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NWEI Staffer Liz Zavodsky and OCI Chef Instructor Ramona White

NWEI Staffer Liz Zavodsky and OCI Chef Instructor Ramona White

Oregon Culinary Institute Chef Instructor Ramona Lisa White has begun what is now an ongoing commitment to using the NWEI course books Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability in her ongoing culinary arts classes. “The students really responded positively to the readings,” says Ramona. At least 45 students have already completed her first course using the NWEI course books, and her second course began this week. Student Michael Gent noted “I thought the readings were helpful. I have noticed my general attitude regarding (food) ethics have changed over the course of the class.”

At NWEI, we believe the solution to many of Earth’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective change: by taking action in our own lives and inspiring the people around us, each of us contributes to a world of impact. Over the last 20 years, NWEI has helped more than 140,000 people from around the world make small steps that lead to big changes for our planet. Thanks to the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Northwest Earth Institute is pleased to offer 1,000 free discussion course books to Portland-area students during the 2012-2013 school year. Oregon Culinary Institute has been one of the most active participants in the Spirit Mountain Community Fund Grant.

More than 300 colleges and universities throughout North America have successfully used NWEI course books in a wide range of academic disciplines and institutional settings. The student-led curriculum encourages critical thinking and active learning, and helps students find “Aha!” moments about the way they live, work, create and consume.

Oregon Culinary Institute student Tom Kelch reflected that “whether the readings were sad or uplifting didn’t matter because I learned things I never  thought about before.” Emelio Sansone noted that “each reading served very valuable lessons and I am making a great deal of effort to apply them to my life whenever possible.” Other students in Ramona’s class cited the NWEI readings as “eye opening” and “useful not only in our career life but in our personal lives too.”


imagesPortland, Oregon based Edible Portland (published by local nonprofit Ecotrust) just named six Sustainable Food Heros, and Dancing Roots Farm’s Shari Sirkin was amongst those honored. Shari was NWEI’s first employee in 1993 when the organization was founded. She will be joining us at NWEI’s 20th Anniversary Party and running the food Eco Station. See below for an excerpt from OPB’s article:

Who are your local food heroes? Edible Portland, a magazine published by environmental nonprofit Ecotrust, holds a Local Food Hero contest every year to recognize businesses that go the extra mile for social, environmental and economic sustainability.

Since 2009, the group has taken nominations for food heroes in six categories: Farm/ranch, restaurant, food artisan, beverage artisan, retailer and nonprofit. The winners are determined by a public vote. Check out this year’s winners, based on around 2,000 votes:

Dancing Roots Farm – Shari Sirkin and Bryan Dickerson grow heirloom, organic veggies on 10 acres in Troutdale. They’ve been offering their harvest to CSA members for 17 years, and they’re up to 150 members. They also collect donations for a CSA “scholarship” program to help others afford a membership. Sirkin advocates for strong connections between local farmers and eaters as the president of the Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, and farm supplies numerous Portland restaurants including Nedd Ludd, Genoa, Park Kitchen and Navarre.

Congrats to Shari! To read the full piece, click here.

Sustainable-Food-WordsOur friends at The Food Tank recently shared the following 13 resolutions to change the food system in 2013. We think the NWEI community should join in! As we start the new year, many of us will be working to improve health and effect new changes in our food system. The Food Tank proposes that a broader collection of farmers, policy-makers, and eaters need new, bigger resolutions for fixing the food system. As Food Tank co-founder Danielle Nierenberg says, “We have the tools—let’s use them in 2013!”

Here are The Food Tank’s 13 resolutions to change the food system in 2013:

1. Growing the Cities:  Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories. Nearly one billion people worldwide produce food in cities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s rooftop garden.
2. Creating Better Access:  People’s Grocery in Oakland and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in their communities.
3. Eaters Demanding Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.
4. Cooking More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills.  Top Chefs Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, and Bill Telepan are working with schools to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.
5. Creating Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.
6. Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.
7. Preventing Waste:  Roughly one-third of all food is wasted—in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.
8. Engaging Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.
9. Protecting Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully persuaded Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to pay the premium of a penny-per-pound to Florida tomato pickers.
10. Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers: Farmers aren’t just farmers, they’re business-women and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture.
11. Recognizing the Role of Governments:  Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, greatly reduced the number of hungry people.
12. Changing the Metrics: Governments, NGOs, and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.
13. Fixing the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges—including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

And a 14th: If you haven’t already, organize Menu for the Future or Hungry for Change this Winter and join in educating and inspiring people to act!

photo by Amanda Dempsey, Edible Cleveland

photo by Amanda Dempsey, Edible Cleveland

We just got word that the Edible Cleveland magazine covered one of NWEI’s Menu for the Future courses in Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks to Noelle Celeste for this piece!

