Interview with: Anthony Westenberg, Spokesperson for Evergreen & Planting an Organic Future

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So nice and Evergreen

A couple of weeks ago I learned about a new initiative between So Nice, a Canadian brand of organic dairy alternative beverages, and Evergreen, a national not-for-profit, that is setting out to provide Canadian schools with the resources and inspiration to start their very own organic food gardens.

Called Planting an Organic Future, the initiative hopes to engage schools across Canada in organic food gardening as a way to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental champions.

I thought it would be fun to interview Evergreen spokesperson Anthony Westenberg, an expert in sustainability and organic growing, as part of my Interview with series. Read more about the program below.

Tell me about the Planting an Organic Future initiative and how the partnership with So Nice came about.

This initiative, as part of our broader school ground greening program, hopes to engage schools across Canada in organic food gardening as a way to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental champions.

For whatever reason, be it hectic schedules, lack of space, or perceived cost, in three generations since the Victory Gardens our grandparents tended, many of us in cities have lost the art of planting food gardens. But it’s now coming back and especially through community gardening which is a growing movement in Canada’s urban centres.

Schools, where Evergreen works to build outdoor classrooms to bring nature into urban centres, are community hubs; being an organic brand, So Nice shares the same values as Evergreen, so the partnership seemed a natural fit to help re-connect the next generation with the joy of planting (and benefitting from) food gardens.

So Nice and Evergreen

Why is it important for children to learn about organic gardening?

Nature is the best teacher and children learn from growing things. You hear stories about children being able to identify the French fry, but not the potato.

Research shows that engaging children in gardening has many benefits, including increased likelihood to eat fruits and vegetables, interpersonal relationship skills, ability to work in groups, improved attitudes towards learning, and development of environmental stewardship attitudes.
Children retain more knowledge when they are outdoors and “in the story”.

They learn from participating and interacting and by growing things. Being engaged in each stage of the garden’s growth allows for the child to witness the ever-changing life cycles of nature (prepping, sprouting, planting, stewarding, harvesting). Also, children who are involved in growing food are more likely to engage in healthy eating habits. Providing children with a garden initiates a culture of care and respect through the use of the five senses.

Through gardening, they can touch, smell, see and especially taste the efforts of their work in the garden. It’s healthy, it sparks their curiosity and much of the outdoor curriculum – from math to science, to art and geography - can be taught outdoors.

Finally, children will often be more keen to taste what they helped prepare. It they grow and pull out and then cut the carrot, they’ll be more curious to try it.  

How does the initiative work? Where are the gardens located?

Two showcase gardens located in Toronto at the Evergreen Brick Works Children’s Garden and in Montreal at the Royal Vale School, serve as the first seeds to what So Nice and Evergreen hope will be a ripple effect of organic food school gardens sprouting all over Canada. Here’s a video

How can families get involved?

Evergreen provides many resources to families that want to get involved in bringing the classroom outdoors, from tips on how to start an outdoor garden to providing grants

We encourage them to get in touch with their local schools and community groups to learn about all the gardening activities in their neighbourhood taking place (and how they can get involved), or reach out to Evergreen to learn how to start their own.  Families can also visit to learn how to start an organic food garden or make a donation.

Your goal is to raise $35,000, how can people help?

So Nice is generously donating a percentage of their sales to Evergreen to help realize and expand these gardens. People can help by showing that there is an appetite for these kinds of learning opportunities by engaging with their schools on the need for more organic gardens in schoolyards.

What is your favourite vegetable?

I am a soup king, so a leek and potato combination, or carrot and ginger, and I’m pretty happy.

What is your favourite dish to make from farm-farm fresh vegetables?

Something simple, like breaded zucchini is right up there for me. Or a simple cheese and tomato on toast for a picnic.

Anything else you would like to add?

I was born and raised on a farm in Kingston, now raising two girls in the city. As often as I can I encourage them off the sidewalk into the forests and fields to join me in ‘racing sticks downstream’. In our neighbourhood we have many fruit trees and grapevines, so seeing their sense of wonderment at picking cherries, plums, grapes and apples as the season rolls along is very inspiring to me.

