Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trucks, Permits and Doing Everything at Once

A couple weeks back, JoAnn and I were talking about how, when you get the right idea, you get obsessed.  I sorta thought to myself that I'm not really that kind of person, that kind of person who gets really focused and just does one thing.  You know.  I'm a generalist.

Well, who knew?

I'm obsessed.  I'm getting a truck, making it a kitchen, and selling soup, and all I can think of is truck, spot to park truck (the laws are crazed), menu, sourcing, license, sell my house to finance business, old chip truck or renovate delivery truck, really, sell my house?

So I'm a little spinny, cuz it's all decisions all the time, and the house thing makes sense since:
a) the house is a four hour drive away and requires regular work, which I won't have time to do
b) it would give me some financial breathing room and mean I wouldn't have to borrow for the business
c) if I want to avoid capital gains taxes, I have to sell it by Dec. 2011 anyways
d) My friend Jer and Brad, both of whom are pretty darn smart and into economics, think that we are heading for some kind of serious deflation that will make credit unavailable and lead to a precipitous drop in housing prices, which would mean I had no equity.
e) it's springtime, and houses sell well in the springtime.

But then
a) the house brings in money on a monthly basis, and I can use money coming in on a regular basis
b) I like having a connection to Peterborough. I love Peterborough.
c) even if everything collapses, i can go live in my house. But I guess I could buy another house with the money I make from the house sale.
d) if the economy doesn't collapse, I am still making money from my house and it's value continues to rise slowly the way house values have for a long long time.
e) isn't there enough chaos in my life?

I think I'm leaning towards selling it and buying a delivery truck with the cash, then making a ton of money and buying a little land in Wakefield. Brokeness is getting really old for me.  I should probably number crunch first.

That said, I also got recommended to the Self Employment Benefits Plan today (yay!) which will probably get me a course and extend my EI benefits, plus had a very informative conversation with Brad Campeau, who runs a cookie truck called B. Goods about getting it up and running and making a truck, and making a living being a mobile food vendor.  So I'm back to the idea of wholesaling and delivering, which is good, and will be in addition to the street vending/ festival vending, which will be irregular.  And a space.  I have to find a space- so some phone calls tomorrow, and some sleep tonight, possibly without the sudden awakening with a menu idea or a way of contacting vendors or the jaw clenching realization that I need to write a business plan right NOW and get a cell phone (oh god, but I'll need one) and the desperate question of location, without which all else falls apart... before the apocolypse even hits.

I suppose it's not THAT urgent, but it feels that way. I've gotta make some money.

Maybe the house sale is the best way to go?  You never know about decisions, except in retrospect. And with the root word spect, try to keep it in perspective.  I had a visit with a friend today who's daughter is quite ill, and it really does remind me of what's truly important- and it ain't making money...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seeding Time

First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone who has commented on my blog so far.  My friend Sarah, who writes a frequently hysterically funny blog about living on sailboat with my dear old friend Ari and their baby Yemaya, just posted about commenting and I realized how little appreciation I've given those of you who have commented- and I sure do appreciate it your interest in my crazy little life!

So, the heart of the matter- or perhaps the germ? 

Every year, most towns and cities host "Seedy Saturdays" where locals can buy and exchange seeds, find out about local initiatives, and emerge from winter hibernation.  It's a pretty great start to the season, and for me, it's also a reminder that it's time to get my little container garden planned and started, sign up for my Community Shared Agriculture, and prod someone (well, Leela) to organize a community garden meeting. 

This year, I missed Ottawa's since I was at the conference, and I also missed a talk at the conference about seeds from my former teacher and now friend Andrew McCann. I was a bit bummed about both, but thought I could catch up with Andrew another time, and I really wanted to learn about the Ontario Abbatoir situation, so I did.  Darn.  I'm sprawling like a pumpkin vine in the fall...

The germ of the matter is seeds.  I DID get to Kingston's Seedy Saturday this weekend, en route to visit my friend Shawn on his birthday, and after picking up some great heirloom seeds (I'll get pics up soon, I really will) from the Sisters of Providence Seed Sanctuary where my friend Cate is the main seed saver, I finally got to hear Andrew talk (and you finally see me get to the point!)- and it was worth the wait. 

He spoke really fast, for less than an hour, and packed the time with a history of our seed system (which has been pretty much privatized and working on developing seeds for industrial agriculture since the1930s), some of the research in genetic modification of seeds currently underway, some of the attempts to protect seeds and a vision of what he sees as a healthy and sustainable local seed system.  Now, a local and sustainable food system is something that has gotten a lot of thought in the last few years. I mean, people are familiar with the benefits of locally produced foods, especially when we find out more about nastiness like the salmonella in the untraceable and omnipresent hydrolyzed vegetable protein from California, but why a local seed system?

