In 2005, a vast amount of the Vietnamese community living in New Orleans came from fishing and agricultural backgrounds. They farmed on their individual plots and had an unofficial but well-known schedule and location to sell their produce.
Then, Hurricane Katrina blasted through with insurmountable levels of damage. Most residents lived at least 6 miles away from the nearest grocery store, and 20% of them lacked a means of transportation to get there. Homes were blown away, but gardens and farms had an even worse survival rate.
From the debris of this tragedy, grew the Veggi Farmer’s Cooperative, as in VEGGI (Village de l’Est Green Growers Initiative), “food rebels” who are genuinely changing the way we eat. Not just what we put in our mouths–but creating a whole new mind-set about food and how it affects our livelihoods and communities.
The group faced “deep” challenges from the start, such as wetland mitigation restrictions on digging the 28-acre plot for which they had dearly fought. Then, a second disaster, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, displaced overnight even more of this community who made their living from fishing.
The urban farm swiftly switched to an aquaponics farm model, a revolutionary concept that mimics nature in order to grow vegetables and raise fish together by combining two different methods: aquaculture, the raising of fish, and hydroponics, growing vegetables without soil.
In November of 2010, the group pulled together and started organizing as a co-op. They are now called the Veggi Farmer’s Cooperative and implement both aquaponics and land agriculture techniques. They now grow organic produce and fish that are distributed to 16-20 restaurants, sell in two markets, as well as feed themselves and their community with everything from Bibb lettuce to Taro root and Vietnamese coriander. They are even experimenting with greenhouse production for a healthy year-round supply of greens and creating a community seed bank and two edible gardens at local schools.
When asked why they chose to grow organic, they responded that this is the way that the Vietnamese community knew how to farm, and after seeing all of the pollution and chemicals that were released into the environment after the hurricane and the oil spill, they couldn’t imagine another way.
Find them on Facebook: VeggiFarmersCooperative
By Ilana Nevins
This year’s fifth annual Bug Festival was held on June 23, 2012 in Austin, Texas. This year’s festival relied on attendees to BYOB (bring your own bugs) to better explore the tasty treats of their own backyards. Mallory Wildcraft, who hosted the festival alongside Allen Davisson, is best known for her tutorials on how to “Grow your own Groceries”, videos and trainings to aid even the most inexperienced gardeners to create a backyard bursting with food. While many are still skeptical of chowing down on backyard bugs, Wildcraft realized that turning the experience into a party might make the idea easier to swallow. Kids and parents alike delight in the chance to prepare some household pests in a delicious dish.
Wildcraft shows us not only that eating bugs can be cause for celebration, but that healthy habits can be found in your own backyard. Insects are high in protein and low in carbs, making them a nutrient dense, healthy option. Even if bugs are not your first pick for fresh food, consider the other edible delights your backyard has to offer. There is often more than meets the eye, whether it is crawling in circles, growing up vines or rooting down beneath the soil. So the next time you reach for a bag of chips, consider a handful of critters instead.
By Yvette Cabrera
For most Americans, the 4th of July means it’s time to put on their red, white, and blue and pull out the barbeque. So, I ask this: what is a better way to show support for your country than by supporting the backbone of it–agriculture and the local economy? Here’s a few ways to exercise your right to a healthy lifestyle.
- Build a better burger. Make an independent effort to use more sustainable products: some grass-fed beef at your local grocery store, or even go to the farmer directly! And don’t forget your vegetables: veggie burgers and fresh seasonal veggies on the grill, especially from your local farmers.
- Raise a brew! The United States, and California in particular, has one of the fastest growing rates of microbreweries in the world. There are beers of all flavors, strengths and sizes, so support your local brewery.
- Cool off with a “spritzer!” Mix mineral water with the juice of any fresh fruit in season with wine or non-alcoholic. Try pouring the alcohol-free concoction into some popsicle trays to have a delicious frozen treat to help beat the heat of these record hot summer days.
- Take a hike! Go on a bike ride or hike to a spot that is relatively elevated to catch the fireworks from a better view! If you live anywhere near the water, kayaking and sailing are always extremely refreshing ways to get to waterfront displays.
