Food & Film Pairings—Growing the Food Movement Through Food Film Festivals

9 May

 

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Sacramento’s 2015 Food Film Festival at Ruhstaller Brewery & Taproom. Photo by Erin Alderson, Naturally Ella

SACRAMENTO — Since the beginning of the century, an influx of food-focused films have been cooked up by film producers, creating a food-conscious public movement around food issues similar to that of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book “The Jungle” about Chicago’s meatpacking industry, which eventually led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration.

“Food documentaries bring food issues to a broad audience, and can definitely motivate change whether on a personal or political level,” said Sarah Nelson, executive director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit 18 Reasons that teaches cooking and nutrition, and founder of the San Francisco Food and Farm Film Festival. “As the food movement grows, the food film movement follows.”

Delectable close-up shots of velvety greens sautéed in garlic and butter, melting cheese, and sizzling steak on the silver screen may unleash Pavlov’s dog-like salivation or gluttonous desire, while scenes of pastoral living may call people back to the land, but documentaries are meant to inspire a better understanding of the food system and its impact on lives and the planet.

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Pre-film bites at Sacramento’s 2014 Food Film Festival. Photo by Madeloni Photography.

“In talking with people all around the country, it’s clear how important films are in telling the story of food,” said Anna Lappé, author of “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork” and director of Real Food Media. Lappé says documentary films shine a light on stories that need telling and help society make sense of the world. “Stories change lives,” Lappé said. “One of the most powerful ways to share stories is through films and documentaries.”

Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” investigated the influence of the fast food industry and became the highest grossing food film—$11.5 million—shown in over 230 theaters. National attention from the film led McDonald’s restaurants to remove the ‘Super Size’ option from its menu, and the doc has been credited by The Guardian for being more influential than most Oscar winning films. However, McDonald’s never attributed the Super Size demise to the documentary, rather a loss in sales.

“Food Inc.,” a 2008 Academy Award-nominated documentary on corporate farming grossed over $4.4 million, and triggered rebuttals from several agribusiness giants like Monsanto Company and Tyson Foods.

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Sacramento’s 2015 Food Film Festival

“’Food Inc.’ is amazing,” said Lappé. “I recommend ‘Food Inc.’ as a great first dive into understanding the food system. ‘Food Inc.’ and ‘Merchants of Doubt’ have been hugely influential in shaping how people understand what’s broken about the food system and how to fix it.”

Communal insight into food issues have led to the emergence of food film festivals worldwide including New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Charleston, Toronto and Sacramento.

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Food Literacy Kid Chefs prepare bites with Executive Chef Chris Dann at Sacramento’s 2016 Food Film Festival.

Viewers indulge in creative journalistic examination of the cultural significance, political regulations, technological innovation, human and environmental health impacts, and celebration of food while eating meals grown and prepared by local farmers and chefs. Some food film festivals serve as a conduit for public discussion on local food systems, and create a new way of perceiving how communities understand the sustenance that nurtures them.

In 2007, Travel Channel host and “Hamburger America” filmmaker George Motz founded the first ‘Food Film Festival’ in New York City, which has since spread to Chicago and Charleston.

“What could connect to, and impact our lives more than food?” asked Lappé. “As the boom in interest in food films shows, more and more people want to see food in all its complexity shared on the big screen.”

Originally, Motz’s concept was a food-porn addict’s dream—a multi-sensory experience where food films were screened with munchies profiled in the films. Due to the increase of food documentaries, the festival has become a competitive film contest, offering a variety of awards selected by esteemed members in the food and film community.

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Food Literacy Center Kid Chefs cook up a meal with Frank Fat’s Executive Chef Mike Lim at Sacramento’s 2015 Food Film Festival.

Documentaries have a reputation of leaving viewers with the question of “what can we do?” Many film festivals contribute to community food education by donating event proceeds to organizations that provide food-learning services, volunteer opportunities or increase food access to area residents. Last year, the 2015 Sacramento Food Film Festival catered to 910 attendees and raised over $35,000 towards the nonprofit Food Literacy Center’s afterschool food-education programs for low-income elementary students.

Lappé said Real Food Films partners with several food film festivals, offers Pop-Up Film Festivals worldwide and provides a library of short films on their website with inspiring, under-told stories.

Documentary filmmakers thirst for knowledge and storytelling can have serious influence and persuasion to bring about real changes in society.

According to Nelson, “Food documentaries always remind me how hard it is to make and grow good food, and how much respect we owe our farmers and chefs.”

Pairing a food film with the right meal, beverage, and conversation is a delicious and educational indulgence.

“Last year’s pairing of food inspired by the themes of the films involved a delicious helping of toast with Sriracha mayonnaise,” Lappé said of San Francisco’s Food and Farm Film Festival. “Not sure I would put it in the gluttonous category, but it was delicious and fun.”

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Sacramento’s 2015 Food Film Festival at California Fat’s.

In Sacramento, the 2016 Sacramento Food runs from April 7 – 16 with seven events at various venues across the city. Ticket prices range from FREE to $95 depending on the event, meal and entertainment package included. Proceeds will benefit the Food Literacy Center, which provides food education to low-income elementary students in afterschool programs across California’s Capital Region.

Published: Food Literacy Center 23 March 2016. Available at: http://www.foodliteracycenter.org/blog-post/food-film-pairings-growing-food-movement-through-food-film-festivals

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Cooking is Fastest Method to Teach Kids to Love Fruits and Vegetables

20 Nov
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Photo by Marita Madeloni, http://www.madeloniphotography.com/

SACRAMENTO — Amidst a bombardment of TV ads that convince kids to crave calorie dense and nutritionally deficient foods, it can be challenging to raise healthy eaters.

