behavior · community · environment · happiness · health · Nature

Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA | Video on

Happy Spring Forward. Time to start planting seeds and playing in the dirt. In honor of getting dirty and creative, here’s a a TED talk from Ron Finley, guerrilla gardener.

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”Ron Finley grows a nourishing food culture in South Central L.A.’s food desert by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating.

Best quote ever: Gardening is the most therapeutic & defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus you get strawberries.”

via Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA | Video on

creativity · design

Furniture for Breakfast

On this blog we often talk about the importance of being more playful and fun. Two great ways to be more playful are with design and food. One designer decided to combine both!

As covered by Design*Sponge:

I was glad to see that this year’s [Milan Furniture Fair] show offered more tongue-in-cheek pieces that played around with the idea of furniture in a fun and fresh way. This “furniture tasting” waffle iron is from Ryosuke Fukusada and Rui Pereira, and it allows you to produce, essentially, a completely edible collection of dollhouse living room furniture. Is this a super functional design? Perhaps not (although you can eat what you make), but it’s a clever way to play with design while bringing up the topic of mass production. Although I may have to be in favor of mass production if it means plates full of tasty furniture-shaped waffles. Click here for more information and details over at the 2DM Magazine blog. Thanks to our resident foodie, Kristina, for the tip.

Photos via 2DM

Just another excuse to play with your food. 🙂

What other examples of fun food design have you seen lately? Share them in the comments below.

culture · environment · health · Nature

‘Food forest’ in middle of Seattle will feature an urban view

Woman shopping for vegetable starts at Seattle...
Soon Seattle-ites will be able to harvest their own veggies from a large community "forest." Image via Wikipedia

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I don’t have long, but I had to stop and share in more detail this great story about an urban food forest being proposed for a Seattle neighborhood:

A plot of grass sits in the middle of Seattle, feet from a busy road and on a hill that overlooks the city’s skyline. But it’s no ordinary patch of green. Residents hope it will become one of the country’s largest “food forests.”

The Beacon Hill park, which will start at 2 acres and grow to 7, will offer city dwellers a chance to pick apples, plums and other crops right from the branch.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the people of Seattle to be able to connect to the environment,” said Maureen Erbe, who walked her two dogs next to the plot on a recent overcast day.

Would she pluck some fruit from the forest?

“Heck yes, I love a good blueberry. You’re not from Seattle if you don’t like a good blueberry,” she said.

For health-conscious and locally grown-food-loving Seattle, the park is a new step into urban agriculture. Cities from Portland to Syracuse, N.Y., already have their own versions. In Syracuse, for example, vacant lots were turned into vegetable gardens to be tended by local teens.

Seattle is an awesome place to have an urban garden. People already replace the little strips of grass between the sidewalk and the street with gardens, and in the summer Seattle is practically overrun with feral blackberry bushes and other fruit.

This is also a great way to improve your environment and make it just a little bit healthier and happier.

This idea has been getting a lot of attention in the media (see related links below), and I hope it will inspire other cities to do the same. Even in cities where it doesn’t rain allll the time, it is more than possible to create spaces for people to garden or for crops to grow feral and let nature take its course.

design · environment

UW students focus on how to get local food to their dining hall tables

local food madness
getting local foods to a big institution can be tricky.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I am a huge proponent of consciously choosing locally sourced food and products for consumption. Not only does it use less fossil fuels, I think buying and eating local also creates a better, healthier, and more enriching environment for us all.

It’s easy enough for individuals to choose and cultivate local food, but how does a larger institution like a university, or individuals living on campus, get access to the same local goods? One class at the University of Washington did a problem-solving project to come up with solutions to eating local. From the University of Washington:

Recipes that come boxed with fresh ingredients ready to cook? How about a monthlong incentive program inspiring a commitment to fresh local food? What would it take?

The class was Introduction to Interaction Design, Art 381, and the assignment Tad Hirsch gave his students was straightforward: Design a way to improve access to fresh local food on the UW campus.

“The students looked at how the UW community currently feeds itself,” Hirsch said, “and considered a range of factors that currently make it hard for students, faculty and staff to eat locally.” He said they took an interaction design approach to the problem, asking what experiences they wanted to provide for people. “They then had to come up with concrete proposals to make local food more accessible.”

