Monday, August 2, 2010

Great Read! Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee

After reading the book "Alice Waters and Chez Panisee, I am most struck by Alice Water's passion and energy put forth to bring about a revolution in how we eat in America. Alice didn't set out to become the mother of the organic food revolution when she opened her restaurant called "Chez Panisse" in Berkeley, CA back in the 70's- she simply was trying to replicate the delicious foods she had discovered as a student in France.

But start a revolution she did. One meal at a time. Cooking up the best food possible using local and organic foods. In her small restaurant, with many mishaps along the way, but always managing to overcome them as her passion for quality food moved her forward.

This book is a great read. It taught me more about what is required to run a successful restaurant than any of the restaurant classes I took in college. The main ingredient not talked about in those classes: passion. It is the single biggest thing needed to have the energy to run a restaurant and I saw it in action in this book. Passion will take you over the biggest hurdles but it comes at a big price. Sacrifices of time and relationships with others. This message comes out loud and clear and I found the obstacles Alice faced amazing and I found myself cheering her on as I moved through this book.

Thomas McNamee does a fantastic job covering the period of time in the history of Chez Panisee- from its opening in 1971 until 2006- and tells the story in such a way that makes it impossible to put down. He gives personal accounts from the staff of Chez Panisee and their candid accounts of what it was like to work with Alice. He talks of the early disorganization of the restaurant which makes one wonder how it came to be the premiere restaurant it is today.

Passion, drive, determination, vision. For anyone interested in the Farm to Table movement, this is a read well worth your time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Coming Together...New York City Community Gardens

Seems like lots of thoughts reside in my subconsciousness as a seed, waiting to take root, before they begin to grow and become big enough to notice. Thoughts of community gardens were like that for me. Many years ago, staring out the window of an Amtrak train as it lumbered into Chicago's Union Station, I was mesmerized by the collection of urban gardens both big and small passing by outside my window. From my seat on the train, peering down into each garden, the community garden seed was planted in my brain as I was struck by the uniqueness of each garden and the diversity of the plants growing within them.

At the time I just wanted to know more about the people who were growing those urban gardens, but as the seed grew, I found myself branching out and doing research on schoolyard gardens, community garden plots that could be rented by individuals, and gardens that entire communities of people worked in and shared the bounty of.

Just recently, as I began work at my local food pantry, my subconscious thoughts came closer to the surface as I witnessed the lack of adequate amounts of fresh food being delivered to the clients of the pantry. I found myself feeling frustration that a certain segment of our population didn't have access to produce- either because they couldn't afford it or lived in a place without access to it. After a few months of working at the pantry, all of my latent community garden thoughts bubbled up and came together as I felt a huge desire to learn all I could about food justice and how community gardening and farmer's markets can bring fresh produce to those that aren't getting it.

These food justice thoughts of mine have been circling in my head for the last few months and were circling around in my head yesterday as I was walking through Harlem and stumbled upon a community garden overseen by the New York City Parks and Recreation's Green Thumb Program . Located at the corner of 112th and Park Ave., the garden, named Villa Santurce Jardineras, is a literal breath of fresh air in an otherwise concrete jungle. The garden contains trees, perennials, vines, and raised beds with vegetables. Gazebos are provided for shade as well as chairs and couches for resting and relaxing.

The Green Thumb program is one of the largest community garden programs in the country with 600 member gardens serving 20,000 NYC residents. The program started in 1978 and is committed to providing support to help strengthen gardens, gardener skills, and communities. Originally vacant derelict lots, they have been renovated by volunteers and provide valuable green space along with a sense of community.

The Villa Santurce Jardineras garden was well tended and charming. A very welcoming place that was obviously well loved. It made me feel good to see fresh food growing in an area of the city where produce may be hard to come by. Surrounded by a chain-link fence, the garden was also protected from those that may not appreciate it. Each Green Thumb garden is required to be open at least 10 hours per week for the community to enjoy and work in. I would have loved to been there during the open hours to talk to those who work the garden. To hear how the garden came about and how it continues each year.

Every garden has a story and as I looked at this one, I was reminded of my long ago trip through Chicago when I gazed out the train window and wanted to know the story behind the gardens I was passing. On this day though, I felt closer to understanding the story of urban gardens and those responsible for tending them. As I gazed up at the Puerto Rican flag flying alongside the American one, I could imagine the proud people who work in and benefit from this garden. A group of people coming together with the common goal of gardening but strengthening their community in the process. This garden serves as the fiber that connects. It is nature that serves as the common thread woven around and stitching them to one another. Garden, Nature, People, Connection...maybe I have figured out one part of the story behind urban community gardens and I look forward to finding out more.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Farmer's Market Finds...

Garlic scapes, mesclun lettuce, maple syrup, oregano, and kale...all local and all something to look forward to eating over the next several days. Thank goodness for farmer's markets! My older son says I have become a food snob. I say, I have just decided to only eat food that tastes good and is good for me. Isn't it scary to be considered a food snob when all I want is to eat healthy food? Shouldn't that be a basic requirement? Something that sustains us in beneficial ways? Unfortunately, we have strayed way too far from those expecatations.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Planting the Seed...

Prompted by an awareness created when I participated in the "No Impact Experiment" last October, I have somewhat jumped off the "Green" bandwagon and moved over to the local food arena. It isn't that I no longer participate in recycling or reducing my consumption, just that I have changed my emphasis a bit.

Because I found the food portion of the "No Impact Experiment" to be the most challenging and as I wrote about my difficulties here, I came to the conclusion that changes in how I ate had the potential to make the biggest ecological difference of any. As I thought about the costs of food production, transportation, and packaging, I realized that changing what I put in my mouth, could make a bigger impact than how much paper I recycled or how low I set my thermostat. Essentially, making wise food choices could make me live an even greener lifestyle.

This new blog of mine explores my journey into what I discover as I began to read about our current food system. What's broken and what may heal that brokenness.