What’s the fastest method to teach kids to love their fruits and vegetables? Gardening? Shopping the farmers market?

New research shows that cooking is the fastest method to improving kids’ food literacy and turning them into food adventurers.

“It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic,” said food journalist Michael Pollan in a New York Times interview. “Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies.”

Carrie Strohl, a literacy specialist with Learning Design group at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, said with school or home gardens, few can cook entirely from what they have grown.

Strohl said although school gardening helps children learn how food grows, the garden can become a form of recess, making it difficult to maintain classroom behavior. Also, creating and staging lesson plans to the ripening of fruits or vegetables can be time consuming and difficult for instructors.

“You can’t appeal to the same senses in the garden as you do with cooking,” said Strohl, who has conducted comparative studies on curriculums for both home economics and school gardening. “Meals prepared from scratch are usually healthier and are enjoyed more.”

Cooking builds community around food through a shared culture of eating in far less time than sowing a garden. By sharing the workload of creating a meal, children quickly learn essential skills that will help them to feed themselves someday: following a recipe, chopping, etc.

Pollan suggests that food education in the form of gender-neutral home economics classes would create the potential of a “gender-agnostic cooking culture,” where cooking is a healthy, creative, cost-effective, democratic pleasure.

“Typically students will want to share recipes from school with their family,” Strohl said.

A 2014 Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior study found that a “Cooking With Kids” curriculum involving fourth grade New Mexican children in culinary experiences improved children’s attitudes about cooking, increased self-efficacy (the ability to follow a recipe and create a meal), and boosted preferences towards fruits and vegetables. Thereby, facilitating long-term healthful food choices.

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Photo by Dawn Balzarano, http://kitchentravels.smugmug.com

Additionally, the study found that boys with no prior cooking experience had the greatest gains in self-efficacy.

Nutritionists and parents often focus too narrowly on isolating vegetables to fulfill dietary needs. Strohl said a nutritionally balanced meal isn’t one that is nutritionally complete per se. Rather, it is food combinations with a variety of ingredients like garlic, onions, or ginger, which makes food more nutritious, palatable and better to eat.  With some foods, cooking makes nutrients more readily available.

A Cornell University study found that children who participate in mealtime activities are 24 percent more likely to eat healthier foods and 12 percent less likely to be overweight.

In her book, “It’s Not about the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating,” Dr. Dina Rose discusses how lessons of proportion, variety and moderation play a crucial role in translating good nutrition into behavior.

Like Strohl, Rose says parents don’t have to obsess about how to get their child to consume particular nutrients. Parents should focus on providing a variety of fresh, wholesome and healthful fruits and vegetables more regularly than junk food at routine mealtimes in modest proportions.

When parents include their children in mealtime preparation and offer a variety of fruits and vegetables from day to day, kids are free to explore and discover what they like, creating emotionally positive eating experiences that will develop into a lifetime of healthy eating habits.

Published: Food Literacy Journal 20 November 2014: A1+, Feature. Available at: http://www.foodliteracycenter.org/blog-post/cooking-fastest-method-teach-kids-love-fruits-and-vegetables

PDF version: http://www.foodliteracycenter.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/food_literacy_journal_web.pdf

 

Planting the future: Monsanto opens huge Woodland lab

16 Aug
Marlin Edwards, Monsanto’s chief technical officer for vegetable seeds, explains the seed chip trays given Thursday as gifts to visitors at the grand opening for the new Monsanto research facility in Woodland. At left is Laura McIntosh, who hosts the “Bringing It Home” cooking show; in center is Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian from Atlanta, who was among a group of 12 dietitians invited by Monsanto on a food tour. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Marlin Edwards, Monsanto’s chief technical officer for vegetable seeds, explains the seed chip trays given Thursday as gifts to visitors at the grand opening for the new Monsanto research facility in Woodland. At left is Laura McIntosh, who hosts the “Bringing It Home” cooking show; in center is Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian from Atlanta, who was among a group of 12 dietitians invited by Monsanto on a food tour. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

WOODLAND — Monsanto Company unveiled a $31 million, state-of-the-art laboratory and office expansion of its vegetable and seed research headquarters Thursday, making Yolo County the home of the world’s largest site dedicated to vegetable seed health research.

Several hundred Monsanto employees and local government officials attended the grand opening ceremony. The facility will employ 250 full-time workers and 150 contract seasonal employees, including UC Davis student interns who scout for issues developing in the field.

Monsanto, whose products are sold in 160 countries, has 4,000 employees worldwide.

“Half the vegetables grown in United States are grown in California,” said Mark Oppenhuizen, Monsanto’s strategy and operations lead for vegetable research and development. “It is important to us to be close to our customers and be able to test new varieties in same climate as our growers.”

Monsanto’s seed health testing group pinpoints desirable traits that will improve grower productivity and quality against drought, viruses, bacteria and funguses, as well as deliver consumers better taste, color, appearance and nutritional quality prior to the marketing of the product.

The 90,000-square-foot facility includes a Monsanto-engineered seed chipper, which allows researchers to take a piece of the seed without harming the embryo. Scientists then use DNA analysis to discover the characteristics of the plant before it is even planted.