Every Monday night for six weeks Felicia Tiller and her boyfriend, Travis, talked about food with a dozen familiar strangers from the neighborhood. They were there to participate in a pilot program for Menu for the Future, an experiment that grew out of Sustainable Cleveland 2019. The idea is to inspire community dialogue around food issues by using the Northwest Earth Institute’s “Menu for the Future” course on a broad scale through faith communities, organizations, businesses or, in this case, neighbors gathered by Felicia’s friend from work.

“It was like a mini book club except we discussed how we eat and who we eat with—not just local food, but the role of food in our lives,” said Felicia. “Overall the experience made us feel more connected to the people in our community and it reminded us that every little thing you do is valid and important—even the simple habit of sitting down with your family to eat.”

Felicia was most surprised to learn that it wasn’t until the end of World War II that families shifted their eating habits and stopped growing their own food. Until then the bulk of an American’s food came from their communities and their gardens . This fact inspired her. “If they could grow it, why couldn’t I?”

So what’s changed in Felicia’s world as a result of those six Monday nights? She and her boyfriend committed to starting a balcony garden. “Originally, we were going to spend the time we would have been in the meeting each week on garden work, but instead it’s become a daily ritual: watering before bed so we don’t water our neighbors on their way to work in the morning and checking on sprouts every morning. We love watching our garden grow.”

In the Cleveland area and want to start or join a conversation near you? Call 216.264.0181 or email


The holiday season is upon us again.  On the one hand, there are family traditions, favorite holiday songs and time spent with friends and family. Alternately, there is the pressure to bestow gifts upon friends and family, commercial pressure, busy stores and holiday crowds to contend with (not to mention the myriad food choices, many of which are not sustainable!).

It doesn’t have to be this way though–we can opt out of commercialized, materialistic holidays and commit to a simplified holiday season. There are many ways to instill voluntary simplicity in your celebrations, and in the process take back some of your precious time, money and energy (not to mention lessening your impact on our environment). We recently found this article with a few tips on putting a green spin on your holiday season:

“No time of the year is more emotional than the holiday season, whether you’re bursting with the joy of baking and caroling or overwhelmed with the stress of shopping and wrapping. But even with all those other factors weighing on your mind, it’s possible to put a green spin on your holidays; simple tips and easy substitutions mean you can come through this season of indulgence without leaving a massive carbon footprint.

Start with your gift list, where going green can mean anything from simply buying fewer gifts (the too-cluttered shelves at your giftee’s house will thank you, we promise) to finding Fair Trade alternatives to holiday classics. Look for recycled paper goods, like cards and wrapping, or get creative and make your own versions of both. Green your Christmas dinner with seasonal, local ingredients and organic turkeys, and stock your bar with organic bubbly and other green cocktails. Then look for green greens for your home by choosing fresh wreaths and pesticide-free trees trimmed with energy-slashing LED lights. Put the money you saved on your electric bill toward a donation to environmental charities and let your greenbacks support green projects.

But most importantly, keep in mind that the holidays are not about the gifts, the errands, the trimmings; they’re about celebrating with your family and friends and appreciating the blessings in your life. We happen to think Mother Earth is one of those blessings, so put these tips to work to help keep it that way…”

For more ideas on greening this holiday season, click here.
Also, keep in mind that NWEI offers gift memberships, as you embark on your simplified holidays season.

As you likely know, today marks day number one of NWEI’s Annual EcoChallenge. From October 1-15th, people and organizations throughout North America are choosing one action and committing to it for two weeks. The EcoChallenge is an opportunity to change your life for good. Common wisdom says it takes two weeks to change a habit: if you can stick with a new behavior for 14 days in a row, you’re a lot more likely to keep it up for good.  Participants share their progress online, and after two weeks of shared inspiration, camaraderie, and a little friendly peer pressure, most find they’ve changed their habits—and reduced their impact—for good.

Today we’re highlighting Kelly’s Merrick’s EcoChallenge: to buy no food with packaging. Here is an excerpt from her blog, Kelly’s Sustainable Life: Its about more than just the environment. Its about health and happiness too.

