Posts Tagged ‘community supported agriculture’

What’s On Your Plate? Food for Thought for All Ages

March 31, 2010

While we’re on the subject of kids, school, and food this week, here’s a shout out for a film I’m going to have to find room for on my top ten food documentaries list.

What’s On Your Plate? features two New York City middle school students, Sadie Rain Hope-Gund and Safiyah Kai Russell Riddle, taking viewers on a food tour that’s as entertaining as it is educational as they set out on a mission to figure out where their meals come from.

The 76-minute film is part of the current Whole Foods Let’s Retake Our Plates film series and has run on Discovery Channel’s Planet Green. Click here for screenings and watch a trailer here.

This doco is directed by veteran social justice film-maker Catherine Gund, mom to one of the budding food activists. The dynamic diet-conscious duo spend a year in front of the camera as they explore their place in the food chain, and ask questions about where the food they eat comes from, how it’s grown, and how far it travels from the farm to their fork.

Pitching this flick to a Hollywood agent you’d sum it up as two urban Nancy Drews meets Food, Inc., as The Atlantic did.

The girl guides talk to friends, family, food activists, farmers, food sellers — and each other — as they investigate issues around health, environment, nutrition, food security, and access. The interviews with politicians and public school food officials are classic. The break beat poet is fresh and funky.

It’s packed with so many teachable moments in bite-sized bits that I suspect it will engage many kids in a conversation about eating. And the tone is matter-of-fact and non-judgmental. We learn Sadie has genetically-linked high cholesterol controlled by diet, and that Safiyah’s family is vegetarian.

On a recent tour of a middle school in my neck of the woods, I saw a sign for a class called “What’s On Your Plate?” and I wonder if it’s based on the film’s 64-page companion curriculum guide on school food, health and access, and local food. (It’s spring break in Berkeley this week, so I can’t confirm).

I hope so. What’s On Your Plate? is a terrific teaching tool, told in the cadence of 11-year-old kids. Pretty savvy and sophisticated multi-racial city kids with deep connections on the food front. But kids nonetheless. Concepts like high fructose corn syrup get equal billing with a popular edible food-like product known as Funyuns.

The film works best when we meet people the tweens find organically. Like the folks who front the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in their area, the Latino Angel family farmers, who struggle to make a living on the land in upstate New York, and the school dad who had a heart attack that proved a wake-up call for his family’s eating habits.

I was less jazzed to see the typical talking heads of the good food movement. But I’m a somewhat jaded adult and many kids won’t know Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry, both of whom, to be fair, bring important ideas to the table.

The film ends, fittingly, with a wrap party where food plays a central role. There’s even cute animation and cool music too.

Less scary than Food, Inc., less sensational than Food Revolution, and less sad than both these edible exposes, What’s On Your Plate? does what children have always done best. It offers hope, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Who knew you could grow raspberries in a window box in Manhattan?  You can! The kids even help the Angel family organize a CSA to fund the farm. Clearly, the youngest generation of edible entrepreneurs can bring about change in their communities.

A good choice for family movie night, I’m looking forward to watching it with my own 11 year old. I know he’s going to love that school science experiment involving marshmallows, walnuts, and those Funyuns.

Playful, positive, personal, and political without being preachy, What’s On Your Plate? is worth watching. So kudos to the kids and the movie-making mom, who made a wise decision to let the children tell the story.

Photos: Courtesy Aubin Pictures

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Frugal Gourmet: How to Eat Well on a Budget

July 31, 2009

Yuriko Gamo Romer and her family no longer stroll down the street to eat sushi, burgers, or pasta at the restaurants that dot the main drag of their neighborhood in San Francisco.

The Silas-Gonzalez clan from Oakland now spends more time cooking meals from scratch. The dads in both these families were recently laid off, so they need to find ways to keep food costs in check.

silas-gonzalez-familyPhoto of Silas-Gonzalez family by Sarah Henry

With the jobless rate in California hovering around 11 percent, you don’t have to look far to find people impacted by the recession. (Three out of nine families from my former mamas group have been hit by job loss in the last year, including the two families in this piece and, um, me.) After housing, food is often the next biggest expense a family faces. Bad-for-you food is cheap but these folks are committed to getting nutritious meals on the table at a reasonable price.

How to make those dollars stretch at dinnertime? Eat in. Both families agree that the first thing to cut from your budget is routine dining out — at kid-friendly restaurants, taqueria joints, or the museum cafe. Nowadays they make favorite foods like burritos or sushi at home for a fraction of the cost they’d pay eating out.

They’ve also become smarter shoppers. They buy in bulk at stores like Costco and spend more time comparison shopping. Julie Silas says she now knows the exact price of most food items that she buys  — and can usually estimate, within a dollar, how much the bill will be at the checkout.

Neither household eats a lot of meat, another cost saver. They site cheaper sources of protein such as tofu, beans, and peanut butter as staples in their kitchens. (Julie and Yuriko both mention with glee that Costco sells creamy, organic peanut butter for dollars less than the price of other grocery stores.)

They also accept assistance. Julie’s neighbors passed on their Community Supported Agriculture box of produce once a month to the family of four. “That’s such an awesome gift; it really makes a difference in our lives,” she says, while making a stir fry with green beans and onions plucked from the CSA box. Yuriko’s mom bought her an electric skillet so she can make grilled dishes at home.

