Canada. Although it may seem like a nuisance, lamb’s quarters is very nutritious – the leaves and seeds are great sources of beta carotene, calcium, potassium, iron, they also provide trace minerals, b-complex vitamins, vitamin C and fiber. The young upper leaves and flower can be eaten raw or cooked. You can continue to eat the tops even after flowering, making this a long lasting seasonal food.

During the middle ages in Rome, it was a popular wild vegetable and was used as spinach before it was cultivated and brought over to North America by the Europeans. Although not native to Canada, many indigenous peoples used it after it was brought over from Europe in horse feed during the gold rush. The Iroquois peoples poulticed it onto burns and the Ojobwa peoples used it in mush or bread.

Lamb's Quarters!

Lamb’s Quarters!

Because of its prolific seed production, all of the lamb’s quarters that we cultivated on our roof this summer came from sprouts that we discovered in our containers in May. As they sprouted voluntarily we transplanted them into two of our EarthBoxes and harvested them in a ‘cut and come again’ manner, waiting a week or 2 between harvests.

To our dismay the leaves on each plant seemed smaller than ones seen around the city. We suspect that it got a later start in the spring, and that its roots may not like the constant moisture it received while growing in the self-watering EarthBox container. Nonetheless, the leaves and seed heads were very tasty when served in our corn tortillas at markets!

Mint – Mentha

Koren Mint!

Koren mint has a black liquorice taste that pairs well with our tamales!

Mint has a rich and diverse history. In ancient Greece it was the main ingredient in the drink Kykeon which was served at the spring festival celebrated to awaken the fields, and the fall festival celebrated to put them to sleep. In ancient wedding rituals it was woven into the headdresses to wish them happiness and was also reported to have aphrodisiac properties.  Since the 1700s, mint has been cultivated for medicinal use, specifically for calming the digestive and respiratory system. It thrives in rich, moist soil and can be found flourishing near ditches, streams and meadows.The varieties that we are growing on the roof are Korean mint, Black Peppermint, Egyptian and Chocolate mint.

Egyptian Mint :)

Egyptian Mint :)

Anyone who has experience with growing mint in their garden knows it can be aggressive. Mint is an ideal addition to our rooftop because it is easy to grow, its growth is contained, and it enjoys the consistent moisture of the EarthBoxes. To provide them with additional shade, we intercropped them with with sunflowers, squash, zinnia, lemon balm, and borage. This summer we have used the mint in our tortilla and tamale masa, in our eating and drinking chocolate, and cold tea brews.

Black Peppermint!

Black Peppermint!

Sorrel – Rumex acetosa

Sorrel (also known as sour dock) is a common weed found in grassy Europe and North American fields, meadows and pastures. In the wild it can be a sign of poor soil conditions, and is often found on roadsides and sandy soils. It is thought to originate in Asia but is found growing as a perennial across North America and Europe. It has a high vitamin C content and was once thought to cure scurvy.

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Sorrel bursting from the EarthBox!

We started the sorrel seeds under our grow lights in late March and transplanted them in 5 EarthBoxes. We planted some in organized rows and scattered planted the rest. This seemed to be a better fit because its leaves were able to leaves were able to spread out more comfortably. It grew quickly in the full sun on the southeast corner of our roof top, and reacted positively to being harvested in a ‘cut and come again’ manner. After each harvest it grew back quickly and produced a lot of seeds that we will save for next year. Our customers love the tangy taste that it gives to our corn tortillas!

Job Posting: Tortilla Project Support Staff

ChocoSol is hiring!

JOB POSTING: Tortilla Project Support Staff (PDF version)

We are seeking 3 to 4 enthusiastic and experienced individuals to join the ChocoSol team as Tortilla Project Support Staff for intensive hours during the period of August to October. Your main job will be to make and sell tortillas in a fast-paced environment at a downtown farmer’s market.

ChocoSol is more than a business. We are a Learning Community Social Enterprise that focuses on building community, increasing food knowledge, and developing an ecological and ethical food system through delicious tortillas and chocolate. The Tortilla Project focuses on providing local, organic tortillas and is inspired by Indigenous traditions of corn preparation. We are looking for workers who are passionate about food that is as good to eat as it is for people and the planet.

