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Bill Kelly w/ Joel Salatin inside the Growing Dome at the Truckee Community Farm.
Last month, the Tahoe Food Hub had the fortune of co-hosting a lecture with the famed farmer, Joel Salatin. Joel was featured in Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma and in documentaries like FRESH and Food, Inc. Joel came to North Lake Tahoe as part of Squaw Valley Institute's "Uncommon Speaker Series."

Prior to his evening lecture to a SOLD-OUT crowd of 500 people, the Tahoe Food Hub held its first fundraiser with a lunch for 40 people at PlumpJack Cafe in Squaw Valley. I had the honor of getting to introduce Joel. Most everyone in attendance was familiar with Joel's efforts to help people think more clearly about our food system. So a formal introduction was not really necessary. But as I told our guests, "I will probably never going to get a chance like this again to introduce Mr. Salatin so I was going for it." I was pretty happy with how it turned out and thought I would share an excerpt below...

"Joel Salatin is a 3rd generation farmer and self-proclaimed grass farmer meaning Joel works with his livestock, or teammates as he calls them, to build healthy soil which grows nutrient rich grass which feeds the animals. Its the cultivating of the grass which drives the whole orchestra.

Joel hails from Polyface Farms outside Charlottesville, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. Joel is known as much for his sustainable farming practices as his unique mastery of the English language that has captured the ears, minds and hearts of America. When Joel speaks, it's almost like Spoken Word, language-based performance art. He blends honesty & humor for a common sense approach to understanding our agricultural industry and food system. Because Joel realizes that when we are smiling and happy, we are more prone to listen allowing the words to seep deeper and take root. His back porch style breeds an environment of cooperation and collaboration helping unlikely allies realize we all basically want the same thing...a healthy future for our children and our children's children's children! So how are we going to get there? Well Joel is here to tell us how. Please join me in welcoming...Joel Salatin!" (applause)


Joel quotes:
1. "It's all a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models. And it's all aromatically and aesthetically romantic."
2. "Plants and animals should be provided habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig and the chickenness of the chicken is the foundation for societal health."


 
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Photo courtesy of Daphne Hougard
The story of the Tahoe Food Hub has a lot of moving parts and can be hard to capture in a press interview but Laura Brown with the "The Union" in Nevada City/Grass Valley, CA nailed it! We so appreciate her thoughtful reporting and comprehensive coverage of who we are and what we want to do. Below is an excerpt but for the full story, click here.

An emerging nonprofit group called the Tahoe Food Hub is reaching out to foothill farmers in Western Nevada County in an effort to supply restaurants and natural food stores in the Truckee-Tahoe region with fresh, locally grown produce.

If done well, the project has the potential to reduce the headache of marketing and distribution while securing a steady stream of revenue for local agriculture, say some local farmers.  A food hub aggregates food from regional producers, stores it, markets it and distributes it within a local area, according to the Tahoe Food Hub’s website.

“We’re mirroring a national food system but doing it on a regional level,” said Susie Sutphin, co-executive director of the Tahoe Food Hub.

Food hubs help small-scale producers find new markets, provide local communities with healthy, ecologically grown food and educates consumers about the importance of sustainable agriculture and the positive ripple effect of buying local. Read the whole story here...


 
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Photo courtesy of Daphne Hougard
Recently, I've been playing with a soapbox idea about the misunderstanding behind the meaning of CSA. And for good reason...Just the other day, I saw a poster where a farmer was promoting their CSA program but no where on the poster did it explain what CSA meant or stood for.

Why? Because most people associate CSA with meaning "the delivery of a weekly box of vegetables" where a person pays in advance to share in a farmer's risk and celebration of that season's harvest.

But...CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" which is a lot richer and goes lot deeper than just a  vegetable subscription. I'm not knocking veggie box programs and farmers' markets. They are responsible for the sustainble, food movement in this country but its time to take it to the next level and truly support our local agriculture by providing small-scale farms with a variety of distribution models beyond direct-to-consumer but to wholesale markets like restaurants, grocery stores, schools and hospitals. The whole purpose of the food movement is to get regionally produced, ecologically grown food to more people. To do that we have to make it available. Veggie boxes don't work for everyone and farmers' markets are only one day a week. The answer is not more farmers' markets. Farmer's markets require a lot of a farmer's time and money. And only 5% of people shop at farmers' markets. We need to get good food in more places everyday! By opening up wholesale markets to farmers and ranchers, we start to build a regional food system and we  rely on what's available within 100-150 miles. Small farms can't compete on price and volume in a national food system but they can compete on a regional level. It creates new opportunity for them, more healthy food for us and money circulates locally for stronger, more resilient economies.