Pamela Pan takes visitors on a tour of the new Monsanto research facility in Woodland. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Pamela Pan takes visitors on a tour of the new Monsanto research facility in Woodland. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Monsanto researchers then attempt to take the unique traits from a donor plant that are favorable and transfer them to the recipient plant through cross pollination.

Unlike a traditional lab where instruments are confined to a particular area, the molecular breeding technology lab has four separate lanes with electric and water supply lines, vacuum, air supply lines overhead and drains along the floor. Monsanto’s current lab is only a quarter of the size of the new lab, allowing the company to expand its research.

Data collected in the laboratory from seed and tissue samples analyzed from greenhouses and fields is sent to Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis. Breeders are able to view results and select which plants they would like to continue to propagate or discard in their breeding programs.

Despite the facility’s main focus on conventional breeding techniques of more than 20 kinds of vegetables through cross pollination, the heavily secured ceremony was shadowed by fewer than a dozen protesters along Highway 16 holding a “Shut down Monsanto” sign.

A half-dozen protesters hold up a sign during Monday’s grand-opening ceremony. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

A half-dozen protesters hold up a sign during Monday’s grand-opening ceremony. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Anthony Harling, an Anti-Monsanto Project member, said he was there to bring awareness to Monsanto’s chemical and bioengineered products that he argues are not yet proven to be safe.

“Their products have a lot of negative side-effects, and they are marketing them as safe,” said Harling, whose uncle has contracted three types of cancer since being exposed to Monsanto’s Agent Orange defoliation chemical while serving in the Vietnam War.

Harling also said the former executives of Monsanto are moving on to the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the Supreme Court where they allegedly can push Monsanto’s agenda that its products are safe for the environment without adequate testing.

“They are buying their way to the top of our government and saying their products are safe to use when they are really not,” Harling alleged. “A lot of the employees that work here don’t know the impacts of their products.”

Countered Oppenhuizen, “We are part of Monsanto. We recognize that (Monsanto is) not well understood.”

He said the company received an overwhelmingly positive response at its booth from attendees at last weekend’s Woodland Tomato Festival.

“We are concentrated on conventional breeding practices bringing better varieties and nutritional qualities,” Oppenhuizen said. “Many people see us as part of the community here.”

Yolo County Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, a local farmer, spoke at Thursday’s ceremony about his experience growing Monsanto products.

“As a Yolo County grower, I’m excited about the dedication of this laboratory and what it means to farmers not only in Yolo County, but throughout California and the world,” Chamberlain said. He grows 500 acres of Monsanto’s Round-up Ready alfalfa.

Woodland Mayor Skip Davies speaks at the grand opening Thursday morning of the new Monsanto research facility on Highway 16 in Woodland. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Woodland Mayor Skip Davies speaks at the grand opening Thursday morning of the new Monsanto research facility on Highway 16 in Woodland. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

“Nearly all the fruits and vegetables that we eat begin with a seed,” he continued. “The growers are dependent on the continuous improvement of seed varieties for disease resistance, yield and vigor. The work that Monsanto and other seed companies do in Yolo County is vital in meeting the needs of the growing world population.”

Many of the plants are tested in Guatemala where the climate and growing conditions are prime for growing — seed to seed is very fast, a Monsanto spokeswoman said.

The wide halls of the sleek facility were built to accommodate tour groups, and lab tables were installed with wheels to adapt to the changes of the seed industry and offer the ability to rearrange the lab to accommodate new research projects.

“I am able to walk in fields all across the globe and see what kind of difference these products make on our customers and our consumers,” Oppenhuizen said. “Whether you are in Poland or just down the street in California, there is a tremendous passion about our business. This facility will continue to build upon the great products we have in our pipeline.”

By the end of the ceremony and facility tours, the protesters had left.

“I just want to bring awareness to people out there of what is going on and get them to do their own research,” Harling said. “I want people to realize what is in their back yard.”

Published: The Davis Enterprise 16 August 2013: A1+, Feature. Available at: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/planting-the-future-monsanto-opens-huge-woodland-lab/

Cooped up in style — Backyard chicken coops strut their stuff

21 May
Amelia Naim-Hansen holds Daphne, an Americauna. Naim-Hansen has four chickens in her backyard coop. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Amelia Naim-Hansen holds Daphne, an Americauna. Naim-Hansen has four chickens in her backyard coop. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

With a peck and a scratch, Sunshine, a white leghorn chicken with a bright-red comb jiggling on top her head, rustles and jabs through freshly laid bark in Ron and Gloria Purnell’s back yard.

Just a few feet away, Sunshine’s comrades follow suit — strolling out of their open coop door to the new bark.

With every step, each chicken’s head bobs and pivots in sync, with their feet in search of grubs. Their scaly legs and claws extend forward and briskly fling the bark a few feet behind them onto the lawn to expose the moist soil beneath.

The Purnells’ oldest chicken, a brown araucana named Chirps, stands up straight with her neck extended upward and erect in aggression, sending Cheeps, a shy, red Welsummer, running back to the Purnells’ homemade coop.

“One friend of mine referred to them as dinosaurs with feathers,” said Ron Purnell, whose pen is one of 17 chicken coops featured on this year’s fourth annual Tour de Cluck Bicycle Chicken Coop Crawl on Saturday, May 25. The bicycle tour gives chicken owners and admirers an opportunity to see some of Davis’ most inventive and practical coops.

