Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012-01-03 "Grant aims for better food for low-income people" by HEATHER HACKING
More fruits, nuts and veggies in local hands is the goal of a new $500,000 grant awarded to Chico State University.
Specifics of the program include more community gardens, cooking classes and better access to healthful food for low-income buyers.
The grant was awarded by the specialty crop program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funding is part of $55 million delivered nationwide, including $18.6 million in California.
Julie Estep, of Adept Professionals, wrote the grant, combining ideas she had gathered from people working in food and nutrition.
One aspect will be expanding current programs that allow use of EBT cards (food stamps) at local farmers markets. When these funds are spent locally, it increases the market share for local growers, and also helps people eat better, Estep explained.
Lower-income people tend to eat more grain-based, processed foods because they're less expensive. But fresh fruits and vegetables are important in tackling obesity, she continued.
Building markets for local foods will allow growers to expand and compete with larger producers. The goal is that local food, of which there is plenty, could provide for local schools, restaurants, hospitals and grocery stores, Estep said.
Lee Altier of the College of Agriculture and director of the Organic Vegetable Project, will host field days at the University Farm. He'll also help people form more community gardens.
Especially for people who are low-income, growing their own food and buying local tends to lead to better eating, Altier said.
Altier said the hope is to find people willing to start, and maintain, more local gardens, including working with GRUB (Growing Resourcefully, Uniting Bellies,
Karen Goodwin, a nutrition education specialist, will head up cooking demonstrations, including use of a cooking cart she'll take to schools and other events.
Those involved with the grant will also form a group that will continue to look at the nutritional needs of the community.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

 2011-12-27 "Hyper-local markets provide big economic boost" by Stacy Finz from "San Francisco Chronicle"
In 1997, only 70 people were employed at businesses on the block of 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero streets in San Francisco. Today, when California's unemployment rate is nearing 12 percent, there are 400 jobs.
Many in the city credit Bi-Rite Market, a specialty grocery store, with fueling the neighborhood's economy, not just by bringing other businesses to the street but by supporting other Bay Area companies.
"Our (mission statement) is knowing the person behind the product, and having them be local makes that possible," said Kirsten Bourne, marketing director at Bi-Rite. "Surely we sell Italian wines and French cheeses. But as much as possible we go with local."

Model of the future -
Michael Shuman - an economist, author and research director for Cutting Edge Capital, an Oakland company that specializes in innovative financing - calls a business such as Bi-Rite a "community food enterprise" and says it's the model of the future.
So-called CFEs are locally owned, employ locals, and use mostly local goods and services.
"There's good evidence to show that CFEs generate more jobs - two to four times the amount per dollar of sales - and generate more income and wealth for (their) communities than non-locally owned businesses, even ones that source goods from the area," said Shuman, whose report "Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in the World Marketplace" shows how these types of businesses grow local economies while becoming more competitive globally.
The report was issued by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and the Wallace Center at Winrock International and studied 24 local food enterprises across the country, including Swanton Berry Farm in Santa Cruz County.
 While Bi-Rite was not part of the study, it fits the mold. The San Francisco grocer uses local printers, local sign makers and local designers, and 90 percent of its employees live within walking or biking distance of the market.
 The store is well known for supporting and promoting regional purveyors - everything from produce and chocolate to jams and barbecue sauces. Last year it spent $6.9 million doing business with small companies, most of them from Northern California, according to owner Sam Mogannam.

Food startups take off -
 And the cycle continues. Last year Bi-Rite started showcasing Michele Manfredi's SFQ Original San Francisco-style Barbecue Sauce in its store when her company was a tiny startup and she did everything by hand.
SFQ is still fairly small, but now Manfredi can afford to outsource her kitchen work, jarring and label making. She could probably save money by scouring the Internet for cheap labor, cheap jars and even cheaper labels.
But she's decided to go regional - most of her ingredients are sourced in the Bay Area, her jars are from an Oakland company, her labels are from Napa, and her preparation and jarring are done in Healdsburg.
 "I looked even closer to home," she said. "But it was a challenge finding someone to work with a small producer."
Dafna Kory of Inna Jam, a Berkeley company, also sells her fruit spreads at Bi-Rite and 49 other specialty markets, mostly in Northern California. Kory's philosophy is simple - the ingredients for her jams have to come from within 100 miles of her kitchen. She said she spends about $50,000 a year just on produce.
"It's hard to be a farmer," she said. "As a high-volume buyer - I'll buy 30 flats of strawberries at a time - they're able to sell to me without a distributor and that means more profit for them, which enables them to pick longer and keep pickers on their payroll."
Kory also buys her jars locally, rents commercial kitchen space in Berkeley, and employs 10 people from the East Bay during her jamming season. She's not making a big dent in the unemployment rate, but she only launched last year.
"I've already had to quadruple my production this year to keep up with demand," she said, adding that she produced 30,000 jars of jam this year. "Next year I plan on having year-round staff."
Kathleen Merrigan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the government values local food businesses so much that it's willing to help with the cost of doing business.
In fact, Congress has mandated that 5 percent of the money set aside for the USDA's Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program go to farmers who sell their products regionally.
 There's a good reason for it, she said.
 "Studies show that farmers who sell locally and regionally employ 13 full-time workers per $1 million revenue earned," she said. "Farmers who don't sell locally or regionally employ three workers for every $1 million in revenue earned."
 Economists suspect that local sales require more employees to work farmers' markets and fruit stands and to deliver to local stores. Because it fuels the market - a 2009 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship study showed that farmers' markets in that state pumped more than $71 million into the economy - the USDA is committed to farmers who practice the model.