Responsibilities:

  1. Cooking and serving corn-based foods (e.g. tortillas, tamales)
    • Pressing, grilling, topping, and plating tortillas
    • Topping and plating tamales
  2. Cleanliness and attention to detail
    • Keep an organized and clean work space
    • Appropriate food handling and personal hygiene
    • Attention to presentation and attractive plating
  3. Customer relations
    • Warm, helpful, and enthusiastic
    • Knowledgeable about ChocoSol and able to convey information clearly to customers
    • Cash handling
  4. Market set-up and tear-down
    • Packing equipment and supplies for market
    • Establishing attractive on-site layout
    • Cleaning and re-setting for the next day
  5. Team communication
    • Report to Lead Research Chef
    • Provide feedback about market operations
    • Work closely with co-workers to serve customers in a friendly and efficient manner

Qualifications:

  • Food handling certification required
  • Strong organization and communication
  • Able to remain calm, clean, and organized in a fast-paced environment
  • Enthusiasm for our social enterprise and a passion for ecological and just food
  • Cycling skills an asset
  • Fluency in Spanish an asset

Work days/hours: Potential for full-time hours. Work schedule will be intense due to busy market season.

Compensation: $13/hour net pay after taxes (ChocoSol covers all deductions)

Length of contract: August to October (details to be confirmed)

How to apply: Send cover letter and resume in PDF format to info@chocosoltraders.com by Friday, August 14. Thank-you for your interest, however only applicants selected for an interview will be contacted.

Job posting: Administrative & Hospitality Support Staff

ChocoSol is hiring!

JOB POSTING: Administrative and Hospitality Support Staff (PDF version)

We are seeking an enthusiastic and experienced individual to join the ChocoSol team as an Administrative and Hospitality Support Staff. This is a full-time contract position, with the intention to permanently hire upon successful completion of the contract.

ChocoSol is a Learning Community Social Enterprise that focuses on making the ‘food of the gods’ – commonly known as cacao – into fresh, whole food, stone ground chocolate on an artisanal scale.

Our artisanal chocolate is a symbol that embodies our values of socially just, ecological chocolate made, not only with a ‘cradle to cradle’ approach, but also charged with the use of bicycle-powered product deliveries and pedal-powered machines such as bicycle blenders at farmers’ markets and special events.

In addition to producing sustainable artisanal chocolate, ChocoSol also organizes and hosts chocolate and tortilla events all over the city. We offer educational workshops and catering, organize seminars and pedal-powered concerts and events, and work collaboratively with many food and environmental organizations to advance and support local food systems and development of products made in Ontario.

Responsibilities:

  1. Answer the general Information email account professionally and in an organized and timely manner
    • respond to customer questions
    • re-direct to appropriate departments
    • compile a task list of action items
    • communicate clearly and effectively with executive staff
  2. Housekeeping
    • office supplies: maintaining inventory and restocking as needed
    • organize linens for pickup and for events
  3. Receiving and filling out forms for special events
    • general information handling
    • confirm offerings/menu items
    • request and send out certificates of insurance
  4. Google Drive savvy
    • proficiency with Gmail
    • Google calendar events: entering, updating, and scheduling invitations
    • update organizational Google docs for team sharing
  5. Bookkeeping basics
    • save invoices in a file for the accountant and print 1 copy
    • fill out cheques and postdate them for bill payment, to be signed
  6. Filing and organizational skills
    • organize and label files
    • code and file things
    • search for information in a filing system and improve current filing system
  7. Cleanliness and general cleaning
    • share in cleaning duties on a monthly basis (sweep, mop, bathroom cleaning)
  8. Customer relations that are warm, helpful, and enthusiastic
    • knowledgeable about ChocoSol: products, processes, etc.
    • take the time to answer questions patiently and helpfully
  9. Task list building and prioritizing skills
  10. Sorting incoming mail

Qualifications:

  • Common sense
  • Effective organization skills
  • Strong administrative skills
  • Helpfulness
  • Strong communication skills
  • Bookkeeping
  • Enthusiasm for our social enterprise
  • Fluency in Spanish an asset
  • Food handling certification an asset
  • Cycling skills an asset

Work days/hours: Full-time: 5 days per week

Compensation: $12/hour net pay after taxes (ChocoSol covers all deductions)

Start date: September 1, 2015

End date: December 31, 2015, with intention to permanently hire upon successful completion of contract and performance review.

