How does what we eat contribute to using the earth’s resources sustainably? This is a hotly debated topic on the Woolman campus. Merriam Webster defines sustainability as “being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Buying local, buying organic, going vegan, going vegetarian, freeganism (using what others throw away), growing your own—these are all food choices individual Woolman community members have made as ways to lessen their personal carbon footprint. Here is what Woolman is currently doing to eat sustainably:
We buy organic whenever possible. Why organic? When done right, organic usually means more vitamins and minerals than conventionally produced food, no carcinogenic herbicides and pesticides in the food or in the soil, better working conditions for farm-workers, and humane conditions for animals. These are some of the many reasons cited by people choosing to buy organic as a way of eating sustainably. “Organic is something we can all partake of and benefit from. When we demand organic, we are demanding poison-free food,” says Maria Rodale, granddaughter of Jerome Irving Rodale, one of the first advocates of organic farming in the United States. “We are demanding clean air. We are demanding pure, fresh water. We are demanding soil that is free to do its job and seeds that are free of toxins. We are demanding that our children be protected from harm. We all need to bite the bullet and do what needs to be done—buy organic whenever we can, insist on organic, fight for organic and work to make it the norm. We must make organic the conventional choice and not the exception available only to the rich and educated.”
We buy local whenever possible. How sustainable is organic olive oil shipped on a diesel-burning ship from Australia, then trucked from the port in Oakland to the UNFI distribution center in Rocklin and then up the hill to Woolman? Amelia Nebenzahl, the kitchen manager for Woolman and Global Issues teacher, is committed to buying locally whenever possible. "My colleague Gray Horwitz, Woolman’s environmental science teacher, helps me do extensive research to make sure our food is organic, comes from farms and companies with sustainable and humane practices whenever possible, and is produced close to home. Our eggs, butter, much of our produce, and other key kitchen staples are from right here in Northern California."
We grow our own. The Woolman garden is the best of all possible worlds. It is extremely local—300 yards from the dining hall!—organic, grown with love by student and faculty hands, and often harvested hours before mealtime, still brimming with the enzymes and nutrients only found in fresh food.
Maggie McProud, Woolman’s garden manager and Woolman’s Farm to Table teacher, comes from a local family of organic farmers (Riverhill Farm) and is proud to be carrying on the tradition at Woolman. She is passionate about food and cares deeply about where our food comes from. “Organic is great! But, it doesn't solve all our problems especially environmentally. Organic Agriculture can be another form of ‘big ag’ with all the same problems as conventional. The industry is growing fast enough that it’s hard to regulate practices and there is a lot of misleading marketing. For lots of crops this is the most practical way to grow them for big populations, but for veggies and any animal products, it is safest for you, your family, and the environment to support a local farmer who has a good reputation for land stewardship and clean food and water.”
What else can we do to eat sustainably? Maggie says, “Shop at co-ops that sell local produce. Shop at the farmers' markets, and the money that would normally go to the middle man goes to the farmer. You also get fresher food! By supporting them you are also supporting the culture, economics, and vitality of your community.”
And, of course, Maggie fully supports growing your own: “Growing and preparing your own foods is one of the most politically, socially, and environmentally radical things you can do today. There is little else that we as a culture do so regularly that is bogged down with gross resource consumption, social inequity, and economic/political influence than our daily consumption of processed and industrialized foods.” Go Maggie!
We don’t currently grow all the food we need at Woolman, so every Tuesday morning Amelia and community intern, Chloe Jacobson, meet the UNFI truck and potentially the most cheerful delivery driver in the world, Darrell Echols. UNFI is the largest organic and natural food (yes, not always organic, but at least not filled with additives and preservatives!) distributor in the world and was founded right here in Nevada City. The company was started in 1976, out of the back of the founder’s Volkswagon van. Then called “Mountain People’s Warehouse,” the company still uses the slogan “to boldly go where no distributor has gone before.”
Darrell Echols, who has been a driver at UNFI for 15 years, says he loves his job: “They are a great company. They take care of their workers and really walk their talk—trying to be sustainable and all of that. They are constantly reviewing how they can reduce their carbon footprint—like having fewer trucks on the road, loading more into each truck. Things like that. It makes more work for the drivers, but I get paid by the hour, so it works for me!”
Can’t get enough of this topic? Are any of the following missing from that stack next to your bed?
Wendell Berry, "The Pleasure of Eating"
Sacramento Food Co-op, "Organic Heros, Amigo Bob Cantisano"
Orion Magazine, Sandra Steingraber, "The Fracking of Rachel Carson"
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
Eric Herm, Son of A Farmer Child of the Earth
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
United Natural Foods
Organic Consumers Association
Briar Patch Co-op--Eat Local