Guaranteed loan -
That's why when Watson Coast Produce - a wholesale fruit and vegetable company that buys from local farms, distributes to 13 counties in California and has $30 million in annual sales - couldn't get a loan to expand, the USDA stepped in to guarantee a $4.6 million note.
 "We basically left no risk to the bank because we believed in what this company is doing," Merrigan said.
There are dozens of USDA programs through the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative geared toward helping local food businesses, she said.
"This is about jobs, the economy and community vitality," she said. "It's created a renaissance in agriculture and that's very exciting."

Shoppers stock up on produce at the Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco's Mission District. Economists say "community food enterprises" like Bi-Rite benefit their local economies significantly more than a typical non-locally owned business. Photo: Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle

In addition to supporting local food producers, the Bi-Rite Market uses local printers, local sign makers and local designers, and hires workers who live nearby. Photo: Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle

Inna jam, available at Bi-Rite, is made solely from fruit picked within 100 miles of the company's Berkeley headquarters. Photo: Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle

Local organic dried flower bouquets are for sale at the Bi-Rite Market in the Mission District. Photo: Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle

Liz Ryan, of San Francisco, shops the cold section at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, December 14, 2011. The market uses mostly local goods and local services, so their business has added jobs to the neighborhood. Photo: Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011-12-26 "Foragers Mia Andler, Kevin Feinstein, now authors" by Jonah Raskin from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Even the most gentle-looking plant can reach out to bite an unsuspecting forager. In their new book, Mia Andler and Kevin Feinstein offer stern warnings about poisonous plants that can cause death or severe illness.
"The Bay Area Forager: Your Guide to Edible Wild Plants of the San Francisco Bay Area" (Foraging Society Press, 320 pages, $24.95) is filled with descriptions of oleander, camas and poison hemlock that can "paralyze the whole body." For those not deterred by such advisories, the lavishly illustrated guidebook about identifying, cooking and eating plants in the wild is essential to the pursuit.
 Andler and Feinstein are bound by a fierce attachment to the outdoors and have all the necessary credentials to write about it. Andler, 31, comes from Helsinki, where she foraged with her parents when she was a child. She returns home about once a year to forage in the forests not far from the center of her native city.
 "It's normal for Finnish families to forage together," she says. "The countryside is blissful in summer."

To the forest -
When she first moved to the United States, she was stunned to discover that people didn't go into the forests to find food.
Feinstein, 34, grew up in Tennessee playing video games and feasting on TV dinners. He says he "didn't eat fresh fruit from a real live tree" until he was in his 20s. When he moved to Florida to go to college, he embarked on a self-taught crash course in botany. "Almost everything I know is self-taught," he says. "That's how I learn."
He and Andler met in 2008 at an event at TrackersBay - an organization that provides outdoors education, walks and camps in the Bay Area - and discovered they shared a passion for plants and a desire to teach others about the cycles of nature. A year ago, they began to collaborate on their book.
"It's rare to find someone as excited about this stuff as I am," Andler says. "Kevin and I live at opposite ends of the Bay Area - he's in Walnut Creek and I'm in Fairfax. We used to have really long conversations on the phone in which we shared what we knew about plants."
Feinstein says his curiosity about foraged foods was sparked by "My Side of the Mountain," Jean Craighead George's 1959 novel about a New York City kid who learns to live off the land when he runs away from home and hunkers down on his great-grandfather's farm in the Catskill Mountains.
"I was crazy about that book," he says. "But my main teacher has been and still is the woods. I'm ecstatically happy to be out there in the hills, foraging for supper or just eating what I find in the open air."
Like Feinstein, Andler loves to graze - walk, pick and snack on leaves and berries. She says she occasionally harvests "a huge pile of prickly pears" and then figures out "what to do with them."
Both have translated their love of plants and open spaces into paying jobs. Andler takes adults on weekend wild food walks. During the week, she teaches kids in Bay Area schools about birds, herbs, seeds and flowers.
"Kids get really excited about the wild," she says. "It's tangible and immediate and, without prompting from me, they think they were always meant to be in the woods."