Thanks Anthony! For more information on this exciting project visit


Monday, October 27, 2014

This past Saturday was a fun one. We went for a walk east along the Humber Waterfront Trail to a little park south of Ellis Avenue. It was a big walk, but the weather was beautiful so it didn't really matter.

The colours of the leaves were bright against the blue sky and goes to show that you don't need to go north to take in the colours of fall.

After Mila's nap we headed over to my sister's house where we left the kids for the night. Did you read that?? Overnight! My sister said she's been wanting to take the kids overnight for some time so we decided to bring them Saturday. It was so nice of her and her fiancé to take them.

My sister lives beside the GO train so we said our goodbyes and hopped on the train downtown to our favourite Italian restaurant Paganelli's (formerly Romagna Mia). We've been going since we started dating in 1998 (wow!) and have been back several times with friends and family.

Meanwhile, my sister and her fiancé Alex were carving pumpkins and making pizzas with the kids. So cute!

A photo posted by kdodge (@kdodge) on

After dinner, we popped over to The Beer Bistro for a pint before heading to Massey Hall (my favourite place to listen to and watch music!) to take in some fantastic musicians as part of Dream Serenade: a benefit to raise funds for The Beverley Street School. It was amazing. We got to see so many fantastic musicians in one concert setting, all while raising funds for a great cause. My heart was bursting after this event!

Photo via Aesthetic Magazine Toronto

It was a wonderful day and evening! Thanks so much to my sister and her fiancé for making it happen! xo

Clothing love...

Friday, October 24, 2014

I was looking recently at clothes online and came across this gorgeous top from Banana. I'm in love with it! Now I need a place to wear it to justify getting it...

Happy Friday!

An ode to beauty and fire in the sky

Thursday, October 23, 2014

There's a gorgeous tree on the way to Leo's school. The leaves are bright red and orange and there are a ton of them on the ground. I'm sure the home owners haven't cleaned them up because they're just so wonderful and vibrant. 

We pass the tree every day, but today the sun was shining through it at just the right time and it stopped me in my tracks.

It looked like fire in the sky.

It was beautiful and it made me realize that there are still beautiful things in this world, we just have to look up at them.

Let's keep the beauty alive for as long as we can. Let's keep that fire burning.

Assessing the corners of the house

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I was bored today so I took some random (fuzzy) photos of some corners of our house. The first four are from our living room, the fifth one is in our dining room, sixth is the back corner of my office, seventh is in my bedroom, eighth is the mudroom and the last is the crazy toy corner of our basement.

Here's what these photos tell me: 

1. I would like to get my shelving finished on the fireplace in the living room but over all I like the room.
2. I need some art for the walls or maybe some frames for my kids' paintings...
3. I really need to get rid of that yellow Bay bag in the second pic. It's full of random things from our street sale and has been there since May.
4. I need a proper kids' art station.
5. I would love to sand the kids' table and chairs (for some reason they think it's paper and write/paint all over it [and get it out of my office]).
6. We had to take some of the plants in from outside, one of which we put in our bedroom, and I love how it fills up the room. I will likely leave it there and get something else for outside next summer.
7. I need to swap out the summer stuff from the baskets in the mudroom (add it to the list...).
8. One would think I run a daycare from the toys in the basement however I do not. I need proper storage or a big garbage bin. :)

The End.

PS: the wall colour in the picture with the easel is pretty true to life. I recently won some paint from ParaPaints and need to let them know what colour I would like. What should I paint the living room and dining room?? The grey is nice, but I feel like I could go with something new after having this colour for five years... Thoughts?

PPS: I can't believe I'm showing these crazy corners of my house! Ahh!

Going Green: Products I use

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

green products I use
Just a few of the more natural products I'm using these days
Last post, I mentioned I would come up with a list of the green products I use around the house. These are what I have come to like over the years, but I'm always on the look out for things that might be better in terms of ingredients and quality. Suggestions are welcome in the comments!

