I’m guessing by now that at least some of you may have thought I fell off the face of the earth. Close.
Instead, about six months ago I jumped feet first into my own ProFood venture – Sugarsnap located in Burlington, Vermont’s Intervale. Candidly, I had no idea how consuming this transition was going to be and expected to continue writing on a regular basis.
Well, after putting together a comprehensive business plan and private placement memorandum, I am happy to report that we have nearly completed our initial fund raising, and will soon accelerate our expansion plans. These changes are allowing me to start breathing again about the critical issues addressed at Every Kitchen Table.
The exciting part is that I am now partnering with some great people that have their own stories to tell. So, with this post I am formally merging Every Kitchen Table into The Snap Blog, the official blog of Sugarsnap.
You will once again see me posting on a regular basis, and will get the added benefit of reading the well-informed thoughts of my Sugarsnap partners. It may take us a couple months to hit our stride, but rest assured we will and the content will be great.
See you on The Snap Blog!
Rob Smart (a.k.a., @Jambutter)
P.S. You can also follow Sugarsnap on Twitter and Facebook.
Posted in Cooking, Eating, Fast Food, Food, Food Retail, Food Systems, Specialty Retailers
Tagged Burlington, Business, Cooking, Eat Local, Eat Local Challenge, Eating, Farmers, Farms, Food, Food Retail, Innovation, Local, Local Food, Organic, Pro Food, Real Food, Retail, Sustainable, Vermont
Food is essential to our survival. It impacts our health and wellbeing. It has the power to bring people together.
Food can be manipulated in many ways, from cooking to processing to using it as fuel. It provides tremendous opportunities to create value, and, as such, food is big business.
Much of the food we eat starts as a simple seed, or one that has been genetically manipulated to achieve some desired objective. From there, food can be growing in any number of ways, from conventional to organic and beyond, before it finds its way to our plates.
Food touches nearly every aspect of live, so it is essential that we understand it in the fullest context possible to ensure we, as consumers, make well-informed, everyday decisions. Unfortunately, for many of us our days of being educated and/or changing our ways are mostly behind us.
That is why we must focus on our children by finding creative ways to reintroduce food in its broadest sense into their everyday activities, starting with school, in order to close the knowledge gap between farm and plate.
Here are the 10 things I would integrate into our children’s educational curriculum to give them a fighting chance at making the joys of sustainable food central in their lives.
- The Food We Eat – Since most kids have little knowledge of where the food they eat comes from, we start with an understanding of what we eat as a society. Showing them a simple breakdown of consumer food expenditures, e.g., 25% on fast food, will give them a sense of our food priorities. As kids mature, discussions about how our food choices impact other thing would evolve into a new Sustainable Economics (SE) track in middle and high schools. Sustainable Economics, in my mind, is the replacement for the traditional Home Economics, which carries too much baggage. As you will read below, SE shows up in a number of places.
- Farming in America & Abroad – If you are active in discussions regarding sustainable food, you have repeatedly heard about the knowledge gap that has grown over the years between consumers and where their food comes from. Ideally, kids at a young age should take field trips to diverse, working farms to see first-hand what goes on day after day on a farm. From there the discussion should turn to the history of farming in America, current trends, how farms are financed, what they grow/raise and so on. Along the way, kids should also be introduced to the idea of farming as a career, something that I can never recall hearing during my childhood.
- Plant Biology – Since kids love getting dirty, this might be one of the more popular topics during the elementary school years – playing in the dirt (soil). In addition to studying soil and its different compositions, every kid should witness firsthand the magic contained within a simple seed. Watching seeds germinate and grow into plants, bear fruit, die and return to the soil will help them understand one of the more important circles of life. With more basic science under their belts, attention can be turned to heirloom, hybrid and genetically modified seeds to expand their understanding of ways man manipulates seeds and why, as well as fertilizers and pesticides and their impacts on the water we drink, air we breathe and food we eat.
- Gardening – While understanding larger-scale farming operations is important, kids should also be taught the possibilities of human-scale gardening, something they can practice throughout their lives. This topic represents a cornerstone of my proposed Sustainable Economics curriculum since it gives kids the power to control where some of their food comes from, whether that food is used at school or taken home.
- Cooking – Another cornerstone of Sustainable Economics would be instruction on cooking, something that should be required just like physical education given the importance it plays in our health and wellbeing. Topics that can be superficially explored at the younger ages before more in-depth dives in middle and high schools might include techniques, tools, recipes, flavors, sensory experiences, chemistry, seasonal menus and more.
- Composting – Food waste is created throughout the food cycle, so teaching kids about the importance of composting is a final cornerstone of Sustainable Economics. Using Will Allen of Growing Power as an example, kids should be encouraged to embrace composting soil, dig their hands in it and get to know worms and other creatures working hard to break down our food waste. They should also learn the proper ways to use compost to help nourish the soil and help certain plants grow stronger and produce more tasty food.
