what you do matters

Sometimes you get the shell of a popcorn kernel stuck in your tooth and it hurts a little but mostly just annoys you until you can take a moment to floss it away. I have one of those kernels stuck in my brain. Recently I had a conversation with someone in my life who tends to lean toward the ignorant. I’d say to the right, but it isn’t so much to the right as it is to the empty and meaningless arguments of certain so-called ‘news’ programs.

This current annoying kernel involves personal responsibility. He believes that it doesn’t matter what he does, what any one of us does, as none of us has any effect on the bigger picture or the world at large. So when he tosses his old batteries and fluorescent lamps into the landfill it’s okay. And if he chooses not to do his part to reduce, re-use and recycle, that’s okay too. Someone else will fix it.

People that choose to believe they play no part in the good and bad around them are frustrating to say the least. Lucky for the rest of us there are plenty of good people doing good things for the good of all. When I think about the people who are doing their part to better their own corner or maybe even the whole world, it’s like mental floss to that annoying little kernel.

Our School at Blair Grocery

We are headed back to New Orleans to introduce our music loving son to the city. And to the fighting spirit that infuses so many of its people. People like Nat Turner, a transplant from New York, who has been working nearly a decade to create a self sufficient food, learning and youth empowerment community in the lower ninth ward. Whatever you may think about the lower ninth ward and whether or not it should be re-built, there are people who live there, people without much money, who need to eat. And people whose children need to learn. Nat Turner has fought the system and even his own staff to turn what was once a grocery store under water into a place to feed the body, nourish the soul and teach the heart. And squeeze some math, english and social studies in along the way.

food security

But this is really only the beginning. Modeling food security is at least one of Turner’s end games. We are a country rich in resources but very poor at sharing them equally, or sometimes even at all. At OSBG, Turner is not gardening for fun or to teach his students to plant their own little back garden. He is teaching them to garden for production, to sell what they grow and to live on what they sell. One of the teachings he shared with me several years ago was that you can make a better living selling tomatoes than selling crack. Once you add together the cost of attorneys, downtime while you’re in jail, and whatever cost is involved in purchasing drugs to sell, tomatoes are a more lucrative product. So teaching kids to grow tomatoes creates a better opportunity than what the guy down the street might be offering. If this can work in the lower ninth, it could work somewhere else.

changing the world

Recently, filmmaker Ian Midgley introduced Turner and OSBG to a man, Dr. Marcin Jakubowski, who makes large equipment and shares his designs online. For free. OSBG could use some farm equipment. Jakubowski needed some help pushing his ideas forward and out into the world. The duo could be a powerful force. So Midgley made a movie about the two of them called Reversing the Mississippi. As the movie trailer says…‘If one person can make a difference, can two people change the world?

what you do matters

Every one of us creates an impact…like a pebble dropped into a pond. The ripples are strongest closest to where the pebble falls, but they extend far beyond. To believe otherwise is just plain laziness. I may not be able to single handedly fix the whole world, but I can make my little piece of it a little better. So can you.

Next month I’ll be digging in the dirt at Our School at Blair Grocery with Turner, my son and my husband. They always need extra hands on the ground. Drop in if you’re in the neighborhood…but call first!

Keep in touch,


food…waste not want not



My friend Watson mentioned that October 16 is World Food Day and that the focus this year is on family farming and food waste reduction. So I did a little research. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, founded October 16, 1945, celebrates its founding every year with World Food Day and each year picks a particular theme. The theme for World Food Day 2014 is ‘Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth’. And The UN General Assembly has designated 2014 ‘International Year of Family Farming.‘ According to the FAO, ‘It focuses world attention on the significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, in particular in rural areas.’ 


According to Oxfam, our planet produces enough food to feed every person. But much of that food goes to landfill as waste. So, what to do? Here are a few suggestions if you want to begin at home (because where else can you begin?) to reduce your own food waste. And no, eating your peas won’t save that child in (fill in the blank) from hunger, but if we don’t buy it and waste it here, the resources and investment to grow it might be used elsewhere. This awareness is the beginning of change.

