Local love! Support The Stop at The Sweet Potato

A guest post, written by our friends at The Stop Community Food Center.

Hey there! We’re The Stop Community Food Centre, a local charity that uses good food to bring people together, to build community, and to challenge inequality.

Our friends at The Sweet Potato have been supporting our work for years with their annual holiday food drives and fundraisers. Thanks to generous Sweet Potato customers, we’ve been able to distribute thousands of pounds of healthy and delicious groceries to people in our community who are struggling with food insecurity.

Now that COVID-19 has dramatically increased the need for our emergency food services, The Sweet Potato team have stepped up in another incredible show of solidarity—every time you add a cash donation to The Stop to your grocery bill, they’ll double it!

Here’s a little about what you’re supporting:

The Stop was one of Canada’s first food banks back in the early 80’s, but since then we’ve blossomed into a thriving community hub, with dozens of programs that focus on good food grown, cooked, and served with dignity.

We’ve got three locations: At 1884 Davenport Road, we provide frontline services to our community, including a drop-in meal program, healthy food bank, perinatal supports, peer advocacy, good food markets, and community kitchens. At our Green Barn inside Artscape Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie Street, we run a greenhouse, a sheltered garden, community bake oven, and compost demonstration centre—along with our year-round Farmers’ Market. Finally, The Stop’s Wychwood Open Door at 729 St. Clair West is our newest location. It’s a daytime drop-in centre that brings community members together around good food and enriching activities.

Uniting all of our sites and programs is the fierce belief that healthy, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food should be accessible to everyone.

Like everyone who works with food, The Stop has had to change a lot since COVID-19. We’ve closed most of our programs, but we’re still keeping our community fed and connected by offering emergency food services to people struggling with food security during the pandemic.

In the last two months, we’ve:

  • Distributed over 1,200 long-lasting, healthy hampers in our Food Bank.
  • Served an average of 350 hearty takeout meals every single weekday.
  • Operated a daily phone-in support line for people in crisis.
  • Grown thousands of seedlings that will soon become fresh produce that we’ll share with our community.

We’re so grateful to all the community members who’ve stepped up to support our work during this difficult time.

And to The Sweet Potato, who like us, believe that eating healthy (and deliciously) is a right, not a privilege!

To learn more about The Stop Community Food Centre, and our food security work in West end Toronto, visit our website and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to see daily posts on our work and impact.

Freeze your own fruits & veggies!

Image by Vegan Photo, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Frozen food! So convenient, so easy! And also, sometimes, pretty expensive :/ but good news! If you’ve got access to fresh produce, a freezer, and a bit of time, it’s super cheap and easy to prep your own frozen fruits & veggies!

The basics:

  1. Always wash your produce, and dry it thoroughly before freezing. 
  2. Most fruit and vegetables freeze extremely well, with the notable exception of things that are mostly water, like cucumbers, lettuce, and watermelons. 
  3. Before freezing, cut things into uniformly sized pieces. 
  4. When you’re ready to freeze, line a baking sheet (or anything flat that will fit in your freezer) with a piece of parchment paper and spread your produce over it in a single layer, making sure the pieces aren’t touching.  This allows the pieces to freeze separately from each other, so that when the time comes you can defrost only what you need.
  5. Once the produce is fully frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag, label and date it, and move on to the next batch!
  6. Generally speaking, frozen fruit and veggies can keep for 8 to 12 months (with the exception of citrus fruit, which is only recommended to freeze for up to 3 months).

Regarding freezer storage: one of the things that causes Freezer Burn is air pockets, which is why we recommend freezer bags instead of tupperware or other containers.  These bags definitely don’t have to be single-use – freezer bags are very thick and tough, so they can easily be washed and reused again and again 😀

For Veggies:

  • Most vegetables freeze extremely well, albeit after blanching. Onions and peppers can be frozen without blanching.  Tomatoes can freeze extremely well, but they require extra prep work.
  • Blanching helps frozen veggies retain their colour and firmness.  To blanch vegetables, first cut ’em into uniformly sized pieces, and then dunk ‘em in boiling water (or steam, for broccoli, winter squash, and sweet potatoes) for a short time and then immediately move them to an ice water bath for as long as they were boiled or steamed.  Most vegetables have different times for best blanching, so while you can just blanch everything for about 2 minutes (that’s what we do), for optimal results you should check online for the specifics about whatever you’re preparing to freeze.
  • After the ice-bath, dry the veggies carefully and resume step 4, above.

