Oakland small-business consultant Cecelia Pena does not consider herself an activist. Still, what she does each week settles her squarely in the middle of a growing movement to benefit the environment and her community.
She's a subscriber to Community Supported Agriculture and has food grown exactly 63 miles from her kitchen cutting board delivered to her doorstep each week. Call her a "locavore" if you will — someone who pledges to buy food from local sources.
Locavore is a word coined in 2005 by Richmond resident and chef Jessica Prentice, a partner in the Berkeley-based Community Supported Kitchen Three Stone Hearth and author of "Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection." Prentice and two partners developed the San Francisco Bay Area Local Foods Wheel to help people choose what foods to eat based on Bay Area seasonality and local availability.
"To me, locavore means somebody who is very conscious about where their food is from and makes an effort based on their diet to buy what is available locally and seasonally," Prentice says.
For example, even though Prentice loves asparagus, she'll wait for it to show up in abundance from local farms February through May, instead of buying it practically anytime from farmers who grow the vegetables in Mexico and elsewhere.
Locally grown and produced foods are less taxing on natural resources, she says, because local farmers aren't using expensive fossil fuels to ship their products across the country. Having farms within her broader community also gives her a sense of a greater connection to the Earth and the environment, something she doesn't get when she peels a banana that grew in the jungles of Central America.
The CSA that Pena supports is Eatwell Farms, a mainstay of the Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers market in San Francisco where 780 weekly subscribers pick up boxes of farm-grown food at various locations in San Francisco and the East Bay. Eatwell is owned and managed by Nigel Walker, a 47-year-old longtime farmer who once supplied a mega-chain grocery store.
Walker's produce delivery truck runs off vegetable oil he picks up from a San Francisco restaurant. His 1,650 laying hens are free to walk in and out of their coop, eating bugs from the Earth near his citrus trees. Depending on the season, he grows herbs for natural beauty products, much-raved-about tomatoes and wheat for his chickens.
Because he sells his products locally, Walker is less reliant on fossil fuel than a factory farm supplying grocery stores across the country. He also gets a kick out of interacting with his community. Eatwell Farms often hosts community events where his customers are invited to, say, pick strawberries right off the plant and eat them, or name some of the hens.
Talk to Pena about the carrots she gets in her weekly produce box and she'll tell you how sweet they are. Her Eatwell Farm tomatoes are ripe off the vine and, she says, her oranges are some of the best she's ever had. Her box comes with a newsletter from Walker's farm that includes recipes for the fruits and vegetables she gets that week, and stories about the animals and people that make the weekly shipment possible.
"It makes me feel really connected to that culture," Pena says. "There's something empowering about that."
Eating from local sources is not necessarily cheaper than buying food sourced out of state or out of the country from the local supermarket. A typical CSA charges anywhere from $24 to $30 per week for a box of produce, which will usually feed two to three adults. Walker's eggs cost $7 a dozen.
If those costs seem insurmountable, Walker suggests customers prioritize their food-buying habits and start small. Tomato lovers might want to spend the extra money on locally grown heirloom tomatoes while others may want to buy eggs from a farmer who lets his hens roam freely as Walker does.
"We can all make small steps," he says. "It's like changing a light bulb. If we all did it, it would be great for us."
Reach Laura Casey at 925-952-2697 or lcasey@bayare anewsgroup.com.