Jacqueline Clemens removes an egg from the designer chicken coop. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Jacqueline Clemens removes an egg from the designer chicken coop. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

The Tour de Cluck is much more now than a one-day coop tour; it’s a monthlong celebration of all things chicken. Several Chicken Skool educational events are planned, including a talk Monday evening by a UC Davis expert on the humble chicken’s important role in battling global malnutrition and poverty.

“The education portion of it is something that has been pretty successful for us,” said Neil Ruud, this year’s Tour de Cluck coordinator. “We’ve had a lot of people who are curious about keeping chickens who end up coming to the tour, finding out the best ways of doing it and getting ideas from the chicken coops they see to incorporate them at home.”

The Purnells — along with their sons Zack, 11, and Joe, 6 — decided to raise chickens as pets in their back yard five years ago as a way to supplement their family’s egg purchases.

“It was kind of a nice, entry-level experience to learn more about taking care of animals,” said Gloria Purnell. “We’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed it the most.”

Several coop designs

The Purnells’ coop underwent several incarnations before arriving at its current configuration three years ago. The family experimented with a small portable coop, known as a chicken tractor, that allowed them to let their chickens graze and fertilize a small section of the yard at a time.

Ron and Gloria Purnell's coop has evolved and expanded over the last five years. Photo by Matthew Blackburn

Ron and Gloria Purnell’s coop has evolved and expanded over the last five years. Photo by Matthew Blackburn

After deciding the coop was too confining, they tried different stationary coop configurations before Gloria’s husband built a larger run and covered perching area.

“Coop design is something that’s really become some kind of an art form, especially with the burgeoning of urban poultry,” said Richard Blatchford, a post-doctoral scholar in the UC Davis department of animal science, who specializes in animal behavior and avian husbandry.

Theorized to have descended from dinosaurs and reptiles, chickens have been domesticated for more than 10,000 years, Blatchford said, and have only a few essential requirements.

Ed Clemens inspects his backyard chicken coop.  Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Ed Clemens inspects his backyard chicken coop. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

“Their behavioral repertoire is still almost identical to their wild ancestor,” said Blatchford who, with others from UCD, will be answering questions at the Farmers Market next Saturday during the Coop Tour. “Being highly preyed upon, terrestrial animals, … they are highly driven to go somewhere high at night.”

According to Blatchford, perches or ramps can fulfill this requirement.

Meet their needs

Since chickens are accustomed to perching in trees and bushes to sleep and preen, the coop should be partially covered for shelter — which also keeps their food dry.

Amelia Naim-Hansen has four chickens that live in her specially designed A-frame coop. Naim-Hansen is participating in her second Tour de Cluck on May 25. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Amelia Naim-Hansen has four chickens that live in her specially designed A-frame coop. Naim-Hansen is participating in her second Tour de Cluck on May 25. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Coops also serve as a shelter from unwanted pests that may harm flocks. Blatchford said securing the perimeter of the coop below ground from burrowing animals and providing a netting or roof of some kind will stave off dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums, hawks and other animals interested in chickens or their eggs.

As the Purnells’ mother hen, or bully, Chirps demonstrated that poultry have a rigid social hierarchy enforced by pecking — hence the term “pecking order.”

Blatchford said the dominant hen would peck the head of the subordinate individuals to establish order initially, and rarely have encounters afterwards.

“Generally some aggression is OK,” Blatchford said, “There is very little aggression once that hierarchy has been worked out.”

Even with more than 200 coop owners in town, Davis Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel said chicken-related noise complaints are not a significant problem. Coop applications are available at the front desk of the Davis Police Department, 2600 Fifth St., and require a $2 application fee.

Garden partners

The Purnells and other chicken lovers have discovered that raising urban chickens can be of help in the garden.

Ron and Gloria Purnell’s three-month-old chicks, Clover and Patty (left), share a chicken tractor coop with Luna, a silky bantam (right). Photo by Matthew Blackburn

Ron and Gloria Purnell’s three-month-old chicks, Clover and Patty (left), share a chicken tractor coop with Luna, a silky bantam (right). Photo by Matthew Blackburn

“They have completely decimated the snail population in the yard,” Gloria Purnell said.

Chickens often seek insects for their high protein.

“They are opportunistic carnivores,” Blatchford said. “They are very good at fulfilling dietary requirements, so they will pick at lots of different stuff to fulfill whatever they are looking for.

“A lot of people will get them as gardening partners for weeding or for pest control,” he added. “If you have a wide variety of plants, they probably won’t do too much damage, but they will also pick at your vegetable plants.”

Amelia Naim-Hansen, a second-year veteran of the Tour de Cluck, has changed the way she gardens to appease her feathered friends.

“It’s kind of like baby-proofing your house,” said Naim-Hansen, who owns four chickens. “I’ve gotten pretty clever at finding ways to prevent them from destroying the yard.”

Peaches, a black and white barred rock chicken, roams Amelia Naim-Hansen’s back yard in search of food. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Peaches, a black and white barred rock chicken, roams Amelia Naim-Hansen’s back yard in search of food. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Naim-Hansen said she and her partner recently installed raised beds for their vegetables, which worked until the chickens discovered the bounty growing in them. They constructed small cages that fit over the raised beds out of PVC pipe and mesh, which also can be used as pens when Naim-Hansen wants to take the chickens into the front yard to graze.

“They are happier when they have their freedom,” she said.

Naim-Hansen also grows plants for both her family and the chickens to eat. Among the chickens’ favorites are fava beans, which do not seem to be harmed by their pecking, she said.

“I plant that for me and for them,” Naim-Hansen said.

