Field Notes, Foodshed, Nonprofits

The Challenge of a Plastic-Free SHED

Inspired by the Plastic Free July movement, SHED is taking a closer look at how we use plastic. Plastic Free July is a non-profit whose goal is to eliminate single-use plastic. Their campaign aims to avoid landfill waste, reduce environmental impact, and protect the ocean. SHED faces challenges when it comes to reducing single-use plastic in our kitchens, store, and warehouse. SHED aims to promote a plastic-free lifestyle with our wares as well as through our operations. We have policies in place to reduce our impact, but we can always do more—or in this case, use less.

Plastic Alternatives at SHED

Reducing single-use plastic at SHED is important because we depend on a resilient local food system that is free from harmful pollutants and trash. Single-use plastic items such as cups, straws, cling wrap, and food containers are designed to be used once and then thrown out. Plastic is made from nonrenewable resources, and it does not break down after it is discarded. Part of SHED’s mission is to protect the environment by being good stewards of our local watershed and foodshed. We do this by prioritizing alternatives to single-use plastic and offering recycling and composting.

SHED promotes intentional lifestyles by selling thoughtful, durable reusable products. Our collection of plastic-free wares includes straightforward pieces that can easily be incorporated into your daily life. We also offer several incentives to our guests to opt for reusables. We offer a $0.50 discount for bringing your own reusable vessel to our coffee bar, a $1.00 return for any SHED labeled glass jar, a $0.50 return for our berry baskets.

Challenges of “Plastic-Free”

There are also challenges to going plastic-free at SHED. You will find plastic containers, cling wrap, and latex gloves in our kitchens. As a market and café, we are trying to find ways to ways to reduce this use of plastic without compromising on food safety and convenience for our guests. We are currently working with our vendors to develop plastic-free packaging options for our housewares and pantry goods. However, because we work with handcrafted pieces, fragile items are still often protected with bubble wrap.

Although we are proud of our recycling and compost programs, there is still room for improvement. Composting is a core tenet at SHED because it is the essence of a complete food cycle: food is grown in the soil and then returned to it. Our kitchens compost leftover food scraps which feed a hearty pile at HomeFarm (the farm and home of SHED co-owners Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel).

We also offer compostable produce bags and compostable to-go cups in our store. However, compostable to-go ware is far from perfect. It’s almost always made from genetically modified commodity crops like field corn, the production of which undermines SHED’s core values. Compostable disposables are also widely misconstrued as a one-size-fits-all zero-waste solution. Here in Healdsburg we luckily can send them to an industrial composting center where they do eventually decompose, but many municipal composting programs cannot handle plant-based plastics, nor can they be broken down in a backyard compost pile. Many compostable to-go items, used with good intentions, end up contaminating waste streams or decomposing in greenhouse gas–producing landfills—that’s not what we want. Far and away the best option is to refuse single-use disposables whenever possible, and that’s what we encourage our guests to do.

We have recently begun an audit at SHED to get the full picture of our plastic usage. Before we can make well-informed changes to our daily operations, it is essential that we educate ourselves and our guests about how we use plastic. There will be more obstacles to overcome. We are looking forward to meeting these challenges with the same creativity and mindfulness that go into every aspect of SHED.

Craftsmanship, Field Notes

Sashiko: A Short History

sashiko

Sashiko stitching is an art form that evolved from a simple need.

Sashiko means “little stabs,” or “little piercings” and is a folk textile method traditionally featuring white stitches on an indigo background.sashiko

Sashiko began in the North during the Edo period (1603-1868) and moved south along traditional trade routes. The plain running stitch of thick cotton thread makes striking geometric designs on the fabric, and allowed working people to have warm, decorative clothing that was within the confines of the law.

As chilled as it makes us to even imagine, 17th century Northern Japanese farmers somehow worked outside in clothing woven just from hemp or linen, fabric that offered just barely enough protection from the fierce winter cold.

Industrial fabric production didn’t come to Japan until the late 19th century and then, it was too expensive for most people to afford. Cotton doesn’t grow in northern climes. Even if the farmers and fishermen’s families of Northern Japan could afford to use silk, it was illegal for citizens of those classes to wear it, as it was also forbidden for them to use bright colors or vibrant patterns.

sashiko

With fabric so dear and rare, each piece was carefully saved. Mending pieces of hemp fabric, traditionally dyed with indigo, allowed wives and daughters to stitch warmer pieces of clothing, adding layers from old scraps and cleverly incorporating a quilting style of piece-work that made for a more durable, more thermal, and ultimately — more beautiful items of clothing.

sashiko

As the centuries progressed and cotton became more available, it was swapped for hemp and sashiko styles became more artistic and purposeful, with an aim beyond merely keeping the wearer warm.