...That was meant to be an introduction for an article I wrote about how veggie box programs kick-started the food movement. It just hit newsstands in the recent issue of edible Reno-Tahoe. Read the article, "Behind the Box" by clicking here. When I was writing the article, it got me thinking about this misunderstanding of CSA's. I've developing this theory "behind CSA's" ever since. And I've realized that the essence of "Community Supported Agriculture" is building a regional food system. Similar to what we are doing at the Tahoe Food Hub. The introduction above is really the third development of this theory. The second draft appeared on the food blog Handpicked Nation on January 3rd.

 
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Drawing by: Jana Vanderhaar w/ verdantconnections.com
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Tahoe Food Hub interns: Taylor Wood & Jaynie Miller
Last week,the Tahoe Food Hub tabled at its first event giving deadline for our first banner, stickers and promo materials including the lovely foodshed map featured above.

The drawing is definitely Richard Scarry inspired. In fact, some of the buildings are actual structures found in the books. Like many, Richard Scarry drawings captured my attention for hours as a kid teaching me about how the world works and interacts. And when looking for the best way to help conceptualize the Tahoe Foodshed, I knew exactly where to turn.

A foodshed is often compared to a watershed because they usually share the same footprint....food grows where water flows! A watershed represents where a community gets its water. Likewise, a foodshed represents the local area where a community sources its food.  In the map, you'll see how the Truckee and Yuba Rivers lead Tahoe to its regional food sources. Key components of a foodshed include productive farmland, food distribution, waste disposal, processing facilities as well as food wholesalers and retailers. For non-food producing areas like North Lake Tahoe, a foodshed creates partnerships with food abundant neighbors who grow food year-round within 150-miles.

The goal of the map is to visually represent the role of the Tahoe Food Hub by putting it in relation to its foodshed. The map distills the efforts of a formal foodshed assessment which compares the food needs of a community with its food production capabilities. Foodshed assessments also display the social, economic and environmental benefits of consuming food within that foodshed. A foodshed assessment for North Lake Tahoe evaluates the potential to feed the North Lake Tahoe area from ecological growers within a 150-mile range of Truckee, CA both stimulating the economies of surrounding communities and increasing Tahoe’s food security and access to healthier, sustainably-grown food.

If every community evaluated the bio-capacity of its foodshed to source as much food regionally and rely less on the national food system...we would increase food security, create more equitable food policy, and see the benefits that sustainable farming methods can have on our health, economy and environment. We don't have to be so far removed from our food. Understanding our foodshed brings us closer so we can make better decisions about where our food comes from so we can still have our coffee and chocolate but without trucking things like eggs, milk and greens which can be produced locally year-round. Feed the world one community at a time! 

 
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Recently, I was asked to be a guest blogger for Handpicked Nation, an authentic food & farm site. I wandered around in a field of possible stories and settled on one of my hot new topics...the realization that  CSA doesn't stand for a "weekly box of veggies" but rather "community supported agriculture." And what does it mean to help farmers get their food to market before it gets to your fork. Below is an excerpt from the article and for the complete article click here.

“Farm-to-Table” has recently become a buzzy catchphrase. It has done a wonderful job of promoting the harvests of small-scale farms and helping people conceptualize a local food system. But before food can go from farm-to-table, it has to get to market. And that can be a huge step for a lot of small-scale farmers.

Many farmers have great business and marketing skills but all lack time; the time to get their food to market. It takes a lot of energy and money to cultivate and maintain retail relationships, develop and disseminate promotional materials for direct-to-consumer programs, not to mention the travel required to attend farmers’ markets. Infrastructure needs to be established to help small-scale farmers get over this hurdle. And food hubs provide this opportunity. They not only help farmers get over the farm-to-market hurdle but help the sustainable food movement get over the proverbial Big Ag hurdle.

For the complete article go to Handpicked Nation...


 
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The recent issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe just came out. I have an article in there about how the Growing Dome got its start and how one was lucky enough to land in Tahoe so I could be its farm manager. Here is the intro but for the whole article, click here.