Here we go:


Hand soap and cleaning the toilets (weird combo I know): Dr. Bronners. I like this soap because when it comes to washing your hands, you only need to fill up a third of the bottle with soap and the rest can be water. Foaming soap pumps work best for this method.

Windows, mirrors, counters, sinks, toilets, floors: Vinegar & water. Easy peasy!

Dishes: Nature Clean dish soap for the dishes and PC Green Express Cycle for the dishwasher. We have found that we have to keep the dishwasher on a longer cycle for it to work properly.

Laundry: We're using Bio-Vert laundry soap right now for our laundry, but I'm not really partial yet to any product as long as it's natural and fragrance-free. I also like Nature Clean laundry soap.

We don't buy a ton of packaged goods, but we do buy a few main items (hmmm there seems to be a carb trend going here...):

Cereal: Nature's Path Kamut Krisp flakes or Millet Rice flakes; Heritage O's. Nature's Path also has puffed cereal which I love giving to the kids. There is absolutely no sugar added, it's just puffed rice, corn or kamut. The kamut puffs are great for little ones learning to eat.

Crackers: I found a new cracker that I love, love, love: Mary's Super Seed Crackers. The ingredient list is unreal and the kids love them. I also like Ryvita crisp bread.

Pasta: I used to buy a lot of Kamut Penne from Artesan Acres, but I found that the flavour of the pasta takes over the flavour of the sauce so I've using a wild rice penne from Rizopia and I really like the texture.

Bread: We have used Dimpflmeier bread for years, but it can be a little hard when toasted so we recently began using Ezekiel 4:9 and Genesis 1:29 products and really like them. It's super expensive (close to $7 a loaf) but I find that since buying it we only go through a loaf a week. Leo mainly eats it for his lunches.

Bathing & Skin Care
This is still a big learning curve for me, because it's one of the last areas I've changed over. There are so many products on the market, once you find one you like, you may find the ingredients aren't great or many times the ingredients are fantastic, but the product just doesn't work the way you want it to.

Right now this is what I'm using:

Bathing: I've been using Giovanni shampoo, but I'm always on the look out for something better, that works well. Unfortunately the EWG scores aren't fantastic on this one so I'll keep looking. We also use The Soap Works Oatmeal soap. The kids use Green Beaver body wash and shampoo. For toothpaste, we switch between Nature's Gate and Desert Essence.

Skin Care: Right now I'm using Andalou products on my face and I'm really liking them.

Deodorant: Ok this one is life changing. Life changing... Lovefresh deodorant in Lemon Verbena. Like many people, I've tried and tried and tried to find a natural deodorant that works and to be frank... most of them suck. Then I was at a party and met the owner of Lovefresh, bought her deodorant and haven't looked back. It works! I'm so excited to tell everyone.

Moisturizer: Lovefresh also makes amazing moisturizers and right now I'm using the vanilla scent and it feels so great. I doubt I'll buy anything else again!

Nail Polish: I was super excited to find a nail polish that is eco friendly doesn't contain harsh chemicals. I was sent two fantastic colours to try from Trust Fund Beauty and so far they're holding up quite well. I love that there's an option for something more natural for our nails.

That's where I'll stop. I'm currently working on changing out my make-up which is a tough one too. I've been using Physician's Formula mascara which works well (and got great reviews from Kris Carr recently!) and also a mineral press powder.

I'd love to hear suggestions for all of these things if you have them!

ps: This is not a sponsored post, but I did receive Trust Fund nail polish to use and review.
pps: I'm not an expert, I just read too much and know what I like and what I don't like when it comes to this stuff.

6 tips on how to make the switch to a greener lifestyle

Monday, October 06, 2014

how to make the switch to a green lifestyle
Image via 
If you know me well, you know that I'm one of those annoying people who uses a lot of green and organic stuff. It's something I care a lot about and sometimes I let people know about it. I get some blank stares. I get some looks that seem to say: "oh man, here we go again with the organic and green talk." My friends make fun of me because I haven't had McDonald's in years... and every once in a while I get responses like: "Oh I would love to be like that, but I just don't know where to start," or "It's too much work." Or "It's too expensive."

