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...

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! 

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!

Building blocks to a Sustainable Food Community
I've often referred to my independent study on sustainable food systems as my un-accredited PhD program. Over the past seven months, I've handcrafted an education program that brought together learning experience and opportunities that would be the most meaningful to me...interning on organic farms, taking short courses and workshops and interviewing experts in the field.

Last night, I had the chance to present my findings and solutions for building a sustainable food community at the Tools for the Table speaker series in Truckee hosted by the Genesa Living Foundation. It felt like I was defending my thesis but fortunately, the audience took it easy on me and didn't challenge my proposal ;)

The pyramid to the left sums up my theory in a nutshell. To have a sustainable food system, you must have the building blocks to support it. First, you need a foodshed assessment in order to measure your community's food security against its dependence on the national food system. A foodshed assessment will provide a food policy council the information they need to develop a food plan for their society. The formation of a regional food hub will provide a market which will encourage more local food production. And those new food producers will be born from farmer and specialty-food incubator programs.

Once there is a solid foundation, equity will start to be seen in the supply chain starting with the grower all the way to the consumer. As more land is put into agricultural production and partnerships are developed with food, abundant, regional neighbors, the community will become more food secure. Financial incentives which encourage consumers and businesses to spend money locally will be implemented to build the regional food system. Regional networks  keeps money circulating locally. When money stays local it stimulates the local economy to make it more prosperous and resilient. Whatcha get is a sustainable food community!

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!