Marion Shortt as Queenie, Matt Halliday as Paul’s Porridge, Rita Stone as Black Velvet Chocolate, Ben Van Lier as Carlito’s Cornchips and Michelle Blundell as Wasabi Punch!

Awesome Food is excited to announce that its eleventh micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Mark Prebble and Marion Shortt of The Pantry Shelf, a satirical play revealing the micro-society of branded egos living in your pantry. The production runs from August 16-25 at The Basement Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand.  This is Awesome Food’s second international grant and first grant in New Zealand.

Mark Prebble and Marion Shortt are better known as Team M&M, the husband and wife  pair behind The Pantry Shelf. They describe the production as “a satirical comedy where all the characters are food products. It explores branding, genetic engineering and consumerism, but mostly it’s a love triangle between a rebellious muesli bar, a shy bag of porridge and a sexy block of dark chocolate.”

Ben Van Lier as Carlito Cornchips & Michelle Blundell as Wasabi Punch!

The Pantry Shelf premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010, receiving rave reviews. It also was awarded the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) award for Sustainable Production at the Fringe, given to a production whose themes and presentation promote eco-friendly and sustainable practices. Following their successful run in Scotland, Team M&M took the show to London for two performances at Leicester Square Theater Basement before returning home to New Zealand.

The cast is made up of five actors playing thirteen food products, including Carlito Corn Chips, Paul’s Porridge, Black Velvet Chocolate, Wasabi Punch! and of course, Queenie the Quinoa, Date and Bark Bar. Actress Rita Stone, who portrays Black Velvet Chocolate, Genetically-Engineered-Organic Tomato, and Winter Soup shared that the reaction so far has been stellar: “Audiences have laughed out loud at the continual roll of witty one liners, double entendres and satirical jibes. We’ve received encores, and our first review has confirmed its success as a well balanced production of entertainment and political statement.”

Matt Halliday as Paul’s Porridge & Marion Shortt as Queenie The Quinoa, Date & Bark Bar

Shortt shared that “the audiences particularly love the costumes” which the grant from Awesome Food helped to fund. The production also received a generous grant from the Auckland City Council, which assisted with the costs of theatre rental, radio ads, lighting design and rehearsal space. Team M&M also ran an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to cover advertising and set production costs.

What’s next for The Pantry Shelf? The production will be filmed and clips will be released online. Team M&M are also hoping to tour the production, both around New Zealand and internationally, eventually taking it back to Edinburgh. The Pantry Shelf has also just been nominated for Best New Zealand Play by the SWANZ awards, which are organised by The New Zealand Writers Guild.

For more information The Pantry Shelf, and Team M&M, check our their website.

–Photos courtesy of Rosabel Tan. 

Awesome Food is partnering with GOOD Maker to help you pull off your ideas for improving our current food system or changing the way we think about food. We interpret food in its broadest possible way so use your imagination!

Submit your awesome ideas by Wednesday, August 22 at 12pm PDT.  The top-voted idea will win a tour of the Food Network and lunch with an Awesome Trustee. All submissions with 50 votes or more will advance to the final round of judging by Awesome Food’s Trustees for a chance to win a $1,000 grant.

Full details on the challenge can be found here: http://awesomefood.maker.good.is/

Co-op Sauce

Awesome Food is excited to announce that its tenth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Mike Bancroft of Co-op Image, a youth arts education and entrepreneurship organization based in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.  Awesome Food is a chapter of the Awesome Foundation, a global network of people devoted to forwarding the interest of awesomeness in the universe.

In operation since 2003, Co-op Image runs a variety of youth-led programs in the fields of fine art and sustainable food making. One of these programs, called Chi-Town Chefs,  connects urban agriculture, the politics of healthy eating, and culinary-arts training through a weekly cooking show. Youth apprentices ages 14-15 cultivate herbs and vegetables in Co-op Image’s community gardens then use them in the production of their cooking show set for broadcast on public access television. The cooking show teaches industry-standard video production techniques to youth and serves the community with culturally relevant information about food preparation, nutrition, and sustainable urban agriculture. You can watch the pilot episode of Chi-Town Chefs here.