Find those eggs

Chickens’ reproductive systems respond to light, Blatchford said, meaning they typically lay one egg per day in the summer and slow down their egg production in the winter.

According to Blatchford, if you don’t provide chickens with an actual nesting area, they’ll find the next closest thing.

“If you want them to lay in a particular area, it’s better to give them something they are looking for,” said Blatchford, who recommended a secluded, shaded place for hens to lay.

Amelia Naim-Hansen shows off the unique colored eggs from her Americauana chickens. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Amelia Naim-Hansen shows off the unique colored eggs from her Americauana chickens. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

“If you let them out, they will find a better place to lay than in your coop,” he said, “You will have to do an Easter egg hunt every day looking for eggs.”

A hen can harbor salmonella in her gut and can shed the bacteria in feces. For this reason, Blatchford said chicken owners should always practice good food-handling techniques around fowl — wash your hands.

“People should be aware that could be an issue,” Blatchford said, “but they shouldn’t be scared.”

Blatchford attributes Davis’ interest in backyard chickens to the local food movement and their relatively low maintenance.

“I wasn’t entirely happy with how factory farm chickens were kept,” said Naim-Hansen, who grows much of her own food. “I wanted high-quality eggs.”

Published: The Davis Enterprise 16 May 2013: A1+, Feature. Available at: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/backyard-chicken-coops-strut-their-stuff/

Local slacklining pioneer is no slacker

5 Apr
Jerry Miszewski, founder of Balance Community Slackline Outfitters, walks a slackline across part of Community Park. He holds world records for height and distance walked on a slackline. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Jerry Miszewski, founder of Balance Community Slackline Outfitters, walks a slackline across part of Community Park. He holds world records for height and distance walked on a slackline. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Suspended 200 feet above the Cosumnes River Gorge on a flat, 1-inch-wide line, Jerry Miszewski put one foot in front of the other and crossed the 451-foot-wide expanse to complete the world’s longest highline walk last year.

Unlike tightrope walking, Miszewski is a slackliner — an up-and-coming sport that uses flat, webbed, elastic lines that athletes walk across or use to perform acrobatic feats.

In the early days of the sport, Miszewski wouldn’t have been able to complete the world-record walk. He had to design his own equipment first.

“I had outgrown what was available,” said the 26-year-old entrepreneur, who was instantly hooked by the challenge the first time he slacklined. “Slacklining used products from other industries like climbing or industrial lifting. At a certain point, those become unusable.”

Due to weight and length limitations, Miszewski was breaking his line and realized something had to change; the future of slacklining needed safer, longer lines for the sport’s community to thrive.

“I started designing my own stuff for my own use,” he said. “And then I got to thinking, other people will eventually need to use this stuff.”

Unlike a taut tightrope, a slackline is flat and gives way under the walker. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Unlike a taut tightrope, a slackline is flat and gives way under the walker. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Balance Community Slackline Outfitters was born in Miszewski’s bedroom, while he earned his mathematics degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before he and his wife moved to Davis two years ago.

Miszewski also holds the world record for longest slackline, having crossed nearly a third of a mile — 1,620 feet — in Davis. As a professional athlete, Miszewski travels the world to slacklining festivals — including Poland, Germany and China last year.

“His slacklining astounds me,” said Tyler Shaffo, Miszewski’s only employee. “He has a freakish balance ability.”

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

According to Shaffo, Miszewski’s investments in safety, longer slacklines; stronger American-manufactured equipment; and his relationships with customers make Balance Community unique.

“Jerry interacts a ton with customers,” Shaffo said. “He helps them personalize their order. That way, they know what they are getting and the proper way to use it. I think that is what makes our company special.”

Miszewski, who has always had an interest in design, says seeing others receive the same enjoyment out of gear that he developed brings him joy.

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

Aside from improving his products and supporting his customers, Miszewski finds inspiration for improving his business by looking to other outdoor-based industries as they develop their brand, product safety procedures and testing.

Miszewski sponsors a Balance Community slackline professional team with competing athletes based worldwide.

Since moving to Davis, Miszewski has seen the sport explode in popularity as athletes from other sports cross over to form new niches. One such niche is tricklining, whose athletes perform aerobatic stunts on the line.

Brenden Gebhart, a gymnast of eight years, asked to be on the Balance Community pro team to help Miszewski develop a high-quality trickline after experiencing poor quality lines from other companies.

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

“I knew people would be interested in a high-quality trickline,” Gebhart said after returning from Esslingen, Germany, having won the 2013 Trickline Cup. “Tricklining was a sport that he had not touched in yet.”

“Most (retailers) are businessmen that are producing gear that will sell,” Gebhart said. “Jerry is producing gear not only for himself, but everyone else.”

Another niche group are yogaslackers, who perform yoga positions on slacklines for increased balance and body awareness.

“I see a lot of people coming into it from a lot of different sports,” Gebhart said.

Although Shaffo started working for Balance Community six months ago and is new to slacklining, he sees the reason why people come to the sport.

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

Jerry Miszewki makes getting up and walking on a slackline look as easy as one, two, three. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photos

“There is this strong mental component. Staying focused and breathing is a big part of it,” Shaffo said. “There is a lot going on. You’re using a lot of minute muscles in your core, legs, feet and making very fast adjustments with your arms.”

Though Miszewski is not a yogi, he says slacklining forces you to clear your mind.

“It centers you,” Miszewski said. “It takes full concentration to be able to maintain your balance.”

