Sunday, August 29, 2010

Interview with Temra Costa, Author of Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat

Did you know that more than 30% of U.S. farm operators are women?

Temra Costa's book, Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat features the stories of over 30 women and how they are changing our food system for the better as farmers, educators, mothers, chefs, businesswomen, and policy wonks.  She is also co-host of the radio show, The Queens of Green on Green 960, which you can also be downloaded as a podcast.

I just *loved* this book, and also enjoy Temra's show, so I was super excited to interview her for the Big Vision Podcast.  I've posted an edited transcript below, and you can listen to our chat online, on iTunes, or on the player at the bottom of the post.

Our conversation began with my asking Temra, "How are women changing the way we eat?"

Temra Costa: It was the big impetus for writing the book, knowing that women were largely behind the sustainable food movement, but that they were too busy being the movement and not having enough recognition. It really begged to be written, all these great stories, and there are hundreds more all over the country. There are probably thousands more, because women are so involved in not only preparing foods at home, but in the emerging farmer scene. The last ag census showed that we've increased to 30% of women-owned farms, so that's pretty exciting.

Above and beyond that, women are just all-around amazing, working at nonprofits, heading up over 60% of employees, and directing over 85% of household spending. We just know that women are there, very much involved in food, but for some reason those stories weren't being told.

Britt Bravo: You interviewed 30 women, and organized them by if they were farmers, activists, and different things. Overall, was there a theme among the stories of the women that you interviewed?

There was definitely a theme among the women. Not only were they from all over the country, but they all shared an international, multi-ethnic or cultural base. They are either from other countries, or they are embedded in communities of color or of other places, or they've traveled and worked extensively with communities. From Judy Wicks in Philadelphia to Nancy Vail at Pie Ranch to Mily Treviño-Sauceda, who started the Líderes Campesinas movement, they all share real knowledge and sensitivity around multicultural issues, which is a bit surprising.

They all represent either a farmer, educator, activist, or chef, but they still share the connection that they're aware of global issues. They're aware of human issues, both here and abroad, and that somehow drove them all into the position that food was a place where they would be advocating for change through their passion, their life work, and through wanting to celebrate not only communities, but also by becoming activists for changing the way we eat.

What's the path that brought you to writing this book? It's clear from the book, and from some of the things that you've done that you're very passionate about this issue. What brought you here?

Food for me is something that impacts all of our lives, and it was a place where I could focus the most of my energy and really impact community, environment, health, soil, air, social equity issues, community building, and how we do, or do not interact with each other.  Food became the central hub for me where I would really focus. I became an activist during college. A lot of women in the book had that same experience. It's an eye-opening thing, college. You are exposed to new information.  I traveled overseas, similar to many of the women in the book. They traveled. They become more aware of global economies, of how our global economy impacts other countries, the opening of how we become more aware of our actions and how they impact others.

I was already studying agriculture at the University Wisconsin-Madison. It was a natural path for me, and I've been on it ever since. I was a women's studies minor, and there was never really a way to incorporate women's work into my work in sustainable agriculture, until the opportunity to write this book came along.

I was really excited about it, because it's something I've always believed in, that women are really changing our communities at home, that they are doing a lot of the background work. I myself am one of those women, so I also knew that it was necessary to tell these stories. I feel like the book came out of my background of not only studying agriculture, but of being aware of the different women's issues out there.

Now that you've written the book, whether it's another project or a book, where is it leading you next? What's next on the trail? You answered a question by writing this book, so what's the next question that you want to answer?

There are a couple, one being, do I want to farm myself? Last fall, I left my position with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers after six-and-a-half years to finish editing the book, to travel, and to WWOOF, Willing Workers on Organic Farms, in Europe. I went to France. I really wanted to make cheese. My great-grandparents were dairymen and dairywomen, so I went to France, and I dabbled a little bit in cheese making. I was like, "Wow, this is really hard. Oh my gosh." I came to the conclusion that the only way that I would ever farm or have lactating mammals is if I had business partners.

All of the women in the book exposed me to new information. Novella Carpenter got into the point that you don't necessarily want to go back to the land without your community. That was really driven home when I was at this small farm in the south of France. There were two farmers, and they were unhappy, so I know that I don't want to farm alone, but I'm still considering farming, especially since we need more farmers.

While the last ag censuses showed an increase in the number of small farms, and most of those farms are owned by people that are younger, which is great, we still need many, many more producers of food products in order to relocalize and regionalize our food systems in the U.S.  Because we're becoming so dependent on product from China and other countries, it's imperative that we have more farmers.

So, that's one of my next things is, do I want to farm, and how is that going to happen?  I'm exploring some different co-ownership ideas or options with different friends, because I definitely don't want to do it alone, and in California, nobody can afford the land.

There are some great organizations out there, like California FarmLink; for example, that will link farmers that are aspiring to farm, with retiring farmers to help bridge the gap a little bit. Otherwise, there are co-ownership models that are interesting today where you can have people from the city that are buying into your farm, and then they have part ownership.

Our farms of the future are going to look very different from what they used to be, a family staying on that land for many generations, because we need so many new farmers. Less than two percent of our population is farming right now, and we need at least eight percent to grow our food. That's just a guesstimate, and that would be 50,000 new farmers every year. It would be a lot of people. So I want to farm, but I don't know how to do it yet.

