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Having an elevator speech for anything you do is a good idea. It could be for a new project, campaign or even your profession. We shouldn't get stumped by simple questions like, "What do you do?" But it's easy to get hung up when you are in a career transition like myself. An elevator speech can help clarify your goals and get people excited by what you are doing.

I'm taking a leadership program offered by the North Tahoe Business Association. It's like Toastmasters but a whole lot more. It is definitely keeping me on my toes and encouraging me to further refine the purpose of my sustainable food project. Here's my pitch (it's a little long. I'm banking on a ride to the 50th floor)...

"I’m working to create a more sustainable food community in North Tahoe. By building a regional food system within 150-miles, Tahoe can reduce its food insecurity. A food hub will aggregate food produced by our more food abundant neighbors for regional distribution lessening our dependence on the national food system. It keeps Tahoe fed and creates inter-commerce between regional partners. Money that circulates regionally supports local economies which encourages new business and creates jobs. By taking a regional approach, communities can work together to address their food security and build a more equitable supply chain. A North Tahoe food hub will offer multiple services in order to be sustainable such as a commercial kitchen; retail for locally, produced, specialty foods; cold storage for hunger relief agencies; and farm education. Yes, farming! With nearly 280-days of sun, Tahoe doesn’t need to be a food desert. We can work within our climate constraints and harness the sun's energy by employing 4-season growing techniques."

And then the person in the elevator says, "Aren't food hubs only feasible if close to where the food is produced?" My answer, "All communities need a food hub."

If every community was focused on food security and took responsibility for how their food was sourced, we will have fed the world one community at a time. Not every community can grow their own food but they can establish food policy which advocates for  how it is produced and distributed. The further you are from your food source, the more a food hub reduces your food insecurity.

 
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I'm brushing up on my environmental education for the Gardens-to-Hospitals program that I'm building for Lisa's Organics. It's a program where school gardens partner with hospitals on collaborative projects which galvanize both school and hospital to provide healthy meal programs. Students and children at the hospital will come together for an interactive growing activity or art project. The projects need to be meaningful and impactful.

So I went to straight to the source, The Center for Ecoliteracy, in Berkeley, CA. I ordered one of their books, "Ecological Literacy," in order to immerse myself in the language and produce thought-provoking and policy changing events. The book is a compilation of essays and visionary thought from today's foremost authorities on progressive education.

David Orr of Oberlin College laid the groundwork, "all education is environmental education." And founder for the Center, Fritjof Capra, explained that further to mean, "Education for sustainable living fosters both an intellectual understanding of ecology and emotional bonds with nature that make it more likely that our children will grow into responsible citizens who truly care about sustaining life, and develop a passion for applying their ecological understanding to the fundamental redesign of our technologies and social institutions so as to bridge the current gap between human design and the ecologically sustainable systems of nature."

Amen Fritjof! It's all about building connections! And school gardens reconnect kids to the fundamentals of food. Systems-based learning helps young people see the connectivity of relationships in their environment and surrounding ecosystems. Another contributor, Maurice Holt, points to the essential role that school gardens play in "understanding, not just memorizing, ecological principles."

Lisa’s Organics wants to foster these types of educational opportunities. Gardens-to-Hospitals will help young people understand how food unites us culturally and socially enabling them to make a deeper connection to where their food comes from and the impact that food availability has on their whole community not just in their own lunchroom.

 
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Eliot Coleman and his wife Barbara Damrosch on their farm in Harborside, Maine.
The only thing holding Tahoe back from being like its food abundant cousins down the hill, are its winters. Tahoe gets the same amount of sun - nearly 300 days of it - but has cold temperatures. We just need to harness the sun's heat and were golden, literally!

Fortunately, there are good people like Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm. He has been perfecting his 4-season growing techniques for the past forty years. He gleaned most of his information by visiting and studying the traditions of French and British farmers. He would come back to his farm in Maine adapting what he learned and further refining the skill of year-round farming.

Reno, Nevada had the fortune of a 2-day workshop this past weekend with the father of cold-hardy vegetables. As a budding farmer myself, I was eager to hear the voice behind the words in the books I had been reading.

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Row covers inside an unheated greenhouse
"Simplicity! That's our motto," preached Eliot. "Low-tech and high quality "real" food are our guiding principles." He wants his systems to be replicable. If they are complicated, they will never gain traction. And he's succeeded! To get in the game, however, you have to be okay with cold weather and hard work. But the systems he has designed aren't elaborate or overly expensive.