Jerry Miszewski, foreground, and Grant Thompson walk slacklines in Community Park. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Jerry Miszewski, foreground, and Grant Thompson walk slacklines in Community Park. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Even though he has established his own business and has broken a few records, Miszewski does not consider himself competitive.

“The thing about slacklining is that it is supposed to be you versus the line,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing, the line is going to respond. The way I see it is, the slackline is pretty much like a mirror. (Competing) with someone else kind of conflicts the very nature of the sport.”

Miszewski plans to host Balance Community events in the future to share with the public what slacklining is all about. Due to the relative newness of the sport, Miszewski wants to see the tightly knit slacklining community grow.

“We want to keep that alive,” Miszewski said.

For more information on future events by Balance Community, visit www.facebook.com/BalanceCommunity.

Published: The Davis Enterprise 4 April 2013: A1+, Feature. Available at: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/local-inventor-is-no-slacker/

Sound ‘affects’: Residents & Yolo County Airport seek to be good neighbors

15 Mar
Many neighbors near the Yolo Airport are still excited by seeing the little planes take off an land daily. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

Many neighbors near the Yolo Airport are still excited by seeing the little planes take off an land daily. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

Keeping peace in any neighborhood is not an easy task. Toss in an airport, and the situation becomes even more of a balancing act.

Yolo County administrators find themselves juggling local economic growth with residential safety. Administrators state they are not currently seeking out economic interests to increase commerce at Yolo County Airport, and safety enhancements over the next three to five years are vital to maintain the county’s valuable asset.

However, as county officials move forward with airport improvement projects, West Plainfield and Rolling Acres residents fear that enhancements are being made for the benefit of airport commerce without concern for their neighbors.

This has led to polarized public meetings concerning ongoing airport drainage problems and noise from air traffic and construction.

“The airport is a viable economic entity,” said District 3 Supervisor Matt Rexroad. “The revenues there should be enough to operate it, and we would love to see it generate job growth.”

Deputy county administrator Mindi Nunes said county finances don’t allow active seeking of economic opportunities at this time, but if a company were to inquire about setting up a business on airport grounds, they would facilitate meetings with the business.

“We view that as part of the economic development plan for the county — to see this asset be used to its fullest potential for the county,” Nunes said.

Funding for airport improvements is primarily financed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program — grants sponsored to public agencies for the planning and development of public use airports.

Runway resurfacing of the 6,000-foot runway was completed in 2009, and recent grants went to trimming area trees that posed a safety risk.

Aviation Avenue at Yolo County Airport Photo by Matthew Blackburn

Aviation Avenue at Yolo County Airport Photo by Matthew Blackburn

In late February, the runway was closed in the evenings to allow for construction of signage and reflectors for the runway and taxiways — keeping neighbors up late into the evening with bright construction lights, jackhammering of concrete and the beeping of reverse lights.

“We were just at the West Plainfield Advisory Committee meeting,” said WPAC Chair Robyn Waxman who lives on County Road 95 across the street from Yolo Airport. “You think they could have told us.”

Although Waxman realizes that the county may not be obligated to let area residents know about constructions plans, the neighborly courtesies and communication that neighbors extend to one another are absent.

Airport Manager Wes Ervin admits that the county issued a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, to pilots announcing evening runway closures from 8 p.m. until early morning; but because all the work was happening on airport grounds, neighbors were not notified.

“I suppose in retrospect it would have been good to inform neighbors that construction was going to start,” Ervin said.

Drainage

According to the airport master plan revised in 1998, drainage from the airport creates one-half the flow of rainwater into Airport Slough, located south and east of the facility, where it enters the Rolling Acres neighborhood to the east.

Since beginning the airport improvements, several acres of concrete have been added for additional hangars a

nd aircraft parking.

Ervin said that the county has applied for another AIP grant to install run-up aprons — areas where pilots test, or run-up, their engines before taking off — on each end of the runway. If the grants are approved, construction could begin this year.

According to Ervin, each run-up apron will add a half an acre more impervious surface.

The east side of Yolo County Airport is prone to heavy flooding effecting the neighborhood of Rolling Acres. Photo courtesy of West Plainfield Advisory Committee

The east side of Yolo County Airport is prone to heavy flooding effecting the neighborhood of Rolling Acres. Photo courtesy of West Plainfield Advisory Committee

However, Nunes said FAA grants have been secured to conduct a drainage study to reassess changes on airport grounds. Funds are available for 2013, but that realistically the study may not begin until 2014.

“Once that is updated,” Nunes said, “That will tell us what activities we need to undertake next.”

Nunes said she does not believe that sequestration will effect the county’s abilities to acquire an AIP grant for the construction of the airport drainage improvements.

Alexandra Latta, a West Plainfield Advisory Committee member and Rolling Acres resident, was aware Airport Slough ran through the southeast corner of her property and that her neighborhood was prone to flooding before moving to Rolling Acres in 2007.

“My property floods every winter,” Latta said.

Latta said she has become accustom to preparing for rainstorms and hunkering down at home for a few days while they pass.

Road 96 becomes impassable during periods of heavy rain. Some parcels become inaccessible, leaving residents parking their cars on higher ground and using boats, canoes or kayaks to paddle home.

“I’m very grateful I have a monster truck,” said the 33-year-old attorney. “It’s the flooding along the roadways that are more concerning to me.”

Power outages are frequent in Rolling Acres during storms, and Latta is concerned about emergency vehicles being unable to access homes in an emergency.