Two, social equity is becoming very important to me, the whole class structure about how some people have access to the food, and some people don't. The Farm Bill supports foods that are bad for people, and it goes to the people who can't afford the good food.

All that social inequity is really driving me crazy and was brought to the surface by listening to the story of Mily Treviño-Sauceda, from the book, about how women and children are still abused in the fields that are growing our food. It was shocking and deplorable, really terrible, to learn that and know that it's not at the forefront of a lot of people's thinking when they think about local food or regional food. It stops at a certain point.

You could stick with the local radius, but we really want a food system -- at least, I do and the women in the book do -- that cares for people, the planet, and is also viable for the people who are doing it. What does that mean? It means that we haven't even gotten to domestic fair trade. There's also criticism of international fair trade. So, how can we really increase the equity and the justice for our food system?

I feel like the bar's been raised so high in the country around awareness of eating local foods, and policy is definitely the next step. For the next 2012 Farm Bill, it's imperative that we all advocate for change, because that's where the dollars are allocated to different funding pots that support either corn products -- which are making us sick, type 2 diabetes and obesity -- or organic food, and young farmer and rancher programs.

The USDA has made some moves towards applying funds towards these more progressive things that we care about, but really, it's been pennies considering that they're still supporting genetic engineering and biotechnology in billions and billions of dollars. So the next 2012 Farm Bill, is definitely a thing that I will be advocating for.

I'm continuing to tell the stories of women, since I could only fit 30 stories in the book, and there are so many stories out there. Everywhere I go and talk about the book, it's so fun to meet a new community of food producers. It's the best community you could ever want to be networking in, because there's always great food. There are always great people, and you always get to see beautiful farms.

I've been having a lot of fun with that, and I'm continuing to tell stories about women on the website, where I feature Farmer Jane, and then Civil Eats has been posting some of those, and the Rodale Institute. It's been really fun for me to continue telling the story of all the different women all over the country who are changing our food.

You mentioned the connection between community and food systems and new models of farms. What are some new farm models that you think are exciting, or new community food systems that are working and that you feel like have the potential to grow and spread?

Well, I think that it's necessary to get really creative. If you go to website, they have a great manual on there. Severine von Tscharner Fleming's in the book, and she's really helping new farmers -- doesn't matter how old you are; everybody can grow food for the first time -- to access the resources of the federal government, and then to think creatively about how you can access land. Land is the biggest inhibitor to how you can start farming. Leasing is usually what a lot of people will do, but there are also some interesting programs happening with parks departments.

As the government funding for parks declines, they're looking for people to care-take that land, essentially.  How beautiful would it be if we could produce food -- organically, of course -- so that it regenerates the soil, and that promotes biodiversity of not only insects, but of animals on those properties?  What if all those greenways and all that wasted water that was spread all over grass that our parks department puts and spends -- look at the budgets of our parks system. But not only that, the greenways themselves, what if they were planted? What if the people that were employed by the government to plant them were actually skilled at producing food? That would be pretty amazing. That's one unique thing that's happening.

I think governments are starting to think about how they can creatively manage our land with food in mind, and that's because awareness has been raised about the demand for local and regional food, and also just about people's need for doing it from a health perspective. People need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

People are gardening a little bit more than they used to. The National Gardening Association has shown that 35% of Americans have gardens, which is a really exciting statistic (I love statistics). I think it's really fun, because it means that if you grow a plant, it has so much more value to you if you can grow it yourself and you see that growth process, especially for kids, but adults, big kids, too. Everybody benefits from growing their own food.

You also appreciate the work of farmers a little bit more. Instead of thinking of a farmer's market as a place that's not affordable for you, maybe you value it in a new way, because most of the farmers at farmer's markets are growing on a smaller scale and they don't have the efficiencies afforded by machines and industrial agriculture, which is hard on the soil. They're also providing a lot of jobs locally.

It gives better respect for who's growing your food and really appreciating that service as a social service. In addition to the parks department model, we're seeing it here. City Slickers Farm is taking over a park, with the support of the city of Oakland. They're going to be growing some food in one of the downtown West Oakland parks, which is pretty exciting. Then the big question is, how do people share in that risk of our food production?

Back to the models.  Co-ownership of farms is definitely happening. People will go in and they'll buy a farm together. You can also get investors. You can have people that care about farms help you purchase your farm, and then you can work off your share of the farm by what people call "sweat equity."  It means that you're working the land and you're getting it up to farm standards, which is exactly what Pie Ranch did down in Pescadero, and other farms I know have done through CSA models on the East Coast and in the Midwest. The members actually put the money in upfront.

Sometimes a land trust will even own the land, and the farm will pay a lease or rent from the land. There are a million different models out there. I feel like did a great job of pulling it all together into one manual about how to access land creatively.

I went to a panel you moderated about eating locally on a budget.  I think it was shortly afterwards that you wrote a blog post called Did Industrial Food Really Liberate Women? which is an idea that really interests me. 

You wrote, "How are we supposed to eat seasonally without canning, freezing, and planning ahead? How are we to eat more healthfully without adding more time to our food budgets?" which, I think, is such an important question that's not really discussed or talked about. A month has passed since you wrote that post. Have you had any new thoughts about it since then?

