Sustainable Business Spotlight: Keeper Sacks


Company: Keeper Sacks | Products: Reusable food bags and covers

Keeper Sacks is the creation of Kristine Lebow, the mother of two children, who found a fashionable and sustainable solution to an everyday problem.

Keeper Sacks is the creation of Kristine Lebow.

The idea is elegant as it is simple – design attractive replacements to green our habit of using plastic to cover food. The result is a colorful snack bag that’s processed and shipped with recycled materials.

Kristine has a love of the environment and runs her company looking for ways to make it more sustainable. Keeper Sacks reuses boxes from neighboring businesses, keeps paperless records, and is constantly looking for new ways to reduce waste and consumption.

A large aspect of her company’s sustainability is that all of her products are made in the U.S. She also insists on using U.S. made materials because, as she puts it –

“Being a sustainable business is only possible if the materials used and the people making them come from close to where you live.”

After forming in October 2009, her company has developed four operating guidelines that are integral to her core sustainable business practices:

  • Design layouts must use 95 – 98 % of fabric to optimize material usage
  • Use 100% domestic materials and labor
  • Reuse existing shipping cartons whenever possible
  • Ship products efficiently to reduce materials and cost

Focusing on the problem of plastics in the environment is a big concern. Globally we generate 300 million tons of plastic waste each year. American used an estimated 380 billion sandwich bags in 2008 alone.

According to Lisa Kaas Boyle, co-founder and Director of Legal Policy for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, disposable plastics compose the largest percentage of all ocean pollution.

Keeper Sacks bowl cover.

After being laid off, Ms. Lebow, a former swimsuit designer at Jantzen Inc. and Reebok Swimwear took her daughter’s advice to start her own business. Having seen a similar product on the shelves, she thought her mommy could do better. And she did.

Keeper Sacks’ line of reusable bowl and plate covers are made of ripstop nylon and are machine and dishwasher safe.  One sustainable aspect of all Keeper Sacks products is that they are well made and use a minimum of resources and energy to produce. When the consumer gets hundreds or thousands of uses out of it, as opposed to just one, their environmental impact is greatly minimized.

Ms. Lebow cleverly pursued New Seasons Market, a local health food store in her hometown of Portland, Oregon to carry her Keeper Sacks. They had similar products as hers, but were open to carrying another brand and were impressed by her designs and commitment to sustainability. Sales took off and they have been a huge supporter ever since.

By building her brand locally, she has cultivated strong sales from people living in her community and from neighboring cities.

Her current efforts are focused on expanding distribution to stores beyond the Pacific Northwest. If you would like to see Keeper Sacks sold where you live, make your suggestion to a supermarket or kitchen supply store near you today.

Suggested Reading:

Plastic Waste: More Dangerous than Global Warming
Plastic Bags – Whole Foods Pledges to Stop Using Plastic Bags

Reusable Bags – Why do you choose to carry, or not carry, reusable shopping…

What’s in a Shopping Bag? – The Environment for Kids

Education You Can Eat


The wonderful chef, restaurateur, and leader o...

Leader of the Slow Food Movement, Alice Waters.

Forty years ago in Berkeley, Alice Waters started her restaurant Chez Panisse and brought rise to what is now the Slow Food Movement.

Today, Executive Director Nikki Henderson and author Michael Pollan are collaborating with The Chez Panisse Foundation to offer the first Edible Education course and lecture series at UC Berkeley Extension in the Fall of 2011.

She was inspired by her experience in France at age 18, “where food was woven into everyday life”, she explains. They ate what was in season and everything was fresh. If tomatoes weren’t available, they used what was.

This coursework will build on her Edible Schoolyard Program that’s been teaching children about growing and eating food for the past 16 years. “If they are involved with growing the food, then they will eat it – all of it.”

The Edible Education series examines multiple aspects of the food movement from the perspectives of experts in the field, including Frances Moore Lappe, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel and Eric Schlosser.

Enrollment in the course is closed but, keep tuned to the U.C. Berkeley Extension’s website for upcoming classes.

Resources:

Video of Alice Waters speaking about her inspirational experiences in France.

Deglobalization – The Price of Food in the New World Economy


When we think of how low prices for food have been in the United States since the industrial revolution, we mostly congratulate ourselves for our technological and agricultural prowess that made this possible. Our ingenuity of being able to produce more food per acre than ever before is a badge of honor in our collective unconscious. All of us can’t help but take for granted how cheap food really is for the American consumer.

