Interview with Debbra Mikaelsen, Food Advocate – We Heart Local BC

Interview with Debbra Mikaelsen, Food Advocate

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An award-winning local food advocate and writer, not to mention the founder of Edible Vancouver,  Debbra Mikaelsen’s got all the chops when it comes to supporting local food.  After her magazine won our We Heart Local Award for Favourite Local Advocate, we wanted to hear more about her food philosophy, and how she puts into practice the values that Edible Vancouver has come to stand for: growing and sourcing your own food, supporting local farmers and businesses, and, of course – enjoying the amazing range of seasonal foods available right here in BC.

We talked about everyday efforts anyone can make to support eating local, and found out what’s on her menu for autumn (warning: you’ll definitely want to make yourself a snack before you read on…)

Buy Local Eat Natural: First, congratulations on winning the We Heart Local Award for Favourite Local Advocate! Edible Vancouver won for inspiring its readers to get out and support local food. You’ve obviously got a passion for eating local: can you tell us why it’s so important to you? And how did that contribute to you starting Edible Vancouver?

Debbra Mikaelsen: I think local food is important to our culture. By turning so often to imported food that’s available year round, we have lost the joys of seasonal eating and forgotten what real food is supposed to taste like.

It has saddened me to see the disappearance of so much agricultural land. We’ve lost both farms and farmers in significant numbers over the last few decades. And of course that makes me worry about who will be growing our food, and where, in the future. Those questions were core to my starting Edible Vancouver.

But beyond that is simple pride in what we produce here. The Fraser Valley has some of the most amazing soil in the world, and our oceans produce fantastic seafood.

BLEN: While we’re on the subject of seasonal eating, Vancouver’s just slipping into autumn – you can practically smell the apples in the air! What ingredients are you looking forward to cooking with this season?

DM: Right now I have a big bowl of pears and a load of Cox’s Orange Pippins. I’m waiting for the quince to show up because they’re wonderful mixed with pears in a crisp, crumble, or pie. And I tried making homemade pasta this summer, so this fall I’m going to make a batch of ravioli from scratch, stuffed with pumpkin and tossed with sage butter. The first wild mushrooms are at markets now, and they’re always a reason to celebrate too.

BLEN: You wrote movingly about your childhood in the Okanagan (and your relationship with the orchards there) in an early issue of Edible Vancouver.  Now that it’s apple (and pear and grape) season, what are the best ways to support local growers?

DM: The simplest way to be supportive is by choosing locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever you see them. And if you know something’s in season locally but you only see imports when you go shopping, ask the store manager why they don’t carry more local products.

A great way to support local growers is to buy directly from them, at farmers’ markets or farm markets or farmgate shops. And the bonus there is you can have a conversation with the people who grow your food.

BLEN: Can you share some of your favourite places to source local food around BC?

DM: I live in East Vancouver so the independent shops along Commercial Drive are part of my regular routine, but when I have time I love to get out of town and explore some of the farm markets. Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford is delightful, as is Nature’s Pickin’s. And Richmond Country Farms in late summer has such an amazing, inspiring abundance of local fruit and vegetables. The little store at Westham Island Herb Farm  is also lovely. When I visit family in the Okanagan I’m always impressed by the Nature’s Fare store and their local offerings. I like to visit farmers’ markets whenever possible when I’m away from home; it’s fun and interesting to see the different items available.

BLEN: Not to mention tasty! Speaking of which, here’s a scenario: you are hosting a dinner party. What’s on the menu?

DM: Well, that will depend on many things. Most importantly, who’s coming to dinner? Some of my friends are vegetarian, a few avoid gluten, some don’t eat fish, and another doesn’t like radishes. I always ask people about allergies and aversions, and then I try to be accommodating. I live in a small space and don’t have a proper dining room, so that’s a consideration too. If it’s a casual gathering I like to make pizza from scratch. If I’m indecisive I might build a meal around tapas so I can offer more of a selection stuffed-pumpkin(and spend more time in the kitchen!). I often make a Moroccan chicken pie that’s heavy on the cinnamon. Curries are also a favourite with me, especially with homemade naan. I like the flavours of ethnic cooking and I rarely go for the traditional square meal style of eating. I’m not formal at all.

If all this talk about great food left you hungry for more, you’ll have to try Debbra’s Cheese-Stuffed Pumpkin – it’s comforting and simple to prepare, and makes for a festive side dish. Thanks, Debbra!

And to find out more about Edible Vancouver, be sure to visit their website here.