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

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Mr. Okra – A New Orleans Icon


I met Mr. Okra by chance on my way to the Jazz Fest this past May. He is a large man with an ear-to-ear smile and a voice that must be heard to be appreciated.

Mr. Okra truck

“I have eating pears and bananas,” he cried out from a colorful truck, full of fresh produce.

Arthur J. Robinson, nicknamed, “Mr. Okra” had just sold some produce to a woman unable to leave her home. His paid helper, a much younger and spry man jumped out of the Mr. Okra truck and delivered food to the woman with a smile.

This is how Mr. Okra has been selling his produce, including okra, from his colorful truck for decades, There’s even a short film by The Nom de Guerre filmmakers called, “Mr. Okra” (watch here) that tells his colorful story.

As he rides slowly down the streets of New Orleans, he announces by almost singing in a cadence all his own, the produce he has to sell; “I have oranges and bananas, I have eatin’ apples, I have cantaloupe, I have the mango, I have tangerine, I have garlic green, I have pinapple, I have merliton….”

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton)

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton) is a unique vegetable grown mostly in the deep south and was a backyard staple in South Louisiana. Virtually unknown anywhere else, this vegetable originally comes from South America and is now grown in many warm weather climates. Unfortunately, heirloom mirlitons were nearly wiped out by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.

Each morning begins with loading up his hand-painted pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and slowly driving through the neighborhoods of Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward. His Cajun cadence is melodic, bellowing from the speakers mounted atop his truck and drawing people from out of their homes to buy what items he has available that day.

The Peoples Grocery in Oakland, California started out by doing much the same thing, by bringing the food to people living in poor neighborhoods. Most of them can not afford to get to a supermarket where a variety of fruits and vegetables is available.

Instead, these neighborhoods are caught in a cycle of purchasing low nutrient foods, high in sodium, fats and sugars (See: ANDI – Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) . All of these communities in West Oakland, Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward have one thing in common; they live in, what is now referred to as, “food deserts“.

Dr. Bob and Mr. Okra in new 2006 Ford f150.

Mr. Okra serves these communities by giving them access to nutrient rich foods. He does this with a style and flair uniquely his own. By delivering his goods fresh to the people most in need, he has become a highly visible icon and local hero.

In late 2009 the Mr. Okra truck, painted by Dr. Bob, started having engine problems. When this news got out, a group consisting of Tom Thayer of DBA, Nom De Guerre filmmakers, Ronnie Lamarque and his crew at Lamarque Ford, the Mayor’s office, River Parish Disposal, and hundreds of concerned customers, friends, and proponents of Nola culture came together to help.

On May 20, 2010 a benefit concert to buy him a new truck was held at dba on Frenchman Street. Bands including Morning 40 Federation and the Happy Talk Band played in support of the new truck, and Morning 40 had the distinction of being painted on the truck by beloved New Orleans artist Dr. Bob.

Short film, "Mr. Okra" by Nom De Guerre Films.

In true sustainable fashion, some local museums are interested in buying the old truck and extending its usefulness for years to come.

Mr. Okra is a living reminder of a bygone era in the early 1800s, where people would sing, dance, and play drums in accordance with their African traditions in Congo Square, in what is known today as the French Quarter.  Vendors filled the streets of New Orleans and Congo Square, chanting their offerings such as coffee and calas.

Today, if you’re in New Orleans and hear the sing song voice call out, “I have eatin’ apples, I have merliton…”, run and get your fresh fruits and vegetables from a living legend who continues to build community and improve the health and wellness of people in New Orleans.

To support the maintenance and upkeep on Mr. Okra’s truck, please go to: http://nomdeguerre.tv/foundation.html.

Resources:

Video of Mr. Okra
Merliton History
The Peoples Grocery
Supporting Local Food Culture

Spiced Zucchini Nut Bread


Spiced Zucchini Loaf in Oven

One of my favorite nut loaves is zucchini bread. What’s hard for me to accomplish is producing a moist, flavorful loaf that doesn’t go overboard with spices. I believe that I’ve struck a balance that you’ll love to eat for dessert, for breakfast with coffee or tea or just as a healthy snack!

In this recent attempt I’ve adopted a recipe I found online that actually calls for a tablespoon of curry. You’ll see below that I have omitted this ingredient and made some modifications in hopes of getting a pure winter-spiced loaf.