I found myself in a conundrum. Was I saying by promoting the fact that women are largely involved in this food movement that women should be largely involved in this food movement, that women should, because they step down from their jobs and their careers, step back and produce those foods? Was that the message I was trying to send? It's not at all. It's just looking at it through the lens of the fact that it takes more time. It does take more time, and people with limited economic resources don't have time. So how can we expect those people to be able to find the cheap buys at the farmer's market at the peak of season? What did that mean for our food?

I've really been enjoying Shannon Hayes' new book called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity.  That book came out right at the same time as Farmer Jane. I feel like there's synchronicity in the movement all around, and that's a sure sign of it.  Shannon has found that both men and women are going back to the home a little bit more to produce the foods that we have left the home to make money to pay for. She's a proponent of, why pay for it when you could do it yourself, and that there's a value to that.

During my women's studies programming in college I learned that there's no GDP for at-home work. If you take care of your own kids, you're not contributing to the GDP. You're not contributing to your home income. It doesn't have a value of any sort. But an oil spill does, because money is spent on that oil spill, and that makes the GDP go up. Cancer does, because money is spent on medical services, and the GDP goes up.  Anything short of restructuring our economic framework would be challenging, so we have to choose that for ourselves. We have to put our own value on it. But, again, some people can, and other people can't.

You have a lot of great tips at the end of each section of Farmer Jane for what eaters can do, farmers can do, and what was the other one?

Food businesses.

Businesses, yes. Farmers, businesses and eaters. I'm going to presume most of the listeners are "eaters," so can you give a few tips for the eaters who are listening about how they can support sustainable food and farming?

I feel like I have to get really geeky here, because I know that people know that they should try to shop at the farmer's market. I know that people know that they should eat as locally, and as close to home as possible.  One of the tips I'll often give is that for time-strapped people, your freezer is your best friend.  I work full-time. I do book. I do radio. I do these other things. I think freezing has become a really quick and easy way to eat seasonally on a budget.

You can oftentimes buy food now directly from wholesale places, which is something that most people don't know. You can go in and buy a case of organic peaches or this or that, and those prices are very, very good. Then what you do is bring it home, wash it, and put it in the freezer, if you don't have time to can.

Can it if you can, but that takes a little time, and after you add up the amount of time going into canning -- you have to think about it, and there's embodied energy, too.  I think freezing is a great option.  Shopping at wholesale produce companies is a great option, which a lot of them are open to doing today.

Where would you find a wholesale produce company? I wouldn't even know where you would begin to look for such a thing. I'd be like, "Hi, can I come in and buy your peaches?" I'm just one person. How does that work?

The first hurdle to get over is finding and locating your local wholesale distributor. It's definitely key. If you don't have any, many places don't, rural areas don't, but you might have farms close by, and you might be able to buy wholesale from them. If you live in a city, there are always distribution hubs. We live in the Bay Area, so we have an Oakland produce market in Oakland. We also have one in San Francisco. They open very early, and close around late morning. Usually around 11AM or Noon they're closed, so you have to go early. You can go on the weekends sometimes, and then you can buy your bulk product.

You can even go with friends and make it more of a community event. It's like, "OK, let's go down there and get those cherries and pit them and freeze them all together." It's more fun when you do it with other people. I think that's the celebration part of the whole food movement.  People are really coming back to food as a conviviality thing, of a way to engage with other people again.

We've just been in our own little isolated homes for so long, since the '40s, and everybody wanted their white picket fence and their two cars in their garage. People are coming back around with the community essence of food.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about Farmer Jane or sustainable food systems, or anything coming up that you want folks to know about?

It was really fun writing the book after working in the field for six-and-a-half years.  How do you articulate the sustainable food movement, and how do you explain to people where the bar has been raised? There are a lot of food writers out there, I feel, and there's a lot of material out there on it. So, how do you go deeper into the movement?  I get asked that question a lot, because people are interested in what's next. Definitely soil is up and coming. Water is up and coming. Right now, we're already in drought largely in the U.S., and we need water to grow food. How are we going to overcome those challenges?

In the book I covered some topics that aren't normally discussed, like Native American seed preservation and traditional growing techniques. I was just out on a Hopi reservation in Northeastern Arizona, and they grow their corn in the sand. There's this thin layer of clay under there.  But they don't irrigate at all. It's pretty amazing. They're dependent on rain coming through, which is something that's becoming more challenging now with sporadic weather conditions, aka global warming. It's really interesting how people used to grow food without it, and now we're seeing a lot more farmers using dry farming techniques.

Those are just a couple things. We need to get deeper into the ecology not only of the community aspect but the real environmental impact of food systems, and growing food, and how we can do it with these changing climate conditions, because we definitely want to continue producing food locally.

Maybe someday the hard to get petroleum will make it way too expensive to be importing our food from all over the world. We'll have to deal with it when it comes, and hopefully we're thinking about it a little bit more now than we used to. Maybe we'll be creating more demand in our country so that we're at least consuming products within our country a little bit more than we used to. I'm sure that's the case.

I also want to say that people have to continue asking the questions about where the food is coming from and don't take "local" as an answer sometimes. Is it really local? Sometimes I'll be eating, and I'll ask, "Are there organic greens?" because I saw that the Environmental Working Group just came out with their Dirty Dozen. I just love lists like that, because they're so vivid, and really capturing. Lettuce is on there, so I don't want to eat non-organic lettuce.