“I wish drainage would be a higher priority for the county moving forward,” she said. “Part of the problem is lack of awareness — and better communication between the community and the county. I’m hopeful that it will be addressed.”

Rexroad notes that the addition of several more neighborhood homes also could be impacting flooding, and that he wants to see an engineer to sign-off on the cause.

“It is not optimal that water is running off the airport,” Rexroad said. “I don’t know for sure there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the (impermeable) surface added and the flooding.”

Jerry Hedrick, UC Davis professor emeritus of biochemistry and Rolling Acres resident of 39 years, said when water gets too high, his neighbors can’t get home, and he will put them up until the road is passable.

“We become an island,” Hedrick said, describing residents standing near Road 96 and Yosemite Avenue chest-deep in water.

Noise

Residents near Yolo County Airport complain of noise & low-flying aircraft below 500 feet. Photo courtesy of West Plainfield Advisory Committee

Residents near Yolo County Airport complain of noise & low-flying aircraft below 500 feet. Photo courtesy of West Plainfield Advisory Committee

 

Concerned over changes to the once pastoral airport has motivated local residents to attend WPAC meetings on airport development to understand and voice their concerns.

Although residents east of the airfield are subject to flooding, residents to the west of Yolo Airport off Road 95 have experienced increased frustration of noise by low-flying aircraft and helicopters, and jets that they perceive to be significantly louder than propelled aircraft.

“I have been to their meetings, and they are quite spirited,” Rexroad said. “They live near an airport — it’s not always going to be quiet.”

According to Ervin, aviators are expected to utilize Yolo Airport’s facility directory of local rules supplementing FAA regulations — including air traffic flow in the vicinity of the airport.

Trent Meyer, a rancher and artist on Road 95, has been the most vocal of area residents, questioning the county on its principles and calling for accountability of pilots for following airport rules.

Although Meyer doesn’t own a plane, he earned his pilots license in 1983. When he moved to Road 95 six years ago, he considered the airport a place he could take up flying again.

IMG_0160

Residents near Yolo County Airport complain of noise & low-flying aircraft below 500 feet. Photo courtesy of West Plainfield Advisory Committee

“I see these guys fly on each others tails,” said Meyer, who spends most of his time outside working and observing airport activities.

Meyer said he has observed multiple violations of aircrafts breaking FARs and facility directory rules.

County administrators estimate 60,000 to 70,000 takeoffs or landings occur every year on Runway 16-34 — a north-south runway that parallels roads 95 and 96.

Much of the traffic is from student pilots doing “touch-and-gos,” practicing a brief landing on the runway before accelerating back skyward. As a uncontrolled airfield, there is no air traffic control tower and pilots must communicate their position to each other via radio.

The resurfacing of Runway 16-34 in 2009 has made the facility safer for larger aircraft to use Yolo Airport as a portal to local industry and maintenance at Davis Flight Support.

Meyer said he has also experienced a helicopter flying around 100 feet high when it nearly collided with his wind turbine and descended, hovering 20 feet over his arena where his sheep were held.

“They went berserk,” Meyer said. “I would have no problems with aircraft if they followed the advised flight path.”

Homes near the Yolo Airport have issues pertaining to the noise of the increased air traffic as well as drainage problems at the airport. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Homes near the Yolo Airport have issues pertaining to the noise of the increased air traffic as well as drainage problems at the airport. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Relations between residents, the county and pilots have had heated discussion at WPAC meetings, including a Feb. 7 meeting when a pilot who utilizes the airport attended and accused residents for not understanding aviation procedures and the need for flying below the minimum 500 feet requirement when on approach to Yolo Airport.

“There are probably a couple of ‘hot-doggers’ that fly in and out of there,” Nunes said, “But for the most part, the pilots that fly in there want to do the right thing.”

According to Nunes, noise study indicates that the newer jets are actually quieter than some of the smaller planes that are coming in there now.

“We anticipate that if it does attract more jets, that won’t be an issue,” Nunes said. “It will be the smaller tail-dragger planes that are a lot more noisy than the jets.”

Yolo Airport is located in County Supervisor Duane Chamberlain’s district, and he has leased and farmed hay on airport land since 1969. Supervisor Rexroad was chosen to represent the county at WPAC meetings due to Chamberlains conflict of interest.

“I’m not going to attend their meetings until they include county business,” Rexroad said.

Economic opportunity

Built in 1942, the U.S. Army Air Corps. utilized the airport throughout World War II until the federal government conditionally ceded it to Yolo County.

Today, Davis Flight Support vice president Gary Pelfrey said that his business is a portal to the areas agricultural industry and UCD campus.

Said Davis Flight Support vice president Gary Pelfrey, “Yolo has somewhat become the Silicon Valley of the agricultural industry.” Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Said Davis Flight Support vice president Gary Pelfrey, “Yolo has somewhat become the Silicon Valley of the agricultural industry.” Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

“Yolo has somewhat become the Silicon Valley of the agricultural industry,” said Pelfrey, who manages 30 employees at the first-class, 20,000-square-facility. “We have a lot of corporate jets that come in to service the seed industry. Their jets will fly in and stay for two days or more.”

Pelfrey said recently a seed company flew in on a Gulfstream IV with 13 people for 72 hours. His clients utilized 13 rooms at the Hallmark Inn for three nights, and spent money for four rental cars, meals, $600 on catering from Nugget and $15,000 worth of fuel.

Pelfrey said that is an example of how his business and Yolo Airport becomes a portal into the community.