INGREDIENTS
3 cups grated zucchini (skins on) – You may substitute grated carrots up to 1.5 cups
2 cups white all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, plus a few to sprinkle on top
2/3 cup raisins
zest of two lemons or oranges (optional)
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup unsalted butter or substitute
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup cane sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey or rice syrup
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

You’ll need (2) 1 pound loaf pans (5 x 9 inches)

INSTRUCTIONS
In a small bowl (#1) combine the walnuts, raisins, lemon zest, and ginger. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter or oil the two loaf pans and set aside. You can also line the pans with a sheet of parchment paper. If you leave a couple inches hanging over the pan, it makes for easy removal after baking.

In a large mixing bowl (#2), beat the butter with a fork until smooth (it helps to leave the butter out to get room temperature). Add the sugars and beat again until mixture comes together and is no longer crumbly. Add the 3 eggs and beat well until blended. Stir in the vanilla, yogurt and then the zucchini (& carrots).

In a separate bowl (#3), combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring between each addition.

Use a large wooden spoon to fold in all but 1 cup of the walnuts, raisins, lemon zest, and crystallized ginger mixture careful not to over mix.  Set aside 1 cup of this nut mixture to sprinkle on the tops of the zucchini loaves before baking. Mix the batter just enough so that it’s thoroughly blended.

Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans. Cover the tops with the nut mixture and press down into the batter with your fingers – this will assure even baking and makes sure the nut mixture will bake into the loaves.

Bake for about 50-60 minutes on a middle oven rack.  Check by sliding a dry knife or wooden skewer into the center of one of the loaves. If it comes out clean, remove from the oven and cool the zucchini bread in the pan on a wire rack for about ten minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, turn upside-down and separate from baking tins. Set loaves on wire racks to finish cooling.

Makes 2 loaves.

If you have any results or suggestions to share please post them below! Thanks and happy baking!!

Chris

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.

Caramelized Onion and Gouda Bread


Two of my favorite flavors combine to make this bread so delicious, it’s dangerous. Warning: Do not bake this bread around gluten-free friends!

The savory aroma of onions and cheese will waft from your kitchen with this delicious recipe. Don’t count on having leftovers. You’ll see why when it hits the table and disappears in front of your eyes!

INGREDIENTS:

Caramelized onion and gouda cheese bread.

3/4 Cup Milk or Substitute Almond or Rice
1/2 Cup Filtered Water
1 Egg
4 TBS Softened Butter or Olive Oil
1-1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose White Flour
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 TBS Raw Cane Sugar
1 Large Onion
2 Cups Grated Gouda Cheese
3 tsp Quick-Rise Yeast

Prepare by chopping the onion and sauteing with 2 tbs olive oil over medium high heat for one minute or until translucent. Then reduce heat to low and caramelize. This will take 15 – 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, sugar and yeast. In a small saucepan, heat the milk, water and cubed butter to 120-130 degrees. Add to dry ingredients; beat just until moistened. Add egg; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until a uniform ball of dough is formed. Then add 1/3 of caramelized onions to dough and knead to incorporate (about 1 minute). Repeat until all of the onion is kneaded into dough and add one cup of grated cheese – about 5-6 minutes total.  Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

If making loaves, divide dough in half. Shape each into a long rope. Place ropes on baking sheet (I like to spread sesame seeds between the sheet and the bread to keep it from sticking). Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 25 minutes.
Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool. Immediately sprinkle remaining cheese on loaves and watch it melt.

Soil Composting – Sustainable Means Local


Compost Bin

What does it take to build your own rich, organic soil and do it sustainably?

Many of you have heard of composting or may even have a bin out in the garden. But, is this system meeting your needs or do you find yourself making runs to the local garden store for a few bags of soil? Chances are that these bags came from many hundreds of miles away. A more sustainable system would be to make use of a local composting facility. That is, if there is one near you.

If you live in or near Sonoma, than consider yourself lucky. Sonoma Compost operates the Organic Recycling Program on behalf of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. They accept yard trimmings and vegetative food discards that are placed in curbside containers by local residents. Yard trimmings are also delivered directly to their site by landscapers, tree trimmers and the public.

Sonoma Compost’s program has already reduced 1,200,000 tons of yard and wood debris, then converted it into organic compost, mulch, recycled lumber, firewood and bio-fuel.Compost Bins

If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, here’s what can individuals do to produce sustainable, organic soil in their backyards or community gardens.

