Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Feedback on Canada’s new food guide: ‘thrilled’

Helen Chesnut / Times Colonist
Feb 9, 2019

I’m wondering what other food gardeners are thinking about Canada’s new food guide, and the plate of food illustrating its recommendations. Half the plate is covered in the colourful fruits and vegetables that many of us grow. It looks entirely familiar and delicious. The other half holds whole grains and proteins, with the emphasis on those present in plants.

A Times Colonist article following the release of the new guide noted: “It’s a win for plant-protein farmers, such as those growing beans, chick peas and lentils.”

Other comments I heard on the guide described it as promoting “greener and leaner” diets and also as a vehicle for “democratizing protein.”

I take that last description to mean that plant-based proteins such as pulses (dried peas and beans, chickpeas, fava beans, lentils), compared with animal proteins, are wonderfully inexpensive and accessible to all. They are also easy to grow.

The new guide brings immediately to mind a man who has been growing and talking about the value of pulses for more than 30 years: Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds. Dan’s catalogue lists seeds for all the pulses as well as for grains, including wheat, barley, oats and quinoa, along with a good selection of open-pollinated vegetable seeds. This source grows all its own heritage seeds.

Dan has co-authored The Power of Pulses, a book that champions these foods as “nutritional powerhouses.” Because they are legumes, the plants “snatch nitrogen out of the air and add it to the earth.” Simply by growing on it, pulses increase the fertility of the soil.

In the book, Dan describes how to grow, harvest and use pulses. Scrumptious recipes ensue. A followup book, Awesome Ancient Grains & Seeds, delves in a similar manner into these protein-rich foods (amaranth, buckwheat, flax seed, quinoa and more).

When I contacted Dan for a comment on the new Canada food guide, he responded rapidly: “You can imagine some of my thoughts on Canada’s new food guide. I was thrilled that it will encourage more people to consider eating and growing dry peas and beans, chickpeas, favas, lentils and whole grains.

“An international study had come out just the day before Canada’s food guide, in the medical journal The Lancet, declaring that ‘a plant-forward diet could save millions of lives and avoid climate change.’ It recommended that North Americans eat 84 per cent less meat and six times more legumes.”

And because Dan does all his growing organically, and has dedicated Salt Spring Seeds to “safe and sustainable agriculture,” he adds: “To my mind, it would be even more significant if scientists and government officials would also recommend using far fewer herbicides and pesticides on our conventional agricultural crops.”

Garden Events

Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden Club will meet on Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Eiddwen Thomas, a farmer/florist in North Saanich, will speak about key flowers and foliage plants that can be grown for cutting and arranging through the spring, summer and fall seasons. The evening will include a parlour show, plant stall, library access and raffle. Everyone is welcome. Non-member drop-in fee $5.

Floral arts. The Victoria Floral Artists Guild will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 12, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. The evening’s program will focus on foliage, using wire as mechanics. The drop-in fee of $5 can be applied to membership.

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre on Jones Street. Chanchal Caberra will present an illustrated lecture on what she learned during four months of studying at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew in London. All are welcome. Drop-in fee is $3.

Plant identification and cultivation. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, will host the next session of Plant Identification & Culture, an ongoing, monthly course (can be joined at any time), on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. In each session Diane Pierce introduces 25 new plants, with descriptions, preferred growing conditions, landscape uses and maintenance. Cost to HCP members per session is $35, others $45. Cost for 12sessions: members $350, others $450. To register call 250-479-6162. hcp.ca