Archive for the ‘Food Forward’ Category
Food Forward welcomes our second guest blogger, Ilana Nevins, a senior at UC Berekely, who covers an inventive new grocery designed to inspire “pre-cycling” as a way to deal with food packaging and waste.
Out of the Box: A New Spin on Stores
by Ilana Nevins
Sick of all the difficult packaging, plastic wrap and twist ties at your local grocery store? So was Christian Lane. He, along with his two brothers Patrick and Joseph and friend Chistopher Pepe, decided the time had come for a new type of store. They founded In.gredients, America’s first package-free, zero waste grocery store, slated to open later this summer. Both waste and cost are saved while you pick and choose the few missing ingredients for your chocolate chip cookie cravings and last-minute meals.
Christian and his brothers previously worked in the software business, but about 2 years ago decided that our society’s “disposable mentality” needed to be thrown away. The brothers and friends have always been interested in management of the biological life cycle, and food packaging remains an unchartered territory that is ripe for reform. This venture will encourage “precycling” in an effort to limit the potential waste before it even begins, and give you a reason to save those many mason jars.
Cooking classes, gardening and art shows will also be offered at this hub for healthy, local ingredients like produce, grains and other bulk foods previously imprisoned in packaging. Not only are ingredients freed from their confining plastic, but customers are also released into a realm of ownership, by way of IndieGoGo, allowing them to have a share in the company through direct investment. In.gredients is a new, innovative way to store, ship and share food from local grocers, all without a plastic bag to carry on the way out–or a lot of plastic packaging in any bag.
For more info, visit: in.gredients.com
Ilana Nevins is a Senior at UC Berkeley, studying Society and Environment. I
She was previously a Food First intern and now works with the Alameda County
Community Food Bank’s Summer Lunch Program. She was on the board of the
Berkeley Student Food Collective for the past two years as the
fundraising coordinator. She feasts on food books (current favorite is
Appetite for Profit), snacks on strawberries, and savors her morning swims,
the sweat after a long trail run and hopes for a future that unites
food policies and city planning, especially related to the corporate food
regime, transportation and zoning, and nutrition.
In our episode on urban agriculture in America, urban ag pioneer Will Allen says, “food is the most important thing in our lives.” That’s quite a statement. I conducted the interview with Allen on a windy day in Milwaukee and that sentence has stuck with me. “Food is the most important thing in our lives.” It’s important, sure, but the most important thing?
I wasn’t sure I believed that at the time, but I do now.
Of course we need food to survive and eat three meals a day if we’re lucky. Food has a direct impact on our health and well being. It doesn’t get much more fundamental that that. And food production has a profound impact on water quality, soil health and the climate–little things that we depend on for survival. But food, or lack of it, can have global implications.
I read a column by Thomas Friedman on Easter Sunday that drove home not just the the importance of food in our lives, but its importance to global peace. The Arab spring, Friedman wrote, had its roots in the rejection of corrupt and authoritarian rule, but in at least in three countries–Tunisia, Yemen and Syria–the uprisings can also be traced to conflicts over food and water.
Friedman writes: “Isn’t it interesting that the Arab awakening began in Tunisia with a fruit vendor who was harassed by police for not having a permit to sell food — just at the moment when world food prices hit record highs? And that it began in Syria with farmers in the southern village of Dara’a, who were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border, without having to get permission from corrupt security officials? And that it was spurred on in Yemen — the first country in the world expected to run out of water — by a list of grievances against an incompetent government, among the biggest of which was that top officials were digging water wells in their own backyards at a time when the government was supposed to be preventing such water wildcatting?”
I’d say that’s very interseting indeed. Food can be revolutionary. Literally.
If we can get this right–if we can produce food in a more socially, economically and environmentally just way, it will have an unparalleled impact on the common good. Because like Allen I believe food is the most important thing in our lives. My hope is that Food Forward can help show we might go forward as we collectively try to get it right.
It started with a phone call.
I had just finished A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen and it had a powerful affect on me. Like most of Jensen’s books, it detailed the toll industrial civilization was taking on the planet and it had me wondering what I could do about it.
I’d been writing about food for more than a decade, spotting trends, finding new restaurants and telling stories about people passionate about cooking and eating. But the more I learned about our food system’s impact on the earth, writing about where to find a great burger or a hot new restaurant started to feel pretty trivial. How could I bring a greater environmental perspective to my role as a food writer? Most food journalists steer clear of unappetizing subjects like agriculture’s impact on global warming, CAFOs, the farm bill, and hunger. I wanted to do something different.