People need to continue not only asking for organic food, but also to make sure that it is truly local. I know some Safeways, for example, put up a big local sign when you walk in, and when you ask, they say, "We support local farmers."  What does that mean, exactly? Are you purchasing a certain amount from them every year? We have to keep pushing, unfortunately. I'm sorry, but we've made the local food movement very successful, and it's become so successful that it's being marketed to us, even when it's not the case.  People have to continue asking.

There are a ton of resources on The goal of the book was to make it as useful as possible and really help people engage, and know how to take immediate action to help change our food system. There are tons of resources that I had a research assistant, Logan Rockefeller Harris, work on, and she did a great job pulling them all together. They're all up on the website with links to the organizations.

Those are just a couple things, and then there are more Farmer Jane events coming up. Farmer Jane is on Facebook and tweeting and doing all those things.

My last question for you is, sometimes all this stuff about food systems is depressing and overwhelming, so how do you keep hopeful and cheerful about it?

I try to focus on the solutions, number one, and things that you can do. I spent my early twenties really frustrated with the world in general. It seemed like everything was going to hell in a handbasket.  The environment didn't look good. Everything was looking pretty bad, but all you have to do is think about the solutions and what you can do.

For a while, I was really into guerrilla marketing, so I would go around with pens and I would write stuff on signage.  I would do direct-action kind of stuff (that nobody can arrest me for today!).  That felt really good. It was instantaneous. It was something I could do, and it was immediate, and immediate gratification is what our culture loves. We're all about immediacy.

I've heard of those mob gardens where people get together and they all just put in a garden.  If you're feeling helpless, plant a plant somewhere. Do something different. Surprise yourself, and you'll be happy you did.


If you like this interview, you might also like:

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have Fun, Do Good's Five-Year Blog Birthday (and Mine too!)

Flickr photo credit: Vegan Birthday Cupcakes by Steve Damron
Five years ago today (on my b-day) I started this blog with a post titled, Service & Cupcakes.

I just wanted to thank you *SO* much for reading Have Fun, Do Good whether you are a long time reader, or checking it out for the first time today.

You have made the last five years of my life richer.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Reminder: Big Vision Circle Teleclass 8/17 + Get the MP3

Just a quick reminder that my one-hour teleclass, How to Start a Big Vision Circle to Support Your Creative Dream  is happening tomorrow, August 17th at 5:30 PM PT/8:30 PM ET.

Even if you can't join the class live, registering will give you access to an MP3 recording of the call within 48 hours of its completionTo register, go to

During the teleclass we'll discuss:
  • How a Big Vision Circle can help you reach your creative career goals
  • How to find people to join your circle
  • The pros and cons of virtual vs. face-to-face Big Vision Circles
  • How to facilitate your Circle
  • Problem-solving (e.g. What if people stop coming?) and more!
Plus, I'll answer your questions about starting your own Big Vision Circle.  For more information and inspiration, check out my blog post, Five Benefits of Starting a Big Vision Circle to Support Your Creative Dreams.

Flickr photo, Circle of Life uploaded by red twolips/magdalena.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Walking Into 41: A Birthday Reflection Practice

Longtime readers will remember that during the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday last year, I created a 4-part daily practice of moving, reflecting, playing and connecting

This year, after reading in the article, How to Be Productive: Stop Working, that walking (or other aerobic activity) keeps your mind, as well as your body fit, I've decided to walk into the first 41 days of being 41 with 30-minutes of walking each day, starting on my b-day, August 19th.

The biggest challenge, I think, will be making the time to do it.  I'd love your suggestions for how you make time to exercise, or to do whatever it is that is that nourishes you.

I'd also love any musical suggestions as I create my 30-minute walking playlists (you can see one below in my MixPod mix).

I've collected a few more articles and posts about the benefits of walking on your mind, if you're interested:

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creating a Community Supported Kitchen: Interview with Jessica Prentice of Three Stone Hearth

"The community-supported kitchen idea was a fantasy that I had in my head for years, before we started this business. I was always playing with it like, 'Oh, wouldn't it be great if you had this kitchen, and you packed things in Mason jars. People paid a deposit, and then they returned them. They could get mineral rich bone broth, and people would all work together in the kitchen.' It was a fantasy, and, for me, it's incredibly exciting to see it actually happening. . . .

 . . . I think it's part of what life is about, as a human being, visualizing those things, then finding the ways to make them actually come into being and to live that life."

Jessica Prentice is a co-owner of Three Stone Hearth, a community supported kitchen in Berkeley, CA that uses local, sustainable ingredients to prepare nutrient-dense, traditional foods on a community scale. She is a professional chef, passionate home cook, local foods activist, and author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection.  She is also co-creator of the Local Foods Wheel, and coined the word "locavore."

Below is an edited transcript of my interview with Jessica for the Big Vision Podcast.  You can also listen to it on the Big Vision Podcast homepage, via iTunes, or on the podcast player at the bottom of this post.

Our conversation began with Jessica describing what a community supported kitchen is:

Jessica Prentice: The idea behind the community supported kitchen is that we are modeling a new way of preparing and processing food on a community scale.  The idea is that, in this country, most food preparation and processing is happening in factories. We eat a lot of factory-processed foods, and it's having terrible consequences for our health and for the environment.

Then we have home preparation and processing, which is all great, but for a lot of us living in very small households, it's hard to cook from scratch three times a day. In times past, it made a lot more sense to do that, partly, because we lived in larger households or lived in communities or villages, where food preparation happened in community, for the larger community.