Like most people, I love a good challenge, especially when it comes to sustainability. So this year, when my company decided to start a team and participate in the Northwest Earth Institute’s 2012 EcoChallenge, I immediately decided that Josh and I needed pick something that would be a big challenge. As you know, we already do most of the basics – we recycle, compost, take public transit, buy local, and sustainable products. So I wanted to pick something that would a real challenge.

So what did we decide?

For two weeks, we’re not going to buy any food with packaging. None. Not even recyclable materials. The goal for this challenge is to focus on the “reduce” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

The Rules:

  1. We can eat food we already have in the kitchen, even if it has packaging
  2. No stocking up on packaged food before the challenge (starting today)
  3. Recyclable materials count
  4. We can eat in restaurants but have to bring our own container if we want to take food home
  5. If we are invited to dinner at someone’s house, that doesn’t count unless we are asked to contribute (we have to draw the line somewhere). But rule #4 still applies to any food we bring home.


  • Cheese – I can’t have cow’s cheese, so we only eat goat cheese, which I’m not sure where to get without packaging so we will have to go without cheese for two weeks.
  • Beer – We can have kegged beer, but not from bottles
  • Milk – We’ll have to make our own almond milk (we don’t buy cow’s milk anyway)
  • Beans and other canned items – We’ll have to purchase them dried in bulk and then hydrate them, which will take more planning for meals
  • SoupCycle – I will have to go without my SoupCycle subscription, as it comes in plastic containers each week

  Frequently Asked Questions:

  1.  Why are you counting recyclable containers?  Reduce is the key here. While recycling is    better than throwing things away, reducing waste, recyclable or not, is always the better option. Plus, it is more challenging.
  2.  What packaging waste do we generate the most of? Based off of a quick assessment of the garbage in our can now, our garbage consists of takeout containers, almond milk containers and bags from snack foods. Our recycling consists of a lot of aluminum cans, egg cartons and beer bottles. 
  3.  How are you going to have time to prepare everything from scratch? Luckily we  already eat a lot of fresh veggies and fruit from the Farmer’s Market, and we already purchase a lot of items from the bulk section using our own containers. The challenge is going to be finding time to cook our own beans and making our own almond milk. I like to improvise the food we eat during the week, and with dried items it’s going to be harder to make dinner if I have to soak and cook beans, as opposed to opening up a can.

I am really excited to start our challenge.

For the full story and to visit Kelly’s blog, click here. And, it isn’t too late to register for the EcoChallenge! Join us today.

Its that time again! October 1-15th brings NWEI’s 5th Annual EcoChallenge: an opportunity to change your life for good. For two weeks every October, we challenge you to change one habit for Earth. You choose your challenge, we connect you with other EcoChallengers, and collectively we prove that small actions create real change.

Check out this EcoChallenger Profile Video for ideas and to learn about NWEI volunteer Elise Lind’s Challenge from last year: to eat only food produced in Oregon and Washington. Then, choose your own challenge and sign up to participate now.

We look forward to your stories of change to come!

This Spring, a group in Concord, New Hampshire has been exploring the challenging and sometimes frustrating world of resource depletion and the many impacts of food production on climate change and the environment through participation in NWEI’s discussion course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. This is the fifth post from the Nourishing Words Blog, where author and course participant Eleanor Baron muses on conserving water, sustainable cheese production and the call towards a plant-based diet.


The people drawn to participate in our Hungry for Change group (perhaps predictably) are environmentally conscious by nature and are concerned about tending this planet for future generations. We come to the discussion knowing at least the basics and with a personal commitment to live our lives in alignment with the our values. Many of us do our best to stay up to date on emerging topics like climate change, soil depletion and the exploitation of the earth’s greatest aquifers.

Is that enough?

Once again, as we talked, the answer emerged. It’s important to keep learning and take action.

As an example, we talked about how we use water in our lives. We each monitor our usage, whether motivated by a city water bill, the level of water in our well or a general sense that water is a precious gift that should be honored as such. We don’t buy bottled water, we mulch our gardens well and take short showers. We’d each argue that we use less water than our neighbors.

But as we talked, we discovered more that we could do to conserve water. By the end of our discussion, we were considering setting up rain barrels other finding ways of catching water before it heads either down the drain or down the driveway. We talked about catching wasted water in the shower (before the water gets hot, that is) and reusing it to flush the toilet. We talked about using gray water to water plants or for some other purpose. One participant articulated her practice as “never letting water go down the drain until it’s done a job.” Our eyes were opened to a world of tiny practices that together would surely save a meaningful amount of water…

To follow this blog and to read more of this post, click here.

