Drawing by: Jana Vanderhaar w/ verdantconnections.com
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! 

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...

Christmas Eve harvest @ Truckee Community Farm
As we gather together this happy day and celebrate with a cornucopia of holiday foods, we should pause and assess the seasonality of our winter plates.

Are there eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, berries, or beans at your table? These are warm-weather, summer crops. To help build a sustainable food system, we have a responsibility to be aware of non-seasonal foods. If we don't buy them, then grocery stores won't stock them helping them focus on seasonal foods which are often accessible within  regions 150-250 miles away versus 1500 miles.

Yesterday, the Growing Dome at the Truckee Community Farm produced an 8lb harvest of leafy greens: arugula, curly kale, Siberian kale, Swiss chard, butterleaf lettuce and romaine lettuce.

The aftermath - neatly trimmed rows of greens
Outside was four feet of snow with more in the forecast. Inside, the Growing Dome was busy raising winter veggies keeping them warm like an incubator does for its baby chicks. Other winter crops will soon come into harvest like spinach and mache and a variety of rooted vegetables such as beets, turnips, radishes, carrots, leeks, garlic and potatoes.

Tis' the season to be merry both in our hearts and in our stomachs! Keep the warmth in your thoughts and the cool-hearty foods on your plates.

Defining one's foodshed can mean different things to different people.

I recently became a member of our fabulous, local food co-op in Reno, The Great Basin Community Food Co-op. As a working member, you volunteer to support the paid-staff on duty. A new customer drawn by the colorful exterior of the building came in asking if we sold ONLY local products. I replied, "If there is a local food producer, we sell their products but we do sell other organic and natural items to provide a diverse product offering. And in winter, we pull from the larger foodshed that extends into California." She quickly replied, "I want local, not something from California."

She was making a fantastic first step to become better connected to her food and I didn't want to squelch her enthusiasm by having a debate over what defines local so we focused on finding Northern Nevadan products.

The beautiful, veggie cooler at the the Co-op
The encountered intrigued me...Here are two people with similar aspirations for our food but our different perspectives could put us at odds. We are obvious teammates but with a different game plan. You see this a lot in politics. A political party could be a fragment of several camps each with their own agenda. If we all work independently, we'll never get anywhere. The food movement is no different. In order to move the ball further, we need to come together in solidarity and find common ground on the issues which define the movement.

We've all found ourselves in a situation where your passion for something goes too far to prove a point driving an even bigger wedge between you and the person you are trying to have a conversation with. The intention was good but the delivery was wrong. What is the best way to facilitate healthy, productive and supportive dialogue that is inclusive of each other's opinions? I think listening has a lot to do with it! I get so excited about food stuff sometimes that I practically throw up all over people with my organicy, regional, sustainability. I'm trying to get better...at first taking a deep breath, asking some questions and listening. This is especially handy when talking with people who are total newbies at making conscious food decisions. Too quick to convert, and we may lose them so we need to be respectful and play to their food interests.

The question for the woman I met may have been, "Where do you get things that aren't local?" Even that has a twinge of condescension but it's a good question. And it begs us to look to the larger foodshed we are either apart of or connected too. I live in Tahoe. Tahoe straddles the Sierra Nevada range. The Truckee River drops east into Reno and The South Yuba River drops west to the Pacific Ocean flowing through Sacramento. It provides a unique opportunity, one denied to most people in the United Sates, the ability to eat year-round within 150-200 miles of our home. We are blessed!

Last week, I attended an invigorating meeting with the Local Food Network of Reno. I was so impressed by the amount of work that has already been done to map out the region and identify key initiatives for the volunteer-based organization. I was in dynamic company. We looked at food production, distribution, education, outreach and available  resources in the area. We examined each category on three scales...neighborhood, metropolitan and regional foodshed. It was brilliant! And a perfect visual to demonstrate how to procure your food when trying to shop local...Start by fulfilling food needs as close to home as possible. When needs can no longer be meet within your neighborhood, evaluate their importance and move to the next ring for options, the greater metropolitan area. As more needs arise, you'll explore the entire region for availability and discover the connection to the larger foodshed. Along the way, you'll reach thresholds as well as make exceptions for goods purchased further away. But hopefully not too far ;)

Tahoe is a high food security risk with its short growing season. We rely heavily on our Reno, Sierra Foothill and Sacramento partners to feed us. The rivers which flow east to west from Tahoe connect us. Watershed like foodshed! My foodshed!