Strengthening and adding bulk to fabric, quality sashiko stitchery eventually became a measure of suitability for young women hoping to marry, as sashiko-stitched kimonos were part of a traditional dowry.

Heavily padded sashiko garments were used by 18th century firefighters who would first soak their clothing with water, adding as much as 70 pounds to their frames, before combating fires.sashiko

Today, sashiko stitchery adds a gorgeous note to handmade textiles and remains a beautiful way to mend such indigo as blue jeans or other clothes that deserve to be mended and amended, their beauty retained and appended.

Textile expert Marico Chigyo teaches a sashiko class at SHED on Saturday, July 7, from 10am-1pm. The images on this page are from her Chigyo StudioPlease plan to join us!

Eat Good Food, Foodshed, Watershed

Foraging for Sonoma Seaweed

A briny smell wafts from the laundry room sink as I rinse the grit from my fresh harvest of seaweed. Unfurling the fragile nori, I wash out the sand and shells ensconced in the wrinkled clump. After rinsing, I arrange my “catch” on a towel outside. The plants lay like limp fish out of water. Soon the afternoon sun transforms their tendrils from murky green to crispy black.

Drying seaweed is actually the end of the story. It is, however, one of many skills I learned during SHED’s Edible Seaweed Forage with Heidi Herrmann. Once harvested, seaweed should be washed and dried so it can be eaten throughout the year. A local seaweed expert, Heidi Herrmann of Strong Arm Farm, taught us about sustainable harvesting and how to cook with seaweed. It was an invigorating experience to climb over rocks, wade in the ocean, and nibble on the wild plants.

The morning of the forage was bright, clear, and beautiful. As I drove westward, the landscapes changed dramatically.  The neat vineyards turned to forest villages, and finally, the Sonoma coast came into view. The motley crew of fellow foragers met at Shell Beach at 7:30 am. Since seaweed harvesting is dependent on the time of the tides, we arrived early to get a break in the ebb and flow. Consulting her pocket tide book, Heidi gestured toward today’s date and the time of the tides. We had about an hour to get in and get out.

Shell Beach

I breached the parking lot overlook and began my descent towards the sea. Scuttling down the haphazard steps I took in my surroundings. A dramatic canvas of green vegetation swept down the valley. Delicate purple flowers sprouted along the path and massive rocky outcrops jutted up from the water offshore.

Once on the beach, Heidi taught us how to identify different varieties. Then, she instructed how cut the plants in a way that allows regrowth. Equipped with scissors, ziplock bags, and a sharpie, I began bagging samples. At times it felt like a coastal crime scene: I was the investigator and the seaweed was the evidence.

We came across several varieties:

  • sister Sarah, a frilly, crunchy variety that resembles a wreath
  • kombu, a slimy, leathery variety that resembles a belt
  • bladderwrack, a leafy variety with an unfortunate name
  • nori, a smooth, shiny, and paper thin variety the resembles decorative wrapping paper.

As the tide came back, we packed our harvest and turned to Heidi for our final lesson of the day. She asked us each to reflect on our experience with gratitude for each other, the superb day, and the generous ocean. Foraging should not be taken for granted. Only by respecting the seasons, the tides, and the environment can we continue to enjoy edible seaweed.

Cooking, Field Notes

Mill and Churn with Avery Ruzicka

photo: Aubrie Pick

With both a culinary and bread degree from the French Culinary Institute as well as having worked a staging stint under Per Se restaurant’s master baker Ben Hershberger, Avery Ruzicka knew that she wanted to devote her career to the miracle of grains and yeast and ovens.

But she had to take an unusual route to get there. Which is how she ended up working the front of the house running food at Los Gato’s famed Manresa in 2012. After six months of delivering chef David Kinch’s three-Michelin-star dishes to diners, she made her way into the kitchen, where she had been headed all along.

There, she founded the Manresa Bread Project, an endeavor that began in the restaurant with an official bread course included in prix-fixe dinners, moved to serve a rabid farmers’ market fanbase, and now includes bakeries in Palo Alto and Los Gatos with a new one set to open in Campbell.

Ruzicka comes to SHED on May 12 to demonstrate some of what makes her bread so acclaimed. And of course, it starts with the grain. As do we, Ruzicka mills her own grain for making bread and even oatmeal.