It’s all pretty theoretical for this undergraduate class of mostly juniors, he said. “But we hope to take some of these ideas and make them tangible. There’s the notion that this stuff is meant to go out into the world.”

Hirsch is an assistant professor who came to the UW a couple of months back from Intel Corp. in Oregon. He said he is pleased to be part of the UW’s “small but mighty” program in interaction design.

So, what did the students come up with? Some pretty interesting stuff, actually:

Read their solutions at From crate to plate: Students study how to improve campus access to fresh local food

anthropology · behavior · design · health

Food, consumption, and dumpster diving

A typical dumpster in Sunnyvale, California.
Some people choose to make this their meal spot. Image via Wikipedia

One element of having an enriching, healthy environment is lack of trash and waste. We Americans throw away A LOT, especially food. The percentage of food we waste is astounding (I’ve read anywhere between 25% and 30%)!

In a possible reaction to this, several people, particularly Millenials, have started “rescuing” food from the back of restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores, better known as “dumpster diving.”

For his Anthropology doctoral thesis, University of Washington student David Giles is examining how cultural assumptions of what is appetizing lead to the disposal of surplus, edible food. He’s become a pro at vaulting into Dumpsters, picking through their contents and befriending people who make a meal of other people’s leftovers.

In short: Giles is a Dumpster-diver.

The 31-year-old Australia native hopes his work will raise awareness of the volume of edible food that gets thrown out and will prompt people to think about how they might get more food into the hands of the hungry — perhaps by giving it to a food bank or handing it out to the homeless in a park.

Read more at Dumpster-diver’s thesis: Good stuff going to waste (

One problem for restaurants is they are required to throw food out after it has been sitting for a certain amount of time. Same with grocery stores. That being said, us consumers could definitely do a lot to keep food from going to waste, such as buying less of it in the first place.

Shelly Rotondo, executive director of Northwest Harvest, a food bank with offices around the state, agrees with Giles that a lot of food goes to waste.

But she thinks food banks are doing a good job of capturing food and getting it into the hands of the hungry, and that most waste now comes from households or restaurants. Rotondo said fruits and vegetables with flaws and imperfections never even reach the grocery-store shelves — they’re sent by distributors to the food bank.

“Northwest Harvest does fantastic work,” Giles agreed. And yet, he’s seen the Dumpster evidence that lots of food ends up in the trash. He has not tried to quantify the amount of edible food that is thrown out in the Seattle area.

My hope is Giles addresses some of these restrictions in his thesis, or perhaps offers different ideas for distribution. After just going through my own Masters defense, I know you’re not supposed to speculate, but after all this work it would be good to at least have some action items come out of it.

Hunger is becoming more common in the U.S. now due to the recession, yet obesity and other lifestyle diseases are also becoming the number 1 cause of death in the US. There have also been more salmonella and bacteria outbreaks in food this past decade than I can remember, which would make one think they should steer extra clear of dumpsters for food. I think how we as Americans approach, handle, and consume food needs to be seriously looked at and re-assessed.

behavior · health · learning · psychology

There’s more to health than food, and there’s more to life than health – The Healthy Skeptic

New Zealand postage stamp, 1933: Public health.
Image via Wikipedia

Great post by Chris Kresser, also known as The Healthy Skeptic, although these days he’s just blogging under his name. Usually focusing how to be healthy by what food you put in your body, particularly for pregnant women, Kresser takes a step back and looks at the value of measuring overall health. Not just what you put in your body, but also how much sleep you get, how much stress is in your life, and if you make time for enriching activities.

“…it’s a mistake to assume that food is the only consideration that matters when it comes to health, and that all health problems can be solved simply by making dietary changes. Unfortunately, this seems to be an increasingly common assumption in the Paleo/Primal nutrition world these days.

I see a lot of people in my practice that have their nutrition completely dialed in, but don’t take care of themselves in other ways. Maybe they don’t manage their stress, they don’t exercise, or they don’t sleep well.

Even if this person eats a perfect diet, are they really healthy?