We're trying to bring back that concept: food is getting prepared and processed in community, a smaller community, for a larger community. The community supports us by ordering our food (we have an online ordering system), but also, our original capital came from small loans from members of our community.  We weren't bank-financed, at all. We pay them back with interest.  They were investors, but it was definitely community supported, in that sense. Most of those people are still our customers, so they support us in many ways.

One of the main ways that we are community supported is that the community comes in and helps to prepare the food. The vast majority of the people who work in the kitchen are volunteers or apprentices who are doing it, sometimes out of service, but mostly in exchange for learning and an experience that they would have a hard time finding somewhere else:  working in a commercial kitchen with these types of ingredients and learning the principles and philosophy behind what we do.

Britt Bravo: You are one of four or five co-owners?

Yes, we're a worker-owned cooperative and five of us started the business: Porsche Combash, Misa Koketsu, Catherine Spanger, and Larry Wisch were the co-founders with me.  Unfortunately, Larry has been out for the past year and a half on disability so the four of us have been running the business. We operate as a cooperative. We have weekly meetings, we make all decisions together, and that's been a huge journey in and of itself. We've been in business for four years and we were planning the business for a year before that, so, we've been working together pretty intimately for five years.

Do you think cooperative ownership is an essential element of having a community supported kitchen?

It's not necessarily the only way to do it, but I do think it's pretty hard to do anything on the scale that we're doing as a single owner. I would recommend to anybody who was thinking about starting a business like that, that they find preferably at least two people to work with them. The cooperative is really nice because; for example, it has allowed us to take breaks.  I had a baby, so I was on maternal leave for three months. My business partners handled the business while I was away. If somebody gets sick, like Larry did, the business partners are able to handle it. The enterprise doesn't come to an end, and we're able to take vacations. All of my business partners were able to take about six weeks off in the past year to get a little sabbatical from holding up the business. So, that is one of the things that is nice about have more people own it.

The other thing is that there's a period of time in the beginning of a business when you have to work really hard, and you don't make a lot of money. To have more people that are owners, and have that sense of commitment, I think, is important to get through that hard stage. Then, eventually, hopefully, you ramp up, and you can hire people and pay people what is necessary to be paid.  Having more than one or two people who are deeply invested in this business, I think, really helped it to get as far as it's gotten. We're in a really good place with it, and have really high hopes for the future.

Can you talk a little bit about how the volunteer and apprenticeship program work?  

I asked for questions for you from my blog, Facebook and Twitter readers and followers, and someone asked, in relation to that:

"I'm interested to know, with such amazing volunteers and apprentices coming through Three Stone Hearth, what do they offer folks once they complete their time there and move on to other organizations, communities etc.?  How do they stay in touch and maintain collaborations?"

Well, that's actually something that we're working on now. It's been fairly informal. Volunteers pitch-in and do whatever needs to be done. We have one volunteer who has been with us pretty much all four years. She still comes every week, and she just loves it. We have some volunteers that are retired. It is a really important place for them to come for community and connection. We all sit down together for tea and lunch everyday. So, for a lot of people, it feeds their need to be in a community and contributing in a meaningful way.  We also have lots of younger volunteers all the way down to older teenagers, 17-18 years old, and then college students.

For a lot of people, there's a lot of interest in sustainable foods, artisanal production, and in cooking as a profession, but there aren't very many places where people can start out, dip their toes in and see how it works.  There are culinary training programs, like the one that I went to in New York. There's one here with Bauman, in Berkeley; but for a lot of people, they're expensive. It's hard for people to make that commitment without necessarily knowing if this is the right field for them. So, this is a chance for people to get into the kitchen, work with the food, work with the concepts, and see how they like it and what they want to go on to do.

Really, the apprenticeship is what you make of it. The people who are able to commit the most time get the most out of it. We're able to give them more and more recipes to work with. We tend to work more with the recipes with the apprentices. People who give us more of a time commitment get to do more of the actual cooking. Volunteers, who just come once a week, will often find themselves jarring things or bagging granola, which is super helpful, but it's more for those people who want the community and to pitch in and help.

People who really want to learn how to cook are better off with the apprenticeship program. We offer a weekly lesson where we explore the culinary principles that our business is based on. We have lots of written materials about the recipes and how we do things.  People read through, and then, they make something, get to taste it, and adjust it. Frankly, that's really how you learn to cook.

Even though I went to cooking school, the most meaningful parts were just cooking and tasting. I mean, there's the book learning, too, but a lot of that, you can do on your own.  When I graduated from culinary school, I got a job. It was really on the job that I learned how to do a lot of stuff.   I think the reality is, with culinary training, a lot of it is learned on the job. Here's a free job, a free learning experience where they're contributing to the business and they're not having to pay for it, but we also don't have to pay them. We just have to offer them the structure that they need to be able to learn.

We also take groups. Sometimes a group of people will come together and have a joint experience of working in the kitchen together. The kind of food that we do here is fairly unique.  For a lot of people, it's really the only place they can get exposure to the kind of ingredients that we use, and the kind of cooking that we do.

What makes the food you're cooking unique?