ForageSF -
Feinstein, a prominent member of ForageSF, the Bay Area's leading foraging organization, also teaches foraging classes. He started in 2007. Back then, only a handful of people showed up for his classes. By 2009, his classes were full and teaching out in the wild became his full-time business. His blog and videos are well known to Bay Area foragers (
After dispensing warnings about the poisons of the natural world, "The Bay Area Forager" provides descriptions of plants that are nutritious and tasty: the abundant acorn that was once an essential source of protein for Northern California Indians, the powder from cattail heads that can be used to make crepes and pancakes, and clover that provides vitamins similar to C and E. The book lingers over wild onions, wild plums and wild radishes that Feinstein pickles and ends with a section on Yerba Buena, the native plant that means "good herb" in Spanish and was the original name of San Francisco. The mint-like herb can be used medicinally or in teas or cooking.
The color photos make identification of the plants simple. There are also concise descriptions of the physical aspects of each plant; when, where and how to harvest; and how to use. The authors remind readers that foraging is illegal in parks and on private property, and while they don't condone trespassing, they do suggest ingenuity. Rule 1 of the "respectful harvesting ethic": Harvest only if the plant is clearly growing in abundance.
The 50-plus recipes are aimed at gourmet chefs as well as common cooks who want to branch out from store-bought ingredients and experiment with the likes of hawthorn, toyon and western black walnut that Feinstein uses to make vin de noix.
Once a vegetarian turned vegan, Feinstein now eats meat. "My goal is to go on a hunt for wild boar," he says. "I really love how it tastes."

Top picks -
Foraging is illegal in public parks. Mia Andler and Kevin Feinstein urge novices to begin the search for edible plants in their backyards, parking lots or community gardens. It helps to know someone with a farm, orchard or vineyard who will grant free foraging rights.
-- The best acorns are found inland, east of the Caldecott Tunnel or in the dry hills of Marin from September through November.
-- Miner's lettuce and chickweed usually grow together and are abundant during the rainy season in wilderness tracts and along the sides of country roads.
-- Mushrooms grow best in coastal forests after fall and winter rains. They will grow back each season if only the tops are harvested.
-- Nettles like wet areas along the coast, near streams, and can be foraged in winter and spring. Wear gloves to avoid stings from picking the plant.
-- Yerba Buena, which means "good herb" in Spanish, grows abundantly in most Bay Area hills, often under the shade of oak and bay trees, and it's available most of the year.

Kevin Feinstein, who barely ate produce at all growing up in Tennessee, demonstrates his expertise in finding and cultivating thistles during an outing with Mia Andler in the East Bay hills.
Photo: Lance Iversen / The Chronicle

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011-12-25 "California's young farmers break traditional mold" by Stacy Finz from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The average age of a farmer in California is creeping toward 60, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture is trying to attract newcomers to work the land.
The need is especially acute, given that experts are forecasting that the world will have to double its food supply to keep up with a booming population - growing from 7 billion people to 9 billion by 2050. California is a significant player in feeding the globe, providing 12 percent of the nation's agriculture exports.
Farming also is a $37.5 billion business in California, employing 800,000 people. With the average age of the primary farm operator now 58 - nearly 20 percent are 70 or older - it's crucial that the state's farms and ranches get fresh blood, said Karen Ross, California's agriculture secretary.
"We are leaders," she said. "Being one of only five Mediterranean climates in the world, we produce the food - fruits, vegetables and nuts - that have the greatest health benefits."
But how do you convince people that back-breaking work, risky conditions and low profit yields are a good career move?

Bucking the norm -
Oddly enough, Ross said, there's a whole crop of greenhorns willing to take the reins. But they're decidedly different from the face of the traditional farmer or rancher. And their methods - everything from urban rooftop gardening to the latest in conservation and sustainability practices - buck the old norm.
"We're seeing an interest from young people who don't come from farming families," Ross said, adding that last year a record-breaking 70,000 students enrolled in their high school Future Farmers of America program.
Craig McNamara, an organic walnut and olive grower and president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, knows the difficulties of farming and is concerned.
"Our nation needs 100,000 new farmers in a short amount of time," he said.
The 61-year-old doesn't know if his own three children will take over his farm, Sierra Orchards in Winters (Yolo County), when he retires. So he and his wife founded the Center for Land-Based Learning. The nonprofit is an incubator in which young people study the rudiments of agriculture and the importance of watershed conservation. McNamara hopes the program inspires others to start their own farms or take over existing ones.

