Fomenting Ferment

The DIY renaissance began with home cooks preserving and pickling. Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut quickly followed. Naturally, bottled home brews found a fast following too. Emma Christensen caught the DIY bug when friends gave her and her husband a gift certificate to a local home brewing store as a wedding gift. That kicked off Christensen’s passion for brewing beer at home. And in her first book, True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home, the recipe editor for the popular cooking website The Kitchn shares her ongoing obsession with crafting all kinds of fermented beverages. Read more

Troubled Waters: Farmers and Scientists Work Together to Save Oysters

Terry Sawyer is on a mission to rescue oysters from newly hostile seas. Sawyer has been farming these briny bivalves for almost 30 years in Tomales Bay, north of San Francisco, at Hog Island Oyster Company. The business he co-owns sells $9 million worth of Sweetwaters, Kumamotos, and Atlantic oysters a year at the company’s two local oyster bars, at nearby farmers markets, and direct from the farm to hungry consumers who can’t seem to get enough of this sustainable shellfish. But Sawyer’s seafood business is threatened by ocean acidification (aka climate change’s evil twin) and he and other oyster growers are working overtime to find creative ways to save these sea creatures—and their own livelihoods. Read more

A Food Desert in Paradise: Solving Hawaii’s Fresh Vegetable Problem

Sam Kalalau, a Native Hawaiian who lives in the isolated, rural town of Hana on Maui’s eastern edge, has a dream for his people, many of whom suffer from chronic conditions with dietary links such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Hana is known mostly for its lushness, postcard-perfect beaches, and spectacular oceans views, and less so for its fertile fields. But this produce whisperer helps run Hana Fresh Farm, a seven-acre, certified organic farm situated on a gentle slope and filled with tropical fruit trees, heirloom greens, and fragrant herbs. The 60-year-old also seeks to educate locals and visitors alike about the health benefits of homegrown foods like avocado and papaya over the canned and processed goods transported from the mainland. Read more

Berkeley Group Has Plan to Fix School Food in Oakland

The meeting was held in San Francisco earlier this week at the offices of SPUR, a nonprofit created to promote good planning and good government. The focus of the discussion: an ambitious plan to overhaul Oakland Unified School District‘s inadequate and antiquated school food service. But the driving force behind what could be a model program for re-imagining school lunch in large school districts around the nation is a Berkeley-based nonprofit that has quietly been rethinking school lunch for many years.

No, not that nonprofit. The Center for Ecoliteracy recently released a detailed feasibility study that, if implemented, would amount to a massive makeover for the OUSD school food program. It includes recommendations for a newly outfitted, green central commissary with a 1.5-acre edible farm in West Oakland, refurbished existing kitchens, and the development of 14 school-based community kitchens dotted throughout the school district, which serves 38,000 students at 101 schools, 70 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The community kitchens are envisaged as places where budding edible entrepreneurs and local organizations with a food focus could work, for a fee, during after-school hours. Read more

New Agtivist: Fixing School Lunch in the Nation’s Capital

Andrea Northup grew up with cows in her backyard. But it wasn’t until she visited France, and caught a glimpse of how a whole country can revolve around a robust food culture, that she found her calling.

Northup went on to launch the D.C. Farm to School Network, a nonprofit dedicated to providing healthier school food in 200 public schools and 90 charter schools in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2008. Since then, she’s been on a mission to transform school lunch menus one piece of fresh, locally grown produce at a time. And Northup has her hands full: The first orange food most D.C. kids can think of isn’t carrots, she says, it’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Her greatest accomplishment to date: playing a principal role in the passage and implementation of the landmark Healthy Schools Act of 2010, which makes D.C. one of the first jurisdictions in the country to provide financial incentives to schools that serve local food and offer nutrition education in the classroom.

Northup, 25, was recently honored with a Natural Resources Defense Council Growing Green Award in the Young Food Leader category. Read more

Weight of the Nation Takes a Realistic Look at a Looming Crisis

HBO has a history of tackling serious American health-care crises. In recent years, the cable network has taken on addiction and Alzheimer’s to much critical acclaim. And now the network has turned its attention to another huge health problem: Obesity and its enormous economic, emotional, social, and health cost on individuals, families, communities, and the country at large.

As Americans have gained weight in recent years, rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other obesity-related health problems have also skyrocketed. Rates of Type 2 diabetes (once known as “adult-onset diabetes”) are soaring among kids. And this is a generation of people that may well die at a younger age than their parents, largely because of medical concerns associated with excess weight.

These facts have become commonplace to those of us who have been paying attention. Still, The Weight of the Nation: Confronting America’s Obesity Epidemic serves as a clarion call to the country to take action — and fast — to combat this pernicious, complex problem that has myriad root causes. Read more

Gleaning for Good: An Old Idea Is New Again

Foraging for food—whether it’s ferreting rare mushrooms in the woods, picking abundant lemons from an overlooked tree, or gathering berries from an abandoned lot—is all the rage among the culinary crowd and the D.I.Y. set, who share their finds with fellow food lovers in fancy restaurant meals or humble home suppers.

But an old-fashioned concept—gleaning for the greater good by harvesting unwanted or leftover produce from farms or family gardens—is also making a comeback during these continued lean economic times. Read more

Kickstarter Food: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Edible entrepreneur/video editor Dafna Kory is an ideal candidate for a food-focused Kickstarter campaign. Kory, founder of Inna Jam, an organic artisan preserves company in Berkeley, Calif., supplements her budding food business with commercial film, video, and web editing gigs and is well-acquainted with the crowd-funding platform. So, when it came time to expand her jam company this winter, she decided to give Kickstarter a whirl.

“It’s a very public thing—putting yourself out there like this—and it could have gone either way,” says Kory, who produced her own video for a campaign to renovate a commercial kitchen. The jammer already has some small business loans and didn’t want to take on any more debt. Kory, who just wrapped up her Kickstarter campaign, says it was by no means an easy endeavor. “I used every skill I have to make this campaign a success.”

Kickstarter, based in New York, earned its early reputation as the go-to place for up-and-coming filmmakers, gamers, and designers looking for funds. Increasingly, though, it’s become a hub for those involved in the sustainable, local food scene seeking capital for their creative pursuits as well. In the Kickstarter worldview, food artisans are artists too, whether they’re behind a community olive oil press in Berkeley, a beekeeping business in Brooklyn, or a Lebanese food truck in Asheville, N.C. Read more

Berkeley School Gardening, Cooking Programs Face Cuts

Three of Berkeley Unified School District‘s elementary schools–Malcolm X,  Rosa Parks, and Washington—are in jeopardy of losing their entire cooking and gardening program funds beginning in October this year.

Under existing guidelines, the schools will no longer qualify for federal funding because they have fewer than 50 percent of their students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program, according to Leah Sokolofski, who supervises the program for the district.

Berkeley has an international reputation for its edible schoolyards, where public school children of all economic means learn what it takes to grow a radish and sauté some chard. Such funding cuts to the program, whose total budget is $1.94 million a year, would represent a significant setback in the city’s pioneering efforts to date. Read more