We're inspired by the nourishing traditions, Weston A. Price approach. There's just aren't a lot of people out there that are doing it on any kind of professional scale, other than personal chefs and stuff like that.  We work a lot with animal products, but we work with pastured, humanely raised grass-fed types of animal products. For a lot of people, that really matters. They want to learn to work with meat, but they want to feel really good about how the meat was sourced. We do a lot of bone broths.  We work with organ meats. We do a lot of fermentation.  We make sauerkrauts and kimchis. We make beet kvaas and kombuchas, so, lacto-fermented beverages.

It's fairly unusual to be able to work with those kinds of ingredients. People have the opportunity to work in a professional kitchen environment where it's not just about the financial bottom line, and there is a lot of real attention to the ecological and spiritual issues around food, which is part of what draws people into food in the first place.

To go back to that person's question, do you feel like you are growing a network of people?

Absolutely. We do have a Facebook Page for the former apprentices where they are starting to network with each other, volunteers and people that have come through the kitchen.

We're in the planning stages of offering a seminar for people who want to start their own CSK.  We have a lot of people that come through the apprenticeship and who have a dream of doing something similar to this.

It has always been our goal to create a model that would be replicable. So far, Tressa is the only person who has done that in Oregon, taking what we're doing and morphing it into what would work for her. She's been in business a few years now.  She's been doing well.

It has always been our goal to seed these all around the country. Part of how we do that is the apprenticeship because as people come, they work here, and they get a feeling for it, but it's still hard to get over the hump of actually starting a business.  One thing that we haven't been able to offer too much of, until recently, is the nitty gritty financial back-of-the-house business planning stuff.

That's what the seminar will be: this is how, as a business, we operate. You might already know how we make our granola, or how we do these other things, which actually is very important. I think there will be people who will come to the seminar, who won't have apprenticed with us.  I think they would still get a huge value from coming and actually working in the kitchen because there's no better way to experience what we're doing than to just do it with us.  But, just doing that part doesn't necessarily give you a lot of exposure to what happens behind the scenes, or how we started, in terms of how we built our customer base and all that.  The seminar is intended to cover those kinds of topics more in depth.

If someone can't come to your seminar, what tips do you have for starting a CSK in their community?

We have a sheet that we send out, and we offer a free, 45-minute consultation for somebody who is interested in doing it.

We've created a web-based inventory and ordering system, and one of our goals is to make that available. That was one of our biggest capital expenses in the beginning was having that programmed. A programmer had to write it from scratch.  One of our goals is to make that available to people at a price that will save them a lot of money, because they won't have to have a programmer write it, but it will also help us to recoup some of those costs.   A huge part of this is computer based: it's a web-based ordering system.  There's not really anything off the shelf that will work to do everything that you need it to do for this kind of business.

So, it sounds like the online ordering infrastructure is really important. Anything else about researching the market for your area, or picking your co-owners or any other tips: "This is what I learned. Don't do this?"

Yes. I learned a lot of things along those lines, but they are fairly in depth and subtle. There aren't any quick tips.  I do think that it's advisable to start in a small way with jumping in, doing some piece of this, and getting to know the farmers in your area, your suppliers and what's out there.

One of the big questions is: is there a market for this kind of food in your area? How connected are people that are interested in traditional food stuff?  Get to know health care practitioners, and your farmers and ranchers.  Dialing into whatever community there is around the Weston Price stuff in your area would be really important, although this model could potentially be applied to a vegetarian or a vegan diet too.  It's not necessarily a Weston Price thing, although what we're doing is, and I think that's a huge part of our success. 

We have a lot of health care practitioners that refer people to us. That's how we get a lot of customers: people who are told by a doctor, "You need to eat these pastured bone broths." People either don't have the time, or they are not well enough to make them themselves.   It has this viral impact. It's all word of mouth, but people pass the word along.

What has been your biggest success? What's the thing that you are the most proud of?

When we started this business, we very much saw it as an experiment. We didn't know whether it would work. We intended it to work, but we tried to be really open-minded. A lot of things changed, as we went along, from our original sort of ideas. But, once we settled in and figured out what was working, it's working. I think that our biggest success is that we are still doing it, and that we've got this big new space that we've expanded into. We're in a very visible location so a lot more people are seeing our name and having questions, "What are we doing here?"

The community-supported kitchen idea was a fantasy that I had in my head for years, before we started this business. I was always playing with it like, "Oh, wouldn't it be great if you had this kitchen, and you packed things in Mason jars. People paid a deposit, and then they returned them. They could get mineral rich bone broth, and people would all work together in the kitchen." It was a fantasy, and, for me, it's incredibly exciting to see it actually happening.  It's actually my job to help to run this business. It's not a "Wouldn't it be great if" idea anymore.  I think the distance between those things is always a bit surprising.

When you have a fantasy about something, and then the thing actually happens, it isn't really the way you fantasized about it. I think that can be hard sometimes, unless you're really able to let go of all that and say, "Wow! This is really happening.  Whatever it is, the thing that I set my intentions on, the thing that I wanted to manifest is manifest in the real world and of course, it's got real world constraints, but it's actually not just an idea anymore. It's a manifest reality."

It's a pretty amazing experience. I think it's part of what life is about, as a human being, visualizing those things, then finding the ways to make them actually come into being and to live that life.

What has been the business's biggest challenge and how are you working to solve it?