  • Grow something: a tomato plant, herbs, an apple tree. Get to know where food comes from, eat what you grow, share with your neighbors. And come to understand what grows in your area. Buy most of your food when it is in season (hard to do with chocolate, coffee and coconut if you live in northern California, I know….you don’t need to go crazy). You will waste less if you limit your buying to what is seasonal.
  • Buy glass containers or save glass jars for storage. Not only does your food look more appetizing, but you can actually see it! If you store food in plastic it’s harder to keep track of.
  • Make smoothies. Most anything that grows can go in a smoothie.
  • Get a veggie and/or fruit box from a local CSA and plan your meals around the week’s delivery. It’s like getting a present every week complete with recipes. Here’s a link to my CSA. This will get you $10 off (and I get a credit as well….full disclosure). The CSA I’ve been buying from for years is called Farm Fresh to You and is run by the Barsotti brothers who learned farming from their mom, Kathleen Barsotti, who, along with her husband Martin Barnes, bought land in 1976 when they were still grad students at UC Davis. They learned to farm, raised a farming family and now their boys are raising their families in the same manner. Not only are they providing food, they are providing jobs and tending the land in a manner that will allow it to produce food for generations to come. If you decide to join a CSA, get to know them….go visit the farm, read their newsletter, be a vicarious farmer.
  • Check out this English website Love Food Hate Waste for ideas about how to avoid leftovers and what to do with them if you make too much. They even have an app (which I clearly haven’t tried yet…see the next paragraph).
  • We often have lots of food in our fridge from past meals. Since I can’t not make too much food (just deal with the double negative, ok?) one of my family’s favorite dinners is ‘leftover night.’ The easiest meal of the week is the one where I pull out all of the leftovers and everyone chooses what they’d like. This is the only time I’m willing to be my family’s short order cook.

On a larger scale, food waste from restaurants, congregations, farmer’s markets, etc. often ends up in landfill. Here in Marin County we’ve got an organization called Extra Food that picks up larger quantities of food and delivers these leftovers to organizations that feed people in need. They refer to themselves as a ‘food rescue service helping to end hunger and reduce waste in Marin’. Before you scoff, yes, there are plenty of people in need in Marin. Get involved if you want to pick up food, call them if you have food to donate.

Enjoy your version of World Food Day…eat well and consciously and share your bounty.

Keep in touch,

restaurant sustainability….let’s be real


Sustainable, local, organic. SLO food. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Green. We’re all talking the talk, but when it comes to restaurants, do we really walk the walk? Many jurisdictions require some sustainability measures, especially during the start up phase, but what about through the life of the restaurant? Not so much.

photos courtesy

Chicago restaurateur Justin Vrany does walk the walk. His restaurant, Sandwich Me In, in the Lakeview District, was built using all recycled materials and furnishings. His purveyors are all within a 200 mile radius. In the last two years the restaurant has produced only 8 gallons of garbage. Total. And even that was picked up by an artist to reuse. He makes much of his food from scratch rather than purchasing pre-made items that include additional packaging, and he practices beak to bottom usage (from the chicken’s skin to its bones). And yes, there is plenty of meat on his menu….and bacon! According to his customers, they may come for the message but they stay for the food.

Mr. Vrany is proving daily that this can be done and his hope is that others will follow suit. While this may seem like a great deal of work to implement, logic says it will certainly affect your bottom line positively…and isn’t that why we are in business?

We can all do better (well maybe not at Sandwich Me In), and there are plenty of resources to help. Beginning with the design of your restaurant, choose a designer/architect team that understands sustainability (yes, my hand is raised high!). But you can’t stop there. Find a sustainability expert that knows restaurant operations in your area and get help. They can direct you to local purveyors that grow sustainably, high efficiency equipment that uses less power, processes that make the most of energy efficiency like running your ice maker at night rather than during the day, companies that will pick up your used cooking oil to recycle it as automobile fuel, cleaning products and processes that don’t harm the environment and more. And all of this can save you money.

Remembering that the main reason restaurants exist is to feed people, eliminating food waste, which is estimated to be 40% of food production, should be our highest priority once the operation is up and running. Organizations like Food Tank address issues around food, food security and food systems and people like journalist and food waste consultant Jonathan Bloom spread the talk. Check out his book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), below. If we all get involved in the conversation then restaurants can lead the way, rather than being the latecomers to the party.

Okay….putting my soapbox away now. Keep in touch,