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Cross-posted at Slow Coast.

Workshop attendee and cheesemaker-in-training Julia Downs cuts curds into a workable size

After the full-on whirlwind of Earth Day, about 30 folks in Powell River had a stimulating opportunity to learn about cheesemaking from itinerant cheesemaker David Asher Rotsztain, who visited us from Mayne Island, where he farms and works to preserve the traditional craft of small-scale cheesemaking.

During the course of a three-and-a-half-hour workshop, we went through some of the basics of cheesemaking. David talked about the choice of milk, the politics of rennet, the odd history of orange Cheddar, the structure and types of milk proteins which are being manipulated to provide us with such a variety of textures and flavours, and plenty more.

What was most heartening to me was to see so many people come out on a Sunday interested in learning how they can engage with one of the most venerable means of food preservation. Some (like myself) were complete novices, never having deliberately made cheese; others were fairly old hands at certain types of cheesemaking willing to learn more about the complexities and details.

We started off adding some kefir to 4 litres of local whole milk warmed to somewhere close to body temperature, the perfect zone of warmth for bacteria to proliferate in. The bacteria, yeasts, and other critters in the kefir culture got to work souring the milk by converting the milk sugar lactose to lactic acid. Then David added a small amount of rennet, a digestive enzyme extracted from the fourth stomach of a suckling calf, in order to start the coagulation. Throughout the workshop, as we discussed other techniques and worked on other processes, we periodically checked the progress of the curdling as the curds separated from the whey.

Finally, as shown in the image above, we were able, gently, to cut the curds and, again gently, stir them to expel whey and firm them up. This is the step before pulling them from the whey and placing them in a mold where they would expel more whey, compress, and settle into the final shape and size.

David Asher Rotsztain setting out the samples of cheeses... first we learn, then we eat.

David told us all about the amazing and complex world of molds and their cooperative interaction with the process of ripening. I did not know that in order to create a camembert or blue cheese, all that is needed is to inoculate the souring milk with some spores from the desired mold (Penicillium candida or P. roqueforti respectively). The mold in question will create a mycelial network throughout the ripening cheese, much in the same way as mushrooms create vast networks throughout the soil of a forest. Spore-producing bodies analogous to mushrooms will pop up on the surface of the cheese, as in surface-ripened cheeses like camembert and brie — that’s what that furry rind is on those cheeses. In the case of blue cheeses, the spore-producing bodies are blue in colour and appear wherever the mold comes into contact with air. The veins in blue cheese are produced by thrusting skewers through the cheese to create air holes where the blue mold will appear.

We made paneer, a traditional Indian cheese produced by heating milk close to boiling and then adding something acidic as a curdling agent. We used a nice organic apple cider vinegar, which instantly created about three pounds of soft curds which David pulled from the whey with a slotted spoon, setting them aside to drain and solidify somewhat. Later he salted them lightly, split the batch in two, and added some ground chipotle peppers to half. (Delicious!)

After a dizzying ride through the amazing world of cheese, yogurt, and kefir, we concluded by sampling the paneer we made, along with a camembert from Salt Spring Island, another washed-rind soft cheese with a very pungent aroma, and a wonderfully yellow blue cheese from Moonstruck Organic Cheese also on Salt Spring Island. Some wine would have been nice…

Since I was coordinating these workshops on behalf of the Powell River Food Security Project, I sat through two in a row. Even then, I was fascinated both times to learn about the simple processes which convert milk into cheeses with such rich and complex flavours and textures. It’s an extraordinary art and one that would be nice to see revived here more visibly. There seems to be a cheese underground out there, and let’s hope that with some more practice and exposure we can work towards a flourishing local cheese industry.

(If you’re interested in knowing about future workshops offered through the Powell River Food Security, please contact us and get on our email contact list.)

Fri. May 1

6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Breakwater Books (Alberni St. at Marine)

Robin Wheeler – Food Security Workshop

Hour One – Personal food security. In this hour we’ll look at the ins and outs of stocking up and buying on a budget, learn about our local food supply, and figure out natural food cycles.
Hour Two – Creating Community. How to create a local network for exchanging information, borrowing equipment, or working as a group. We will consider our resistance to sharing, and play with a mapping system that could help us create connections for our mutual benefit.

