Food Shift: Reducing Waste, Strengthening Communities

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By Maritza Martinez

After spending four months in Southeast Asia, Dana Frasz returned to the U.S., a country where more than one in five children don’t know where their next meal will come from. Yet she watched as institutions from colleges to restaurants to farms throw perfectly good food into our landfills. It was a jarring contrast after seeing so much poverty and hunger overseas. Seeing leftover food poured into the trash in her college dining hall sparked Frasz into action.

While at Sarah Lawrence College, Frasz started a food recovery program to reduce waste and provide food to the hungry.  By her senior year, forty-five students had joined the effort. Each day the team packaged and transported extra food from the dining halls and local businesses to Part of the Solution, an organization in the Bronx that feeds the hungry.

After she graduated, Frasz spent three years working at Ashoka, a network of social entrepreneurs, where she supported social innovation and discovered how to create sustainable systemic change.  Despite national efforts to alleviate hunger and food waste, from her perspective the problem was only getting worse. She knew the field was in need of some innovation. So she set forth to create a food rescue organization, Food Shift.  Food Shift goes beyond traditional food recovery and food assistance to create income-generating solutions that feed the hungry and create jobs.

Frasz envisions the creation of a food recovery service sector as an extension of our current waste management system, and as an opportunity to create jobs in the green economy.  Businesses have to pay for trash pickup and food recovery could significantly decrease their costs in that area.  Food Shift aims to provide a high-quality professional service that would collect and redistribute food at a fraction of the cost of sanitation services.

In addition to this innovative food rescue model, Frasz and her team at Food Shift are developing other revenue-generating models.  They are exploring the creation of value-added products and the creation of a market in West Oakland using surplus food.  They currently donate food to St. Vincent de Paul and have a program with Oakland Unified School District to recover food from the schools and provide meals to students and their families.

You can stay informed about Frasz and Food Shift’s great work by following them on Twitterliking their Facebook pagesigning up for their newsletter and/or donating!


Diana Teran: I AM the green economy

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 Photo credit: Tim Fuller, photographer www.timfuller.com

Written by: Kaori Tsukada

Disponible en español. Available in Spanish.

La Tauna Tortillas
Tucson, Arizona

Diana’s son was four years old when he started to suffer from severe migraines, eczema, and poor health. For five years, doctors struggled to diagnose and treat his condition, which they finally found was due to extreme sensitivity to preservatives and additives in his food.

Diana and her family immediately cut processed foods from their diet and switched to natural foods and whole grains. They saw visible improvement in her son’s health. Only one thing bothered her family about their diet; the lack of tortillas, their traditional staple food. Not one to let this limit her, Diana spent six months developing the perfect whole wheat tortilla with olive oil and that homemade taste they craved. She started bringing the tortillas to her lunches at work, and to potlucks. Eventually, friends began to specifically request that she bring her tortillas to get-togethers.

Then her husband lost his job, and economic difficulties set in. Just as they were faced with foreclosure and unable to make ends meet, one of her friends suggested that she start making tortillas – not just for family and friends, but for everyone in the community. Working with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Diana and her husband put their first batch of commercial whole wheat tortillas on the stand at their local farmers market in June 2010.

Things took off from there. Now La Tauna Tortillas employs six including herself and her husband. She sells 300 12-packs of tortillas a day. The demand for her tortillas is growing so fast that they will soon have to invest in a wider oven and dough press to keep up. Her son, now 15, is bright, healthy, and at the top of his class in math.

Diana never expected to be working in the food industry before she woke up to the fact that unhealthy food is so prevalent. The Tucson-born entrepreneur grew up in a farming community in Mexico, where all their food was natural and whole because there was no other way to eat. When she came back to Tucson for college, all the food around her was so easy and fast that she got used to it. As her awareness of our eating choices and healthy food has grown, her priorities have shifted to making these healthy choices, and helping others make them too.

And that’s what Diana loves most about her job – it’s an opportunity to educate her customers and community members on the importance of eating healthier, and that they don’t have to sacrifice taste. For customers who come in to buy her white flour tortillas, she offers them a little burrito with a whole wheat tortilla and vegan beans. She finds that this almost always converts them to the whole wheat tortillas.

Diana is working on other initiatives, too. She’s speaking with the local board of education about bringing healthier food to school lunches. She finds that even the kids are getting tired of so-called “kid’s food” like chicken nuggets, and she knows that there are healthier options. Diana is also trying to go more local – she’s working with San Xavier Cooperative Farm, run by a group of O’odham Native Americans toward using their organic, non-GMO corn in her tortillas. She hopes that they can cultivate a large enough crop to keep her company supplied year round.