The newly acquired Co-op Image storefront where the pop-up BBQ cafe will take place

Rolando Robledo, an Awesome Food trustee and head chef at Clover Food Lab based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was particularly excited about this month’s grant to Co-op Image.  He praised their special programs where student participants can “gain insights into leadership and how to run a business, from a place where they feel they can contribute their ideas and be considered.”  He added, “the cool part is that we’ve got inner-city kids, learning valuable skills, planning, organizing. All of this, while having fun.”

Co-op Image also produces Co-op Sauce, a highly successful hot sauce company, which has been featured in Tasting Table, Time Out Chicago and The Huffington Post.  Co-op Sauce is sold at various retailers throughout the Chicago area, as well as online.  Half of the proceeds from the sales of Co-op Sauce go directly towards supporting programs at Co-op Image.

Student-built BBQ trailer

In the summer of 2011, students at Co-op Image built a BBQ trailer (welding and all!) and hosted a pop-up dinner event in the Co-op Image community garden.  With help from the Awesome Food grant, they are trying their hand at a BBQ pop-up cafe which will be run out of the Co-op Sauce production facility. “This project will be a great experiment in social entrepreneurship and has the capacity to keep on going with minimal investment,” Bancroft shared.  He added, “our youth need these real incubator opportunities, and the experience would be an amazing life lesson around the business of food.” Bancroft is also exploring the possibility of establishing a more permanent cafe that would create much needed jobs for at-risk teens.  The Awesome Food grant will go towards displays and youth stipends for the BBQ pop-up cafe.

For more information onCo-op Image, check our their website or email mike@coopimage.org.

Photos courtesy of Mike Bancroft.

Awesome Food is excited to announce that its ninth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to John Burns, the CEO and Founder of Jack & Jake’s Local Market in New Orleans. This is the first Awesome Food grant awarded in Louisiana.

Jack and Jake’s, voted one of the 25 best things happening in New Orleans by Good Magazine, is building a new local food system in the New Orleans area to reconnect local farmers and fishers with those who need access to fresh healthy foods most. Since Hurricane Katrina, the city has recovered over 70% of its residents, yet has lost more than 50% of its grocery stores.  This has created a situation where residents, many of whom are diabetic and qualify as obese, have little access to fresh and healthy foods.

The funding from Awesome Food will be provided to Jack and Jake’s to administer on behalf of the New Orleans Food & Farm Network (NOFFN), the non-profit organization in New Orleans best able to train and coordinate urban community and market growers. Jack & Jake’s and NOFFN will partner to help provide local growers with information and distribution channels that allow them to better access markets that buy fresh foods.

Jack & Jake’s Local Market Building

“New Orleans has always been known as a city of food and music and we attract foodies from all over the world who want a taste of what south Louisiana has to offer,” Burns said. “Unfortunately, for many of us who live here, fresh healthy foods have been hard to come by since Hurricane Katrina.  We have been labeled as the number one Food Desert City in America. For someone who was born and raised here when fresh foods were abundant and economically available to everyone – it’s a hard reality to accept.”

Burns went on, “With this opportunity, we can help make local healthy food in our city accessible and affordable once again!  With national recognition and support from Awesome Food, we believe that Jack & Jake’s and the NOFFN can assist a growing number of urban growers to engage in the local food economy. The support of Awesome Food will help us to engage the community that desire an improved food-based economy in our region.”

Awesome Food trustee Micki Maynard met with Burns during a trip to New Orleans this spring. “The potential for local growers in New Orleans is enormous, but the city lacks the infrastructure to connect growers and users,” she said. “Far more can be done to make sure restaurants, groceries and home cooks are able to have access to locally grown products. Our grant to Jack and Jake’s is a small first step in establishing a network to help make that happen.”

Jack & Jake’s Outdoor Market Space

For more about Jack and Jake’s, visit www.jackandjakes.com. You can also learn about the New Orleans Farm and Food Network at http://www.noffn.org.

Photos courtesy of John Burns. 