Cost: $5.00

Sat. May 2

9:00 AM to 11:00 AM (Location to be determined; contact David for details)

Robin Wheeler – Edible Landscape Workshop

We’ll analyze the strengths and drawbacks of our properties, get tips for using space well, learn how to “microclimate” a space, discover appropriate plants for the best place, and begin a garden map of our own and a list of where to start.

Cost: $20.00 (Space is limited; contact David to reserve a spot)

11:30 AM to 1:00 PM at the Four Square Church (Manson Ave. at Barnet St.)

From Garden to Pantry… or In a Pickle

Will & Nicole of Skeena Street in Wildwood will demonstrate preserving fruits and vegetables in jars. Session includes some hands-on as well as a tasting session and take-away recipes.

Cost: $5.00 (Space is limited; contact David to reserve a spot)

1:00 PM to 2:30 PM at the Four Square Church (Manson Ave. at Barnet St.)

Basics of Pressure Canning with Peggy Fedor

Local experienced canner Peggy Fedor will teach about pressure canning meats and fish, soups, beans, and other low-acid foods.

Cost: $5.00 (Space is limited; contact David to reserve a spot)

3:00 PM to 4:30 PM at the Powell River Public Library (Michigan Ave. at Duncan)

Robin Wheeler – Analyzing Barriers to Local Food Security

Robin will talk about our potential for expanding food security, describe ideas from other communities, and then will facilitate a discussion on making progress.

Free, thanks to the Powell River Public Library

Sun. May 3

9:00 AM to 12:00 noon (meet @ the Community Resource Centre, Joyce & Alberni)

Brian Lee – Wild Plant Walk

Join local ‘Bush Man’ Brian Lee on a walk through the woods to see what sort of wild edibles are available at this time of year.

Cost: $15.00

All workshops are on a sliding scale for low-income, underemployed, etc.

For more information, contact David Parkinson at (604) 485-2004 or at

Thank you to our friends and supporters at Breakwater Books, the Four Square Church, and the Powell River Public Library!

I just posted something about Seedy Saturday over at the new Slow Coast blog. That post is really about community development and about how Seedy Saturday is a good example of a community-building initiative which is relatively inexpensive, popular, and fun. Check it out.

Well, now that we’re past Seedy Saturday we’re well and truly into the early stages of the growing season. I’m hoping to have some workshops organized, so if anyone out there has some suggestions let me know.

Also, I am trying to organize a food garden tour this summer, so if you have some thoughts about that — or (even better) you’d be willing to put your garden on public display — then email me.

And now, for anyone who missed Seedy Saturday 2009, here are some photos (click on the thumbnails to see larger versions):

Hello all:

There are a few things to announce, relevant to food-security efforts here on the Upper Sunshine Coast:

  1. We had a wonderful Kale Force meeting this past Wednesday (Feb. 11). There were about twenty people present, the food was awesome, and Wendy Devlin talked us through some of the information we need to know about seed-saving, including the details of the new seed-saving initiative starting up this year. Some of the participants in the seed-saving pilot project came to the seed-packing bee, and were able to pick up the seeds that they will be growing this year. Very exciting!
  2. Carol Engram is planning a series of monthly workshops this spring and summer to help people learn how to create and care for a productive food garden. She has asked me to see if I can help her find someone willing to let their garden be used once a month for a hands-on workshop and work party. During the course of the summer, Carol and the workshop attendees will build up a garden, learn about composting, weeding, planting, and other aspects of food gardening. If you’re interested in having some part of your property used as a demonstration garden in this way, please email me or contact Carol at (604) 485-2311.
  3. David Counsell has stepped forward to coordinate the community garden at the Seventh Day Adventist Church this coming growing season. If you are interested in helping out at that garden, which is on Manson Ave. near Alberni St. in Powell River, or are interested in having a garden bed for yourself or your family, please contact David at or (604) 413-1499. Or you can just drop by the church on Tuesdays or Thursdays between noon and 1:30 PM and talk to David in person.
  4. Hana-Louise Braun is continuing to coordinate activities in the demonstration garden of Powell River’s Community Resource Centre. If you would like to get more involved there and spend time learning how to grow food in your own garden, you can drop by the CRC any Monday between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM and talk with Hana-Louise. Bring work clothes, gloves, and hand tools if you have them.
  5. Come and ‘Dig-it’ on Sunday March 1st 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM in Wildwood. This free workshop demonstrates the division and the digging up of  of berries and other food plants. Volunteers are invited to bring their boots and extra large pots to Farmers’ Institute member farms: 1:00 PM at Hatch-a-Bird Farm (6603 McMahon Ave.); 2:00 PM with Wendy Devlin at 6834 Smarge Ave. The newly potted plants will be donated to the Seedy Saturday plant exchange.
  6. Seedy Saturday is March 14 2009, at the Community Living Place on Artaban in Powell River). Bring your seeds in dry, sealed envelopes and swap them for other seeds. Or you can buy seed packets for fifty cents. You can exchange bedding plants, perennials, roots/tubers, berries, shrubs, and trees. Community groups will be there to give out information on gardening, permaculture, composting, beekeeping, and seed saving. There will also be five free garden-related workshops during the day.