Well, as agricultural activist Vandana Shiva says, if you control the seed, you control the food.  And guess who  controls the majority of the world's seed?  If you guessed a large corporation that starts with an M and ends with an O, you're right!  And do you think it's good for their bottom line if people just plant their fields year after year with seeds that they grow themselves?  Since life is pretty amazing at just reproducing itself?  For free?  Since the hybridization of Pioneer corn in the 1930s there has been a huge industry in producing seeds for sale- seeds that can lead to higher yields of food per acre- and this has led to larger crops for quite a while.

Well it is, but you can't replant those hybrid seeds.  And now, genetic modification has allowed for the development of seeds that are tolerant of certain herbicides (specifically Roundup, produced by that same M...O corporation), and there has been a great deal of work on terminator technology- so that seeds produced by these plants are sterile, not just less productive in the second generation the way their hybrid forefathers are.  It seems to be like a breakdown of the very processes of life itself.   The UN has banned the use of terminator technology, but there is still a drive to protect the intellectual property of the seed researchers. 

Phew.  And I'm getting a sense of the size and intensity and complication of this topic.  No wonder Andrew talked so fast.

So pretty much, we have a system with nearly NOTHING new being bred in the last eighty years that is not for corporate profit. So this means:
a) no large scale organic seed breeding programs to develop higher yields in organic regimens
b) no regionally based seed developments in the last eighty years that increase agro biodiversity
c) a massive loss of earlier agricultural genetic diversity, which projects like the seed sanctuary and the Svalbard Seed Vault (two big ovaries into the permafrost) try to address
d) and the knowledge of breeding and genetics being concentrated in the for profit sector.
e) Holy crap.

So Andrew proposed some pretty interesting things.  Breeding clubs for example.  Seed farms in regional food sheds.  Linking the food system to the seed system in areas.  Having seed sanctuaries throughout.  Open source genetic information. Which blows my mind a little bit.

So this year, I ain't planting any hardware store seeds.  And I know my CSA (or maybe CSAs) is/are being careful too.  And I sort of feel like not taking a job job is keeping my own self a little more regionally grown.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Soup Jackie

Yup.  That's what it's gonna be. The business idea is firm, and now, I just need to do the work.  So let me tell you about the idea...

Well, I make really awesome soup.  Pot-licking kind of soup.  Even when I was just starting out as a cook, I made this Mung Bean Soup that was mighty divine.  And for some reason, the majority of the soups that I make intentionally are vegetarian (unless I have bones, in which case I use them and make meat soups).  Lately, at the Red Apron, I've been making the soups more and more as they are universally regarded as being delicious. Love and salt make them good, plus the tweaking to the point that I just want to keep eating them.

And, since I want to educate the eater about the food system but I can't quite see how to make a living from it yet, the idea of having a stock from which to work seems a good one to me- something that I can rely on, that's tangible and supportive and connects me with eaters and farmers.  And it's gotta be food, but a storefront is excessive in terms of its costs and time inputs right now, so I am going to make soup in a rented commercial kitchen and retail it.

Not just any soup, though.  It's going to be local, primarily organic, wheat free, frequently vegan (but not advertised as vegan, because I am afraid my first response to the thought of vegan food is avoidance), be playfully named, and mightily delicious.  It's going to come in one liter glass jars, and be pressure canned and have a shelf life.  It's going to be beautifully labeled and have an awesome website that highlights farmers to back it up.  I'm going to love cooking and canning and delivering it, and when I get tired of doing it, I will hire someone and move on to the next thing.  The built in exit strategy is good for me.

Entrepreneurship, here I come.  There's a lot I have to do, and I am still absorbing the conference, following up with the great people I met there, and releasing the teaching back up that I never used, so there's been a lot of resting this week.  I was bumped off the supply teaching list this week- the day after the decision to go ahead with the soup came about. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dinner forks or pitchforks?