Here are a few basic winter gardening concepts:
  1. The cornerstone of Eliot's process is the "double-cover." Take an unheated greenhouse which serves as the first cover. And then place a lightweight row-cover over the crop. The insulating layer is the double-cover. it can increase the temperature near the plant by 25+ degrees!
  2. Focus on growing cold-hardy vegetables like salad greens and root crops. The matriarchs of the bunch are spinach and arugula. But leafy greens in general are the mainstay: mache, claytonia, endive, escarole, minutina, lettuces, watercress, parsley, raddichio, sorrel, mizuna, Asian greens, as well as chard, collards and kale. Other go-to winter crops include carrots, leeks, broccoli, garlic, radishes, turnips, beets, potatoes and kohlrabi.
  3. Strict planting schedules and crop rotations play an intregal role. Seeds must be planted well in advance of the first frost so plants can get established and keep producing throughout the winter. The bewitching hour is 10-hours of daylight. Once we fall below 10-hours/day, plant growth slows down. But by the time the last of the winter crops have been harvested in February, the clock has turned and we've rounded the corner and have started to exceed 10-hours of daylight. Crop rotations ensure that what comes out goes back in by enriching the depleted soil with nutrients from a different crop family each planting. There are 13 crop families!

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Inexpensive low-tunnels can still utilize double-covers

Eliot reminded the audience of a scene in the movie, The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman, "My hope is that one day, a respected elder will take a promising young graduate aside and say, son...I've got one word for you, farming!" He believes in what he is selling and the future that small-scale farming can offer our communities, economy and environment through 4-season growing!

 
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Composting windrows at Full Circle Compost in Minden, NV
I wrote this article for the Rodale Institute. Start it here but finishing reading it there. It just got posted to their website today!

In an effort to overcome the economic downturn and scarcity of available jobs, many Americans are seeking opportunities in ecologically-minded businesses. Green tech and organic farming are two communities that have experienced continued growth in this era of corporate belt-tightening. Another industry is on the rise, albeit a less visible one: Regional composting facilities.

More than 600 compost facilities are registered with the US Composting Council. According to a 2010 report by BioCycle, a national composting and renewable energy magazine, there were more than 2,000 composting facilities in just the thirty states it polled. With stats like that, estimates could well exceed 4,000 nationwide. Some are fledgling businesses, while others are established businesses. But, if we are going to wean ourselves off synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we are going to need a lot more compost to apply to our crops and fields. Regional composting facilities provide the answer.

...Read the rest of the article on the Rodale Institute website: Click Here!


 
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CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO!
As genetically modified (GM) crops become more and more ubiquitous covering thousands of acres nationwide, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid them in our food.  It’s still food so what’s the big deal? The big deal is...little is still known about the long-term exposure to these Frankenstein seeds. They waltzed through the approval process under the first Bush administration and now that they are in the hands of biotech giants like Monsanto, it is near impossible to get the seeds and test them. And those scientists who succeed are often discredited. Monsanto prefers to do the testing themselves and report their findings. Where’s the logic in that? Next, we’ll have criminals trying themselves in court.

In California, however, a group of food advocates have formed The Committee for the Right to Know. They have prepared an initiative for the November 2012 ballot which states, "The purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods." 

Robert Kenner, filmmaker of FOOD, Inc. just released a short video called, "Labels Matter" which he produced in partnership with another GMO label advocacy group, Just Label It (visit their website and sign the national petition!). The video is part of Kenner's Fix Food Project which is a social medium platform to empower Americans to take immediate action to create a more sustainable and democratic food system. One of the first films I saw that talked about GMO's was a short video that went viral in 2007 by Free Range Studios called, Mouth Revolution. Check it out!

Some will say that genetically modified seeds are helping to feed the world by making seeds more available. But people have been saving seeds for thousands of years. Genetically engineered seeds are fixing a problem that isn't broken. Ironically, GMO's are what break the system because they perpetuate chemical intensive, environmentally harmful, conventional farming practices.  But like so many things today, success is only measured when a process is industrialized and centralized. Seeds, the smallest thing in our food system, is not spared. Big agri-business wants to control it all. GMO’s aren't so much about making seeds more readily available as they are about streamlining the business to create a super seed that is weed and pest resistant. We don’t need a battery of tests to tell us that if a seed has built-in capabilities to combat pests that we are more or less eating rat poison.

Here are some interesting facts I learned in an October 2011 issue of Better Nutrition:
  1. 80% of corn is genetically modified. And corn in all its shapes and sizes are in just about every processed food.
  2. Even if you can avoid corn, try avoiding sugar. Most sugar, whether cane sugar or from sugar beets, is genetically engineered. 
  3. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, patients are probably seeing negative health effects right now from GM foods but their doctors don’t realize that GM foods may be to blame. 
  4. Of the little research that has been published, infertility and reproductive problems are the two biggest health risks found in animal research. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine also found health concerns involving the immune system, gastrointestinal problems, cholesterol problems and disruption of insulin. The later makes you wonder if that has anything to do with the rise in Type II Diabetes. Coincidence?
  5. The European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and even China require labeling on all food containing GMO’s so consumers can make informed decisions. What a novel idea!
In 2001, an ABC News poll found 93% of people said that GM food should be labeled. Ten years later, a MSNBC poll found that that figure hadn’t dropped but increased to 96%. As the California committee’s name suggests, “We have a right to know.” And people want to know! As the nation comes together in solidarity around this issue, we are collectively asserting our food sovereign rights to decide how our food is produced. Join the uprising, sign the petition and send a mouthful to the FDA.