- Industrial Food System – Moving into middle school, the emphasis on getting their hands dirty and familiarizing themselves with kitchens and cooking should be gradually replaced with expanding their understanding of food systems, i.e., how food is grown, processed and delivered to consumers. America’s industrialized food system could be nicely integrated into macro and micro economic studies, covering such topics as economies of scale, regional to global economies, industry consolidation, monopolies, process uniformity, etc. Kids should also be taught to contrast this dominate food system with historic systems, as well as (re)emerging regional food economies.
- Food Advertising – The food industry spends tens of billions of dollars every year promoting its food products. The level of sophistication used in food advertisements and marketing methodologies cannot be understated. Nor can its effectiveness at influencing choices people make about what, when and where they eat. Developing classroom exercises to help kids understand advertising techniques would go a long way toward ensuring that this highly targeted demographic learns to read between the lines.
- Government Programs – While it may seem a little dry on the surface, studying the changing role of our government in the food system could be turned into some pretty entertaining and impactful materials. Just look at some of the more popular food documentaries that have come out in the last couple of years, especially ones like King Corn. It may be difficult for kids to think about ways to influence government programs, but without a base of knowledge they won’t even bother trying.
- Food Entrepreneurship – When it comes to innovations in food, especially with regard to sustainable food, I have a strong bias toward teaching kids about the Pro Food framework I developed. Pro Food focuses primarily on regional food economies, so kids should also be exposed to entrepreneurs that are working to change the larger industrial food system mentioned above, since it will likely continue to be the primary source of food during their lifetimes. Like farming, there are many career opportunities in and around the food we eat, so it is important that we encourage young people to consider careers in sustainable food.
In the end, knowledge is power, and giving successive generations the power to demand fresh, environmentally sustainable and tasty food offers a glimmer of hope for the many advocates in the trenches today working to revolutionize our food systems.
Of course, like so many other things, getting sustainable food into school curriculums may be very difficult given many entrenched and powerful interests. The good news is that everything on this list can be adapted to our home lives. It will take a commitment of time, energy and probably a little money, but the results will be priceless.
Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and The Kathleen Show’s Prevention not Prescription initiatives.
Posted in Cooking, Eating, Fast Food, Food, Food Systems, Gardening
Tagged Children, Community, Consumer Food Expenditures, Cooking, Curriculum, Eating, Education, Farmers, Farms, Fast Food, Food, Food Marketing, Food Retail, GMO, Home Cooking, Industrial Food, Innovation, Organic, Pro Food, School, School Lunch, Schools, Sustainable
Yesterday, my family finished a week of opening our eyes to something we thought we understood pretty well, but were humbled by reality – eating local food.
You see, for the last four years we have been making conscious choices about how we spend our food dollars, and, as a result, firmly believed that what we were doing was great for our regional food economy. We joined a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. We shopped regularly at our local food cooperative. We even grew a large family garden this year.
As it turns out our actions, while definitely important and pointed in the right direction, were much further from being classified as “localvore” than we realized. Because of that this week’s Eat Local Challenge turned out to be more “stressful” than expected.
Yet, I remain very proud of the job my family did, from my four year old daughter to my very patient wife, who thankfully has a gift of making just about anything taste great.
With that in mind, I am wrapping up our first Eat Local Challenge with 10 Joys we took from this eye-opening experience. We are already building on these joys and expect to leverage them again next year when we once again engage in the Challenge.
- Common Family Goal – When was the last time you can recall your family sharing a common objective for an entire week, an objective that you talked about every day? It’s hard to imagine too many things bringing people together more effectively than food, whether preparing a meal together or sitting down around a table to share the bounty. Last week’s Eat Local Challenge did just that for us. Even better, as a family that takes its food pretty seriously, we spent most of the time trying to understand how far eating local could take us, where it worked well, what was missing, etc. An invaluable experience on so many fronts.
- Breakfast Together – It’s funny how something like eating local for a week can force a family to spend more time around its kitchen table. With three distinct morning schedules (i.e., people eat at different times) and many of our standard breakfast options (bagels, cereal, toast) were off the table due to a lack of localness, we resorted to preparing breakfast nearly every day. This meant that to “get it while it’s hot,” everyone needed to be in the kitchen ready at the same time, ready to eat. A nice bonus, although there were definitely some gorgy kids!
- Food Found – Prior to this week, we never thought twice about reaching for the olive oil or all-purpose flour; and we reach quite often it turns out. Forced to reconsider these commonly used ingredients, we were happy to discover several Vermont-made alternatives, e.g., Rainville Farms Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil and a wonderful array of flours from Gleason Grains and Butterworks Farms. Our pantry has made room for these newcomers, which I expect will retain their popularity from last week. Having said that, there are many more needed; an opportunity for the numerous food entrepreneurs tucked away throughout the region.