So, as you can see, there is a lot going on in and around Powell River, even though we’re not even into the growing season yet!!

As always, if you have any ideas for a workshop that you would like to attend (or facilitate), please contact me at, or phone me at (604) 485-2004.

One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

We had the September Kale Force meeting last night, one week late since I was out of town at the Sorrento gathering of the BC Food Systems Network last Wednesday. This month’s meeting was the follow-up meeting to July’s meeting when Wendy Devlin talked to the group about some of the basics of saving seeds. That was the classroom portion; last night’s meeting was the hands-on part. We met up at Wendy’s place, up in the far northeast corner of Wildwood, admired her ducks and rabbits and sheep, and then spent almost two hours wandering around in her garden, learning about the ins and outs of seed-saving.

We looked at chard, beet, dill, cilantro, beans, various flowers, talked about gathering seeds from plants like cucumbers and tomatillos, and spent some time gathering seeds from Wendy’s cosmos (cosmoses?). It certainly adds a whole new dimension to gardening when you have to think ahead to saving seeds, since you have to consider distances between plants, accidental pollination, flowering times, and the tradeoffs between growing plants for eating and growing plants for seed.

After that, some of us went down the road a piece to Heinz’ house and admired his incredible garden, built among the rock formations beside his house. Talk about making the best of a difficult situation for a garden! Heinz has trucked in large amounts of soil and amendments and created a very orderly and well-maintained fruit and vegetable garden. He has lots of strawberries, even this late in the season, which might be something to do with the fact that everything is surrounded by rock, which probably helps keep the garden from cooling down as much as it otherwise might. We enjoyed a nice potluck meal and conversation, and then called it a night.

One thing that came out of the workshop was a renewed interest in creating a regional seed-saving effort, whereby people in different parts of town could tale responsibility for saving seed from particular plants and varieties. This might allow for isolating plants from cross-pollination and accidental hybridization, and would allow for some plants to be grown for seed in areas which are more conducive to those plants. For example, Wendy was having trouble getting some of her plants to set seed before the cool damp weather starts; but in drier warmer parts of Powell River it should be possible to extend the growing season by a couple weeks or more.

So, this winter, as we continue to meet (second Wednesday of every month at 5:00 PM at the Community Resource Centre!), we will hopefully be planning a little network of seed-savers around the area, divvying up responsibility for seeds from various plants, and using these seeds to feed into Seedy Saturday. Perhaps over time this will evolve into a seed company or cooperative.

We are lucky here in the Powell River area to have a few local experts in recognizing and gathering wild food plants, and knowing how to use them food food or for medicinal uses.

Brian Lee will be leading a plant walk this Saturday May 10, and Kristi McCrae will be leading another one on Sunday May 25. All the relevant information is given below. Please come out and support your local wild plant experts, get some fresh air, and learn a thing or two (hundred) about your local bioregion!!