One of our long time course organizers, Nancy King Smith, has been busy mobilizing community dialogues around food and sustainability in the Cleveland, Ohio area with a  working group that emerged out of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit. Nancy not only serves on the board for Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (one of NWEI’s 30 partner organizations), but also is actively starting courses in the metro Cleveland area via an initiative inspired by NWEI organizers in Port Townsend, Washington. The Lakewood Observer just posted this article with details:

The Menu for the Future project is involving Lakewood residents in learning about and discussing the issues affecting their daily food choices. The expected outcome is to create more literate consumers, which in turn will drive sales of local, healthy food. The program is based on a six-week course developed by the Northwest Earth Institute that involves selected readings and self-facilitated discussion. It is part of the Local Food Celebration Year for Sustainable Cleveland 2019.

In September of 2011, a working group came together at the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit and set a goal to get as many groups as possible to use the Menu for the Future course within their faith community, organization, business or neighborhood during 2012. About a dozen pilot groups, with a farmer or food producer in each one, are meeting in February and March, and plans are in motion to scale up during the remainder of the year.

The course, designed for groups of eight to twelve participants, is based on a source book of readings that includes directions for self-facilitation by the groups for guided conversation about our food systems. The course has been successfully used in Port Townsend, WA, where they ran 25 simultaneous courses with a farmer or food producer in each course (most groups were ten to fifteen people). It changed the nature of the conversation about food in the town and established relationships between producers and consumers that have been of economic as well as personal benefit…

Currently groups are meeting in a variety of settings and geographic areas: River’s Edge, Carnegie West Library, the Galleria, the Catholic Diocese Headquarters, Preterm, Gates Mills Library, Unitarian Universalist churches in Shaker Heights, Akron and Kent, and a Hudson Ecumenical group. The pilot groups and interested conveners will hold a celebration potluck at the Galleria on April 19th. Additional groups will launch in April and May, including a group at the Lakewood Public Library. Anyone interested in convening a group (no special expertise needed) or joining a group should contact or call 216-264-0181.

NWEI Curriculum Director Lacy Cagle just passed along this article from NPR, which states that every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs, versus the three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus. All the more reason to get behind the local, sustainable food movement! For the full article by Allison Aubrey, click here.

“When we think of the farmers we know, we can count a lot of locally-produced food we’ve reported on, from unusual greens to pawpaws.

And when the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, what do they count? Jobs.

“Every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs,” USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan said in a conference call with reporters. This compares to three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus.

To tout the growth of the local food movement, USDA has launched a slick, new, multimedia website that includes videos, photos and a map showcasing all the USDA-supported projects (think: loans and grants). Many are aimed at helping communities coordinate the sale of locally grown fresh food products from small and mid-scale family farms. Another goal is to support regional food hubs.

By positioning the initiative as a “jobs-creator,” Merrigan may be hoping to assuage detractors on Capitol Hill who have criticized Know Your Farmer as a program for the foodie elite that promotes organic and niche farming over conventional, larger scale operations.

“In the name of promoting local food systems, [USDA] appears to be prioritizing Rural Development grant and loan programs for locavore projects in urban areas, apparently at the expense of rural communities,” complained Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and John McCain (R-AZ) in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2010, after the program was created. The lawmakers point out that the vast majority of the nation’s food supply comes from these conventional, large-scale operations.

In an early version of the 2012 Appropriations bill, lawmakers in the House moved to de-fund marketing of the Know Your Farmer initiative. Even though there were similar concerns in the Senate, ultimately the program kept its funding. But USDA was told to give a status update. That’s part of what USDA accomplishes with this new, web-based Compass.

Even so, local food advocates are concerned the program could be cut out of the farm bill, set to expire this year.

The goal of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, according to USDA, is in part to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s us! What do you think, do small scale farms deserve financial support, a piece of the federal pie? Is the local food movement in your community changing the way you eat or shop?

Late last month citizens throughout Oregon and Washington’s Columbia River Gorge area began participating in a series of Menu for the Future discussion groups as part of the “Let’s Talk Food” initiative, hosted by the Gorge Grown Food Network, a citizens’ and farmers’ initiative working to build a regional food system in the rural Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon and Washington.