- Vermont Wine & Cheese – OK, so we’re not perfect. We didn’t give up wine for the challenge, but we did look for and bought only red wines made by Vermont wineries that grew their own grapes, including Boyden Valley Winery (our favorite VT winery), Shelburne Vineyard, East Shore Vineyard (really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc) and North Branch Vineyards (first experience drinking a Marechal Foch – liked it!). Of course, what wine drinking opportunity would be complete without artisan cheese to go with it? Thank God for Vermont cheese makers! They are arguably some of the best in the world, as everything we tasted was absolutely wonderful, especially Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar and Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue (my personal favorite).
- Making Something Out of Nothing – What I’m really getting at is how in the course of a single week my family learned ways to make something we were accustom to preparing out of different sets of ingredients. Improvisation is hard enough as it is for most people, but throwing a local requirement on top of that makes it all the more challenge. As my 11 year old said as we were finishing up our last Challenge dinner, “We made things different, but they still tasted good. It’s great to know we can make things with different stuff.” Another great lesson learned.
- A Teenager’s Perspective – What would an Eat Local Challenge be without the tension hovering around a teenager trying to carve out his or her own path? Peaceful? Less stressful? Perhaps. But what I found rewarding was watching my teenage daughter test new boundaries of her independence by objecting to something she didn’t think was all that important; this despite my active involvement in the overall Eat Local Challenge. It was admittedly frustrating, but also required compromise, both important parts of raising a strong, independent child.
- A Budding Chef’s Perspective – My 11 year old daughter loves to cook. She has been doing so for years, and has become quite good and is very helpful to have around in a busy kitchen. Perhaps that is why she was more aware than anyone in our household regarding local foods. She was also the one most dedicated to following the rules. To put this in perspective imagine someone who loves good food heading to the school cafeteria with brown bag in hand (all local stuff) where her friends offer her Positive Pie pizza or homemade cake with homemade icing. It wasn’t easy, but she not only did it, she also hip-checked me on occasion to make sure I stayed on course.
- Bradley’s Beat – Within moments of announcing that I was going to be officially blogging about the Eat Local Challenge, you could see my son’s wheels turning. You see, he’s an aspiring newspaper man, having started his own weekly (in home) newspaper when he was eight years old – The Plainfield Press. In fact, he had already written a piece for my Every Kitchen Table blog titled O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s, which describes his vision for sustainable fast food. It received a lot of praise from my readers, so I was thrilled when he wanted to write about the Eat Local Challenge, just like his dad! His Eating Local – A 10 Year Old’s Perspective post did a great job setting things up for the week.
- From the Mouths of Babes – If you’ve ever had children, then you know how funny they can be, especially when they are young. With that in mind, imagine a cute little four year old at Hunger Mountain Co-op shopping with her mom during the middle of the Eat Local Challenge. She asks for something, which her mom tells her she can’t have because it’s not local. After a couple requests, it starts to settle in that a lot of what she wants she can’t have. For the balance of the shopping trip she adapts. She points to something and instead of asking for it simply says “It’s not local. We can’t have it.” Makes me think that a generation of similarly enlightened kids has the power to change just about anything!
- Seeing Opportunities – As a budding food entrepreneur, what really jumped out to me this week is just how limited consumer choices are when shopping for food. Yes, I know, today’s supermarkets carry over 45,000 products on their shelves, so how can I suggest there are not lots of choices. It’s simple, really. The next time you go shopping try to determine which of the products you want to buy comes from within 100 miles. Make it 500 miles if you want. The point is that you can’t typically determine such things with the exception of a well-managed, local-oriented produce department. As our food system has become increasingly consolidated and centralized, consumer-friendly information has disappeared, as has the overall transparency of knowing where our food comes from. Building transparent, regional food systems has the potential to disrupt the status quo in important ways, so it’s time to get to work!
There was a more to the Eat Local Challenge than I could possibly capture here, but I hope that after reading this, along with my previous blog posts, you and your family will join us next year to experience similar things for yourself.
If you participated this year, I hope your experience was equally joyful (along with whatever other emotions you felt) for you and that you will be that much more prepared for the next Eat Local Challenge.
- Day 1 – Refrigerator & Pantry Stocked for Local Eating Challenge
- Day 2 – Wrapping Our Heads around Eating Local
- Day 3 – Thinking “Eat Local” Season v. Single Week
- Day 4 – Seeing Shades of Local Food
- Day 5 – Downsides to Eating Local?
- Day 6 – From Pizza Night to Crazy Saturday Schedule
Every Kitchen Table is proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday series.
Posted in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Cooking, Eating, Farmers Markets, Fast Food, Food, Food Retail, Food Systems, Gardening, Supermarkets
Tagged Burlington, Chittenden County, Community Supported Agriculture, Consumer Food Expenditures, Cooking, Eat Local, Eat Local Challenge, Eat Local Season, Eating, Farmers, Farms, Harvest, Home Cooking, Local, Local Food, School Lunch, Schools, Supermarket Withdrawl, Supermarkets, Sustainable, Vermont