Saturday, December 25, 2010

Xmas: nostalgia, reflection, and making gifts

Even though I'm a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, I really love the Christmas holiday. I love it for several reasons. Each reason, I hope, offers an alternative to the consumer-frenzy a lot of us find ourselves in this time of year.

NOSTALGIA. My paternal grandparents (not Jewish) were of the "greatest generation" and when I was a kid we celebrated Christmas in style: electric candles in every window, super boozy egg nog in every cup, and Bing Crosby on the crooner radio station that you can only tune in on a stereo cabinet like my grandparents had -- a large, waist-high piece of furniture with a record player under the hood and built-in speakers covered with shimmery golden fabric. A few years back I made a four-song holiday record inspired by those recordings. And this year I learned a few more carols on guitar and played them at gatherings. Fun!

REFLECTION. They say that Christmas is the season of giving and you'll see in the next section that I enjoy that part too. But for me, Christmas is 90% reflection. It's when I take inventory of all that I've done or seen over the year and every year I feel more and more grateful. Sure there have been some real tough times -- my mother's early death, my cancer -- but all in all I live a charmed life. I enjoy this time at the end of the year to really think on that.

MAKING GIFTS. Since I am averse to made-in-China crap, and since I can't afford to buy high-end craft for all of my friends at once (unlike birthdays when you can buy one item at a time), I roll up my sleeves and get to making. In the summer we pick fruit at eco-village and  make a ton of jam, so we give that. And then I make truffles, this year two flavors: kahlua and rum (we even made the kahlua). And this year, for the first time, I made felt brooches. About 30 of them. I used a process called needle felting in which you take semi processed wool, called roving, and bind it together with a barbed needle. It's kind of like drawing in slow motion with limited control. I really enjoy it and hope to get better at it over the year, maybe even figure out something to do with it for Maker Faire.

May you have a wonderful holiday season. Don't forget to look at the past. There's a lot to learn there. And try making something with your hands. Even if what you make seems small and not as jazzy as something made in China, it is a large and generous gesture filled with meaning.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Systems Approach to Hunger

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday I met with the head honchos at Foodlink - Executive Director Tom Ferraro and CEO Jeanette Batiste. Foodlink is probably best known as Rochester's premier food bank but really it's so much more. Tom and Jeanette spent two hours with me showing me around the facility, an old oil refinery on the Genesee River, and telling me about the breadth of work that they do. 

A plain old food bank, as I understand it, takes food donations and then distributes those donations to organizations that feed hungry people. Foodlink does that, for sure. They have a gigantic warehouse, a fleet of trucks, and food sorting system that seems, to me, to operate like a well-oiled machine. 

But then Jeanette and Tom told me about their R&D. This non-profit has some cutting edge R&D that just about blew my mind. For starters, they have a pesticide-free farm just 10 miles out of town called Freshwise. Not only is the farm environmentally-friendly, but it's socially responsible because they employ developmentally disabled folks with farm work. 

Then there is Freshwise Catering. I'm not completely filled in on all that they do. I know that part of what they do is a "backpack" program - they feed kids healthy food when school is not in session and school lunch is not available. I also think they have, or are about to launch, a straight-up catering business. More on this when I find out more. A sustainable catering business is a dream project of mine and Freshwise is way ahead of me on implementation. In addition to healthy locally produced food, Freshwise and Foodlink are very interested in job creation. So I'm curious to find out about who is working in the kitchen. 

And then, just as I was about to leave, Tom walked me over to the warehouse across the parking lot where they've got - get this - a small business called Epiphergy whose founders are turning food waste into fuel. This is fantastic because Foodlink has a fleet of trucks for distribution that need, you guessed it, fuel! And guess what else Foodlink has? Access to a lot of food waste. 

In the sustainability literature, all of this coordination is called "Industrial Symbiosis." But it my mind, it's just effing awesome. Foodlink is way beyond a plain old food bank. It's on the verge of implementing and entirely new system for food production and consumption - a system that not only has a positive impact on the environment but is incredibly sensitive to the needs of people from a wide range of economic and social backgrounds. People at the base of the economic pyramid need good food and they need meaningful work. Foodlink is working on it and they are succeeding. Cheers!