For her class, she’ll tote along her favorite tabletop mill, a KoMo Mockmill that she adores for its price and durability. The similar hand-cranked Country Living Grain Mill is a staple of our kitchen.

“My vision is to show people that this simple piece of equipment can open up so many avenues of creativity,” Ruzicka told us by phone recently.

“I want to show people that what we do is possible. The Mockmill especially is not a huge financial investment. It’s a couple hundred dollars and will last a lifetime. Instead of grabbing a bag of old flour from your cupboard, you can make fresh ingredients that are a million times better.”

Supporting local grain growers is a passion for us. We’re so excited to see young chefs like Ruzicka embracing real grains for taste and good health.

“We use all organic grains,” Ruzicka explains, adding that she purchases pre-milled flour from Central Milling Co. out of Petaluma and buys grain from Coke Farm, an organic produce farm in San Juan Bautista.

“Owner Dale Coke is a passionate bread baker and, as a farmer, decided to start selling some grain,” she says. “He grows some rye, a variety of bread wheat called Patron and a white wheat called Blanco Grande.”

Ruzicka explains that you don’t have to own a bakery to purchase whole grains to mill yourself, listing more of the producers she uses that sell to the public as well.

“We get einkorn and spelt from a farm in Oregon called Bluebird Grain Farms. I have also purchased a lot of wheat from Camas Country in Washington, also family-run, and they mill as well. When you’re buying direct from farmers, you have to contend with the fact that they don’t have a shipping system. It’s pushed us to find even more California grain. It’s around, but it’s in smaller volume.”

Ruzicka’s sourdough breads rise for up to 36 hours. Allowing for such a long fermentation period makes the loaves easier to digest and makes them palatable to those who are typically bothered by gluten (celiac sufferers still can’t consume it). It also creates airy pockets inside the loaves that make the bread tender and perhaps even more addictive.

It’s all a product of patience and science, but mostly patience. Ruzicka stresses that any one who is interested can get learn how to source and make good food. “If you eat a delicious meal, ask where it came from,” she says simply.

Avery Ruzicka comes to our Healdsburg store on Saturday, May 12, at 11am for a two-hour workshop on simple bread and butter. We’ll learn to churn our own fresh cream into butter and how to make sourdough flatbreads. Students will receive recipes and a 10% SHED discount on all purchases that day. Join us!

Artisan Producers, Cooking, Farming, Field Notes

How the OAEC Cookbook Also Teaches about Life

oaec cookbook

The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) folks have lived peacefully in an intentional community for nearly 25 years, co-owning some 80 acres of pristine growing grounds near the ocean. From this place of centering, they teach thousands of people how to farm and how to honor and preserve biodiversity.

They maintain, enlarge, and propagate a “mother garden” that contains a wild amount of biodiversity and offers a continuous food production cycle amid West County’s wild weather. They paint and hold Chauttauqua and even produced a cookbook.

All of which is to say that the OAEC community is pretty amazing. But there are some things that they do that you might be able to do, too. Like grow a garden. Like buy what you can’t grow from those who can. Like cook at home. Like remembering to smile.

These and other simple lessons are among the pleasures of the OAEC’s eponymous Cookbook (Chelsea Green; $40), a richly illustrated photo-heavy 416-page declaration of intent, process, and good ways to eat from the land — whatever your land might be.

Founded by seven friends in 1994 as the Sowing Circle intentional community and soon incorporated as a 501(c)3, the OAEC exemplifies the human interdependence that their innovative permaculture design work encourages in the plants and trees that surround them.

Hosting workshops and classes, retreats and day visits, the OAEC has a robust seasonal schedule, so the recipes in its cookbook are cleverly calibrated for either four to six people or 30 to 40 hungry folks.

They’re used to feeding a crowd, and an enduring and crowd-pleasing dish that visitors have come to expect is one of their epic salads.

Called the “biodiversity salad mix,” this collection of propagated and foraged foods changes with the seasons, as the cookbook deftly illustrates. Mother Garden biodiversity director Doug Gosling, in charge of the collective’s nightly salad, has such a wealth of options available that he sometimes picks solely for color palette.

In spring, it might contain tulip petals and broccoli leaves amid the myriad; in the summer, rose petals and celery flowers. While his salads always feature a lettuce or green of some type, the point being celebrated is that “salad” isn’t solely Romaine or iceberg glopped up with something from a bottle but rather, a living expression of what’s happening on the earth the very day you sit down to eat it — and that said eating should be fearless in its wandering and appetite for taste.