American organizations such as the Red Cross come to the rescue when disaster strikes in various parts of the world. Supported by our huge reserves of grain, wheat, corn and rice, transport planes are loaded with “surplus” grains, flours, milk powders and ready to eat meals. As Americans, we think that we have conquered the food production challenge – a perfect example of humanity winning out over nature.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The world has changed dramatically in just the past 10 years and yet our approach to agriculture has not evolved to meet today’s changing environmental landscape.

World Food Price Crisis

World Food Price Crisis

In July 2008 the price of oil – inexorably linked to the price of food – shot up to a high of $147.30 per barrel. This surge in oil prices (much of it stemming from commodities traders) has a multiplier effect on food prices. First, because fossil fuel is a major source of nitrogen fertilizer used in much of the large farming operations run by the worlds leading agribusiness concerns. Next, the transportation of food is run almost entirely on a system completely dependent upon fossil fuels. The result means increased pricing for food that is a staple for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people.

This multiplier effect was evidenced here in the United States when, in April 2008 Sam’s Club instituted a limit on how much long-grain white rice restaurants and retail customers could purchase due to world-wide shortages. The U.S. was mostly spared from major price jumps in food commodity prices – but, other developed nations were effected severely with the developing nations being the hardest hit by what has been labeled as the Global Food Crisis.

In India, food riots were reported in the Indian state of West Bengal in 2007 over shortages of food. Haitian food riots caused several deaths and prices for food items such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk have gone up 50 percent since late 2007 while the price of fuel tripled in only two months. The Brazilian government reacted by announcing a temporary ban on the export of rice to protect their consumers from shortages.

Many other factors were at work to create this dire scenario that led to the Crisis. The administration of former president George W. Bush was active lobbying Congress to pass the Energy Independence and Security Act that focused on promoting agrofuels and the automobile fuel industry. The act targeted the increase of agrofuels production by more than eightfold from 4.7 billion gallons in 2007 to at least 36 billion gallons in 2022.

Many small and mid-sized farmers were being offered exorbitant prices for their land by those wishing to cash in on the rush to turn corn into ethanol.

Price of Oil Peaks in 2008

Arable lands that once had been utilized for growing corn for consumption, were being diverted to the production of ethanol. This phenomena led to the relatively short-lived boom\bust of the ethanol craze in the U.S. The cost to grow the corn and convert it into ethanol was, as it turned out, a negative sum proposition. Only if the price of oil were to continue to climb past $140 could corn ethanol hope to be price competitive.

So far, just Brazil has proven that sugar cane can be converted into ethanol efficiently. After 30 years of technological innovation, government mandates and public acceptance, Brazil’s mandatory fuel blend is 25% of anhydrous ethanol and 75% gasoline or E25 blend. The combination of vast arable land and superior agri-industrial technology makes this possible.


Bibliography

1. 2007–2008 world food price crisis, Wikipedia
2. Food Wars by Walden Bello and Mara Baviera, Monthly Review (July-August 2009)
3. The price of food: ingredients of a global crisis, Heidi Fritschel (April 9, 2008)
4. Ethanol fuel in Brazil, Wikipedia

Indigenous Cultures Rediscover Sustainable Farming Practices


In writing “Hope’s Edge“, Frances Moore Lappé and Anne Lappé traveled to India, Bangladesh, Brasil, Poland, England, France, and the California Bay Area to look at the different ways food is grown and distributed. What they discovered about the systems of food production in places like Belo Horizonte, Brasil and Andhra Pradesh, India are inspiring and surprising.

“Hunger is caused by a scarcity of democracy, not a scarcity of food.”

– Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé

What is Belo Horizonte doing that every city in the world should do? They took the challenge of poverty and hunger that was afflicting their city head on.

Belo Horizonte, Brasil - Population 5.4 million

In so doing, they realized that access to nutritious, healthy food was a basic right and, as a group of elected officials, they had a responsibility to the people of Belo Horizonte to make sure the market worked for them, in providing access to healthy, local and organic food. Out of this realization, a strong social movement to transform their food system took hold.

Seven years after this shift in consciousness, dozens of innovative projects emerged.  They looked at where government money was being spent and where new initiatives could better serve the people.

One of the projects that came out of this initiative was a fresh look at how the school food program was being run.