The Mosier, Oregon group of Gorge Grown kicked off an ambitious project this winter: they’d like to help set the record for the largest number of food discussion groups running at the same time. Groups began convening the week of February 20th and are now in full swing, with groups running from Goldendale to Parkdale, Oregon.

Using the Menu for the Future discussion course books, the groups are exploring the confusing number of food choices and contradicting information around health, fair trade, industrial agriculture, organics, family farms, sustainable food systems, GMOs and more. At the end of the courses, the Mosier group will be hosting a community potluck with all participants from all of the individual groups.

If you are in the Gorge and would like to be involved in the future, contact Emily Reed at 503.360.3532 or learn more at the Gorge Grown Food Network’s website.

The Northwest Earth Institute is excited to announce that Colorado Mountain College has become NWEI’s newest formal partner, and NWEI’s first formal higher education partner!

Colorado Mountain College has been using Menu for the Future in several courses over the past few years with positive feedback from students, hence a commitment to integrating both Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change into ongoing and future sustainable food related courses.

A perfect resource for CMC’s Sustainable Cuisine program, NWEI course books will be used in classes ranging from Introduction to Environmental Science, Food Politics, Policies and People, Introduction to Sustainable Cuisine, and Agroecology. The NWEI course books will also be used in CMC’s Bachelor of Arts Program in Sustainability Studies.

Colorado Mountain College serves nine counties in north-central Colorado. Each year, nearly 25,000 students take classes at CMC’s 11 locations and online. We look forward to serving faculty, students and staff at CMC in the years to come, and are grateful to be a part of inspiring young people to take responsibility for Earth in new ways!

Tomorrow, November 15th, is the deadline to take advantage of our offer to Hungry for Change course organizers! If you convene a group and place your order by tomorrow, we will give you (the course organizer) a free copy of the course book. Just give us a call if you are ready to go!

*As a special preview of one of the articles in the new course book, below is a quote from Vanessa Barrington’s The Ecology of Food, which you will find in Session One, The First Bite.

“…Ultimately, I think we need to look at food and nutrition ecologically. Each nutrient is part of a functional system and each food that we ingest is a part of the body’s functional system. Beyond that, the food we eat is also part of our larger socio-economic and cultural system around food. When I shop for food I think a lot about the different levels of nourishment in it. Does it nourish my heart, my soul? Does it nourish my pleasure centers by tasting good? Does it nourish the relationships I have with the people I’m eating with? Does it nourish the environment, or cause harm? Does it nourish the people who produce it, or exploit them?

To take an ecological view of food is to understand that the physical, cultural, social, environmental, and economic results of ingesting a food or nutrient cannot be predicted or understood in isolation. Foods interact with one another, in the body, around the table, and in society—all of which contribute to their overall ability to nourish… Next time you’re shopping, instead of thinking about whether the food in your cart is going to provide you with the proper balance of Omega-3s and 6s, sufficient antioxidants to prevent cancer, or enough fiber to lower your cholesterol, think about how it will taste, who you will eat it with, how you will prepare it, where it came from, who produced it and if it’s in season. In short, think about whether that food is the right thing for you to eat right now. The marketing of functional foods is not just annoying because it takes advantage of consumer confusion and fear around nutrition, it’s also dangerous because it assumes we don’t have our own holistic understanding of food and, in the end, dis-empowers us to make our own decisions about what to eat…”

Food for Thought:
1. Do you agree with Barrington’s statement that we need to look at food and nutrition ecologically? Why or why not?
2. When you are food shopping, what filters do you use? (Omega 3s, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, packaging, seasonal, local, organic,
nourishment, cravings, family, etc?) Would you like to use other filters?
3. What is one food choice that you make or could make to nourish the environment more and cause less harm?

NWEI recently learned that Menu for the Future, one of our sustainable food discussion courses, inspired Pat Wilborn and Amy Otis-Wilborn to initiate the Port Washington, Wisconsin Aquaponics Model through their organization, Portfish. Portfish’s vision is to create a working model of an aquaponics system based on best practices that can be replicated to promote and engage communities in local sustainable food production. They are actively working to raise awareness of issues and concerns regarding our current and future food supply and to educate local communities about sustainable and healthy alternatives to food production and supply. They’ve also started a Winter Farmer’s Market and have compiled a local foods database for their community.

Below is an excerpt from their organization’s website: 

Pat and I initiated the Port Washington Aquaponics Model in March of 2009. Our interest in local sustainable food production, however, developed over time – and, only in the last few years has it taken on a more urgent tone.

