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Posts Tagged ‘ACEnet’

Eco Cafe time

Despite yesterday’s sunshine and outdoor pull of spring, the Front Room at Ohio University’s Baker Center was abuzz with students, faculty and members of the larger community. Over 70 people attended the Eco Café, an on-going series of presentations on social, economic, and environmental issues impacting southeast Ohio, sponsored by Rural Action and OU’s Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies.

Ann welcomes everyone

Ann Brown, a volunteer with Rural Action and the series’ organizer, welcomed the crowd and introduced the panel.

David Holben, professor and Associate Director, Nutrition at the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness, began the conversation, framing the topic for the next hour and a half.

David Holben

He noted that while the term ‘food security’ is often confused with food safety issues such as post 9/11 fears that our drinking water could be attacked with a substance like arsenic, it is really about universal access to food that is healthful, nutritious, safe, and culturally acceptable. David observed that the panel represented the depth and breadth of the region’s local foods advocates.

Tom

Up next was Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Tom Redfern. Tom explained that RASA supports established farmers markets in the region, and works with communities wanting to establish their own marketplaces. Since 2003, Rural Action has also been leading the way in bringing local foods into institutional systems, including Ohio University. Passing out the ever-present-in-his-briefcase, beautifully designed, Chesterhill Produce Auction brochures, he described how this market aggregation of Amish and other farmers in the area around Chesterhill increases earnings for growers and adds vitality to our regional food economy.

What about access to healthy, fresh foods for those who may not know how to grow or preserve them or are unable to afford them? Ronda Clark, executive director of Community Food Initiatives, told the crowd how her organization serves low and moderate income populations in the city of Athens and in some of the highest poverty areas of Appalachian Ohio – rural Athens and Morgan counties. CFI assists people in growing, cooking and preserving their own food through their Appalachian Foodways workshop series. The organization has also created and supported several community gardens, including the expansive and beautiful Westside Gardens in Athens.

Ronda's homegrown and heirloom seeds

One of CFI’s most far-reaching efforts is the Donation Station, located at the Athens Farmers Market each Saturday from 10 am to 1pm. Staff collect produce donations from both farmers and the public. Collected cash is used to purchase additional fresh foods from the market’s vendors. Hundreds of pounds of local food are distributed across the region each week to food pantries and other feeding sites. Ronda ended her presentation by pointing to several Ball jars filled with colorful seeds on the table before her. Harvested from her own garden, she offered to share them with anyone interested in trying some heirloom beans and squash.

I had the opportunity to speak next about the 30 Mile Meal Project and to encourage the audience to take even small steps to increase their use of local foods and to support businesses that source their menus locally. Here’s a video I made for the occasion.

Leslie

Described by Tom Redfern as the region’s most long-term and knowledgeable local foods activist, Leslie Schaller, Director of Programming at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), concluded the program. Much of ACEnet’s work has centered on building, aggregating and supporting a local food-based economy. Its kitchen incubator has launched hundreds of local food businesses. Able to trace the region’s embrace of local foods back three decades or more, she noted the incremental development of the resources and networking that make this economy so robust. She described the typical farm ‘commodity to mouth’ supply chain – one with no possibility for interaction between the distant producer and the consumer and how different it is when the chain is locally-based. She also shared a visual presentation of the many people and places that make our food, real local, and real good!

Following the talk, there was plenty of time for questions and to pack up a few of Ronda’s seeds to plant.

Going for the seeds

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One of my intentions for 2011 is to shine light on our many 30 Mile Meal partners. Meet Leslie Schaller, known to hundreds of food entrepreneurs in the Athens region as well as local food activists across the country.

Leslie in L.A.

Some background on this amazing dynamo. First, don’t be fooled by her diminutive size. This woman thinks BIG when it comes to sustainable economic development. She’s often on the go, responding to increasing demands for her expertise. Cleveland, Madison, Youngstown, D.C., Memphis, rural Iowa, Asheville – she could be in any of these places right now, assisting organizations and communities wanting to grow their food businesses and local economies.

For the last nineteen years Leslie has worked at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) where she is the Director of Programming, overseeing and delivering training and technical assistance for entrepreneurs. She played a lead role in the founding of ACEnet’s Food Ventures program, leading to the development of their 12,000 square foot kitchen incubator facility.

Launched in 1996, the shared-use kitchen incubator includes a licensed commercial kitchen, thermal processing, packaging, food service and warehouse space for over 240 food processors and area farmers. The program has pioneered non-traditional strategies to develop infrastructure, market programs and distribution channels for family farmers and local food processors in southeast Ohio, while also responding to the growing demand from rural consumers for fresh, local foods.

When she isn’t on the road consulting, she’s securing funds to create regional brands, launching marketing strategies, and mapping out business plans and financial management systems within the various sectors of our region’s local foods economy.

She is also a leader in the larger local foods realm, serving as Board Treasurer for the national Farmers Market Coalition, and as a member of the Ohio Food Policy Advisory Board, the Ohio Market Connections Task Force and the Athens Food Policy Council and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Leslie at Casa's 25th birthday party

Her food roots go back to the early ’80s when she operated an organic market garden and raised livestock, selling at the Athens Farmers Market and to area restaurants. Since 1985 she has served as the Business Director of the Worker-Owned Restaurant Corporation that operates Casa Nueva, Casa Cantina and Casa Manufacturing in Athens, Ohio. The cooperative currently employs 60-70 worker-owners and associates and was projected to have annual sales of $2.5 million in 2010.

In 1992, she founded a food security organization, Community Food Initiatives, which now engages in a number of food access and security projects in our region, including food and produce donations from Athens Farmers Market vendors for area pantries and food banks.

A few weeks ago Leslie and I met with Jane Black, a food writer (formerly with the Washington Post and whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Food & Wine, and other publications), and her husband, Brent Cunningham, also a journalist. Last fall they moved from Brooklyn to Huntington, WV – the town that Jamie Oliver made famous with his Food Revolution reality TV show.  Jane and Brent wondered what would happen once Oliver’s cameras and lights disappeared. Black notes in her blog, “I am off to (WV) to write a book about one town’s effort to change its food culture and whether the “food revolution” can cross geographic, cultural and class boundaries.”

When Leslie and I met them, they were on a regional tour of local foods hotspots, research for their book. After a stop at the Athens Farmers Market, we headed to Casa Nueva for lunch and some talk about the efforts underway to grow and promote our local foods economy. By the time Jane finished her homemade ginger ice cream (made with Snowville’s heavy cream), it was clear that she and Brett would be back and that their connection with Leslie would yield plenty of story leads for the future.

Earlier this week Jane interviewed Leslie for her Smart Food radio show on Edible Radio. You can listen to the interview here.

 

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ACEnet's shared kitchen facility

This Sunday’s (October 10, 2010) New York Times Magazine is themed ‘Eating Together’ with a broad look at how food is shaping our culture and choices. 30 Mile Meal partner ACEnet is mentioned in ‘Shared Tastes’, an article by Rob Walker on the rise of kitchen incubators. Here’s a link.

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