How to apply: Send cover letter and resume in PDF format to info@chocosoltraders.com by Friday, August 14. Thank-you for your interest, however only applicants selected for an interview will be contacted.

Article: Create Change in the Dominican Republic by Consuming Chocolate with Care

Most of our cacao beans are sourced through horizontal trade relationships with small-scale growers in Southern Mexico. Did you know that we also source from growers in the Dominican Republic who receive carbon credits for their organic cacao?

Read more about how the Dominican Republic is supporting positive environmental action in the chocolate industry: http://www.cepf.net/news/top_stories/Pages/Create-Change-in-the-Dominican-Republic-by-Consuming-Chocolate-with-Care.aspx

July 10-12: Fringe Club!

ChocoSol will be joining the Toronto Fringe Festival celebrations at Fringe Club! from July 10-12th. We’ll be serving up stone-ground dark chocolate, as well as local non-GMO corn tacos (vegan options available!).

Toronto Fringe logo

Find us there from Friday, July 10th to Sunday, July 12th

Location: Behind Honest Ed’s (Bloor & Bathurst)

http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/fringe-club-fun

ChocoSoil Blog #2: Let’s Talk About Worms, Baby

Access to proper space, water, sunlight, fresh air and healthy soil can make growing food in cities very challenging. Urban farmers must therefore use innovative ways to maximize a city’s growing potential. Healthy soil plays a vital role in this issue, but is increasingly under threat from degradation, pollution and development. Container rooftop gardens have become a popular way to grow in the city, but requires the proper soil mix.

This blog focuses on the soil building practices that we use to grow some of our ingredients at ChocoSol. 2015 has been declared “Year of the Soils” by the United Nations so it’s a great opportunity to highlight how we are composting our kitchen scraps into high quality “ChocoSoil” with help from our worms!

red wigglers

Red wigglers “the engine” of our composting system

We process the food and garden scraps, paper towel, cacao shells and coffee grinds using red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida). This “vermicomposting” process produces nutrient dense worm castings. All compost is considered humus, a crucial ingredient for any soil mix. Not only does humus help with water retention for our soil, it provides our plants with nutrients and essential soil microbes, plus protects them from pathogens and harmful bacteria.

Vermicomposting fits under the “cradle to cradle” approach of handling waste at our facility. Cradle to cradle mimics nature’s efficient and waste free cycles, whereby our organics are not wasted but are processed back into compost and returned into our garden soil. We believe that this approach is essential to tackling Toronto’s waste issues. In 2014 alone our city produced 380,552 tonnes of waste, approximately half of which is organic material. Once landfilled the organics breakdown and produce methane, a significant greenhouse gas.

composted food scraps=castings

Beautiful worm castings!

To set up a vermicomposting unit at home, remember that it is important to create a comfortable environment for your worms. Our system consists of 6 large plastic tubs with holes drilled into the sides and tops to ensure air flow. The bins are also kept in the shade to avoid overheating and drying out. According to Mary Applehof, self-described “Worm Woman” and author of Worms Eat My Garbage(1982), the ideal temperature for your bin is anywhere between 15-25°C., but they can survive in temperatures as low as 0°C and as high as 30°C. Make room inside and outside to enjoy composting year round!

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moist paper towel layer on top of bin

Moist paper towel layer on top of bin

Your bins must also have a balanced carbon and nitrogen ratio. Our carbon sources are paper towels, coffee cups and corn stalks, which also acts as an essential bedding layer to block light and fruit flies. Our nitrogen sources are the kitchen scraps and coffee grinds.

Ensure the worms stay happy by checking the temperature, moisture, acidity (pH levels), amount of food and airflow within your bin on a weekly basis.  Managing our project takes a small dedicated team (hi!), but most single-family vermicomposting systems take little maintenance since food can be added on a semi-regular basis.

Worm bins are just one of MANY great composting options – it works best for us because it’s relatively quick and doesn’t take up a lot of space. We process approximately 15 pounds of organic waste each week and since April we have harvested over 130 pounds of castings!

Please tweet us your pics and stories of your own composting adventures (@chocosoltraders) with the hashtag #worms4all.  If you have any questions about starting your own worm composting unit please email us! We can direct you to some great resources or give you some pointers from our own experiences.