For Fruit:

  • Fruit freezes incredibly easily and well! You mostly just need to wash, dry, and slice it up prior to freezeing.
  • If you want to prevent browning (in things like apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots), you can dip the fruit in a lemon-water bath (1 tablespoon of lemon juice in 4 cups of water) before freezing.

Some produce items don’t fit in to the general instructions above, including:

  • Bananas freeze extremely well in their peels, but subsequently the peels can be difficult to remove.  If you’re planning on using whole bananas, and have time to thaw them (like for baking applications), you can freeze them whole, but maybe also consider peeling and slicing them and freezing the individual pieces like other fruit.
  • Stone fruit can get a bitter taste from leaving their pits in prior to freezing – so be sure to remove the pits from cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums before freezing.
  • Tomatoes are best when their skins are removed prior to freezing.  Simply cut an “X” in the top of the tomato and immerse it in boiling water for about 30 seconds.  At that point, the skin should come off very easily, and you can either scoop out the seeds and freeze them individually (as described above), or make a simple sauce and then freeze that in bulk.

Now get freezing!

For additional resources, you can start with this great page from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Flattening the Transmission Curve of COVID-19

Infectious Disease Prevention at The Sweet Potato

Staying calm and clear-headed can be hard when headlines clamour about the spread of COVID-19. Toronto Public Health has repeated that the general public’s risk continues to remain low here in Toronto. We take our lead from their evidence-based best-practice.

However, Public Health agencies at every level of the Canadian government have also warned this could change at any time and the implications are heavy. Right now, we also find ourselves in flu season and a hard season at that. Our priority is to ensure we are doing our part to slow down the spread and prevent any infectious disease, particularly as our health care system prepares for a predicted increase of COVID-19 cases.

We are committed to doing what we can to keep our community safe, especially because there are folks among us who are vulnerable to illness. 

Here’s What We’re Currently Doing Around the Store

As a grocery store, we follow strict protocols around food handling. We’ve increased our measures to include:

  • Stepping Up Cleaning. In addition to our existing cleaning regimen, we’ve created a new permanent role within the organization whose primary responsibility is to clean throughout the store during regular business hours (this is over and above the deep-cleaning that occurs after hours). Right now, fridge and freezer handles and doors, and other high traffic areas are being wiped down regularly with a Public Health Canada endorsed germicide that is effective at killing influenza viruses and the novel coronavirus among other microorganisms. 
  • Disinfecting Cart and Baskets. The cleaning of shopping baskets and cart handles is now part of our hourly cleaning schedule. If you would like to disinfect your cart upon entry, please take a disposable wipe located by the Customer Service counter.
  • Hand Sanitizing Stations. You’ll find hand sanitizer stations at the main entrance of the Apothecary, near the Customer Service desk, and outside our Customer Washroom. Please feel welcome to use these during your visit at The Sweet Potato.
  • Thorough and Regular Hand-Washing. Both at regular intervals during shifts, and as we move between tasks and departments, team members are constantly and thoroughly washing hands.
  • Full-Service Bulk Department. Right now in our Bulk Department, our staff will help you fill your plastic bags to limit the number of folks who touch the fixtures. These fixtures continue to be regularly cleaned, scoops and tongs sanitized. Please note that we cannot accept outside containers in our bulk section at present. 
  • Find our Hot Soup Pre-packaged in the Grab and Go Hot Zone. If you regularly grab a hot soup, you will now find it labelled and prepacked in our Hot Grab and Go area. 
  • Bakery Items have been packaged. Loaves, buns, muffins and cookies have been packaged in paper or cellophane. 

  • Stopping Self-Serve Coffee and Free Fruit for Kids. For the time being, we are stopping the sale of hot cups of coffee and our Free Fruit for Kids program. Kids are welcome to grab some stickers from our Customer Service desk. If they need a snack, please ask a staff member to grab a complimentary piece of fruit. They will pick the piece with their caregiver and leave the floor to wash it for you.