That’s when the phone rang. It was Greg Roden, an old college friend who had connected with television producer Brian Greene. They wanted to know if I was interested in creating a TV show about food and did I have any ideas. Yes and yes.
I’d never been a fan of the Food Network. I’ve never seen a single episode of Top Chef. I knew I didn’t want to do anything like that. In fact, I don’t even own a TV. Meanwhile, Food Inc. had just been released and Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser had done excellent jobs of detailing what was wrong with the way we eat so I didn’t want to cover that ground again either. How about a show that picked up where Food, Inc. left off, a documentary program that profiled the innovators and pioneers—food rebels creating a healthier food system? We wanted to educate and inspire people, but also entertain them with compelling characters, animated segments and cool music. I could get excited about a show like that and we hoped others would, too. We called it Food Forward.
That was three (long) years ago and this month we are excited to say Food Forward will debut on PBS stations across the country, premiering in L.A. April 5 @ 10:30PM on KOCE and then rolling out nationally from there. Click here for local air times.
Our premier episode explores the urban agriculture phenomena growing across America. The lively, 30-minute program crisscrosses the country to profile rooftop gardeners and beekeepers in New York City, urban farmers planting crops and economic opportunity in the low-income neighborhoods of West Oakland, Calif., innovative fish and plant farmers in Milwaukee, Wisc., and up-from-the-ashes city farmers in Detroit, Mich. All of the characters are engaged in practical solutions to green their cities and grow fresh, healthful food right where most of us live—in cities.
The urban ag episode is the pilot for a 13-part series in development, scheduled to go into production later this year. Future episodes will focus on school lunch reform, fishing, alternative agriculture, soil preservation, grassland agriculture, the Farm Bill, and much more.
This is Food Forward and these are stories America needs to hear. Tune in and see what you think.
A year ago Greg and I came down to Expo West, the biggest natural food trade show in the country, feeling like we’d sneaked into a huge invite-only party. Every major and minor brand under the organic, natural, green, and wanna be-green umbrella was there, and with a fledgling TV series we were trying to fund, we dashed from one appointment to another, gobbling free samples in lieu of lunch, handing out stickers and basically talking to just about anyone who would listen.
We made some great connections and were fortunate to initiate partnerships with Organic Valley, Annie’s Homegrown and Animal Welfare Approved. We’re still on the fundraising trail, but that trip to Expo proved to be immensely important to Food Forward. Making TV is part art and part sales effort but at the beginning it’s really all sales.
Coming back this year it feels a lot different. We’re still hungry, but we’ve grown and now have more experience under our belts. We we’re still taking meetings and pressing stickers into people’s hands, but the big reason for coming this year was to screen the first episode of Food Forward before a select group of invitees and to thank everyone who helped us get this far. We held the screening in Organic Valley’s Hilton suite and the good folks at Lagunitas Brewing Company provided the beer. We also brought on Stonyfield Farm as our final episode sponsor and were happy to see Gary and their top brass in attendance, too. After the obligatory technical problems and a few moments of panic we got the episode up and running. I’ve seen it 100 times so I spent the half hour watching other people’s reactions. It looked like everybody liked it.
Given the financial, organizational and personal pressures we’ve endured, it’s a wonder TV–at least good TV–gets made at all, so it was fun to take a short victory lap and thank everyone who has helped us get this far. We still have a ways to go toward producing the rest of the series (12 more episodes!) but I feel good about how far we’ve come.
One of the most pleasant surprises I’ve encountered after four weeks on the road is how welcoming and helpful people have been to me and my family.
Part of me thinks, well, maybe they’re just being nice because they want media exposure, but I don’t think that’s true. My experience has been people working on or around the sustainable food movement are just genuinely good people. Yes, they want to get the word out about what they’re doing, but more than that, most people I’ve met just want to help.
Case in point: David Hill.
I’d never met David and his wife Kay before. They own the Chef’s Table in Rocklin, Calif., a oasis of creative and delicious farm-to-table in a sea of chain restaurant homogeneity. My sister-in-law is friends with them and told them what we were up to with Food Forward. David then not only invited us to his restaurant, but he came up with a list of purveyors and interesting folks he thought we’d like to connect with.