Well, one of our greatest challenges has been around physical location.  In one sense, we've been very lucky. We found a kitchen very quickly, when we were looking. We were down near Aquatic Park in West Berkley for the first two-and-a-half years, and it came very well equipped. It was kind of this amazing blessing, but, then the building was sold, we got evicted, and finding another place was challenging. We ended up subletting half of this space.  We were sharing this space with a business that went out of business.  We're still a little bit precarious. We have a short-term lease.  If we'd had a lot more capital, perhaps we could have bought a space and built out a kitchen, but that wasn't really feasible for us, so we had to work with what we could find.

Because there aren't community-supported kitchens in the world yet, there aren't kitchens that are tailor made for us. There are restaurant kitchens, which don't work very well for us, and there are catering kitchens, which don't work very well for us. We ended up finding a kitchen that was in a former grocery store space, which has been actually really good, but we don't have a long-term lease here.

Our business is going great, but in a sense, the rug could get pulled out from under us at any time, and it did, in our old location.  It's really hard to find commercial kitchens in the Bay Area, so I would say that was one of our bigger challenges.

What's your big vision for Three Stone Hearth? Where do you want the business and the CSK model to be in five or 10 years?

Our vision is to see other CSKs elsewhere.  We would love there to be a handful of CSKs in cities around the country that were connected to the owners: they came and apprenticed here, did our seminars, and we're offering them some kind of technical support.

They may not be doing everything that we're doing, or doing what we're doing in the same way, but the basic concept is still the same: very nutrient dense, healing food is accessible to more and more people.  I think it's really important for people in the community to have a sense that they can join in and be in the kitchen and that there's a lot of transparency. They can see how everything is made. It's not secret; it's not behind closed doors.

It's also important that the CSKs are supporting small ranchers and farmers in their areas. It's really nice for a ranch or farm to have an account that's big enough to make an impact on their business, to expand their production; for example, but it's still small enough that the needs can be met.  I think we've really helped to support local farmers and ranchers that way, and I would like to see infrastructures built in more cities where there is access to local pastured grass-fed meats, for example.  We know there is a lot of infrastructure that's required to make that possible, quite a lot.

We are lucky in the Bay Area to have some of the suppliers that we have: Marin Sun Farms for our meats, Veritable Vegetable for our produce, and direct relationships with lots of ranchers for almonds and rice and other things.  The more need there is, the more of those infrastructures and other businesses will have a chance to pop up.  Creating a whole web of connections in your area that's supporting a local food system is really exciting to me

I was Googling and trying to find other CSKs, so I know you guys are pretty much the first.


And then I found one in Portland, Oregon, which I think you mentioned was someone who had worked here, and then one in Portland, Maine.  Are there more that I wasn't able to find?

No. We're not familiar with those folks in Maine. I think they started it out of a store. There are lots of variations on how this model could work. I'm not really that clear on what they're doing there. This whole idea of "community supported" has gained some traction in lots of areas. There are some community supported fisher people, and community supported bakers. There are meat CSAs, community supported agriculture, but around meat. It's one of the ways that communities are reconnecting to the source of their food.

It's just not realistic for a lot of people to cook from scratch all the time.  What we're doing is supporting people eating at home, but giving them some of the elements that are making it easier to make that a routine, and to eat healthfully.

A huge part of that is the nutrient density of our food. It's really nice to see people making that shift in their mind to say, "Food is something that's important enough in my life that I'm going to order it in advance. I'm going to go on a special day and I'm going to pick it up. And I'm going to value what's being offered here." It's been really rewarding to see how many people really value it.

I just got an email forwarded to me by one of my business partners from one of our customers who was basically like, "Thanks be to God for your business because you guys keep me healthy."  He said, you know, "I just can't believe there are all these angelic beings there cooking for me."

People have stuff that they're dealing with, health issues, and to feel like there is somebody cooking for them, that's nourishing them, you know, we're sort of like the "mamas" that people need.  You need mothers and grandmothers that are nourishing you, and we just don't have a society that's structured like that, so for some people, we do that.  Even though we're a business, we're very much humanly connected to our community of people, and that feels like right relation.

I have a blog called "Have Fun, Do Good," so I always like to ask people, how are you having fun in doing good?

It's an amazing privilege to be able to do what you love for a living. Part of one of our goals with setting up this business was right livelihood for ourselves, and hopefully for others, to create a model that would enable other people to create that right livelihood. We started as just a worker-owned cooperative, but we have employees now, and our turnover rates are very low so I think that our employees feel lucky to work with us. It feels good to be offering jobs, especially in a down economy.

The other thing that's pretty amazing is the kind of spiritual growth that happens when you work in a cooperative with other people.  While it's not always "fun" fun, it does feel like the kind of growth that we're all going through is really important and therapeutic.  We're all growing a lot as individuals in relation to one another, and in relation to this business. The business is holding us as whole people, not just automatons who come to work and do our jobs, but as whole people. There is something really rewarding about that, to be able to bring all of yourself to your workplace, to feel held and to make a contribution.  You're not disassociated, which I think happens for some people with their work.

Some days it is just terrific fun.  I spend a lot of my time writing recipes and working on menus, and frankly there's nothing really more fun to me than planning menus.  The fact that I get to do it for a living is great, although it's a lot of hard work too. I don't want to romanticize it. It's nitty gritty hard work, but it's something that I really enjoy.