California's advantages -
Poppy Davis, the USDA's national program leader for small farms and beginning farmers and ranchers, said California might hold more advantages for the new farmer than any other state. It's not just the temperate climate. Unlike other states, where future generations are expected to take over the land and outsiders aren't always welcome, the agriculture community here has more tolerance for change and few preconceived notions, she said. Almost anything goes.
"The next generation doesn't have to be lineal descendants," she said. "While it might be good public policy to say this land needs to stay in farming or ranching, who are we to say, 'This land needs to stay in the same family.' "
While California is looking for fresh young faces to till the ground and drive the cattle, Davis said youth is in the eye of the beholder.
"There are lots of people starting whole different lives in their 50s," she said. "And for a lot of the new farmers in California, this is a second career. Some of these people can be very successful. While they may not know much about farming, they are seasoned in life and make really good business people."
There are other changes, too. It used to be that farming and ranching required large swaths of land and expensive equipment. Not anymore.
"A young man came to me four years ago and said he wanted to farm," McNamara said. "He was a graduate from UC Santa Cruz. To this day, he's farming without owning land or a tractor." McNamara leases the young farmer some of his Winters land. As for the tractor, McNamara pitches in with his.

Inspired by Costa Rica -
Marisa Alcorta, 34, of Davis has wanted to farm for the past 10 years. She did her undergraduate studies at Cornell and spent three months in Costa Rica examining the farming methods of a small mountain village.
"I came back completely inspired," she said.
Getting the capital to start a farm was overwhelming, but when she met three women with a similar goal, they joined forces. The owner of Bridgeway Farms in Winters leased them 16 open acres and 4 acres of peach, nectarine and apricot trees at a very low price, Alcorta said. The women plan to pitch in about $5,000 each to start a community-supported agriculture business. They will sell 20 to 30 public shares in Cloverleaf Farm at Bridgeway in the form of weekly or monthly produce boxes.
"It's the first farming opportunity that I've come across that feels doable," she said.
There are even smaller operations taking root across the state, including public vegetable gardens in city vacant lots, rooftop gardens and urban farms, said Ross, the agriculture secretary.
"Eighteen to 20 percent of California is food insecure," she said. "So farmers of the future won't necessarily be just in the (rural areas). We need big and large to sustain the world's need for food."

Cooper Funk (left), Molly Nakahara and Paul Glowaski are among California's crop of young farmers. Photo: Anne Chadwick Williams / Special To The Chronicle

Dinner Bell Farmer farmer Molly Nakahara rolls up a row cover that was protecting kale, bok choy, and flowers from cold weather and deer as they got started in Grass Valley on Wednesday, December 21. Photo: Anne Chadwick Williams / Special To The Chronicle

Young farmers l-r Cooper Funk, Molly Nakahara, Paul Glowaski met in 2006 at a UC Santa Cruz farm apprenticeship program and started Dinner Bell Farm in Grass Valley two seasons ago. Photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. Photo: Anne Chadwick Williams / Special To The Chronicle