Belo Horizonte’s School Lunch Program Goes Sustainable

The City realized that they were spending significant amounts of money to purchase government processed food that was not very nutritious and needed to be trucked in from long distances. They said why don’t we support our local farms and in doing so, provide local, organic produce that is nutritious and supports local, organic farmers. The goals were to;

  • Supply healthier food to children
  • Support local organic farmers
  • Support regional economy
  • Become more self-reliant

Fast food companies were advertising in schools in an effort to influence the buying habits of young children. So, they launched a public education program to inform and educate children on what foods are healthy and nutritious.

The Results Speak For Themselves

After 7 years and spending 1% of the city’s budget (equivalent to 1 penny per person per day), they have dramatically improved basic childhood health indicators. The result has been decreased hunger overall and has lowered child mortality rates by 60% in the span of only 10 years.

Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India

Even in New York, food deserts do exist. New York City has just launched ‘Green Carts‘ to mitigate this urban phenomena. Small carts are filled with fresh produce and delivered into areas where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is non-existent.

The Thinking Around ‘Food Scarcity’ Needs To Change

People often cite that those most in need cannot concern themselves with eating local organic foods when they are faced with just putting food on the table. The claim has been that the organic food movement has been elitist and ruled by the ‘global north’.

Ms. Lappé counters by saying that what is elitist, is the current food production model because it excludes the many to favor the few. The global north is not where the only shifts are taking place in the effort to regain our agricultural heritage. Some of the poorest regions in the world are showing that a return to indigenous farming practices are yielding impressive results.

Leaders in Global Sustainable Farming Movement

The women living in villages of the Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India are becoming leaders in the “global movement” toward sustainable agricultural practices. They have rejected the disaster resulting from local farmers growing GM (genetically modified) seeds supplied to them from Monsanto. GM seeds need to be purchased from Monsanto after each harvest often causing the farmers to go in debt. Using non-regenerative seeds them has only brought devastating crop failures, resulting in farmers that are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

The local farmers are now going back to the indigenous practices of their ancestors, by teaching each other the ritual of seed sharing, diverse cropping methods and creating their own safety nets for their village in times of drought. They are even filming this whole process and sharing it with the world.

Balwadi grain contribution

One village seed-keeper showed samples of the 25-30 varieties of seeds (no wheat or rice) that she cares for and grows on about one hectare of land. The basic staple crops are a diversity of millets and sorghums. Millet seeds are tiny, but they do well in the dry Deccan plateau.  All had their value for both food and cattle fodder and together provided a balanced diet. As a seed-keeper, she does not own the seeds, and others in the village ‘borrow’ seeds from her, returning 1.5 to 2 times the quantity of seeds borrowed after harvest. Thus, the village stock of seeds grows and diversifies.

People in this region are some of the poorest in the world and they are in leadership roles within the sustainable food movement. The key is rebuilding food production systems that are not reliant upon synthetic fertilizers, which use huge amounts of fossil fuels and natural gas to produce. Changing to a more sustainable system of growing crops will reduce the impact to the poorest regions of the world, that are most affected by climate change.

Farming in Ethiopia Undergoes Ground Breaking Shift

Women of the Deccan Plateau, India filming indigenous seed-saving practices

Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia are also turning back to the native crops that are indigenous to the region. Historically, these indigenous plants have survived countless droughts while providing subsistence farmers a reliable livelihood.

The sustainable practices in the most drought prone regions in Ethiopia are having dramatic increases on crop yields using techniques that are affordable and safe. These farmers can’t afford to buy seeds that will put them in debt. Organic and sustainable farming practices mean the farmers are not reliant on chemical fertilizers, which are costly and deplete the soil of their organic matter over time.

Plant Resilience Means Human Resilience

When people begin to have the capacity to feed themselves from the land, to not be in debt to the corporations and to do it in a sustainable way, they build confidence in themselves.  Then, with this new-found self-reliance, they begin to experiment with crops, well-suited to their particular soil and weather pattern. They begin to break away from the dogma of conventional agriculture sold to them by the Monsantos and DuPonts of the world.

To survive in the 21st century, these farming communities need to adapt to a constantly changing climate pattern due to global warming. They can do this without GMOs and interference from agribusiness. Farmers that grow drought resilient crops native to their land, are themselves, becoming more resilient to an ever changing and unpredictable climate future.