Diana is passionate about her work and her community’s health. As with most small businesses, she has trouble getting the small loans that she needs to buy the equipment necessary to expand her business. Right now their equipment’s capacity is their greatest limiting factor. Her dough press can only press one tortilla at a time. Her dough divider can only divide one ball of dough at a time.

Banks are wary of making these small loans. On top of that, Diana and her family are often deemed unworthy of lending, a legacy of their past financial difficulties during her husband’s unemployment. She is starting to look into crowdfunding and other sources that have a larger community base to fund the equipment they need. Her aim is to stay the kind of business that touches each product by hand so that the people eating her tortillas know that they weren’t turned out by machines, but with love by real people. You can order some for yourself online at La Tauna Tortillas.


WDC Solar President D.C. Solar Company Focuses on Training Local Workers for Clean Energy Careers

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Disponible en español. Available in Spanish.

Have you ever come to a point in life when you realized that you needed to make a change? That’s what happened to Mark Davis. He was running a successful information company in Washington, D.C., when he started to think about the environment and the importance of clean energy. So in 2009, he started a new company dedicated to solar power: WDC Solar. He got into the clean energy industry because he felt it was the right thing to do.

The power of clean energy to help people became very clear in 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti. WDC Solar had been helping to develop and conduct solar job training with Potomac Job Corps and the ARCH training center in Washington, D.C., which provide job training and other career resources to residents of the Anacostia community. Following the Haiti earthquake, WDC Solar worked with ARCH trainees to put together “solar suitcases” with portable electrical systems that could be used to power orphanages, hospitals, and other critical facilities in the wake of the disaster.

Even more than that, Davis is proud that he’s been able to help community members find employment after completing their training programs.

Thanks to a grant from Health and Human Services and the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, WDC Solar is opening a solar manufacturing facility in the neighborhood. It will be the only African American-owned solar panel manufacturer in the nation, and will create 100-125 high quality jobs for local residents, who face one of the highest rates of unemployment in the area.

Davis recently won a contract from the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) and is currently opening a new office at the WDC Solar warehouse where they train workers to install solar panels on low-income family housing in D.C. Participants have already earned valuable experience—they’ve helped install solar panels on twenty homes in less than two months. They have also installed several systems on commercial buildings.

Training local workers is a big priority for Davis—and a big challenge. Obtaining funding for training programs is extremely difficult, so much so that he’s funded many training programs with his own money, training dozens of people over the years. He hopes to train many more residents of the community, which is predominantly African American.

“Without some type of federally-funded training, we’re going to be left behind,” he says. “Training is very expensive. We’re going to be left out and unemployed, and we’re going to have people who don’t look like us coming into our neighborhoods with these jobs. We’re going to be on the outside looking in and trying to figure out what happened.”

Davis continues to be a strong advocate for federal investments in job training programs, and hopes he can secure funding to train future program participants.


Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth

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In Howard County, Maryland, the READY (Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth) program is changing lives while keeping local water clean and healthy. The organization works to create good green jobs for youth while reducing stormwater runoff and improving watershed health. READY trains young adults in the design and installation of green stormwater systems. Crew members install rain gardens on institutional properties including schools, congregational grounds, and large properties held by non-profit organizations.

The concept for READY originated in a community of congregations and organizations known as PATH (People Acting Together in Howard). During a strategy session, members identified two common issues affecting them all: the need for environmental stewardship, and the lack of jobs for young adults in the area.

The group approached officials in Howard County, Maryland with the concept of linking youth employment to the work required under Howard County’s stormwater permit. The idea received strong backing from the County Executive and the program kicked off its first year in May of 2012. The program is administered and managed by the Alliance for the Cheseapeake Bay, a nonprofit organization that for nearly 40 years has been dedicated to protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, streams, and surrounding communities.

READY began with a crew of 31 participants in its first year. They underwent an intensive education program, where they learned about stormwater management and other conservation issues. The trainings led to widespread behavioral changes among participants; even those who didn’t pursue environmental careers are better prepared to be stewards of the environment.

Today, staff members are extending the breadth of the program in its second and subsequent years to form a more generalized conservation corps capable of addressing a variety of green infrastructure needs, including installation, operations and maintenance, education within the community, auditing, and landscape cultivation.