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

 Iso Rabins has always done a delicate tango around environmental and food regulations. Rabins pioneered the Bay Area’s burgeoning wild-foods movement when he founded ForageSF in 2009, but city health inspectors, noting the potential hazards of eating products gathered in the wild — the best-known of which come in the form of poisonous mushrooms — were never thrilled with his organization or its various commercial offshoots.
 Earlier this year, one of Rabins’ signature ventures — the Underground Market, a wildly successful event at which various sub-professional food producers peddled their wares — was shut down by the Department of Public Health, which had previously given the market its tacit blessing. Rabins has since been working to bring the Underground Market into compliance with city law.
 But this fall, during that process, he suddenly faced persecution on another front. In October, city officials sent a letter informing him that another series of foraging get-togethers, his so-called Wild Kitchen dinners, could subject him to thousands of dollars in fines. The dinners typically served dozens of patrons, each paying $40 or more for a prix fixe menu of hunted and foraged local foods such as squid, mushrooms, and nettle soup. (Disclosure: SF Weekly profiled Rabins for a cover story in 2009. I attended two Wild Kitchen dinners in the course of reporting for that article, and have since attended one more. They were tasty, and I never got sick.)
 In a letter dated Oct. 26, Richard Lee, director of Environmental Health Regulatory Programs for DPH, told Rabins that the dinner series “constitutes an existing and ongoing violation of state and local law.” Each two-day Wild Kitchen event, Lee said, could bring a fine of $1,063. Lee noted that at least six such events had been recorded by health inspectors this year alone.
 Rabins took his case before DPH Environmental Health Director Rajiv Bhatia at a hearing last week, arguing that he had not been properly notified of potential legal violations before being hit with the fines. “I was never informed I had to get a permit until Oct. 26, after which I did get permits,” Rabins said.
 Turns out he had a point. “When is the first time he was notified, verbally or in writing?” Bhatia asked health inspector Alicia Saam, who testified against Rabins at the hearing. “That’s a good question,” Saam replied. Bhatia, not impressed, let Rabins off the hook. “I’m going to go ahead and waive the fee, because he wasn’t told he had to get a permit,” he said.
 Rabins’ Wild Kitchen dinners are now officially on the right side of the law, with all food prepared in commercial kitchens under strict safety guidelines. (He maintains that the dinners were always “very safe” before the Health Department showed up.) But the new veneer of regulatory compliance has changed the dinners’ spontaneous atmosphere, Rabins says.
 “Unfortunately, it really takes away from the life of the dinners, but I guess that’s what [health officials] need,” he says.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2011-12-02 "Introducing Megapolitanism"
A recent article from John King at the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the concept of using the Megalopolitan scale for planning purposes [].  The article references the new book by Arthur C. Nelson and Robert E. Lang entitled ‘Megapolitan America: A New Vision for Understanding America’s Metropolitan Geography‘ (APA, 2011) [].
As an example, King mentions the Sierra Pacific Megapolitan Area, seen below as a large geographical area that extends from the San Francisco Bay area all the way into Western Nevada, around Reno.   The region includes 27 counties and includes over 12.4 million people, and its expected to grow substantially in the next 30 years.

As mentioned in the article, the significance of the concept of megapolitan areas is to look more broadly at a larger scale, King, quoting Nelson, mentions that “regions can be more proactive in everything from transportation planning to economic strategies…  to have people look at things a little differently, the whole rather than the parts.” 
While explicitly not a model for mega-regional government, there are some possibilities of what this might mean for regions by looking at larger areas.  As mentioned by King, “It’s too early to say whether the concept of megapolitan areas will catch on as a framework for government policy, much less in terms of how regular people define where they live.”
The significant of megapolitan areas, thus is undetermined.  The overall ambiguity of the defining characteristics of a ‘city’ has led to a lot of questions related to city centers, sprawl, and other hybrid urban agglomerations like edge cities, exurbs, and the shift from urban area to metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).  This leads to a lot of diversity in definition (outlined in the SF Gate article) -  including the largest megapolitan area (NY-Phil 33.9 million people) to the smallest, fastest growing (Las Vegas 2.4 million).  While Vegas booms, the Steel Corridor of wester PA is creeping along slowly.  In terms of diversity, not surprisingly, the Southern California region has the largest percentage of minorities (62.7%) and the Twin-Cities are the least diverse with 15.5% of minorities.
The terms megaregion, megalopolis, megapolitan area, while similar in nature, are somewhat different historically, spatially, and statistically, so it is worth a look at some of the designations.  A map of megaregions shows the eleven areas in the United States as determined by the Regional Plan Association.

This differs somewhat from a more recent version of Megapolitan areas from a recent essay by Lang and Nelson on Places from Design Observer [])  They identify 10 megapolitan clusters that exist in 23 megapolitan areas that are similar but slightly different from those above.

The different terms, definitions, and geographical extents makes the concepts a bit difficult to parse, but in general terms, the areas are defined by a population of more than 10 million people that exist within a ‘clustered network of cities’ typically delineated through transportation corridors.
The new interpretation of Megapolitan area builds on earlier concepts to describe a more general ‘transmetropolitan geography’ which is typically thought of more commonly in larger, global areas such as China, Japan, Brazil – which include megaregions of 120 million (Hong Kong, Shenzen-Guangzhou), 60 million (Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe) and 43 million (Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo).  While the concepts are similar, the scale of these new global areas are immense in comparison to the US.
Interestingly enough, the term has been used since the 1820s, and the conceptual usage of the concept of Megalopolis as a grouping of urban areas within a region dates back almost 100 years.  This includes references by Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1918) and Lewis Mumford in The Culture of Cities (1938).  The most popularized recent usage was from 1950s and 60s, in the book on the Northeast United States by Jean Gottmann entitled ‘Megalopolis’ (1961).