Let It Bee: Raising Honey Bees for Fun and Profit


   Raising Honey Bees For Fun And Profit

Beekeeping can be a fun hobby or even a thriving small business for those with little or no knowledge of bees. The startup costs are low – the average hive is approximately $300 and you only need one to get started.

Once you have purchased a hive it can be kept in a remote corner of your back yard. Nowadays we commonly see suburban homes with a bee hives compared to just 10 years ago. Some like to have a consistent source of local honey for themselves and for trade. Others see a potential revenue stream that is local, sustainable and fun to do.

“Egyptians called honey a “gift from the gods”.

Your local Cooperative Extension office will tell you if the area you live has any beekeeping restrictions. You will also get contact numbers of your states beekeeping organization where you can register as a beekeeper.

Bee Keeping Basics

Choosing the location for your hive is an important step. This may be on your property in a unused portion of your garden or with a local farmer or land owner. Note: Always ask permission before setting up your bee hive. See Your Home’s Most Underused Resource – The Roof.

Once you have selected a site for your beehive you will need to go about acquiring the equipment needed to successfully maintain a beehive. Some of the equipment you will need can be purchased used on EBay. If you are unable to find the equipment you need on EBay there are several on-line sites where you can purchase equipment. If you need further assistance finding and purchasing a beehive and other beekeeping equipment call your local Cooperative Extension office or the Federation of American Beekeepers.

Before acquiring bees for your hive it’s important to make sure about your protection – this means you have to purchase beekeepers gear.

Bee Keeping Gear

So once your bee hive is already in place and you are confident that everything is in working order it’s time to order your honey bees. An established Apiary is one of the places to order honey bees. Your order should be placed in winter, the average beekeeper orders their bees in January and February. March and April is the usual time of shipment Most Apiary’s ship their bees through the U.S. postal service. Once the bees have arrived you will be called by your carrier and ask that you pick up the bees. Many mail carriers are not comfortable driving all over the county with a car full of young angry bees in their car and most bees are healthier if they don’t have to spend several hours in a hot car.

When you pick up your bees they should have been packaged in a special carrying case that is designed just for bees. This package will be a wooden framed “house” that has a screen covering the outside. This packaging allows air to circulate to the traveling bees and keeps handlers, such as post office employees, from getting stung.

When you get your bees, you’ll probably find a few dead bees laying in the bottom of the package. This is a normal part of shipping and is no reason for concern.

You will notice that one bee in the container has been separated from the rest of the hive. This is your queen bee. The rest of the bees in the container will make up the rest of your bee hives hierarchy. Some apiaries ship the queen with a couple of nurse bees. The top of the queen’s container will be covered with piece of sugar candy.

You should also see a container that is filled with a sugar solution. The bees feed on the sugar solution while they are traveling. You should then offer your bees a drink. You do this by taking a spray bottle and covering the container with a very fine misting of water.

Honey is a food source for bees where they store the excess in anticipation of days when outside food sources are scarce. This excess honey can be collected by the beekeeper for personal or business use.

Keep in mind that when outside nectar sources are scarce, bees will require more honey to survive, limiting the amount beekeepers are able to harvest. If beekeepers are interested in collecting consistently bigger quantities of honey they will need to do one of two things. Either increase the size of and number of colonies or provide a bee food supplement during seasonal changes or difficult periods in the local climate or ecology.

Liquid and Comb Honey

There are two types of honey that for-profit beekeepers can sell; liquid honey and comb honey.

The liquid form is extracted from the hive by utilizing a centrifuge with little physical effort. Selling pieces of the comb is also a profitable means of earning income from beekeeping. Many individuals prefer this kind of honey’s natural flavor in spite of its less convenient form.

Honey comes in a variety of colors and flavors. The flavor of honey is significantly influenced by the nectar bees collect. Other factors such as the soil composition, varieties of floral plans, and the general weather conditions in your geographical region will all influence the flavor of the honey produced by the hive.

The color of the honey is also affected by the plants honey bees obtain nectar from. For instance, alfalfa nectar produces honey ranging from clear to white, while honey resulting from the bee’s harvesting nectar from buckwheat tends to be significantly darker. Honey can be found in clear, white, gold, brown, red and even greenish hues. The quality of the honey combs constructed by bees can also affect both the color and flavor of the honey.