“I am aware that noise is an issue with the neighbors and we want to be a good neighbor,” Pelfrey said.

Pelfrey said that due to the UCD facilities, Yolo Airport is a viable option for medical or veterinarian doctors to fly into — ironically these are the aircraft that fly in at 2 a.m.

“Typically jets that would land here in the middle of the night are health-related,” Pelfrey said.

Skydance Skydiving is one of the frequent users of the Yolo Airport. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise file photo

Skydance Skydiving is one of the frequent users of the Yolo Airport. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise file photo

Yolo Airport’s hangars are leased to capacity, and two new hangars are currently in negotiations, Nunes said.

“We wanted to see those businesses to do well,” said Rexroad of Davis Flight Support and SkyDance Skydiving, another frequent user of Yolo Airport. “We want to allow them to grow just like any other business in the county.”

Despite neighbors’ concerns, Waxman said that living next to the airport and watching small planes fly over Yolo’s green pastures is exciting.

“They’re adorable,” Waxman said. “I love the skydivers. They are the best.”

Waxman said that when she moved in to her house, she woke up the next morning to a whooshing sound and ran outside.

“There was a rainbow hot-air balloon floating over me,” she said. “We love it here!”

Published: The Davis Enterprise 17 March 2013: A1+, Feature. Available at: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/sound-affects-residents-airport-seek-to-be-good-neighbors/

Hugelkultur workshop shows how to eliminate yard waste, watering

11 Mar

Before throwing old wood or pruned tree branches into the green-recycle waste bin, consider recycling them into a living sponge that will save you from higher water bills and your garden from wilting.

Modeled after the nutrient-rich and sponge-like effects that fallen trees create on forest floors, hugelkultur is a self-sustaining, self-sufficient permaculture gardening technique that, supporters say, accelerates and improves nature’s natural processes by improving water storage in soil.

Derek Downey, Bee Love School of Permaculture founder, checks the soil for fertility from one of his hugelkultur garden beds at  the Village Homes Sunwise Co-op where he lives, developing a perennial food forest and teaching garden in Davis, CA.

Derek Downey, Bee Love School of Permaculture founder, checks the soil for fertility from one of his hugelkultur garden beds at the Village Homes Sunwise Co-op in Davis, CA. Photo by Matthew Blackburn

“The hugel bed is part bio-intensive compost pile and raised garden bed,” said Derek Downey, founder of the Bee Love School of Permaculture. “It saves water and makes use of resources that otherwise people would throw away.”

Hugelkultur gardening bed’s primary ingredient is wood — either placed in a 3-foot-deep hole or directly on the soil, covered with other compostable food scraps, leaves, straw or yard waste, and topped off with soil and a cover crop of legumes for the first year to add nitrogen.

The wood and materials retain water like a sponge, relieving gardeners of the need to maintain and water their gardens.

“Hugelkultur is a lot of work at first,” said Melanie Lataste, founder of the Davis Seed Savers Alliance. “But it is a long-term investment.”

Downey, a 2009 UC Davis biological systems engineering graduate, first built handicap-accessible, 3-foot-tall raised hugel beds at the Domes on the UCD campus, allowing individuals in wheelchairs access to gardening and to reduce bending and stooping.

“That way, in the summer, you don’t have to irrigate,” said Downey, who likes to refer to the increasing hugel popularity as “the re-hilling of Davis.”

“Now all the ‘Domies’ are doing hugel beds,” he said.

Downey has since designed and constructed several hugelkultur gardening beds at the Davis Bee Sanctuary on campus and at the Village Homes Sunwise Co-op where he lives, developing a perennial food forest and teaching garden.

“My style is, do it a little different every time, and see what works the best,” Downey said.

He built his most recent hugelkultur bed base from a giant prickly pear cactus in his back yard whose branches are breaking from the weight of its outstretched arms. Downey dug a swale around the bed’s perimeter to catch and allow rainwater to seep into the knoll.

Fallen branches from a giant prickly pear cactus form the base of a hugelkultur bed. A swale around the bed’s perimeter allows rainwater to seep into the knoll. Village Homes Sunwise Co-op in Davis, CA. Photo by Matthew Blackburn

Fallen branches from a giant prickly pear cactus form the base of a hugelkultur bed. A swale around the bed’s perimeter allows rainwater to seep into the knoll at Village Homes Sunwise Co-op in Davis, CA. Photo by Matthew Blackburn

Lataste said the most exciting part of hugelkultur is creating a sustainable human ecosystem using waste as a resource.

“We want to make sure this garden can thrive without watering,” she said.

Downey and Lataste are hosting a “Hugel-mania” workshop Saturday, March 16, offering hands-on experience building new hugel beds from scratch at both the Davis Bee Sanctuary and the Seed Savers Alliance Seed Garden. The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Orchard Park Circle and Orchard Park Drive on the UCD campus.

Additional informative talks will include permaculture techniques, bees and seed saving. Downey and Lataste also will offer guided walking tours showcasing dozens of hugelkultur beds of various designs at the Davis Bee Sanctuary, Dome gardens, Experimental College Community Gardens and the Seed Savers Alliance Seed Garden.

Admission is free, but donations will be accepted with gratitude for the Bee Love School of Permaculture. For more information, contact Downey at davisbeecharmers@gmail.com or 310-694-2405.

Published: The Davis Enterprise 12 March 2013: A3. Available at: http://www-new.davisenterprise.com/local-news/hugelkultur-workshop-shows-how-to-eliminate-yard-waste-watering/