Our team’s wellbeing is of paramount importance. Staff who are unwell, stay home. We offer paid sick days and flexible schedules so that folks can take the time to get well. Folks who can work from home are now doing so.

The Best Methods of Prevention

We are all reminded that the best way to protect ourselves and the community from COVID-19 transmission and other colds and flu is through:

  • Regular and thorough hand-washing for at least 20 seconds 
  • Avoiding touching one’s face when in public
  • Social distancing including avoiding large gatherings, and avoiding handshakes, hugs and touching customers and colleagues while at work
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects
  • Encouraging annual flu vaccination to protect ourselves and those most vulnerable in the community
  • Staying home when sick 
  • Coughing and sneezing into a flexed elbow when a tissue is unavailable

Halting Collection of Black Plastic, Returnable Bottle and our Taring Program

We believe we have a responsibility as an employer to help keep our team and the community at large safe. Effective immediately, for the immediate future, we are not accepting any reusable bottles or black plastic back. 

Because many bottles and black plastic are returned dirty and are stored on-site, in consultation with City agencies we’ve determined that to help slow the spread of COVID-19 the safest measure is to stop this practice until further notice. The data on how long this novel coronavirus lives on surfaces is still unclear.

Likewise, we’ve been advised to pause our Taring is Caring program in bulk (that is our customers’ ability to bring their own refillable container to use in our bulk section). These were difficult decisions to make because environmental sustainability is a key element of our business, but we feel this is the best course of action right now to help safeguard everyone’s well-being.

Let us be clear, this is only a short-term suspension. Please continue to keep your bottles and black plastic at home. We’ll be accepting them again soon.

Invested in Stopping the Spread of Misinformation

Toronto has seen a rise in racist rhetoric and xenophobia. We hope you’ll join us in disrupting instances where misinformation is spreading, by keeping in mind that:

  • Adopting good hygiene as described above and avoiding those who are sick will help stem the spread of COVID-19
  • We don’t recommend any natural remedy as a cure-all for any infectious disease. We encourage folks to take the advice of their medical practitioner and to stay home when sick to limit transmission to others.
  • We do not recommend any diet as superior or one that will offer more protection from infectious disease.

Baby Wipes, Fast & Slow

A few years ago, I got really into making pasta. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a pasta maker, so for me the process involved making the dough by hand, and then rolling it out on my counter, and then cutting it into shape with a knife.  It took a bit of work, but what came out was some of the best, tastiest pasta I’ve ever had in my life. This is it, I told myself, now I’m a homemade pasta guy.  As a matter of fact, it tasted so good, I ate fresh pasta for the next four nights.  And that’s when it hit me – homemade pasta is really easy to make, and it’s really, really good – but I’m not sure it’s two hours of work when you just want a bowl of spaghetti good.

The same is true of baby wipes.  Baby wipes are one of those things that might seem like an unnecessary indulgence – right up until you find yourself with a messy baby, in a messy house, and without any of the sleep that might have left you feeling up to the challenge.  Don’t get me wrong, the world would probably be a much better place if we made everything from scratch all the time, but it’s important to pick your battles – and while we’re all working to make rent or mortgage payments, and trying to snatch a bit of sleep when you can, and stressing about keeping your new little baby alive, maybe that’s not the best time to take on a new and labour-intensive DIY project.

But maybe it is! If you do have a supportive partner, and a baby who sleeps through the night, and the time and resources to satisfy your burning desire to D-I-Y, this sounds like a fantastic project:

D-I-Y Baby Wipes

You will need:

  • 2 cups distilled water (or at very least, water that has been boiled & let to cool)
  • 2 tbsp oil (either almond or olive) – this helps it go on smoothly
  • 1 tbsp unscented castile soap – this is for cleaning

You may also want:

  • 2 tbsp pure aloe vera – this is for soothing
  • 1 tsp witch hazel extract – this is for disinfecting, and has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Simply combine the ingredients and mix well.

If you are going the route of reusable wipes, store the mixture in a sealed bottle or spray bottle, and then just pour it onto clean cloths as needed. When you’re done using the wipes, wash them in your washing machine on the hot or disinfect cycle (just like reusable diapers).