Sat. May 10: Wild Edge plant walk with Brian Lee

Come out with Brian Lee (Bush Man) for a wild plant walk. You will see that the local bushes have a variety of plant life to offer and the Spring is when the edibles are at their peak.  Most plants are multi-use; edible, medicinal, clothing, shelter, tools, etc. and I will speak to these uses. The bush is like a supermarket and sometimes you can’t get everything on one aisle, but come out for a wild walk and we will see what Mother Nature has to offer us.
Saturday May 10, 9:00 AM to 12:00 AM
Meet in the parking lot of the Community Resource Centre, 4752 Joyce Ave., Powell River
$20 per person; kids of babysitting age are free (accompanied by a parent)
For more information call Brian at (604) 414-5183

Sun. May 25: Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk with Kristi McCrae

Plant identification, a couple different ecosystems, discussion about properties of wild plants, harvesting and preparation.
Sunday May 25, 10:00 AM
Craig Park in Lund (on Craig Rd.)
$15-$25 sliding scale (kids free)
Bring: Lunch, Field guides, water
Be prepared to hike
If you have a back road worthy vehicle that we may carpool in that would be great!!
Contact: Kristi at (604) 414-5723 or

Good meeting last night: 20 people in attendance (including me, and including Phoenix, the youngest member of the Kale Force, at a mere 8 months). After the usual potluck and casual conversation phase of the evening, we went around the table and talked about what sorts of things were on our minds. Here’s some of what came up:

Susan mentioned that she is putting together a bulk fertilizer order, and invited all of us to get in on that with her. She has been preparing her own mix of ingredients, based on Steve Solomon‘s recipe, and finds that it works really well. She also has lots of experience growing, cooking, and preserving food, and we really need to start harnessing her knowledge and experience… along with the knowledge and experience of so many other people in the region.

Doug mentioned that he is raising honeybees, and would like to know if others are keen to learn more about this. A possible workshop topic, although there are some legal restrictions on having honeybees in the City of Powell River that might discourage some people from doing this.

Lyn talked about the Community Resource Centre & the demonstration garden behind it. She mentioned that there are going to be plenty of opportunities for people to get involved, especially once the youth who are working on it start getting put on workplace training. We’re going to have to work to have a good longer-term plan to make sure that the demonstration garden is well cared for, and that people are using it as a site for workshops and work parties.

Lyra referred us to her blog, The Gluten-Free Hippie, which is an awesome resource filled with good ideas about vegan & gluten-free cooking. I sense another worksop coming up, since there are quite a number of people around here trying to reduce their meat intake and also dealing with food intolerances; gluten intolerance being one of the biggies.

Julie, in her role as coordinator of the open-air market, talked about our real need to increase the amount of food being grown locally and made available through the market. We are seeing a decline in the number of farms locally, and we need to work on some creative ways to make farmland affordable to younger folks coming up.

This led to an interesting general discussion about cooperative land ownership and land trusts. We are very lucky to have Bryon among us now, who has some experience in cooperative land purchase and stewardship, being involved in the Horse Lake Community Farm Cooperative up in 100 Mile House. We threw around the idea of cooperative purchase of some of the ALR lands in town, and I suspect that this is a discussion that will come up again.

We also had a freewheeling discussion regarding how we are supposed to educate more people out in the community about the pressing need to become more regionally self-reliant, and about the ways to become more self-reliant. Of course, I’ve been asking myself the same thing, and the answer has to be something along the lines of: organize a group of people who are committed to strenghtening our regional food supply, keep that group growing, and find opportunities to connect with regular folks out in the community who might benefit from knowledge about how to grow more food, how to eat well for cheaper, how to preserve the summer’s bounty into the winter, and so on. No one said it would be easy!

We took care of a little administrative business having to do with the meetings and some of the activities of the Food Security Project:

  1. we decided to stick with the name Kale Force, which is good news for me, since I had already started this blog;
  2. I mentioned this blog, and let people know how to find it — hopefully over time we can use it as a more interactive thing or else connect it to a forum or something;
  3. I mentioned the Sustainable Microfarm Forum in Roberts Creek on Feb. 24, and it looks as though Susan & I will be going to that;
  4. I intend to order some seeds from various catalogues, so I encouraged people to let me know if there was anything they were hoping to order this year, especially harder-to-find seeds.

We need to start lining up some activites and workshops to get more people in the door. We all want activities… now that we are doing show-n-tell, we need arts-n-crafts!

So for the next meeting, we picked up on Lyra’s excellent suggestion to make seed balls, as stage 1 in world domination by seditious guerrilla gardening. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now, and it’s a nice tie-in with Seedy Saturday, which will be on the Saturday immediately preceding the next Kale Force meeting. So we’ll figure out what ingredients we need, and start releasing seeds out into the community. This would be an awesome kids’ activity!

I’m going to look into a lactofermentation workshop, since there is interest in that. Anyone with expertise to share, contact me!