Backyard Compost Bins: Composting is nature’s own way of recycling and helps to keep the high volume of organic material out of landfills and turns it into a useful product. On-site composting reduces the cost of hauling materials and is generally exempted from solid waste regulations. Large scale facilities can handle more material and potentially produce a more consistent product.

Bokashi: This system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no offensive odor is produced. In about 10 days, you can bury the nutrient-rich matter in the garden or empty the Bokashi kitchen compost bucket into your compost pile to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the soil.

Worm Bins: Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.

The concept of a city run composting facility may not seem sustainable; especially if you consider that trucks burn fossil fuel to haul their loads through neighborhoods, causing air pollution, traffic and more wear and tear on the roads. Then, individuals make separate trips from the suburbs to the local composting center transporting soil back to their homes. The inefficiency of this system is obvious but, may be a means to an end.

I believe that the benefits to having a city-run composing program would outweigh the downside of having none at all. Once a program is up and running, people can utilize the service to enrich their backyard gardens, urban farmers would benefit greatly and there’s the benefit of a reduction in the volume of organic waste going to the landfill.

The following improvements could make this centralized composting system more sustainable:

1. Upgrade the trucks to bio-diesel or other renewables,
2. Encourage community involvement in home composting systems,
3. Run composting workshops,
4. Work with local entrepreneurs to start small, community-based composting stations in their neighborhoods.

To some, it might not seem that difficult to divert your organic waste to a compost bucket to your backyard, but many perceive it to be too time-consuming. There’s also a cultural barrier connected with the formation of soil: some perceive it to be dirty and smelly. Strangely though, many people also view composting as a socially-responsible effort rather than a common sense one, since they do not use the resulting soil in a garden.

With a little effort and a change in behavior, you could be producing many cubic feet of rich, organic compost in your very back yard. The qualitative benefits include a more abundant and productive garden for you and your family. This equates to better health and nutrition. Quantitatively, you are helping to divert from landfill, more than 25 percent your household’s waste and food scraps. In 1996, The Composting Council analyzed backyard composting programs and concluded that the average household in the study composted an average of 646 pounds per year, which amounted to more than 12 pounds every week.

Your family, your community and your tomatoes will thank you for it.

The New Era of Food Politics


Food for Life distributes food on an internati...

Food for Life distributes food on an international level.

Most of us have heard a great deal about food lately.

Michael Pollan‘s book Omnivore’s Dilemma caused the agribusiness conglomerates to refer to the millions of his fans as having been, “Pollan-ated”. Food Inc. grossed over $4 million worldwide and was nominated for an Oscar, making it one of the highest viewed documentaries of all time. And recently Michelle Obama just announced the USDA’s program to educate us about proper nutrition by replacing the decades old Food Pyramid.

Multiple factors are fueling this focus on food and nutrition;

  1. Health Care today is eroding American‘s ability to pay for their own health insurance
  2. Food security is breaking down with numerous outbreaks of federal recalls of meat and produce
  3. Increased information about antioxidants and the importance of eating fruits and vegetables
  4. Food prices have soared worldwide, powering a surge in urban farming
  5. The aging Babby-Boomers are demanding better nutrition through food and food supplements

Millions of Americans are now more concerned than ever about what goes in their bodies. Many different definitions have been used to describe people’s choices of what they eat. Vegetarian refers to those who do not eat meat or anything with eyes. Lacto-ovo vegetarians add milk products and eggs to their diets.

Mycena Interrupta is one of many organisms that belong to detritivores.

Unfamiliar to most are the lesser known terms such as “vegcurious”, referring to those that do not identify themselves as vegan or vegetarian but are curious about reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their diet. “Flexitarians”are people who occasionally eat meat, fish and dairy, but stick to a mostly vegetarian lifestyle.

There are also “pescetarians”, who eat fish and seafood to supplement their vegetarian diet. Then there are the “freegans,” who eat only free food, particularly food about to be tossed in the dumpster. This group is out to make a political statement while acting as the human equivalent of the detritivore.

Whatever group you fall into, there is one overwhelming conclusion – we are becoming aware not only of the personal benefits to a more healthy diet, but of the impact our decisions about food have on our planet. We are approaching a time of awakening for human kind (akin to the Age of Enlightenment) where we take a fresh look at the effects of all food related systems that affect our health and our environment.

World Population Chart

This new perspective will be a critical element to our ability to create sustainable agricultural systems that build economic stability, improve quality of agricultural lands and insure the viability of a world population that is on track to reach 10 billion by the year 2040.

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