Pat and I come from very different food “histories.” His includes a very large family garden, necessary to feed a family with 8 children. His mother stretched and used everything in creative ways. This included okra, not one of Pat’s favorite vegetables to this day. And, he can only eat spinach in certain ways. Pat’s memories include being assigned a row in the garden to take care of. Punishment also included going to the garden to weed. Canning was an annual event to supplement winter menus. My history is like many my age – we were a city family growing up in the 50’s. My food memories include meals from cans and boxes. Cream of mushroom soup had a million uses and a treat was a TV dinner.

In 2006, we were introduced to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). We signed on to receive fresh vegetables from Wellspring Farm in Newburg, WI. I couldn’t name most of the vegetables we received in the first year. I also had no sense of the growing season. We continue to buy shares from Wellspring and have learned how to cook “root” vegetables and anticipate the lettuces we receive early in the season and the black radishes, celeriac, and squash that come later.

But, our commitment to doing something about food grew out of a Menu for the Future discussion course. Menu for the Future was developed and sponsored by the Northwest Earth Institute in Portland, Oregon. Pat and I met with friends weekly for eight weeks, hosting our group in our homes. We read articles, talked about our food histories, our concerns about food, the environment, and sustaining healthy lifestyle options for our children. At the last meeting, the question posed was, “What do we do next?”

Pat took this question very seriously. His first idea was to develop a local food council. We had read about food councils and ways in which a council could help to focus communities on local food, sustainable production practices, and to serve as a catalyst to creating local food options.

While the group didn’t settle on this idea, it did decide to visit a local food operation in Milwaukee; Growing Power. Growing Power was receiving a lot of attention, locally and nationally. According to its website, Growing Power “is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities.”

Growing Power’s founder and director, Will Allen, attributed his growing success to worms. He has perfected growing worms as an organic medium for growing plants. He also has developed quite a composting system that heats hoop houses, sustaining a growing season through the winter. But, the project that most intrigued Pat was raising fish. Growing Power raises tilapia using an aquaponics system. Aquaponics is a system that cultivates plants and fish in a recirculating system. It is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics.

What is the advantages of such a system to food production? It’s local, it is safe, and it is sustainable. A closed system continuously moves water from the fish to the plants. The plants take up the nutrients provided by the fish waste and send clean(er) water back to the fish environment – the cycle continues. The system relies on a natural relationship that maintains an environment that supports the fish and the plants.

Our interest in aquaponics as a means of supporting local and sustainable food production grew as we continued our research into food, food production, distribution, and the industrialized food system that has developed since World War II. Some facts that convinced us that investing time and money in aquaponics was important:

  • Less that 1% of food is local; on average, food travels 1,500 miles;
  • Most people, saddest of all children, do not know or pay attention to where their food comes from;
  • Current large scale industrial farming depends heavily on petroleum products for planting, harvesting and distributing;
  • Food safety is at stake with chemical fertilizers and pesticides that degrade farmland and waterways;
  • Growing concerns about access to safe food sources, particularly protein-based foods;
  • Increasing use of additives and genetically modified foods in processed food;
  • Increase in obesity, illnesses, and diseases that can be attributed to poor diets and limited access to healthy food alternatives.

Thanks so much Pat and Amy for your work!

As you know, NWEI launched it’s newest discussion course, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, this month and we are thrilled to see the response thus far! We are also excited to offer course organizers a free copy of the new guide when organizing your group this Fall. Place your group’s order before November 15th by calling us and simply mention this blog post and we’ll send you a free copy of the guide along with your group’s books. (*Please note: you must place your order for your group in order to receive your free copy.) We hope you’ll join the hundreds of others who are getting ready to sit down and dig deep into how to make more sustainable and ethical food choices.

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability explores the true meaning of the phrase “you are what you eat.” In four to six sessions, this discussion course challenges participants to examine their roles, not only as consumers of food, but also as creators — of food, of systems, and of the world we all live in. Each session includes readings, short assignments and accompanying discussion questions that address the impact of individual food choices on a range of issues, including ecosystem health, the treatment of factory and farm workers, and the global economy. Many sessions also include video clips, podcasts and websites to deepen the learning experience. Hungry for Change helps participants commit to lasting change by developing and sharing personal Action Plans with each session.

Give us a call at 503 227 2807 for more information, or visit our website. You can also read NWEI Curriculum Director’s blog post on the new course here.

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