Each family has a small number of items that they’ll pay more for. For Yuriko it’s high-quality short grain rice from a Japanese market. “But relatively speaking, rice is cheap, so that’s not too much of a luxury,” she says. Julie can’t live without goat cheese — her girls love it — but found an affordable source at Trader Joe’s.

Neither family feels that nutrition or health has been compromised in their efforts to trim the family food budget. Both Julie and Yuriko estimate they now spend 20-25 percent less on food.  Yuriko says she finds herself thinking about the nutritional content of a grocery item and makes purchasing decisions accordingly. So jugs of juice, while popular with her husband and son, don’t make the cut. She’d rather spend that money — around $4-6 a bottle — on whole fruit, so her family gets the benefit of fiber as well as vitamins. Julie buys less organic fruits and vegetables these days, using the Environmental Working Group’s guide to pesticides in produce as a reference. That means organic apples, strawberries, and spinach, but conventional avocados, kiwis, and bananas to help keep the shopping bill down.

Both families say that they’ve discovered an unexpected benefit of unemployment. By going back to basics they’ve become more creative cooks. “A whole organic chicken, which costs us about $12, can form the basis of a homemade chicken noodle soup; the shredded meat ends up in enchiladas or a pot pie, and leftover broth serves as the sauce for a third meal,” says Isidro Gonzalez. In comparison, a package of chicken breasts costs around $8 and only provides one dinner for the family.  Yuriko prepares favorite Japanese recipes for family and friends more frequently now. She’ll make sukiyaki, a beef and vegetable dish, and okonomiyakia, savory pancakes, and each dish can feed about six people for the price of just one of these items at a restaurant. “We’ve had some really affordable feasts,” she says, “by making food at home.”

Find more easy ways to make your food buck go further from the makers of the movie Food Stamped.

How has the bad economy affected your eating habits? Have you found new ways to eat cheap and eat well? Share your cost-cutting tips below.

Feed a Family, Fund a Farmer, Support a School

June 5, 2009

windrush.farmstand.2

Gotta love the fabo eco-experiment (in more ways than one) in its second year at an independent K-8th school in El Cerrito, a suburban enclave adjacent to food-centric Berkeley in Northern California. It’s a program that seems well worth replicating in cash-strapped schools across the country.

Here’s what’s happening: Every Wednesday between 12 and 2 at Windrush School you’ll find kids and parent volunteers busily boxing beautiful, organic, seasonal produce dropped off by local farmers for about 100 school families to pick up. The school’s Farm Stand feeds folks, builds community, and offers opportunities to put into practice science, math, and nutrition lessons.  And, here’s the ka-ching kicker:  The program raises revenue as well — to the tune of a cool $20,000 a year. That’s no chump change for any school, public or private, during tight financial times.

On a recent sunny Wednesday, a gaggle of giggly students weighed potatoes and pluots, carefully counted peaches, and filled baskets to the brim with to-die-for Maria Catalan strawberries. Grown-ups supervised the parceling out of produce like kale, beets, potatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers. There was surprisingly little sampling — and not nearly the chaos anticipated — until the jobs were done and then everyone was rewarded with a luscious piece of fruit or a crunchy salad veggie.

windrush.farmstand.3

The brainchild of parent Lucy Aghadjian, a petite dynamo who is passionate about produce, the Farm Stand now serves as an integral part of the school’s fundraising efforts. It’s subsidized by participating families for the price of a couple of fancy coffees a week  (about $3-$5 a box goes directly to the school).  Two years ago, Aghadjian got new head of school Ilana Kaufman, a kindred spirit on the good-food front, jazzed about the fresh idea. In this neck of the woods, it didn’t take much prodding to get parents on board.

Local growers, like beloved farmers market mainstays such as Full Belly, Riverdog, Swanton Berry, and Twin Girls, drop off recently-harvested crops at the school’s Farm Stand shed or a nearby market on their way down the freeway on a regular East Bay run. Relationships are nurtured on both sides: Full Belly Farm recently hosted a group of 5th graders on an overnight adventure. When Farmer Bill from Swanton mentioned he was buried in artichokes, Aghadjian happily took them off his hands — and included a simply delicious recipe for the spring vegetable in her weekly flyer tucked inside each box. (Educating adults and children about how to cook unfamiliar produce is key to the stand’s success.)

Sure, loads of neighborhoods serve as pick-up points for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) mostly-veg boxes but what’s going on at Windrush is a win-win-win for all three parties.

Could other schools follow the Windrush model? What ingredients do you need in the mix? If you know of similar income-generating produce programs in other schools feel free to add advice about what’s essential to making a school Farm Stand thrive.

Five must-haves gleaned from a recent visit:

1. A gung-ho, can-do instigator leading the way. It certainly helps if this person has food cred: Aghadjian is a caterer who had existing connections with farmers.

2. A school administrator who sees the program’s value from a curriculum, community, and economic perspective. Kaufman routinely swings by the stand, meets with farmers, and offers samples to parents and students at the end of the school day.

3. The blessing and buy-in of local growers. And the realization on the school end that you need to make it easy for farm folk to participate.

4. A small core of devoted parent volunteers willing to sort produce — rain or shine — each week. Amazingly, Windrush has had only one rainy day since the stand started.

5. A leap of faith. Isn’t that what every great idea needs?

And, of course, the payoff that comes from raising money in a fun and life-affirming way — and hearing from kids who discover they love kohlrabi or pomellos? Priceless.

windrush.farmstand1Photos: Sarah Henry