As pleasurable to simply read as it is to cook from, the OAEC Cookbook, primarily written by Olivia Rathbone but naturally contributed to by all members of the community, offers such wisdom as that chamomile will get bitter if boiled (and make you sleepy!); how best to cook cactus; that seed saving is a radical act; how to start your own sourdough; what the role of rosemary is in transforming whipped cream; that carnations taste of cloves; why lemon verbena is good with steamed rice; and how sometimes in the winter you are simply so very glad that all visitors have gone home and you’ve got the whole 80 acres to yourselves.

Join us on Thursday, March 15, when members of the OAEC are honored at a special Taste of Place dinner featuring recipes in their cookbook.

Field Notes

Paul Hawken and Project Drawdown

hawken drawdown

With his new Project Drawdown plan, entrepreneur and visionary Paul Hawken has an important story to tell. It’s a story about humanity’s positive future. A story about surmounting and, indeed, reversing climate change. Getting the words right for this story is something he cares deeply about.

“You can’t fight climate change,” Hawken told the sold-out crowd gathered in our Modern Grange this January.

“The last thing I want to use are metaphors of war, because that’s failing to bring people together,” he said. “And that’s because the human brain does not respond to future existential threats, period. We’re wired to meet human needs now.”

Where we are now is in a state of fear, Hawken observed. The news is bad, the headlines promise worse, the weather is crazy, we’ve tipped past the point, it’s all horrible.

Not so fast.

A companion to the website, Hawken’s new book Drawdown promises that it is “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” It’s nothing less than audacious. But better than that, it’s nothing less than absolutely possible.

Because Drawdown posits that the information, technology, and scientists needed to reverse global warming by 2050 already exist. The methods are already in place. The data points have been proven. The people are ready. But they’re everywhere. Scattered. Far-flung.

What no one has so far done is to take all of that innovative, solution-forward data on the atmospheric concentration of green house gases — and put it in one spot.

Gathering research from scientists working in what Hawken terms “cautious, moderate, respected institutions” in 22 countries across the globe, Project Drawdown does just that. The result, online and in Drawdown, is a considered, mathematical list of the top 100 best ways to draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases — either by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

The Drawdown coalition is composed of over 100 researchers, scientists, graduate students, business leaders, and others from various fields who comb the scientific results. All of the research they use is peer-reviewed. “We simply do the math,” Hawken said.

Organized into sections like “Energy,” “Land Use,” “Materials,” and even “Women and Girls,” Drawdown examines innovations already in use — as with solar water heating in the Energy section — and extrapolates what would happen if their application were expanded.

With the solar water heating example, Project Drawdown researchers estimate that if the current 5.5% of the “adressable market” — those who get enough sun to use it to heat water — rose to 25% by 2050, the savings would be roughly $774 billion. Remarkably, 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions would be negated.

These are big numbers. Speaking to the SHED audience, Hawken referenced wind turbines as just one example. If wind turbines were adequately increased in their addressable markets by 2050, the financial windfall would be over $7 trillion. “And that’s a conservative estimate,” he stressed.

In fact, Project Drawdown’s conservatism is the most repeated criticism it receives. Rather than spinning fanciful numbers, its projections seem fantastical enough just remaining within the slim confines of reality.

“Ninety-eight of the 100 solutions in Drawdown have so many benefits that we’d want to do them even we weren’t in a crisis,” Hawken said. “We will have reversed global warming by taking care of people’s needs — not their greeds.”

Hawken is an advocate of no-till farming and told the audience about a type of kelp that is attractive to cows and, once ingested, reduces the resulting methane emissions by a full 70 percent. There are so many solutions. “Humanity is on the case,” he assures. “The ideas and implementation we need are already happening.”

According to the statistics compiled by the Project Drawdown team, the #1 problem of global warming is food production and waste and the #1 solution is refrigeration.

But take problems #6 and #7 and combine them. Suddenly the math changes again. Problem #6 is the education of girls; problem #7 is access to family planning. Add those two together and suddenly you have both the #1 problem and the #1 solution all rolled up into one. Might be, the future truly is female.

“Why do we never hear about women?” Hawken asked, seemingly exasperated. “It’s always this promethean attraction to technology.”

Project Drawdown and its companion book are weighty considerations of what it means to be a human on this Earth, with all of the possibility and peril humanity entails. The time for pragmatism, Hawken said, is now.

“Hope is fine,” he told the audience with a broadening smile. “But we’re about reality.”