Sexy, isn't she? This is the Somat Pulper 3000. Okay, it's just called the Somat Pulper but 3000 better describes its powers. It looks like a widget maker but this little beauty gives a whole new meaning to "it slices, it dices." Feed it a mixture of food scraps and paper products and it will excrete a pulpy slurry that can be used in farming and garden compost. It's being used by institutions like schools, corporate dining rooms, hospitals, etc. that want to reclaim their food waste. Not only does it save them money at the dump but it is good for the earth too.

No, I didn't see it on a rerun of Home Improvement with Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor - although it is right up his alley - but I did see it an unveiling yesterday at Oberlin College's dining hall. It was the inaugural demonstration. Oohs and aahhs went up from those in attendance as the waste went in and even smaller waste spat out. The water used to process the waste is recycled versus being flushed down the drain like a conventional, garbage disposal. The Pulper can handle not only fruits and vegetables but also meat, dairy, napkins, cardboard, paper plates and even the bones. Typically, meat and dairy can't go in regular composting projects because there is not enough heat generated to break them down. But with the pulper, everything gets pulverized allowing the meat and dairy to decompose easier requiring less heat. The process is speed up even faster when composting with earthworms known as vermiculture. The relationship between Oberlin College and George Jones Memorial Farm where I work is the ultimate closed loop...food comes in from George Jones to the college cafe and then goes back as vermiculture compost. Pretty nifty!

I haven't visited a college dining hall since i graduated in 1992. Boy, have things come a long way. Felt more like a restaurant than a cafeteria. I realize that Oberlin is not indicative of most colleges but it is a good model to follow. In advance of the pulper's arrival, Oberlin initiated two policies to make students more aware of how much food is wasted when they take more than will be eaten...first, food scraps were collected and weighed in effort to challenge students to reduce their food waste and second, trays were removed so students could take only what they could carry. Programs like this were the collaborative brain child of both Oberlin staff and their ecologically conscious dining service, Bon Appetit Management.

The dining hall is called a "cafe" versus a "cafeteria" to suggest an eating experience instead of just a feeding. Bon Appetit creates a space where food can be appreciated...recessed and natural light, appetizing displays and stories about the food and where it comes from - as pictured here with Executive Chef, Dean Holliday. Dean told me how the college sources 23% of their food locally. "Local" is defined by Oberlin as food purchased within 150 miles or from companies smaller than $5 million. In addition to George Jones and other area farms there is a campus garden and a kitchen garden for easy, on-site picking. To get local food in the off-season, they enlist the technology of companies like CIFT which can flash freeze vegetables such as beans, peas, strawberries and more during the summer/fall harvest which can later be enjoyed in winter months. It's frontier days meets the 21st century!

I could write a whole blog just by what I saw and learned on my orientation day at the farm. If it is any indication of what's to come, it is going to exceed all expectations. I arrived to the smell of bacon cooking and I was invited to sit down at the kitchen table with Shanan and her two small boys, Dylan-8 and Spencer-7, who are both home schooled. We talked about what it means to "believe in what you are doing." For the CSA shareholder (community supported agriculture), it means joining for more than just because everyone else is doing it. Ask yourself, "why you are member?" And are you conscious in other aspects of your lifestyle? Abbondonza went from 350 shares to 30 shares in an effort to redefine what it means to be a shareholder. For the organic farmer, they have to constantly remind themselves why they got into the business and keep believing in those convictions. It's not an easy balance to strike when weighing the finances. For instance, most organic farmers in Colorado import their starters (lettuce, greens, etc.) from California because it is too expensive to have an on-site nursery. That means that even though you think your food is local, it is still traveling over 1000 miles. To help correct this, Abbondanza is in the seed business and starting to provide "starters" for local farmers so they don't have to outsource from so far away. Farmers educating farmers. That my friends is the wave of the future!