Cooking, Farming, Field Notes, Foodshed, Healdsburg, HomeFarm

Food is Too Good to Waste

Currently, about 40% of the food we produce is wasted, representing a carbon footprint larger than any individual country except China and the United States. It’s also a moral failing—in the United States alone, 1 in 8 people are food insecure.

The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy ranks methods of dealing with food waste from the most preferable to the least. Many people think of composting as the be-all end-all of responsible waste management, but it’s actually all the way at the bottom of the pyramid, just above the landfill. Don’t get us wrong, we’re big believers in compost—one of our owners is a self-proclaimed dirt doctor!—but effective reduction of food waste starts long before your cores and peels hit the compost bin.

The top of the pyramid is source reduction, which simply means generating less food waste to begin with. The more mindful we are about using every ingredient to its fullest, the less food waste we’ll have to manage further down the line. It’s a philosophy essential to our culinary identity at SHED. Our different departments work together to ensure that nothing goes to waste, much like a permaculture farm would. When we have surplus dairy in the coffee bar, pantry products we need to move, or extra ripe and ready produce, our cafe chefs can transform them into new dishes.

Our menus are full of underappreciated ingredients, from croutons made of bread heels to apricot kernel ice cream. And when we can’t use all of a seasonal ingredient, we ferment or preserve it. It not only lends flavor to our dishes, it extends fresh ingredients’ shelf lives to ensure they don’t end up in the trash. And our eye toward preservation goes beyond pickles; culinary powders and shrubs also keep produce out of the landfill. Our passion for preserving extends to helping others learn the art. From canning classes to full-on food waste dinners, education is a top priority. Going low-waste in our own kitchen is good, but encouraging those in our own community and beyond to do the same can be game-changing.

But despite our best efforts, sometimes we end up with food waste. We over-prepare or end up with trimmings that just can’t be used. The next three tiers on the food recovery hierarchy are all ways to make the most of leftover food. If we can’t eliminate food waste, we should try to feed hungry people, feed animals, or find industrial uses for food waste. As our leftover-loving employees and our well-fed chickens can attest, we’ve got the first two covered. We also work with an oil management service that turns all those fried chicken Fridays into energy-rich biofuel.

The bottom tier of the food recovery hierarchy is the landfill. The landfill should only ever be a last resort. With so many alternatives to choose from, there’s no reason we should be throwing food away. Yet this is where 90% of food waste ends up. We’re proud of the work we have done to be part of the solution, but we know we can always do more. So we’re asking for inspiration from the place we so often find it: our community. We want to hear your ideas of how we can do more, because every meal we can keep out of the landfill is one more we can enjoy together. We welcome your comments and insights below!

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.

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.

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.

Foodshed, Watershed

Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable seafood is as important as any other sustainable production. If we’d like more fish, we need to protect our oceans.

As part of SHED’s passion for  sustainability, highlighted all this month as part of Healdsburg’s commitment to protecting and celebrating our environment, we source our seafood from TwoxSea, a San Francisco-based distributor changing the way that seafood is farmed, caught, and handled.