As community members across the country become more focused on their food security (not only as a way to improve access to ecologically grown food, but also to improve their local economy), they must evaluate their foodshed. Discerning local food enthusiasts should look at where their food is sourced but, more importantly, how food can be grown in their region.

Thanks to special growing structures and four-season growing methods, even those living in mountain climates now can grow food. These special growing structures aren't just ordinary greenhouses; they are geodesic dome-shaped greenhouses manufactured by Udgar and Puja Parsons of Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs, Colo.
For the complete article, please visit Edible Reno-Tahoe.


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IN OTHER NEWS...me and my business partner, Eve McEneaney, filed the Articles of Incorporation for the Tahoe Food Hub last week. In order to expedite the process, we drove to Sacramento to file in person. We could have mailed it in, but filing in person made for a much more momentous occasion. It was an exciting day putting us one step closer to helping build a regional food system for Lake Tahoe.

 
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Tom Philpott is one of my most favorite food and agriculture writers. I first started reading his stories when he was at Grist.org. The other day, a friend forwarded me his May 2012 article in Mother Jones entitled, "Economies of Kale."

Catchy name aside, this article contains the meat and potatoes of how a regional food system can single-handedly stimulate local economies. For example...bookstores and clothing stores most often have to buy their goods from far away but food can, and should, be sourced locally. When sourced locally, $.45 of every dollar stays in the greater region versus a measly $.15 when spent at chain stores. Studies have shown that when money circulates locally, economies become stronger because there is more sales tax revenue which stimulates the economy.

In the article, Tom quotes, economist, Ken Meter. I had a brief encounter with Ken a few months ago but I had no idea he was so well-known in the field. It was during an ice breaker exercise at a Slow Food  conference this past April! I had all of 60-seconds to introduce myself but knew enough from his introduction to get his business card. He has since been a tremendous help in gathering data for our North Tahoe foodshed assessment.

 
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Spring Bounty
Nothing gets me more fired up then a farm tour. Yesterday I traveled to North San Juan outside of Nevada City, CA to pick-up veggies from Mountain Bounty Farm for our annual Slow Food Lake Tahoe fundraiser.

Mountain Bounty Farm is Tahoe's largest CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) with close to 400 veggie shares. Owner, John Tecklin, is also a big supporter of all things Slow Food managing a 15-acre, organic farm.

For a budding farmer, I soaked up everything John was saying as we toured the rolling fields inquiring about planting tips, trellising ideas and crop suggestions. I was enamored by the abundance. Acres and acres of food popping out of the ground. It was glorious! No better time to be on a farm than late Spring...everything is so green and a cool breeze still lingers in the air before the dog days of summer settle in. As we passed by a row of lettuces, John volunteered the role a food hub could play in his business. I was delighted to hear his interest...John is a successful direct-to-consumer farmer not needing to depend on other retail markets to make a living. As much as I want a farmer like John to participate in the food hub, a part of me thought he may not have the need. On the contrary!

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John Tecklin - Mountain Bounty Farm, North San Juan Ridge, CA
He may not need a food hub to make a living but it is not to say he doesn't have food to contribute or that he doesn't see an opportunity to make a little more money...He points to the row of lettuce and says, " See this crop here, we will harvest it tomorrow but we only need 2/3 of it. The rest will get turned under as green manure. My first priority is my obligation to deliver quality, on-time produce to my customers not to manage the wasted food. But it kills me to see it go uneaten,"

John plants six successions of crops in a summer. That way he has a new crop to harvest every two weeks. He has to plant enough in each succession to factor in crop failure, low yields and last minute orders. But when the crop comes in full and healthy, what do you do with the surplus?

He doesn't have orders lined up for surplus. Nor is it cost effective to call around trying to sell a few heads here and a few heads there to area restaurants. But one call to a food hub and that's 1000 more heads of lettuce in the regional food system and $750 more in the bank account of a small farmer. It affirmed even more the necessity of a food hub...to rescue the food that goes unharvested.

When we talk about feeding the world, we don't need to look much further than the amount of food wasted in this country. The average hovers around 40%. As we just saw, the waste starts on the farm. Once at market and after it pasts its sell-by-date, it gets thrown away. What makes it home, often times doesn't get eaten and spoils. If we just learned to manage our food better, we could feed a lot more people. And organic farmers like John Tecklin are proving you can grow strong yields sustainably. Combined with a food hub to help move food through a community more equitably and we've solved a lot more than one farmer's dilemma!

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Billy McCullough - owner/chef, Dragonfly Restaurant
A COUPLE SIDE STORIES...