And what about the person who doesn’t eat particularly well, but sleeps like a baby, gets a massage a couple times a month, has a lot of fun, spends lots of time outdoors, and doesn’t have any health problems?”

more via There’s more to health than food, and there’s more to life than health.

It’s nice to see a holistic view when so many specialists only focus on one element of overall health.

What are some “blind” areas in your life? Areas where you ignore or neglect taking care of yourself?

behavior · community · health

Obesity crisis: Does a lack of grocery stores make poor neighborhoods fatter? | OregonLive

Image via Wikipedia

Interesting follow-up article to a post I linked to earlier this week about people creating “food corridors” in Olympia, WA; according to this study, simply installing grocery stores “oases” doesn’t solve the problem:

There was never much hard science linking the obesity epidemic to so-called food deserts – inner city neighborhoods lacking stores selling fresh produce. One of the largest relevant studies, published July 11, found that having a nearby supermarket or grocery made no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate or the overall quality of their diets.

Being surrounded by fast food restaurants was linked to more frequent fast food dining – but only among low-income men. In that group, a 1 percent increase in the number of nearby fast food outlets appeared to increase the number of weekly fast food meals by 0.13 percent to 0.34 percent. That’s not a huge difference, but the researchers concluded that their findings “provide some evidence for zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants.”

Study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Reuters Health that researchers need to do more work to understand how people make decisions about what to eat, and that improving eating habits is likely to require broad efforts including community education.

“It’s not simply enough to introduce a grocery store,” she said…

In more bluntly stated commentary, the Economist asserts that the focus on food retailers may be misguided: “Open a full-service supermarket in a food desert and shoppers tend to buy the same artery-clogging junk food as before–they just pay less for it. The unpalatable truth seems to be that some Americans simply do not care to eat a balanced diet, while others, increasingly, cannot afford to.”

more via Obesity crisis: Does a lack of grocery stores make poor neighborhoods fatter? |

I think the Economist may have a point; if people are used to eating a certain way, and don’t understand the value of eating fresh fruits and veggies over cheaper-less-healthful foods, then they won’t stop buying soda and chips, mainly because they are usually cheaper and taste better stronger.

community · culture · health · Social

‘Food corridor’ brings urban neighbors together – The Olympian

Raised beds using concrete blocks. Image via Wikipedia

For the past couple of years people have been discussing the idea of “food deserts” in urban areas where there are no groceries or places for people to purchase fresh veggies and meat. This is an interesting concept of how to address that: a food corridor in Olympia, WA.

The commons is a collection of gardens, pathways, landscapes and building demonstration projects under the stewardship of the Fertile Ground Community Center and the South Sound Chapter of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild. Together, they take up half a city block and include the guild headquarters known as EcoHouse, the Fertile Ground Community Center and the Fertile Ground Guesthouse, a bed-and-breakfast owned and operated by Karen Nelson and Gail O’Sullivan.

If chickens aren’t your thing, you’re welcome to pick a handful of fruits and berries — everything from Asian pears and Cascade cherries to golden raspberries and strawberries — growing along the sidewalk.

The community invitation extends into the garden where flowers, vegetables and herbs grow in raised beds built out of recycled wood and tree limbs.

more via ‘Food corridor’ brings urban neighbors together – Soundings – The Olympian – Olympia, Washington news, weather and sports.

I’m interested to see how this might manifest in other places, particularly those where it’s less common already to have chickens in backyards and use the front strip of grass in your yard as a raised bed. During World War II people had “Victory” gardens in containers on their front stoops, so it’s definitely doable to grow things even in the most compacted urban spaces, but it seems like the biggest hurdle is acceptance, so what could possibly be done to raise acceptance of backyard broccoli? Ideas?

anthropology · behavior · community · culture · education · health

Different reactions to urban farm economics

Downtown Bellingham as observed from Sehome Hi...
Bellingham, WA, which prides itself on buying, selling, and producing locally. Image via Wikipedia

The question of how to connect us back to our food is commonly asked these days, from local communities to big companies like IDEO and their Open IDEO challenges. One way to do this is through urban farms, or bringing the farm and local food production to the people. But the logistics of doing this can take on very different looks and feels.

