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

New Agtivists: Brother-Sister Duo Revamp The Corner Store

Alison Cross and her older brother Alphonzo saw a vast need for fresh food in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, where they’d spent time since they were kids. The community, which is adjacent to the Atlanta University Center, had seen both vibrance and decay, and was begging for transformation.

So the siblings decided to fill that need, and hatched a plan to open The Boxcar Grocer, a new food business. Alison, who studied architecture and worked as a video editor, and Alphonzo, with a background in fashion, describe the independent grocery store, which stocks local, organic, whole foods, as being at “the intersection of food justice and high-concept retail.”

And they’re right; it’s not your average corner store. The market looks modern, with lots of light, stainless steel, and wood. The shop, which had a “soft” opening in late October and celebrated its grand opening last Monday, sits in an area dotted with old railroad warehouses. African Americans own the majority of the storefront businesses. The neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance with small art galleries, graphic design firms, and a tattoo parlor that attract the typical urban mix of students, artists, and free thinkers.

Alison, 36, has also written about the personal inspiration for Boxcar (“This is Our Land“), the socioeconomic challenges of the food movement (“All the Foodies are Rich, All of the Farmers are White, But Some of Us are Still Cookin’“), and its shortcomings (“A Limited Engagement“) on the store’s blog.

I spoke with her recently about her hopes for the family business and the obstacles she and her brother have faced along the way. Read more

Learning On The Half-Shell

Luc Chamberland thinks oyster farming is often misunderstood. That’s why the aquaculturist wants to educate the public about the benefits of cultivating bivalves in Tomales Bay, a pristine estuary in West Marin, Calif.

A recent, high-profile controversy surrounding a commercial oyster farm in the area has focused on the potentially negative environmental impacts of cultivating oysters (namely disruption to native species). But Chamberland sees oyster farming as a sustainable practice that does more good than harm.

That’s why, a few years ago, he conceived of Pickleweed Point Community Oyster Farm–a kind of CSA for the briny bivalve–so that the public can, quite literally, grow their own oysters, and in the process better understand the critical role oysters play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.  Read more

Giving Thanks For Farmworkers on Thanksgiving

As the nation’s annual food fest approaches, let’s take a moment to express gratitude for farmworkers, the hard-working field hands who grow and harvest the abundance we’re about to eat on Thanksgiving.

It’s so easy in the food-obsessed Bay Area and beyond to focus on whether our D.I.Y., made-from-scratch meals are perfect or if the raw ingredients of our culinary creations have a pristine pedigree.But enough food narcissism already: let’s talk about the plight of the people who make this holiday possible. Some food for thought:

Check out the videos from the recent conference TedxFruitvale: Harvesting Change hosted by the foundation wing of the sustainable-food focused Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO). The event, held at Mills College in Oakland, revealed in sharp relief and from first-hand accounts the back-breaking labor of those in the fields, many of whom are still exposed to life-threatening pesticides and labor in shocking conditions. But this day-long event was anything but a downer: The program also highlighted farmworker success stories and alternative ownership models to BigAg.

Read the full story by Civil Eats contributor Sarah Henry at Bay Area Bites.

Photo: Tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, by Scott Robertson

New Guide Aims to Improve School Food

Given all the media attention, you may think that Alice Waters is the only person in Berkeley doing anything to fix school food–and that her Edible Schoolyard Project is the only organization tackling this topic across the country.

But that perception would be wrong. Founded in 1995, the Center for Ecoliteracy has also long championed school food reform and channeled funding in the millions to garden programs, cooking classes, and nutrition-based curriculum in Berkeley public schools. Read more

Michael Pollan: New Food Rules, But No Need to Be Neurotic (VIDEO)

Sometimes a spoonful of sugar does, indeed, make the medicine go down. Though you won’t find that catchphrase in the just-released hardcover edition of Food RulesMichael Pollan‘s best-selling little eater’s manual.

Food Rules does sport the whimsical and witty illustrations of well-known artist Maira Kalman, however. And the new book also boasts 19 new rules—many gleaned from eaters around the country that Pollan wished he had thought of and included the first time around.

Take two is again full of commonsense kitchen wisdom such as If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re probably not hungry; and When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.

The takeaway message: food need not be complicated, and the act of eating is as much about pleasure and communion as it is about nutrition and health. In other words: lighten up a little and enjoy your dinner. Read more

The Bread Project: Cooking Up a Future for People in Need

Pat Van Valkenburgh is the kind of person that The Bread Project hopes to help. A stay-at-home mom who home-schooled her two children until they attended Berkeley High School, Van Valkenburgh desperately needed a job when her construction worker husband became unemployed. Since she enjoyed cooking, she thought the nonprofit’s nine-week café training program, which focuses on basic kitchen, food service, and barista skills, was a good fit and would help her find a job in the restaurant industry.

Van Valkenburgh didn’t have to look far for work: she was snapped up by the organization to manage the café it runs out of the Berkeley Adult School, where the program for low-income job seekers, started by Susan Phillips and Lucie Buchbinder in 2000, has been housed since 2003. Read more