But I'm here to tell you that it's not really all that much work if you take it slowly. So here are six tips on how to make the switch to a greener lifestyle. I'm not an expert, but I have been doing this for a long time so I like to think that I know a little bit.

So here we go:

1. Switch slowly. I think the challenge for some people is that they get overwhelmed with all of the products they would like to change and then they just throw their hands in the air and say forgedaboudit! I can see how that would be overwhelming. There is no shortage of products on the market that claim to be green (and that aren't...).

My advice is do take one product in your house and switch it. Just one at a time. See that bright blue dish detergent by your sink? Use it up and then when it's time to get a new bottle, buy something more natural. (I'll put a list of what I use for everything in another post).

Once you've done that... you can go to the next product. It may take a year to switch over everything,  but that's ok. It took me that long too. But in no time you won't think twice about it.

2. Get a local and organic veggie box sent to your house. Nothing is easier than having food show up at your door. I've been getting a Mama Earth Organics box for about five years now and I love it. It kind of takes the guessing out of what to buy in season and what to buy organic because it's done for you. In the summer months, almost everything is local which is really nice and every week I get two or three recipes to try that come with the delivery. It's a win-win in my books.

3. Buy organic food in bulk. Buying in bulk helps a couple of ways: if you reuse your bags (or have reusable bulk bags) you can keep packaging garbage out of the landfills. Many times it's cheaper than buying one-off packages and it helps you keep your pantry cupboards stocked. Right now, my store of choice is Healthy Planet. There is a pretty decent bulk section at the back of the store where I buy things like dried chickpeas, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Oh yes... I hear you cursing under your breath! You don't have time to cook chickpeas and beans from scratch, baloney! You can soak them overnight and throw them in the slow cooker while you're at work. Done.

PS: you can buy baking soda in bulk too!

4. Vinegar and baking soda are the answers to everything. Ok maybe not everything, but along with Dr. Bronner's soap, I use these two items almost exclusively for cleaning. You don't need bleach!

I bought a spray bottle from the dollar store, filled it half way with pure white vinegar (it's best to get distilled vinegar) and filled the rest with tap water. Do you know how much vinegar costs? Four litres is a buck or something. Maybe three dollars. But it takes me six months to go through four litres of vinegar, so I think that's money well spent.

I mean just look at everything you can do with vinegar and baking soda!

5. Change up what goes on your skin. Conventional shampoos, conditioners, creams and make-up can be filled with parabens, fragrance, and other chemicals that do nothing positive to your body. Do yourself a favour and slowly switch these items to more natural and organic body care. You'll breathe better and you'll feel better. Something to keep in mind is that natural fragrance doesn't mean it's better. Bonus points if products have no-GMO and vegan verifications on the bottles. Use Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep data base as your go-to resource. They know what they're talking about!

Which brings us to the last thing...

6. Be critical of ingredient labels. If you can't pronounce it, don't buy it (this can get a little tricky when it comes to floral ingredients! But you'll know what chemicals are the no-nos when you see them). I know you've likely heard that before, but it really does help when you're looking for more natural and organic ways of doing things.

The easiest way to buy better products is to steer clear of the middle aisles at the conventional grocery store. Most (and yes I mean most) of the food found in the middle aisles of the grocery store can have horrible ingredients that our bodies can do without. Think those little fishy crackers are good for your kidlets? Read the labels. There really are better alternatives. 

My rule of thumb for most things I eat and buy is that if it doesn't provide me good nutritional value, I try not to buy it. Obviously there are times when I get treats, but I do believe that even treats should have some form of nutritional value. Yes I know I'm boring! Boo me! Again... my friends make fun of me and that's ok!

Bottom line, if you want to make these types of changes, you can. Just do it slowly so you don't get overwhelmed. Look at labels and do your research to see what works best for your family. And remember: just because it's organic, doesn't mean it's good for you. Whole foods are best, but read the labels on packaged items and you will start to learn what types of things are better than others. You will eventually figure it out, even if it takes a year or more.

Up next I'll share a list of my go-to favourite products! Stay-tuned!
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