Lou Etgen, Associate Director of Programs with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, describes READY’s first year in operations as highly successful, with plenty of opportunity to grow. READY’s detailed report of its first year reveals that the biggest challenges to the program are logistical hurdles, such as managing scattered sites, finding locations in which to store materials and equipment, and securing access to heavy machinery that can speed up larger projects. Finding sites to install green infrastructure was not a challenge for READY in the first year; indeed, 2013 starts with an open backlog of several dozen customers. READY’s partnerships with faith-based groups, schools, non-profit entities, and homeowner associations allowed the program to install GI improvements at no cost to the participating private entities.

READY is one of a number of programs delivering the triple bottom line benefits that green infrastructure investments promise. READY’s work demonstrates successful private/ public/ nonprofit partnerships that protect the environment, increase access to economic opportunities, and improve the social conditions of disadvantaged groups. The organization is cultivating a new generation of environmental stewards that come from communities most affected by environmental and economic crises. These programs are using green infrastructure work to create on-ramps to career opportunities in a variety of professions. They are also performing a critical task that creates real opportunity rather than dead-end, low-quality employment.


Coming Alive for Our People and Our Planet

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When Green For All Fellow Ashara Ekundayo moved to the Bay Area from Denver in 2010, she brought her passion for creative place-making, a track record of community organizing, and an expertise in execution. Three years later, she is serving as a catalyst and connector through her work as Co-Founder and Director of External Affairs at Hub Oakland.

Hub Oakland is a social enterprise that is equal parts inspiring workspace, entrepreneurial incubator and a community of socially-minded people.  As a membership-based business, they cultivate, support and connect social entrepreneurs and purpose-driven people as they pioneer solutions for a sustainable and equitable world. Hub Oakland actively challenges the entrepreneurial status quo by operating at the intersection of money and meaning.

These are the types of spaces we need to continue to build the green economy and develop solutions that will transform impacted communities. Ashara works with her Hub Oakland team to execute a triple bottom-line platform that honors people, our planet, and the profit margin, while also cultivating opportunities to be generous with one another through a shareable gift economy. “Hub Oakland is not only a start-up business endeavor. Being a founder has provided me with a platform to explore all of the facets of myself including educator, artist, tech enthusiast, burgeoning food blogger and public speaker” explains Ashara. Just like the mixed-use space of the Hub Oakland, Ashara’s talents go beyond entrepreneurship.  She is an artivist, a curator and a food blogger as well.  Check out her Greens and Grits food blog.

Ashara weaves together the artistic, political, entrepreneurial threads of her work as Gallery Curator at Omi Arts, which will be located at the permanent home for Hub Oakland and is slated to open in Fall 2013. Ashara explains the seamless connection between the gallery’s name and the sustainability mission of the Hub Oakland “Omi, meaning ‘water’ in the Yoruba language of West Africa, is essential to the survival of all life in our collective eco-system.  Making sure that the uses of arts and culture as tools for problem-solving in my work assures me that our business will be sustainable.”

Right now, the Hub Oakland is raising funds for their new 16,000 square foot space in Uptown Oakland through a Kickstarter campaign. Their campaign Come Alive with Us will ensure that their new office space is sustainable and funded by the people, for the people. As an integral part of their Kickstarter, backers can support others by sponsoring workspace for community members who would not otherwise be able to afford membership.  Ashara describes the work of the Hub Oakland as “forging pathways to fund each other’s dreams while spurring economic equity in Oakland.”

Whether you live in the Bay Area or just support the development of creative spaces for solving problems that plague our communities and our planet, I hope you will join Ashara and her team by investing in innovation and coming alive with the Hub Oakland.  You can also hear Ashara talk about their Kickstarter journey next Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at our Crowdfunding Roundtable.


I AM the Green Economy: Generation Water

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When Generation Water’s CEO Marcus Castain started the organization, his goal was to develop the next generation of leaders for the green economy who can combine technical best practices and business skills to solve complex sustainability challenges.  Five years later, Generation Water has employed and trained more than 250 youth and adults, installed 125 rain gardens, and conducted over 240 water audits and irrigation surveys for clients in the Los Angeles area including the Department of Water, Los Angeles Unified School District, the Metropolitan Water District, and the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, among others.

