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Invest locally: Food nonprofits for year-end gifts

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As the year winds down, many are contemplating nonprofits to receive a year-end gift.  You might consider putting your money where your mouth is and make an investment in an organization that furthers the local, sustainable food movement. Three of my favorite causes engage youth, refugees and veterans in farming – widening the umbrella of the sustainable food community.

Urban Roots holds a special place in my heart, teaching kids leadership skills through farming and running a farm stand in Austin. I am continuously impressed with their program and he confidence and enthusiasm it breeds in the kids. Any donation to Urban Roots is money well spent.

Urban Roots volunteers courtesy of Urban Roots

Urban Roots volunteers courtesy of Urban Roots

In Houston, Plant It Forward Farms provides refugees a path to economic viability through farming. I first read about this program in CultureMap and Sugar & Rice magazine and I cannot wait to visit the farms.  Houston is such a melting pot and I can’t think of a better way to welcome new residents than help them become part of an active, thriving food community.

Last year I had the chance to see the documentary Farmer Veteran and was intrigued by efforts to engage and place veterans in small family farms. Eat the Yard farm in Oak Cliff (Dallas) is a great example of such an effort and they credit the  continued support of the Farmer Veteran Coalition for their success. A donation to FVC is a direct investment not only in our future food supply, but in our veterans who deserve our gratitude for their service.

Eat the Yard crew courtesy or Farmer Veteran Coalition

Eat the Yard crew courtesy or Farmer Veteran Coalition

Sustainable Food Center (Austin) and Urban Harvest (Houston)  host farmers markets, provide farm to work and school services and many other vital programs to ensure that everyone has access to healthy, fresh food.  Green Corn Project (Austin) is helping create a new generation of citizen gardeners by installing gardens and teaching gardening classes.

And, of course, the food banks across the state – Capital Area Food Bank, Houston Food Bank, San Antonio Food Bank and North Texas Food Bank – battle hunger every day in our communities, a large focus of which is to get healthy, nutritious food on to every plate.

Last, but not least, Foodways Texas is doing amazing work chronicling the food history of our great state, capturing and preserving what is so special about the flavors of Texas.

Whichever organization you choose, you can rest assured that every dollar you invest is a vote for local food and a healthy, happier community in the new year. 

Happy New Year!

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Two local food magazines debut in Houston and San Antonio

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It’s been an exciting month for the local food word in Texas with the debut of two new magazines.

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Edible San Antonio debuted (the digital issue isn’t online just yet) with their Fall Harvest issue.  I’m looking forward to following the growth of the farmers markets, local sourcing restaurants and food artisans in the Alamo City, and am thrilled that another Edible magazine will be helping tell those stories.  Edible San Antonio is publishing on a six times/year rotation and offers a $35/year subscription.

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The magazine launch that has had me circling my mailbox in anticipation is Sugar & Rice from Houston.  My friends Chris Cusack, who you may know from his days as a co-owner at Thunderbird Coffee, Benjy Mason and David Leftwich have conspired to create a beautiful, thoughtful journal focused on the Gulf Coast region.  It’s gorgeous, inspired and I haven’t been this excited to get a magazine in the mail since I received my first issue of Garden & Gun.  Sugar & Rice is publishing quarterly and subscriptions are $30/year.

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I love that there is now a magazine focused on local food stories in four of Texas’ major cities (Edible Austin, Edible Dallas & Fort Worth, Edible San Antonio and Sugar & Rice).  Getting a subscription to each will guarantee that you have one of the best informed libraries in the state. See you at the magazine stand!

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Celebrating Kids & Healthy Food

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Last year, Edible Austin magazine asked me to attend the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids conference and pinpoint a story about kids and food for the Spring 2013 Wellness issue.  I knew some about school food and the hurdles faced by districts to revamp their menus, but had no idea how deeply troubling or complex the issue was.

As I started researching, I was struck by several things.  First, I was awed by the creativity and ingenuity with which people across the country were tackling the problem. It’s easy to blame the schools for serving less than desirable food, but the often maligned and very dedicated food service professionals in our schools are tackling hills of red tape, supply chain issues, equipment scarcity and, in some cases, disinterest to get healthier foods to the kids. Chef Kate Adamick of Cook for America calls school food professionals Lunch Teachers – our first line of defense in teaching kids how to eat healhty.

And, one of the biggest challenges is that there is no “one size fits all” solution.  What works in one district won’t necessarily work in another, even in the same state.  The changes and menus have to be retrofitted for the local community and the district structure – thus the complexity.  Organizations like School Food Focus provide technical assistance and networking tools for school food professionals to share solutions across the country so that everyone doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel even if they have to tweak it a bit.

Most importantly though, I learned that we have to model and reinforce healthy food at home for kids to embrace healthy food at school.  Intuitively, I knew this, but to see the empirical data that backs it up was eye-opening.  It’s easy to shift responsibility to the schools, but that won’t work.  We have to make healthy food a habit at home as well. I don’t have kids, but I consider it part of my responsibility as an aunt to help teach my niece and nephew healthy eating.  Chef Adamick said we all have kids whether they are biological or not, and I agree with her.

Reshaping Our Future Through Food was a fun piece to write, particularly exploring the great initiatives in the Austin and Houston school districts.  You can celebrate and explore real food with your kids at Edible Austin’s free upcoming Children’s Picnic and Real Food Fair on Sunday, April 7th, at the French Legation museum from 1:00-5:00 pm.

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