If you want to DIY disposable wipes: cut a roll of paper towels in half (so that you’ve got two half-sized rolls of paper towel). Put one of them into a sealable container that is only slightly bigger than the roll, and pour the liquid into the container. Seal it, and turn it over (so the liquid entirely saturates the roll). After about 5 minutes, right the container, open the lid, and remove the cardboard tube in the middle of the roll – it should come out easily now that it’s saturated with liquid. Now you can just pull wipes as needed from the middle of the roll! Note: wipes done this way tend to get dry or musty after about 3 days, so please plan accordingly.

 

D-F-Y Baby Wipes

If the above sounds like too much work (and like I said above, there is no shame in picking your battles – all of those fancy personalities who have made great careers out of showing how easy it is to do things yourself have, like, a lot of off-camera staff that we never see), just grab the best Done For You wipes that you can find. We really like the Free And Clear wipes from Seventh Generation. They’re plant-based, hypoallergenic, free of alcohol, parabens, and fragrances, and maybe best of all – they’re Done For You!

Stone Soup Network – Building Community

We learned about Stone Soup Network in late 2019 and we decided immediately that we needed to become involved. Firstly, our very own City Councillor from back when we were Ward 13, Sarah Doucette is the Director of the Parkdale/High-Park chapter. We’ve known Sarah to be a true community champion and we were thrilled to hear of this new initiative.

The idea is simple: Stone Soup Network imagines a community where every neighbour is cared for. Through this program, a neighbourhood of strangers becomes a Stone Soup Network.

Stone Soup Network has gone ahead and created an online database of products and services they’ve received by donation from participating businesses in the area (anything from grocery and pharmacy gift cards; vouchers for legal, dental and financial services; movie tickets or dinner out at a restaurant). They then share this online database with their Social Connectors, who are front line workers at social agencies and religious leaders through the community who work with clients in need. These Social Connectors then link up clients with the goods and services that are available.

Stone Soup Network believes that in years gone by, this work was done by churches and other organizations who formed the centre of community life. If anyone was unwell or in need of a little extra support, their neighbours would know about it and pitch as they could.

These days, the instruments of community seem to be spread more thinly. People can become isolated. Needs remain unmet.

The Stone Soup Network is hoping to address this by centring community again. An enormous amount of goodwill and community building energy is already present. Stone Soup Network helps to harness it and channel it for maximum impact. You can learn more, or get involved by visiting their website.

Seventh Generation is on a Mission

What better way to welcome spring than using the power of plants for early spring cleaning?We've got Seventh Generation line of cleaners and dish soaps that cut through the toughest grease using plant-derived agents, so you can feel good about what you're cleaning with! Their multi-purpose wipes are great for appliances and kids' toys. Free from synthetic fragrances, their wipes also use essential oils for a natural and uplifting scent. 🌱

Posted by The Sweet Potato on Monday, February 24, 2020

Seventh Generation household cleaning products and baby care have always been popular at The Sweet Potato.

We love that their cleaners are plant and mineral-based so that you can feel good about getting that deep clean without harsh chemicals. And that’s not just some fancy marketing tactic on their part — unlike other companies, their labelling is clear and detailed and includes full ingredient lists right on the label (if you need a hand understanding the ingredients, they also have an ingredient glossary on their website).

They’ve chosen to use plant-based and biobased ingredients because they believe that natural ingredients are better for human health and the health of the planet. Building a more sustainable future is very much part of their mandate as a company. To that end, they’ve partnered with climate justice organizations in the US (where they’re based) including Sierra Club.

Together Sierra Club and Seventh Generation are calling on Mayors, CEOs, religious leaders, principals, and civic and community leaders, to commit to solutions that help reach 100% clean, renewable, and just energy across the United States by the year 2050.

Seventh Generation and Sierra Club have started a web series that detail important climate justice work happening across the US. You can watch the first episode here and follow this link for the full series: https://www.seventhgeneration.com/action/climate-justice-equity!

Brand Spotlight – MadeGood

We love to champion some of the companies we stock on our shelves. We are so lucky to meet some totally awesome people bringing lots of passion, innovation, and community love to the local food scene. Sometimes those companies even get to take things global. One of those companies is MadeGood.