Placer County has a thriving local food scene and David is tapped into it. David went out of his way to schedule visits for us during our short stay there. He even offered to let us park at his house. We ended up at an RV lot for one night (had to dump sewage; nice) and spent the next night on the farm of one of his vendors–Bryan Kaminsky of the Natural Trading Co.
We met David at the great little farmers market in downtown Auburn and then met up later at the excellent Dono dal Cielo winery, makers of some refreshingly nimble zinfandel. He even brought sandwiches!
During our great meal at his restaurant, I met Jerome Beauchamp, a friend of Bryan Kaminsky. Jerome and his son offered to meet us at the RV park and escort us to the farmers market and then on to Bryan’s farm. Along the way we stopped at his house and checked out his son Pierre’s very cool hydroponic operation. And then there’s Bryan.
Not only did we get to spend a night perched on a little hill atop his 40-acre farms with rows of vegetables all around, he and his girlfriend Tes cooked us a great dinner from just picked vegetables while Everett and Ava played with a litter of kittens in the garage. That was after they played with sheep dog puppies and baby goats.
The morning before we left Bryan helped me attach a gas line that had detached from the underbelly of the Airstream. And then he handed us a dozen fresh jumbo eggs as we drove off to meet up with yet another friendly guy, fish farmer Michael Passmore. More on him in my next post.
The good food movement isn’t just about good food. It’s about good people and I’ve been privileged to meet some of them.
When I came up with the name Food Forward I think I had the term “fashion forward” in mind, i.e. someone who wears clothes that are bold, innovative and even edgy. That’s what I wanted Food Forward to be about, people creating innovative and bold solutions to an industrial food system gone off the rails. Food rebels.
It’s my secret desire to make food forward a term that people throw around as in: “Oh man. Check out that guy’s rooftop farm and rabbit hutch. He’s so food forward.”
But what exactly makes someone food forward and the kind of person I’d like to feature on Food Forward?
One of the best compliments I got was at the premiere screening of our pilot earlier this month at the Sonoma International Film Festival. After seeing our pilot episode on urban agriculture, a woman asked how we found such compelling characters. The answer is we spend a lot of time vetting potential characters in search of those who will be right for our show. To me that means the person has to satisfy several requirements.
They have to be engaged in some really food forward behavior. It’s not enough that they grow organic tomatoes. Lots of people do that. But if they grow organic tomatoes in soil composted from supermarket waste and are teaching inner-city youth how to grow and open small businesses selling compost and value added tomato products, now you’re talking food forward.
But doing something food forward isn’t enough. This is TV we’re making and as righteous and cool as someone’s work may be if that person can’t project passion, humor and pathos on camera they might as well be sitting at a desk reading a cue card. We want to inspire and entertain our viewers as well as educate them.
Finally, a good candidate for Food Forward has to be working on something that’s scaleable and can impact the food system at large. I’m all for crazy ideas and fringe thinking, but if there’s no larger contribution to the common good what’s the point?
If you know anyone who fits this description please send them my way.
Living in the Bay Area it’s easy to feel smug about all the wonderful farms, local produce and restaurants we have. But one of the great things about working on Food Forward is I get to discover the food scenes in other parts of the country and I’m here to tell you the San Francisco Bay Area is not the center of the good food world. And that’s a good thing.
A strong movement requires many fronts and out in the Mid-West, the Twin Cities are holding it down admirably. I visited Minneapolis and St. Paul about four years and was impressed with the variety and strength of the area’s food scene. There are good and even great restaurants by the dozen. They know how to eat in the Twin Cities and they do it without the benefit of a sunny climate and year round fresh produce. Today Greg and I are wrapping up a trip to Minnesota to raise funds and meet the excellent people at Haberman, Food Forward’s new PR and marketing agency. I’m impressed anew with the vitality of the area’s local food scene and commitment to a greener, more sustainable regional food economy.
Thanks to my old friend and our Twin Cities host Doug Utter, Greg and I had some great meals (and great beer!) at places like Brasa, Haute Dish, 312 Eatery, The Local, the Red Stag Supperclub, and Sea Salt. These restaurants not only serve inspired cuisine, but they draw on the diversity and strength of the upper Mid-West’s many farms, creameries and ranches.
No place impressed me as much as 9-month-old Heartland, a St. Paul restaurant/market/charcuterie operation. Chef and owner Lenny Russo describes himself as both “the Che Guevara of the food world” for his left-wing politics, but also “the second coming of Adam Smith” because of his belief in a market-based approach to a reinvigorated regional food economy. I just call him food forward.