I came across three stories in the past couple of days that all showcase a different reaction to the concept of economizing on local food growing and selling. The different styles seem to be very pro, con, or “social wellness” focused:

For example, in Bellingham, WA, local farms are offering kids classes on local farming practices, and make more money locally through education than actually selling their produce:

Common Threads’ goal is to connect children to food, their community and the environment through what she called seed-to-table education.

At Farm Camp, that included plenty of hands-on stuff for the 3- to 10-year-old children, who split into groups and take turns caring for the turkeys and chickens – do they have enough food and clean water? – as well as the garden.

“Growing stuff takes work and attention,” Plaut said, which is what the camp’s workers and volunteers emphasize to the children.

more via Bellingham program teaches children where their food comes from – Top Stories –

In Seattle, WA, the approach is definitely more entrepreneurial focused with backyard egg sellers and bee keeping:

CORKY LUSTER is hard-pressed to explain why his beekeeping idea turned into a full-time business and then some.

“People are interested in pollination and food . . . and honey bees have become the poster child for environmental concerns,” he muses.

Luster had a German roommate in college who introduced him to the idea of keeping a few chickens and beehives in the backyard. So when Luster heard about bees dying off and colony collapse disorder a few years ago, he decided to do his bit and set up a few beehives in his garden. Friends were fascinated with the bees — but not so much with all the work involved. The Ballard Bee Company was born, and two years later Luster doesn’t have time to remodel houses anymore.

more at Keeper brings bees to Seattle gardens.

In Missoula, MT, regulations make it a little bit tougher to sell wares:

Owners of small food enterprises continue to face hurdles doing business in Missoula even as the local food movement grows. At the state level, an effort is beginning to methodically review food safety laws and regulations. Leaders in Missoula say it’s time for some scrutiny on the local front, too, and one food vendor is already on the move.

Kim Olson, the “Empanada Lady,” is working to change at least one rule she said is arbitrary and hurts food vendors. Olson said the Health Department is obligated to enforce state laws, but the rules favor big franchises and leave homegrown shops adrift.

Which approach makes for a better experience of community food selling overall? With the E. Coli outbreak in Germany recently I understand the need for good food regulations, but what if they accidentally favor one kind of business model over another? I’m also curious if a more education focused approach works better than throwing local food sellers into the deep end with all the other commercial ventures? Thoughts? Experiences?
community · education · environment · Nature · school

School cuts out food waste with help from a pig | The Bulletin

A World War II poster encouraging kitchen wast...
A poster from WWII showing this is not an original idea for urban dwellers. Image via Wikipedia

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend and didn’t make a pig of themselves (sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad joke). But speaking of food and pigs, this story popped up in my alerts today and it was just too good not to share.

Theodore is a potbellied pig at Sage Community School, a Klamath County School District charter school near Chiloquin.

He was born on the first day of school and moved in about two months ago, said school director Sandra Girdner.

Now he spends his days meandering around the school’s garden and being doted upon by students and teachers. But his real purpose — and favorite part of his day, kids said — is eating two buckets of lunch scraps each day, effectively eliminating the school’s food waste.

Abbey Peterson, 13, pitched the idea. Her family gives food scraps to their potbellied pigs, and she thought it would be a good way to take care of the lunch waste from the school’s 77 students, aged kindergarten to eighth grade.

She and Sam Ekstrom, 13, recruited donated materials from Grange Co-Op; Peterson’s dad built the pen; the Henley High School shop class built a shelter; and the charter school’s 4-H club painted it white with green trim.

Ekstrom and Edgar Ortega, 12, took the waste-reducing initiative a step further by building a compost pile next to Theodore’s pen.

more via School cuts out food waste, with help of hungry pig | Local/State | The Bulletin.

Americans throw away soooo much food, and while composting is definitely a great option, that might not always work, plus there are other options, like livestock who have lived off of our table scraps for 100’s (some probably closer to of 10,000) of years. Schools have shied away from bringing in live animals (I’m still peeved at the school that wouldn’t let a couple of its students ride horses to school instead of drive!), so I’m thrilled to see one school take advantage of its resources by allowing the pig to help cut down food waste, AND teach kids about food, animals, farming, and all other kids of great lessons they wouldn’t get out of a science textbook!