We just love how MadeGood, a family business run by three siblings, Nima, Sahba, and Salma, and located right here in Toronto, has grown into an internationally recognized brand. MadeGood specializes in making truly delicious snacks families can feel good about: created from healthy organic whole food ingredients and without top-allergens, these are the go-to bars, cookies, and granola balls for nutritious school-safe snacks.

As a Certified B Corp business, MadeGood meets B Lab’s rigorous standards for social and environmental performance. They’re proud of the diverse and inclusive workplace they’ve built. And this has been the vision for their company from the beginning: Nima, Sahba, and Salma are New Canadians themselves and fundamentally understand the importance of creating a people-centred workplace that values the varied perspectives and experiences life brings.

Part of both their B Corp Certification and True Silver Zero Waste Certification means that MadeGood has also built an environmentally sustainable business. For instance, they divert more than 90% of their waste through reuse, recycling and composting.


And beyond that, MadeGood really loves to give back to a range of local and international organizations. Now these are snacks to feel great about!



Education Cuts Hurt Kids

We've got (most of) your essentials for this year's back to school! Shop our selection of litterless lunch wares, school safe snacks, and more in-store.

Posted by The Sweet Potato on Monday, August 26, 2019

We stand in solidarity with Ontario Educators fighting for a better future for this province. Education cuts hurt kids and that damage hurts our collective future.

We’re so grateful to Ontario Educators for fighting against the budget cuts that will result in fewer supports for students and even larger class sizes. And educators are fighting for our kids at great cost to themselves.

That’s why for the duration of the job action, all educators with a valid OCT, OSSTF, EFTO, OECTA, or AEFO card (accompanied with ID) will be extended a 10% discount* at The Sweet Potato.

Educators, please show your ID and card from one of the qualifying organizations for your discount at checkout. And thank you again for engaging in this important fight!

*some exclusions apply

The healthful benefits of GT’s Kombucha

Mounting research is pointing to the importance of maintaining a healthy human biome. That is, maintaining an optimal ratio of good gut bacteria in our bodies. So how exactly can we do this? One simple way is to increase the number of fermented foods in our diet which add living probiotics.

And one of the easiest ways to add living probiotics to our system is to drink ’em! We love GT’s Kombucha, a super refreshing, lightly effervescent kombucha that’s raw and unpasteurized and comes in a range of interesting (and delicious!) flavours.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a tea that has been fermented by a living culture (a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). During the fermentation period, the tea becomes naturally rich with probiotics, amino acids, polyphenols, and active enzymes.

Why are fermented foods important?

Fermented foods create living probiotics that we can ingest. Probiotics are instrumental in supporting a healthy and harmonious digestive system and promote overall wellness.

How does it taste?

If you’re used to sugary beverages, like soda pop or juice, the taste might first catch you off guard. Kombucha is slightly tangy, with a taste similar to an apple cider vinegar. GT’s Synergy line does incorporate organic juices which may be more palatable for those unfamiliar with kombucha’s tang.

What are those floaties in the bottle?

If you can believe it, those strands aren’t present at the time of bottling! They are the strands of SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria & Yeast) culture that form after bottling as an indication that the product is still living and active. The longer that the product is bottled, the more culture strands form.

Is it supposed to be fizzy?

The effervescence in GT’s Kombucha is totally naturally occurring! CO2 production is a by-product of fermentation and because of this, the fizziness can vary from batch to batch and bottle to bottle. Unlike with soda, the effervescence actually increases over time. So fresher product tends to be more still.

How should I store it?

Because kombucha is raw, living food, it should always be kept in the fridge. It should also be stored upright (not on its side) and should never be shaken.

It’s Too Dang Hot: Kaitlyn’s Easy Bean Salad

Even when it’s too hot to think about turning on the oven, we still want to help you keep cool and well-fed. Try one of our no-heat recipes, all of which are tried-and-true and come directly from members of The Yam Fam!

These are all no-heat, no stress recipe. If you don’t have the right quantities, work with what you’ve got. If you don’t have all the ingredients, go substitution wild. When it’s too hot to cook, it’s WAY too hot to stress!

Continue reading “It’s Too Dang Hot: Kaitlyn’s Easy Bean Salad”