Awesome Food is excited to announce that its eighth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Kendra and Nathan Stuffelbeam of the The Pie Place, a mobile pizza and sweet pie business based in Sonoma County, California. This project was chosen from among nearly 800 applicants from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation.

Specializing in sourdough pizza and sweet pies using local, seasonal, and organic ingredients, The Pie Place has been in business since July 2011. Funds from the Awesome Food grant will be used to outfit their mobile kitchen with solar panels and batteries so that they can operate without having to use a “noisy, smelly, polluting generator.” This conversion will allow them to be able to offset their carbon footprint and move towards an even more sustainable business practice.

“As an Awesome Food trustee who has been involved in the mobile food business for almost two years now, I am very excited for The Pie Place to be awarded our May Awesome Food grant,” said Eric Silverstein, founder of The Peached Tortilla, a mobile food business based in Austin, Texas. He added, “mobile food continues to be a burgeoning segment of our food industry despite the multitude of inherent operational hurdles. The Pie Place, however, is proving that you can still do business in this segment in an environmentally friendly, eco-conscious way.”

The mission of The Pie Place is “to create food that is both delicious and nutritious, in a way that is sustainable for the earth, for the farmers that grow the food, for us as the creators of the food, and for the consumers of the food,” said owners Kendra and Nathan Stuffelbeam. They prefer to buy direct when possible, and to choose products from companies that reflect their values, even when those products are more expensive. They’ve also made a point to reuse and repurpose items instead of buying new — ranging from the reusable dishware on which they serve their food to the 199os-era stock trailer they’ve converted into their mobile kitchen.

The Pie Place also plans to incorporate an educational component into their business in order to share with young people two important messages: “that it is possible to eat great food that is also good for you, and that it is possible to operate a small business that is profitable as well as ethical and sustainable.” In addition to bringing the mobile kitchen to schools and community events, The Pie Place will be partnering with local nonprofit organizations to create internships to allow students to learn about cooking, business, customer service, and sustainability. Kendra and Nathan are excited to be combining their love of making and sharing food with their commitment to making the world a little more awesome.

For more information on The Pie Place, follow them on TwitterFacebook, or email them at info@thepieplace.org.

Photo credits: Annabelle Ziegenhagen, Nathan Stuffelbeam, and Orin Zyvan.

Pictured above is the shipping container that was acquired by Hatch Container Farms, the recipient of our March Awesome Food grant. Hatch Container Farms is an international project based in Paris, France and Melbourne, Australia, which converts shipping containers into farms for refugee camps. (You can read the original grant announcement here).

The 20-foot container, which will be used as a concept unit for the Hatch model, was donated by Orient Overseas Container Line, a Hong Kong-based shipping and logistics company. The Hatch team used some funds from their Awesome Food grant to transport the container to farmland in Echuca, Australia, where they will covert the shipping container into a mobile farm. In addition to working on their concept unit, the Hatch team is also focusing on developing an app to connect the Hatch farms through Africa.

(Photo courtesy of Hatch)

Awesome Food is pleased to announce that its seventh micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Thank You For Coming, a collaborative restaurant project based in Los Angeles, California. This project was chosen from among nearly 800 applicants from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation.

Known as the restaurant “where everyone can be a cook,” Thank You For Coming will operate in a collaborative and participatory manner in that the staff will rotate through a residency program that gives “citizens with varying interests, desires and skills, an opportunity to cook for the public, be a farmer, play with a space, and experiment accordingly.” This will allow participants to be actively engaged in the space—be it by cooking the meal themselves, foraging or harvesting their own ingredients, or even by simply eating with a new tool.

“We selected Thank You For Coming because it puts a creative and imaginative spin on dining—bringing an element of modern interactivity to the relatively passive restaurant experience,” said Awesome Food trustee Josh Simon, co-founder of Function Drinks and proud inhabitant of Los Angeles. “This concept will provide an intriguing level of transparency about how a restaurant operates, how much food costs, where it comes from, all the while fostering a real sense of community—a few of the many reasons we’re excited to help provide a boost to their Kickstarter campaign.”