A little sustainable thinking can help to make Independence Day a little more healthy and active for ourselves, as well as the planet. Now that makes freedom ring!
Photo credit: David Reber’s Hammer Photography’s photostream via Flickr
Place and Excellence–that is what Jay Porter, owner and operator of two farm-to-table restaurants in San Diego, believes that his restaurants are about. In 2004, Jay wanted to do something interesting with his life. He felt that his neighborhood was seriously lacking places where people could go to get well-prepared, thoughtful food and drink. So, he opened up his his own restaurant, The Linkery, one of the first restaurants in San Diego to source locally and seasonally on such a large scale. About two years ago, he opened his second farm-to-table restaurant, El Take it Easy. Anybody who has eaten at either of these places can tell you that you will always be surprised when you catch a glimpse of the menu. You can find items like pork belly and chicken skin tacos, bacon-wrapped Octopus, fries with smoked liver on top, and you can pretty much put bacon on anything. But don’t let these dishes scare you away–there is some real thought that goes behind these crazy concoctions.
During my interview/lunch with Jay Porter at his restaurant, he explained the theory behind his restaurants while he jumped up every five minutes to DJ some thoughtful tunes for the lunch crowd. When asked why he thought it was so important to source locally and to know his farmers, Jay responded, “The depth of experience that you can have is just so much greater.” He feels that many people in the contemporary U.S. are very placeless- not many people are really able to connect to where they are from and they can no longer find solid roots in their communities. Jay attempts to address this problem through meaningful cuisine that incorporates both the physical and the cultural landscape of where we live. In order to operate in both of those landscapes here in San Diego, our very close neighbor must be included: Mexico. Local food in San Diego is influenced by what people grow both on the San Diego side and the Mexican side of the border. “We have so many different landscapes, it is important to meaningfully incorporate all of them,” said Jay in between bites of his locally-grown salad.
As a restaurant owner, Jay confessed that although he had dabbled in food activism, he realized that the most important thing for his restaurants to do is to build a market for better-quality, local food. They must work with the farmers to grow their farms, and explore alternative ways of operating in order to ensure this restaurant’s model is successful. Jay Porter, along with many other farm-to-table restaurants, doesn’t want to sell commodities. He wants to forge a connection with his community by not selling commodities, and therefore bringing them something new and different. Although he acknowledges that this massive shift in food culture/mindset is really only prevalent in certain big cities, and outside of them the shift is rather incremental, he states, “I want to help people have great experiences involving thoughtfully-sourced and thoughtfully-grown food.” In the long run, these are the kinds of businesses that will renew people’s love for food and the place they live.
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 search of food rebels everywhere, Food Forward welcomes our first guest blogger, Yvette Cabrera. Yvette visited Suzie’s Farm, a 70-acre farm located near the Tijuana Estuary, 13 miles south of Downtown San Diego and spoke with three composting pioneers who came up with an enterprising method to connect the farm and the table.
Closing The Loop
by Yvette Cabrera
“Our ultimate goal is to save family farms,” said Chris Young, one of the three founders of Closing the Loop-San Diego, a composting group that aims to make organic food more affordable, help local restaurants, fix our topsoil, and get people to love their food.
Closing the Loop was just an idea 4 months ago, and starting 8-weeks ago, this idea was put into action by three people: Chris Young (farmer), Chelsea Coleman (chef/farmer), Amrita Rumberger (chef/farmer). Closing the Loop provides a “for-fee” service, in which a couple of restaurants around San Diego coordinate a pick-up of their food waste that is then redistributed through a network of small farms. The restaurant generating the food waste pays a fee for the pick-up and that fee is split between the farmers that are receiving the food scraps, thereby “closing the loop” (hence their name. Essentially, they are actually paying farmers to do composting. Instead of paying big corporations to put this food waste in a landfill, they are inspiring restaurants to redistribute it back to the farmers and the land. Closing the Loop is one of the few companies in the U.S. doing this on a commercial scale. Since June 2nd, calculations have shown that 14 tons of waste has been diverted from the landfills back to the farms with the involvement of only 8 restaurants!
So, why composting?