“We believe the way to affect change is going to be at the grassroots level and for people to become educated and concerned about what it is they’re doing when they feed themselves, not just to their bodies and their children, but to the environment as well,” Russo told me. Amen to that.
Russo champions local food in a way that few restaurants do. Just about every ingredient is local. In some cases he buys all the production of nearby farms and ranches, ensuring his purveyors have a predictable revenue stream, an arrangement that allows them to save on marketing and transportation. By doing so Russo is helping to keep local treasures like the Russet apple and the wooly, fantastically delicious Mangalitsa hog financially viable. Russo’s walk-in coolers and even some corner office spaces are loaded with legs of Mangalitsa on their way to becoming prosciutti (that’s the plural of proscuitto, don’t you know). He’s got plans to sell his proscuitti wholesale in the coming years. Keep and eye out for it.
What’s so inspiring about Russo and his Mid-West food emporium is he’s proving that locavore foodie idealism and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together deliciously.
The thing about cliches is they’re generally quite true. Case in point: Be careful what you wish for.
A few months ago my wife Deirdre and I hatched what we thought was a great plan–a cross-country road trip to research future Food Forward characters and promote the show. That idea has grown into what we now call the Food Forward Road Trip, a four-month, 12,000-mile tour of the country to meet the food rebels who are changing the way we eat in America. To get there, we’ll pull a 26-foot, 1965 Airstream Overlander.
Deirdre and I have long wanted to own a vintage Airstream. Greg shares our love of these trailers, too. So now we’ve got one. For being 45 years old the trailer is in really good shape. Deirdre has taken on the task of giving the interior an eco remodel. She’s working with some great local designers and craftspeople. It’s going to look great. Pictures to come.
Coming with us on the trip will be my son Everett (6) and my daughter Ava (3). Everett is particularly excited about the trip, mainly because he gets out of school a month early. I think he’ll find other reasons to be excited, too. Greg will coordinate with us from mission control in the Bay Area.
I’m so busy packing, subleasing our house, forwarding mail, raising funds, making minor repairs on the trailer, and looking for a truck (Yes, we still need a truck. Anybody got a diesel Ford or Dodge we can use?) that I haven’t really been able to absorb what it is we’re about to do: drive across the country to meet my heroes: people who are creating a more delicious, more sustainable food system. And I have to confess the trip feels a bit daunting at times. What will it be like living on the road with two young kids? Will I lose my mind? Will it get too hot in the summer (probably)? Will Greg and I be able to accomplish all we set out to do?
Careful what you wish for indeed. For now this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity feels like an insane amount of work to get it ready. I haven’t allowed myself to get excited. There’s no time for that. I know there will be bumps on the road (another cliche) literally and figuratively, but I’m confident once we pull out of Santa Cruz (May 2 if all goes well) the trip will feel like a wish come true.
In my last post I wrote about how working on Food Forward for the past three years felt like we were tinkering in a garage, sometimes in the dark. To flog that metaphor just once more, last night Greg and I got the satisfaction of wheeling our creation out of the garage and taking it for a spin. In my humble opinion she looked pretty good.
Last night we debuted our pilot episode on urban agriculture at the Sonoma International Film Festival. We were a late entry at the festival and didn’t know how many people would attend since it was a free event and couldn’t count ticket sales. We had generous donations from great sponsors like Purity Organic, Annie’s Homegrown, Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery, Lagunitas Brewing Co., and the Sonoma branch of Rabobank. But would there be anyone there to drink all those beverages and eat all that cheese?
The space for our screening in the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art was smaller than I thought it would be so I figured if only a few people showed up it wouldn’t look so bad. Well, that turned out not to be a problem. The seats quickly filled up and soon there was only standing room. There were a few, ahem, more “shorts” before our episode appeared than I expected so everyone had to wait a bit longer than I, but almost everybody stayed through until the end. And they enjoyed what they saw.
Of course I liked the applause and praise we got, but what struck me anew was the fact that we’re on to something much bigger than our egos with Food Forward. We really are living through a moment in American history in which we’re rediscovering the importance of knowing where our food comes from, who’s growing it and what they’re doing to it. This is a real movement and we’re out to capture it and show it to widest possible audience.
I don’t think the crowd in the museum was applauding us so much as cheering on their fellow Americans who’ve taken up this fight to reclaim what we eat–for our planet and for each other. Thanks Sonoma!