Currently, Thank You For Coming is running a Kickstarter project that ends on April 21 to raise $10,000 for the restaurant. So far, nearly 140 backers have pledged over $7,000 towards their goal. Thank You For Coming will use their $1,000 grant from Awesome Food to help cover start-up costs associated with renovations, permits, materials and equipment. This may include plumbing and electrical upgrades, health department approvals, a convection oven, dishware, and lumber and supplies to build a 30’ counter space. The team is committed to keeping costs as low as possible by being their own labor force and using salvaged materials.

Located at 3416 Glendale Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA, the restaurant plans to open in June.  The operating owners, a four member team consisting of Laura Noguera, Jonathan Robert, Jenn Su Taohan, and Cynthia Su Taopin, will oversee and facilitate the residency program and general operation of the restaurant.

Inspired in part by a trip to Greensboro, Alabama’s Pie Lab, the operating team aims to make Thank You For Coming into a highly interactive community. As the design currently stands, the restaurant will have an unpartitioned, open floor plan that gives it flexibility to adapt to an event space, while encouraging interaction. Ingredients will be grown in container gardens that will be adjacent and easily accessible to the kitchen, allowing people to pick and cook their own fresh ingredients. Eaters will sit on one side of a wide, shared counter, while cooks utilize the opposite side as a kitchen prep surface. A communal table will span the length of the room to encourage large, family style dinners. This open design will also lend itself to easily transform into a community space for meetings, classes, performances, and other events.

The Thank You For Coming operating owners are no strangers to creative and food-related projects. Between the members of the group, they have experience as teachers, scientists, builders, artists, organizers, master gardeners and food preservers. Past projects have included trading post The Cantry and the highly-successful Artist Bailout. They’ve also contributed to other food-related projects like Eat The Butt and Market Makeovers.

On Saturday, April 14, Thank You For Coming will host a work day event to build the milk crate farm that will support their kitchen. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, drop by between 9am and 3pm to help mix soil, line crates, and plant vegetables. There will be free food and refreshments for all volunteers! For more details or to RSVP, see their facebook event page.

For more information on the Thank You For Coming project, check out their current kickstarter campaign, follow them on twitter, or email hello@thankyouforcoming.la.

Photo credits: Jonathan Robert, Autumn Rooney,  and Jenn Su.

Awesome Food is happy to announce that its sixth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Hatch, an international project which will convert shipping containers into farms for refugee camps.  The Hatch project, which is based out of Melbourne, Australia and Paris, France, is the first grantee from outside the United States chosen from among the nearly 800 applicants from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation.

The Hatch project aims to address the problem of the almost one billion people worldwide who suffer from malnutrition by placing mobile farms in the form of shipping containers into the areas that need it most. The containers use no soil and only require only one tenth of the water used in regular farming, making them perfect for regions experiencing desertification, such as the Horn of Africa.

“We love the Hatch team’s vision, passion and dedication to the project, and hope that this can be an inspiration of a new approach of microfarming,” said Jennifer 8. Lee, a journalist and Awesome Food trustee. “We hope that this grantee can catalyze the project and get them started on a model that can change the way we think about farming going forward.  We also appreciated the fact it was an international team that came together around a shared focus.”

The Hatch team is composed of six members, three based in Australia and three based in France. Tasman Murray, the Melbourne, Australia-based managing director of the Hatch team, explained, “Despite our different backgrounds in education, upbringing, mother tongue and skill set, we all had one thing in common. We were all tired of seeing efforts to fix some of the biggest problems in the world simply repeating the same things that haven’t worked in the past and being surprised when they still don’t work.”

Hatch member Dean Hewson of Melbourne, Australia shared that Hatch is a “solution that now seems obvious.” He added, “it hits so many of the structural constraints that were holding back meaningful change, it seems almost strange it’s not already happening.”

The Hatch team plans to use the $1,000 Awesome Food grant to purchase an 8-foot shipping container to use as a concept unit which they will start building by the end of March. The group has already acquired the land where they will test it out and are raising additional funds through an Indiegogo project to cover costs for miscellaneous items such as sandbags, scaffolding, pipes, seeds, and water storage.  They plan to have all testing complete by the end of June.