What an interesting day it's been.  Started darn early, picking up some neat people to come to the Bring Food Home Conference here is Kitchener Waterloo, and I am very tired, and presenting tomorrow, but I wanted to jot down some thoughts on the keynote here tonight before I forget...  my writing may not be brilliant, but it will be timely, and that's gotta count for something, right?
The speaker was Joel Salatin- you may be familiar with him as the farmer in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (which you should read, if you haven't.  Really.).  His farm is pretty amazing- high on design and portable infrastructure, respecting the "pigness of pigs" and the "tomatoness of tomatoes" and building soils. He is lively and liberatarian (sorry about that spelling).  There was a lot that he said that really hit home- his comments about society's that don't respect the fundamental nature of animals and plants not being able to respect the nature of human individuals, his talk of how separate we make ourselves by zoning rules and the way that industry becomes nasty and unpleasant when it moves beyond a human scale, so that we separate all these aspects of life that used to be integrated, all made a lot of sense.  Zoning bylaws are what make urban agriculture so difficult to create in our cities- and many housing areas have issues with people composting or planting any food bearing plants.

Like a raspberry bush is an eyesore.  It's like the folks in my neighbourhood who complain about the sound of the playground.  Yeesh.  Move into your coffin already.

Joel really preached civil disobedience for the ludicrous regulations that are ostensibly for food safety, but that generally serve to make it very difficult for small producers to sell their produce- like the infamous case of Michael Schmidt, the Owen Sound farmer who was taken down (seriously- six cop cars came to arrest the man) for his Community Shared Agriculture he had set up to allow people in his community to have access to raw, organic milk.  Now, there's a debate about the benefits and dangers of raw milk which I won't get into here, but I'm pretty firmly on the side that if I choose to drink something unpasteurized (which I have in Ecuador, served warm from the cow, as they said, and it was sweet and good), well, I figure it's my choice.  I'm with Joel on that one too.

It was his mention of pitchforks (in the storming the castle way, not the pitching hay kind of way) and his firm belief that deregulating food production and allowing more inner city urban farms would somehow alleviate hunger pretty quickly (which it might) that very much highlighted the differences between our lovely neighbours to the south and us Canucks.  Well, that and our obvious hockey superiority. But he barely mentioned that- like he was ashamed of being a loser or something. But pitchforks, not hockey sticks.  But indeed, his clear anger at the government (and I have heard this from Canadian farmers too, and it's a similar story of anti-regulation) that was really new for me. 

And you know, despite my left leaning tendancies, when it comes to food, I don't want regulation, I want education.  And that's the final point I'll leave with before some much needed sleep- Joel spoke extensively of creating patrons for a food system- patrons who would be willing to pay for good food, who enjoy developing their culinary skills, who court the meal that they put in front of people, who build a relationship with their food.  And really, that is where I am going to put my efforts. Into being an educator who introduces people to real food.  Food, meet people.  People, food. Chicken has bones and comes from a bird.  Here's what you can do to eat that bird with joy. 

Yup.  That's my calling.

And bock bock, I'm off to bed here at lovely Cheryl's, who is putting me up for tonight and tomorrow night.  Presenting tomorrow morning...  Urban hen policy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Moving SO fast!

Well, the interview went pretty well.
I mean, I think that they liked me, and that's gotta be good, right?  I liked them too.  And I would love to work with them.  It'll be interesting to see if they think I am the best person for the job- I flubbed a couple of questions- the most notable being when I was asked a question in Spanish immediately after speaking French and couldn't get out of French into Spanish... shockingly, my French was okay, and I think that my writing sample was really good. We shall see, we shall see. I have a proposal to make for them to help roll out their Story of Food video... if I get the job, it'll be part of it.  If I don't, maybe I can get a contract! 

The other funny thing that happened at the end of the interview was that one of the interviewers asked if I knew the owner of Credible Edibles- which wouldn't have been that remarkable except she was the third person to ask me that in one week. I gave her a call today, and we are going to meet next week... talk about universal subtlety.  We'll see what comes of it, but good things, I hope!

On other fronts, I baked an amazing orangey almond cake today that rocked my world, ran a million errands getting ready for the Bring Food Home Conference starting tomorrow, AND am finishing my speaking notes on urban hen policy and activism for the talk I'm giving on Friday.  It's all very exciting, but I am wondering why I leave everything to the last minute!  And why, oh why, am I so easily distracted! Like for example, blogging at the 11th hour.  

Thank goodness for lovely roommates and neighbours who get it that I can sit and eat the excellent take out (not the going out we'd hoped for, but thank you Shanghai!), but have to jump up after it's done to get back to the work (not the blogging, not the blogging).  Oh, and during  to take a call from Vancouver's food policy council about the status of their hen policy.  It got sidelined during the Olympics, if you can imagine!  What great people I live with and near.  Lucky me!

Well.  Finishing up the last section of the talk, and then some sleep before I hop in a car with three of Ottawa's finest food activists on our way to the big KW.   My little Zip dog is in the car with us for two hours, so it's going to be a bit crowded.  My wonderful family is going to take care of him for a couple of days.