Generation Water is one of seven organizations profiled in our recent report, Staying Green and Growing Jobs: Green Infrastructure Operations and Maintenance as Career Pathway Stepping Stones. Each of the organizations is helping eradicate poverty and create a sustainable future by  linking members from disadvantaged communities to opportunities in the green sector.

Castain created Generation Water in 2009 with the goal of  providing employment opportunities for students to do hands-on environmental work. In 2010, Generation Water was awarded the State of California’s $2.5 million Green Innovation Challenge and since then, has worked with water agencies, large landscape property managers, and homeowners to save them water, time, and money.

Generation Water prepares young adults for careers in water use efficiency, sustainable landscaping, and habitat restoration.  This begins with recruiting college-educated students to work on irrigation system assessments in parks and public schools; sustainable landscaping installation on private property; and landscape restoration through the removal of invasive plant species.

Generation Water has effectively combined hands-on experience, classroom education, and the use of technology to provide community members with experience that fits their professional development aspirations.  By offering a wide array of work, Generation Water allows participants to select which type of work they want to do, depending on their interest in physical labor or analytical, technology-based work.

Like many organizations in the field, finding contracting opportunities is one of Generation Water’s biggest challenges.  As a social enterprise, Generation Water faces stiff competition from private contractors.  Castain does, however, see increased opportunities for the organization in the near future, especially in the outdoor landscape water efficiency sector where the work requires specialization and efficient water systems installation techniques.  Castain is a strong advocate for bringing labor and business interests to the table to discuss workforce needs and to identify ways to collaborate on maximizing opportunities for a new workforce.

Generation Water is one of a number of cutting edge programs that are delivering triple bottom line benefits from green infrastructure investment.  The organization’s work is an example of a successful private/ public/ nonprofit partnership that protects the environment, increases access to economic opportunities, and improves the social conditions of disadvantaged groups.  The organization is cultivating a new generation of environmental stewards that come from communities most impacted by environmental and economic crises.  These programs tap into water operations and maintenance work to create on-ramps to a variety of high-quality careers.  Generation Water has shown it’s possible to perform a critical task, like managing water problems in Los Angeles, while creating real, long-term, high-quality career choices for disadvanted residents.


Transforming the World, One Cup of Juice at a Time

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Written by Maritza Martinez, Fellowship Program Manager

Last year, all eyes were on Occupy Oakland as protestors exposed economic injustice and challenged the status quo across the country.  Though the issues they brought to light are still relevant, they are no longer in the global spotlight. But the movement has continued in many ways and the inspiration it provided lives on in the work of many around the world.

Green For All Fellow, Ashel Eldridge was inspired by the energy of Occupy and this, coupled with his day-to-day work with youth in the Bay Area, led him to realize that good health is a prerequisite for participation in activism. He wanted to find a way to help heal activists and other members of the community and ensure their good health. And he decided natural, healthy juice was the way to do it.

Ashel launched SOS Juice to provide free juice to the community. SOS stands for System Out of our System.  As a hip hop artist and member of Earth Amplified, Ashel created community events that combined music and hip hop culture while introducing “live juice” to participants. And it worked.

With the support of Green For All’s Fellows Fund Micro-grant, SOS Juice is developing a cooperative business model that combines healthy fresh juice, youth employment and composting.  Ashel recognized that employment can also be a barrier to health and participation in the green economy. In fact, when youth are able to get jobs, they are usually employed at fast food establishments that supply unhealthy, processed foods to their communities. In response, Ashel set out to create an alternative for youth employment where young people could be surrounded by healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables. Youth not only receive healthy juice and a job, but they become models for sustainable living in their communities.

Ashel has big dreams for this business. He wants to see SOS Juice become a national franchise, making fresh healthy options available in every neighborhood, as ubiquitous as fast food is today. But he needs all of us to get involved.

He will be launching solar-powered juice truck here in the Bay Area this year to pilot the idea and strengthen the model.  He is looking for financial support in the form of investments and donations.  Click here to find out how you can be part of this transformative experience.

 


Young eco-entrepreneurs solve water problems with rain barrels

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Written by: Maritza Martinez, Fellowship Program Manager

KI EcoCenter youth entrepreneurs and Green For All Fellow Imhotep Adisa with their rain barrel prototype

In many communities around the world, people are struggling for basic access to clean water. Here in the United States, many of us see water as an unlimited resource that we take for granted. But the truth is that much of our country’s water infrastructure is decaying, including in places like Indianapolis, where both unemployment and sewage overflow plague communities. But today, intergenerational entrepreneurship is creating solutions to both problems.