The Hatch model combines sustenance, nutritional education, capacity development and job creation, without much of the infrastructure that other farms employ. However, the mobile farming units use renewable energy and recycled materials and require no electricity. The units do not use pesticides or insecticides, so there’s no risk of polluting groundwater or damaging already fragile ecosystems. The work required to maintain the farms is low-intensity, as well, requiring none of the back‐breaking labor of conventional farming methods.

The Hatch team is hoping to target their efforts toward refugees, so they can give them “a measure of control in their lives, both in the camps and afterwards.” Many people who are displaced need both emergency and long-term solutions for nutrition, and tumultuous world politics and climate change will very likely increase the number of refugees, increasing the need for sustainable and effective food solutions, like Hatch containers.

Besides addressing malnutrition in general, the team is hoping to help decrease micronutrient malnutrition. While macronutrients are easily obtained from things like grain (which can supply protein, fats, and carbohydrates), micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, are harder to get. Hatch containers are ideal for growing foods that supply many of these micronutrients.  The Hatch team reminds us that “macronutrients keep you alive, and micronutrients let you live.”

The containers have a modular hydroponic system that can support these micronutrient producing foods – such as microgreens, which grow quickly and take little space. The design focuses on reliability and strength, and has easy-to-replace parts, ensuring long-term viability, as well as short-term help. The team is hoping to empower women in refugee camps to run the farms in the short term, and then they plan to offer heavily subsidized containers for sale once things stabilize. They are also hoping to avoid making some of the mistakes other efforts have seen – like food aid from the US, where transportation costs account for as much as half of the money spent.

This project differs from other similar efforts in a few ways – Hatch member Stefan Rösner of Paris, France says, “It is true that there are many initiatives for tackling micronutrient malnutrition out there. We believe that our project has three distinct advantages: empowerment, cost efficiency and sustainability. Too often people in need are only the passive receivers of aid. Teaching people how to use a mobile farm and thus to help feed themselves and other members of their community allows them to become a part of the solution.”

For additional information on the Hatch project, please visit their website at hatchnext.org or email their managing director Tasman Murray.

(Photos courtesy of Hatch – via Flickr user Nite_Owl, Flickr user United Nations Photo, Flickr user Stewart under Creative Commons licenses)

Awesome Food is happy to announce that its fifth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Andrew Whitman of the UCSC Seed Library, which is a seed repository and lending service based at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Whitman is among nearly 800 applicants from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation, which awarded its first micro-grant in October 2011.

The UCSC Seed Library was started in 2011 by Whitman, a fourth year History major at UCSC, as a way to catalog and preserve local seed varieties, in order to combat the increasing homogeny that comes from commercial growing.

A seed library is a means by which a region can store the genes of its traditional heirloom varieties, teach the public about farming and biology, and store alternative species of plants in case widely-used varieties succumb to a new disease or pests. The UCSC Seed Library works by lending a certain amount of seeds to a farmer or gardener, who grows those seeds into a crop, and then returns the same amount of seeds he or she had previously borrowed. So far, the UCSC Seed Library has approximately 83 varieties of regionally-adapted, organic seeds which are available for lending.

Some recent studies have shown that our crop diversity has decreased by as much as 93% in the last century. For example, there were over 7,000 varieties of apples in the 1800s. Now, there are fewer than one hundred. Awesome Food trustee Leah Lizarondo Shannon, of The Brazen Kitchen, considers the UCSC Seed Library to be awesome because “it brings awareness and proposes a solution that can mitigate the impact of dwindling diversity to our food security.”

“Moreover,” added Shannon, “if universities across the US replicate this initiative, we can begin to build the equivalent of a distributed and localized “food ark” — mirroring the mission of initiatives such as the Svalbard International Seed Vault.

Whitman is passionate about the importance of preserving local seed varieties, especially since the farming practice of planting large crops of genetic similarity — also known as monocultures — have become dominant.  “Biodiversity is an integral part of any healthy ecosystem. Having a diverse gene pool is a natural means for coping with potent diseases, environmental stress, and quick changes in the ecosystem,” he said. “Unfortunately, our current food system promotes massive contracted monocultures that a few key distributors package and send throughout the nation and world.”