If you would like to distinguish your honey, you can influence the flavor, color and sugar content by planting specific varieties of flowers and plants nearby. To see a complete list of various honey types, go to www.honeyo.com/.

If beekeepers are processing and packaging honey for profit, it is important to research, learn and follow all state and federal regulations associated with food. Beekeeping for profit is a business like any other and local governmental guidelines can vary so you will need to do your homework and ensure that you are meeting all of the appropriate general business and food specific laws and regulations.

Beekeeping is an activity that anyone can undertake as it requires minimal land. Men, women, elderly and youth can participate!

Benefits to Bee Keeping

  • It takes minimal time and effort in a season, therefore allowing for normal work-a-day activities to carry on. It has relatively low technology requirements!
  • It is a low investment activity which requires only bee hives, bee suits and a few simple tools. Beekeeping basics are easy to master!
  • Bees pollinate the indigenous flora, adding value to wild harvested fruits, nuts and economic trees and plants as well as 1/3rd to any food production through targeted pollination!
  • Beekeeping projects can be linked with many other production projects to bolster participant numbers and income generation!
  • Beekeeping provides employment and self-esteem, there is opportunity for quick return on investment, and minimal land requirements!
  • Honey is a valuable non-wood forest product thus contributing to the preservation of forests around the world!
  • Honey is a commodity that can be traded internationally as well as locally or regionally without special consideration as to storage or loss!
  • Honey is a high value product with a stable and lucrative supply versus demand economy. Honey is very portable as well!
  • Honey and its by-products have many healthy benefits for the consumer and are lucrative trade commodities in value addition form!
  • Most honeybee products can be consumed as food, dietary supplements or used as medicine. And bee products have a long shelf life and are a valuable food source!


See this short video on the Principals of Beekeeping : Beekeeping Equipment to get started today.

Throwing Apples Away


Recently I’ve been traveling around the country and meeting people who tell me amazing things. Just last night, while sitting by the pool in Austin, Texas on a balmy and sultry evening, a new friend of mine told me something that really shocked me.

Belinda is a teacher of mostly Hispanic, low-income students in Austin and her students do something that is hard to believe.

While supervising the kids at break time she happened to notice a child toss her apple in the trash. She went over to her and asked why she did that and was met with a shrug. Then she looked in the trash can and saw that she was not the only one. There were over a dozen apples from other students who had thrown their apples away.

Without thinking she let out a shriek and began scooping them up and telling the children that apples are nutritious and they need to eat them.

What Belinda observed is a phenomenon where kids that are malnourished begin to crave sweets, salty and processed foods while loosing their appetite for healthy, nutritious foods.

Another challenge is poverty. One day, Belinda spoke to a girl sitting alone one day at lunchtime. She was eating a grilled cheese sandwich. When she went to sit with her, the child said she didn’t want to eat it. When asked why she explained that she was tired of eating so many grilled cheese sandwiches over the past weeks. Her parents only could afford tortillas, bread and government cheese.

So, we sat there by the pool eating our spring rolls with fresh cut vegetables and sunflower sprouts, hummus, crackers and cheese discussing what could be done.

I offered to make juice out of the apples and teach the kids about nutrition. The red tape and administrative hoops made that idea vanish. But then, Belinda said that she wanted to do it. She would show the kids how delicious fresh juice is and why it’s good for them in class.

I thought this was terrific and offered my juicer for her (and a quick lesson to show her the ropes).

Teachers are affected by their classes nutrition. In areas of low income and minority areas like Austin, children are in crisis – yes, this is the United States and not a third world country. These children grow up with parents who both work, often two or three jobs just to keep them clothed and housed.

I have to humbly acknowledge all of the teachers out there who go above and beyond, like Belinda. We all owe you a debt of gratitude for caring for and teaching our children.

Thanks Belinda.

Novella Carpenter Speaks on Berkeley Campus


Just recently saw Novella Carpenter speak in Berkeley, California. Her slideshow of pictures were humorous and so inspiring.

The one of her standing next to her tow big pigs with just flip flops on proved to me that she is committed to urban farming, if not a bit nutz.

I’ve just started reading her latest book entitled, Farm City. Her life reads more like a woman on the farm; one that you would expect from a person living in the rural area of the U.S. like Nebraska, Oklahoma or Kansas.

If you want to buy her book, here’s the link to Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Farm-City-Education-Urban-Farmer/dp/1594202214/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1271100130&sr=8-2-fkmr0

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