When I asked the three composters this question, their response was that the average American produces around 5 pounds of waste per day, and a bulk of that is compostable. In the United States alone, 1 billion tons of topsoil is lost per year. Our food is less nutrient dense than it was 50 years ago due to a lack of nutrients in the soil. “Composting is just the responsible thing to do” said Chelsea, it allows us to cut down on waste, extend the life of our landfills, replenish our topsoil, create economies for farms, remake our food nutrient dense by feeding the soil and taking care of it, and educate people about these issues.
Approaching their work from the standpoint of both chefs and farmers, Closing the Loop San Diego is growing quickly and hopes to expand to different counties and cities, and one day, to maybe even shut-down a landfill and use this model to create alternate jobs in composting. Most of all, they know that what is needed is a paradigm-shift, one in which composting is no longer just another radical idea, but the norm!
For more information, please visit: http://www.closingtheloopsd.com/
Yvette Cabrera was born in Mexico City, and moved to the United States as a child and grew up in San Diego. At UC Berkeley, she majored in Peace and Conflict Studies with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice (GPP). There she became an ally of the West Oakland food justice group, People’s Grocery and thus began her interest in food issues. Since then, she has worked on organic farms in Argentina and San Diego, interned with the Oakland Food Policy Council, traveled throughout South America, and worked at a farm-to-table restaurant in San Diego. More recently, she has been accepted to volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic with the Health Extension Program. Until then, she will be surfing, sailing, working and enjoying life in San Diego–and trying to get some good food along the way!
Mention Hawaiian cuisine and most people think of fresh fruit, plate lunches, poke salad, and Spam. It’s telling that Spam has become an iconic Hawaiian food. It comes in a can. It has an indefinite shelf life. And it’s shipped across the Pacific Ocean from a distant factory in the Mid-West. Spam jokes aside it points to a real problem in Hawaii.
Hawaii is easily the most food insecure state in America. It imports as much as 90 percent of its food and is highly vulnerable to disruptions in food supplies and spikes in the cost of oil. (A gallon of gas currently costs about $4.79 in Hawaii.)
I just returned from a 10-day trip to Kauai and I was struck by the high cost and limited variety of food. We cooked for ourselves most nights because it was far cheaper than eating out, but a trip to the grocery store was shocking. A dozen eggs was $7. Kale went for $4.50 a bunch. Potato chips were $5 a bag. (OK, they were fried in fancy avocado oil but still). Luckily, I found a local few local farmers markets.
Whenever I travel I try and visit the local farmers market. It offers a window onto the local food scene, what’s grown and who buys it. But the Koloa market on Kauaui’s south shore was unlike anything I’d even seen. At home in Sebastopol, Calif., I like to go to my farmers market early. It opens at 9am and I’m often one of the first people there and I have the run of the place.
At the Koloa market, however, there’s a long line that forms well before it opens at noon. A rope strung across the parking lot keeps people out. Once the rope drops, the people (mostly women) rush in to scoop up deals on locally grown fruit and vegetables. And these weren’t yuppies pushing expensive baby strollers. They were working class people shopping for their families. By 1:30pm several vendors had sold out and were folding up their tables to go home.
It’s easy to see why the market attracts such a crowd. It’s cheaper than what’s available in the grocery store and it’s far fresher since the food didn’t travel 2,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. There’s a greater variety, too. I saw several kinds of mangoes, local tomatoes, green beans, passion fruit, and my favorite, soupsop, a spiny, kidney-shaped fruit also known as the custard apple.
As recently as the 1930s, Hawaii was 100 percent self-sufficient. That’s not possible now, but with the islands’ year round growing season and fertile soils, developing a thriving local food economy is entirely possible and should be a top priority for Hawaii. In addition to fresher, often lower priced food, local agriculture means local jobs and less dependency on a global, petroleum dependent food system is running out of gas, literally and figuratively.
If the container ships and planes ever stopped coming to Hawaii it wouldn’t take long for food supplies to dry up and people to go hungry. By then it would be too late to start talking about cultivating a local food system. There’s clearly a demand for local food in Hawaii and the time to get it started is now.