Side Story #1: On the drive home, NPR's Neil Cohen was interviewing first lady, Michelle Obama on Talk of the Nation. It couldn't have been more timely. Until listening to her, I was starting to think her backyard garden, school lunch and Let's Move campaigns were little more than green washing. But hearing her speak, helped me see how genuine she is in her quest. She talked about the initial transition that she made with her family from processed foods to whole, natural and real foods. It wasn't easy but they did it together. They worked in the garden together, went to farmer's markets together and experimented in the kitchen together. By including her kids in the process and not just making them eat their broccoli, they transformed.

Kids are adaptable! They aren't callused with years of poor diets like adults whose eating habits are hard to breakdown. They can change and they can help lead the change. With the parents involved, the kids will change and they will be hardwired to lead healthier lifestyles. "It starts with the kids," Michelle commented.

My favorite part of the interview was an anecdote she shared from a garden class she had at the White House, "I asked the kids, would you water your plants with soda? And they all crinkled their noses, shook their heads and said no! I reminded them, we are living organisms too just like those plants. What you feed the plants, like our own bodies, affects how it grows." Hearing her retell the story, gave me goose pimples just thinking about all the light bulbs that were going off in the brains of those little kids standing in that garden on the front lawn.

Side Story #2: To bring the conversation full circle, and then I will close...tonight at the Slow Food event mentioned earlier, "Cooking Outside the Box, "Chef Billy McCullough of Dragonfly Restaurant in Truckee, CA, took the veggies of Mountain Bounty Farm's CSA box and created the most delicious and simple recipes."Many of my recipes include just five, whole ingredients. I like to keep it basic and let the flavors shine," he said.

Six tastings were paired with local wines for people to savor. He blew everyone away with samples of scalloped turnips and curried carrot salad but the showstopper of the night was the thin slivers of golden beets stuffed like raviolis with herbed, goat, cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar and dressed with fresh arugula! Oh my goodness!

As he addressed the crowd during his cooking demo, he advocated for the importance of good, clean and fair food. "We are co-producers of our food! The choices we make drives what is produced. Safeway didn't start carrying organic because they wanted to save the world. They did it because they saw a business opportunity. There was a demand for better, healthier, more ecologically grown. By embracing our role in the produce what we eat, we can change the way food is grown.

 
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For the past four months I’ve been taking a leadership class to gain related skills, learn more about my community and network with other, local professionals. It is hosted by the North Tahoe Business Association. For five weeks, we heard from different keynote speakers from all parts of the region and reviewed the critical elements of being a good leader such as reading Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It is a must read for pretty much anybody because whether you are a leader or a member of a team, you’ll be more effective in your role; guaranteed! It’s a fast and entertaining read.

When I first learned about the program, I was intrigued because I heard that participants broke into groups to work on projects. And those projects were submitted by people and businesses in the community with a need. Knowing their efforts would be implemented on the receiving end gave team members an incentive to be invested and deliver a good product or proposal.

At first, I thought I would just submit a proposal for doing a foodshed assessment – an analysis of community’s food source and needs. What ended up happening was even better…I enrolled and took the class. I still got to pitch my idea and with the help of my team redesigned the original plan into something a little more manageable…a business plan for a Tahoe Food Hub!

The business plan would still start with much of the same primary research of a foodshed assessment but would end with a tangible goal where as a foodshed assessment leaves the question, “Now what?” After some discussion, it was apparent that a foodshed assessment was just a means to the same end so why not just go for the prize. It was a food hub we were after. So we began interviewing farmers, ranchers, restaurants, grocery stores, schools and hospitals to ensure there was a need an interest.

A food hub would leverage Tahoe’s close proximity to year-round food production. Something not even Iowa can boast. It would begin to build a regional food system with small farms and ranches that normally cannot compete in the wholesale market. With the help of a food hub, the harvests of say 10 small farms could be coordinated and aggregated to meet the demand of wholesale buyers. In creating a more equitable supply chain, small food producers are supported and Tahoe secures access to local, sustainably grown food.

We completed the first phase of the business plan by graduation day; which by the way was yesterday! With the foundation now laid, the financials and operational plan can be finished and next steps taken moving us closer to our proposed opening date of fall 2013. One of our main deliverables was an informational website to generate a buzz during the planning phase. I am proud to present the Tahoe Food Hub. Enjoy!

 
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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.