Green For All Fellow Imhotep Adisa, founder of the Kheprw Institute (KI), works with neighborhood youth to develop green businesses in Indianapolis.  He runs an accelerator for youth-led enterprises.  One example of how the KI EcoCenter trains young entrepreneurs is the aquaponics program they created in 2012. The program is completely designed and operated by Indianapolis youth. The system is designed to grow Tilapia and vegetables to provide nutritious food. They will begin harvesting starting in Spring 2013, They also offer tours for school groups to educate more youth from the community about green entrepreneurship. The aquaponics system serves as a demonstration project for young entrepreneurs to learn, experiment, and get inspired.

Recently, Imhotep and the KI youth launched Express Yourself Rain Barrels, with the support of Green For All’s Fellows Fund Micro-grant. In addition to helping keep stormwater out of the cities overstressed sewers, the rain barrels create entrepreneurial opportunities for community members who aren’t able to work in regular 9-to-5 jobs.  Express Yourself Rain Barrels is a fulfillment center that stores, markets and distributes rain barrels created by local entrepreneurs. The company is youth-led: They designed the prototype for the barrels, as well as the company website. And because being green doesn’t have to cramp your style, the rain barrels are even decorated with art created by young people.  Check out the site and support this youth-led green business. Express Yourself Rain Barrels is also open to working with organizations to sell rain barrels as a fundraiser for their cause.

 


Job Training Program Turns Young Woman into Entrepreneur

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Twenty-four year-old Aisha never anticipated that she’d be leading her own environmental remediation company. Though she’d always been interested in environmental issues, she was largely unaware of the fact that many residents in her hometown of Baltimore faced serious health risks from living in homes and buildings contaminated with toxic substances like asbestos, mold, and lead.

Then she enrolled in Baltimore Civic Works’ Green Career Pathways program. Dorsey wasn’t the typical Civic Works participant. The program focuses on training folks who were chronically unemployed or faced barriers to employment—like ex-offenders. She was neither. Ambitious and successful, she’d been president of her high school and editor of the school newspaper. But she saw tremendous potential in the green economy—and Civic Works offered a clear path to get there. She was studying at Baltimore City Community College when she heard about the program. It offered hands-on experience that she couldn’t find elsewhere—so she decided to enroll.

She graduated from the Civic Works’ B’More Green Brownfields program in 2011, receiving multiple certifications for environmental remediation work—cleaning up contaminated sites to make them safe, and to make sure that toxics are disposed of properly and don’t end up in our air and water. After leaving the program, she spent time in the field doing environmental remediation. She quickly realized that many of the existing companies in the field didn’t take the kind of precautions she’d been trained were necessary. She saw a need for a new kind of company—one that made worker and client safety its top priority.

So, in 2012 Dorsey launched Lifeline Environmental, LLC, dedicated to helping homeowners and businesses deal with dangerous substances like asbestos, mold, and lead.

“These are very overwhelming issues,” Dorsey explains. “Some people have asbestos all over their basement. You can’t tackle it by yourself. You need certified, competent people to help.”

She finds great satisfaction in helping make her hometown of Baltimore healthier.

“You can see the relief on people’s faces when we finish a job,” she says. “To live with asbestos, mold, or lead is definitely a health issue. People get sick. It’s not like you’re just going get a cold. You’re at risk for cancer. It’s something that needs to be handled.”

One of the best parts of starting the business, according to Dorsey, was the opportunity to give back to her community—not just by making buildings safer, but by giving Baltimore something it really needs: Jobs.

After launching Lifeline Environmental, Dorsey went back to B’More Green and hired six graduates of the same program she’d finished. She knew they would be well-trained, and prepared to focus on safety, a priority for her company. And she knew first-hand just how much dedication was needed to finish the training.

“Everybody in the program works very hard. You’re there from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some people go to other jobs at the end of the day.”

The program provided something else, too—something Dorsey drew on when she decided to start her own business: Confidence. When she went back to B’More Green as an employer, she was inspired and impressed by the number of trainees who were confident in their new skills and eager to get to work.  “Some people who can’t find work may just need a larger skill set. Baltimore Civic Works invests in them and trusts them, she explains. “You leave that program on a high note.”

For Dorsey, there’s no question about the value and need for more job training programs. “Traditional education may leave some people behind,” she says. “If we have more opportunities for people to grow and find their way, you’ll see it help the community. It creates economic growth.”

 



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