I think each of us has been able to find some things within the business that are things that we really enjoy, and that always has to change, too. We always have to be looking at, OK, am I still being fulfilled with the stuff that I'm doing on a daily basis? We're constantly, constantly evolving, and our structure is constantly evolving as we learn, "This works, this doesn't, this is meeting my needs, this doesn't." 

We're working out what kind of vacation time we want, and because we're the owners of this business, we get to make it up. We've all worked really hard for four years and so, how do we want to model what is a sustainable lifestyle in a pretty workaholic society? We're actually making a profit now as a business, so figuring out how we pay ourselves is a process, too. Every part of it is an adventure.

Is there anything else you'd like to add before we close?

One of the things that is evolving is our website, It was our starting website, so it's almost a historical document now. We're working on a new website that's going to be WordPress based, so it's going to be much more interactive. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, we'll go live with that.  If you're tooling around and checking things out, check it out again in a few months and see where we're at because that is shifting as well.

Also, if you're in the Bay Area, we're open to the public on Wednesday evenings for pickup from 5-7 PM, and Thursdays all day from 10 AM-4 PM.  We also have walk-in sales, so you can just walk in off the street and take a look at what we have for the week and see if you want to pick something up.  Other than that, we're a production kitchen, so we're not really open to the public but at those times we encourage people to come in, get a brochure and see the kitchen. We have usually some samples of the food so you can taste things. Our menu changes every week, so there will be different things on offer each week.

Also, anybody can sign up on our website, and create an account.  They'll get our weekly updates and see what's on the menu. You can order as frequently, or as infrequently as you want.  We're not like a CSA, in the sense that you don't have to subscribe and get something every week. We have lots of people who come once a month, or even once every six months, and then lots of people come every week.  It's really up to you.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Your Free, Fun August/September 2010 Big Vision Worksheet

Hello Have Fun, Do Gooders!

I was in NYC for the 2010 BlogHer Conference, and on a little vacation, so I'm a couple days late posting this month's August/September 2010 Big Vision Worksheet (illustrated by my hubs).

You can download the PDF from Dropbox here.  If you have any trouble accessing it, let me know.

We'll be talking about how to use the worksheet during the August 17th teleclass, How to Start a Big Vision Circle to Support Your Creative Dream at 5:30 PM PT/8:30 PM ET.  Even if you can't make the call, an mp3 recording will be available if you aren’t able to join us live.  I hope you can make it!

You can view and download past 2010 Big Vision worksheets here.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Five Benefits of Starting a Big Vision Circle to Support Your Creative Dream + August 17 Teleclass

Being part of a Big Vision Circle for the past nine years has been an incredibly rich experience.  Each month, the women in my Circle meet to discuss our creative career goals, successes and challenges.  Over the past nine years we've started businesses, written and performed in plays and one-woman shows, found our dream jobs, started blogs, created fabric lines, completed Master's Degrees and fitness coaching certifications, worked abroad, published our stories and poems, and much more!

I'd like to help you start your own Big Vision Circle.  On August 17 at 5:30 PM PT/8:30 PM ET I will be teaching a one-hour teleclass about How to Start a Big Vision Circle to Support Your Creative Dream. You can register for this $10 teleclass on, or click on the Add to Cart button below:

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  The 5 benefits I've gotten out of being a part of a Big Vision Circle have been:
  1. Resources and ideas

    It's really true that two (or more!) heads are better than one.  Whenever I hit an obstacle I can't figure out for myself, at least one person in the group has a name of someone for me to talk to, a book I should read, or a way of looking at the problem that I would never have thought of by myself.

  2. Perspective

    Because the group has gone on for so long, and members usually stay at least 3 years, I have been able to see the cycles of their successes and challenges, and they have seen mine.  We are able to remind each other how far we've each come, and how we've weathered the storms of the past.

  3.  Time to Focus on My Creative Dreams

    My life gets busy, as I'm sure yours does, and it can be hard to take the time to think about and take action on my creative career dreams.  Our monthly meetings force me to make the time to think, and talk about my creative career goals, and to fill out my Big Vision Worksheet.

  4. Accountability

    During our meetings we talk about how we did (or didn't!) do the things we said we would do at the end of the last meeting.  We congratulate each other on our successes and offer support for our challenges.

  5. A Creative Career Community

    Many times when I get together with friends, we end up talking about our relationships (family, love, friends).  Although we do discuss our personal lives in our Big Vision Circle, it's almost always in relationship to our creative careers, which is really refreshing.  On the other hand, our group has also celebrated birthdays, weddings, and the birth of children, as well as provided support during breakups, illnesses, and other challenging life events.
You might be thinking, "I'm not creative," or "I don't have a big vision, so this teleclass isn't for me." Not true!  Anyone who wants to give and get support for making their dreams, and others people's dreams real can benefit from creating a Big Vision Circle, no matter what kind of dreams they might have.

During the teleclass we'll talk about:
  • Why a Big Vision Circle can help you reach your creative career goals.
  • How to find people to join your circle.
  • The pros and cons of virtual vs. face-to-face Big Vision Circles.
  • How to facilitate your Circle.
  • Problem-solving (e.g. What if people stop coming?).
  • Plus, I'll answer your questions about starting your own Big Vision Circle.
To register for this $10 teleclass, go to, or click on the Add to Cart button below.  You will receive the call-in number after you register, and an mp3 recording of the call will be available if you aren’t able to join us live.

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Flickr photo, Circle of Life uploaded by red twolips/magdalena.

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