He points out that, while there are some seemingly positive aspects to monocultures, one major downfall is that monocultures are more susceptible to widespread extermination by mutating diseases or pests. Maintaining biodiversity in agriculture can help ensure that, even if one strain is killed off, others can still survive.

Whitman plans to use the Awesome Food grant not only to purchase more supplies for the physical seed library but also to raise awareness of the UCSC seed lending and tracking model. He is already working with students at the University of California at Davis to help them begin to build their own institutionally anchored seed library. Whitman hopes to travel to other universities in an effort to promote the UCSC model and to encourage other institutions to follow suit for their local communities. “It is the goal of this project to help preserve the local varieties of the Central Coast,” said Whitman. “I hope this model can be applied to other regions, so they can help preserve their own local biodiversity.”

Anyone — from novice home gardeners to more experienced farmers — can borrow seeds from the UCSC Seed Library. Whitman also holds monthly seed exchanges at UCSC. For more information or to get involved, please contact Andrew Whitman at awhitman[at]slugmail.ucsc.edu.

(Photos by Alexandra Villegas)

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Awesome Food is happy to announce its fourth microgrant of $1,000 has been awarded to Randwiches, which provides handcrafted “surprise” sandwiches to patrons. The project is among the nearly 800 projects from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation which made its first micro-grant award in October.

Randwiches is a new venture by Jenn de la Vega and Jeff Stockton of Escoffiette, who aim to make boring sandwiches a thing of the past by delivering random sandwiches to patrons. While ordinary sandwich deliveries take specific orders about what kind of sandwich you want, and how you’d like it, Randwiches brings a surprise sandwich, handcrafted and full of unique flavors. The service delivered its first sandwich in New York City in October 2011, and so far have served up 360 sandwiches, with 2 or 3 delivery days per week.

“Part of what makes the Slow Food movement so successful is it’s ultra accessible entry points: conviviality, taste and provenance. Randwiches picks up on these,” said Barry A. Martin, an Awesome Food trustee and Principal at Hypenotic, a communications design firm based in Toronto. He describes Randwiches as “inherently social, delicious and made with a care for craft.”

“Randwiches introduce new food combinations by not giving people a choice in the matter,” De la Vega explained. “Randwiches provide a common ground despite the surprise. I’ve seen people that don’t know each other discussing their Randwiches over Twitter and experiencing lunch in a different way. I respect dietary restrictions while challenging friends to try new things.”

So far, Randwiches has delivered sandwiches with ingredients as interesting as meat bought from a mobsterlavender bechamel, homemade jalapeno mustard, homemade lemongrass strawberry jam, duck salami, and locally made maple oat bread — all just since October!

De la Vega is passionate about making lunch fun. She says, “NY delis tend to hover closely to the classics and most ingredients in bodegas have been sitting under glass for quite some time. Lunch, or rather, sandwiches in general can be so much more than that. On the flip side, better or artisanal ingredients tend to drive the price of a sandwich up to $12 to $15 dollars. Fresh, new food experiences should not be prohibitively priced.”

Randwiches are hand-delivered by de la Vega, but she accepts no tips, and asks only for some help with word-of-mouth advertising. Her customers are happy to oblige and have shared comments calling her sandwiches ‘delicious’,  ‘fun’, and ‘amazing’, over and over again.

Repeat customer Diego Garcia, who works near Penn Station, says he’s hooked, and he’s gotten some of his “friends and coworkers hooked on Randwiches as well. There’s something exciting about ordering ahead of time and waiting for a day or two days, not knowing what you’re going to receive, and then getting a bag with the ingredients written on it. It’s fun to not know at all, and then to know everything that went into the meal.”

Future plans for Randwiches and the Awesome Food grant include food safety courses as well as temporary event permits for two people. De la Vega and Stockton have always wanted “a deli slicer for all of our home-cured bacon and meats” as well as greener packaging and maybe even commercial kitchen space. They’re excited about moving to other cities and continuing to make sandwiches more fun, while staying affordable. They’re committed to keeping things random.  In the works is a random sandwich ingredient generator!