TAHOE EATS LIKE IT GIVES A DAMN
The call for a sustainable food system has taken hold across the nation echoes in Tahoe/Truckee. There’s been an explosion — farmers markets and CSAs have flourished, restaurants highlight their regional ingredients, and residents compare notes on composting and raising chickens.
But life looks different at 6,000 feet, and food presents a particular challenge. Even back in the days of the Donner Party, food was scarce and certain “innovations” were required for survival. The locals in the Sierra have spent the past century and a half developing more sustainable, and less savage, means for sustenance. The creative solutions to food security and distribution are amazing and inspiring, and bear witness to the Tahoe food revolution. It’s elevating to the spirit.
But we asked: what’s happening that’s unique to this area? And that deserves to be shared so we can all learn ways to bring fresh food into our lives and community? Once we started looking, the innovations started pouring in. In our Elevate Tahoe film, we will feature a program that gets kids to like kale and even request fresh vegetables to be put on the home grocery list, a farmer takes us underground to extend the growing season, and a forager dishes on the bounty that can be found in the woods and your backyard, and how you can bring it home. All of these things are going on every day at the hands of normal people driven to improve the food they, their families, and their communities consume. And we think that their stories need to be shared, maybe even shouted from the Sierra mountaintops.
TRUE TAHOE INNOVATION
With this film, our focus is on the innovative practices developed by modern-day pioneers who decided that obstacles are just opportunities in disguise.
The film will feature all levels of food production from the individual family to the commercial growing operation. We focused on this range of innovations so that our viewers can watch this film and walk away feeling inspired, and with a cornucopia of new knowledge that they can incorporate into their own lives and perspectives on food. And we think…okay we know…that it takes a village to create a sustainable food shed, so the more people on board the better.
We worked tirelessly searching the Tahoe region for the most innovative food people, and here’s who we will feature in our film:
• SunMie Won: A mother with her own web programming business shows us how possible it is for individual families to have their own thriving backyard gardens on a budget. SunMie shares her years of gleaned wisdom growing a garden and raising chickens while fending off bears and scavenging for horse manure, as well as her über-successful ventures in cold frame growing techniques and lots of canning.
• Alicia Funk: Driven by curiosity to research and promote native California edibles (especially in the Sierra and foothills), Funk combines traditional uses with modern-day nutrition facts and recipes. Through her personal and family practices of living off the grid and using natives for landscaping and food, and educational projects like her book, “Living Wild,” which details gardening, cooking, and healing with native species, Alicia is promoting ultra-sustainable practices, teaching us how to find food in our immediate environment, and reintroducing knowledge developed by indigenous peoples that we have since lost touch with.
• Gary Romano: This Sierra Valley farmer believes that there’s no reason we can’t have fresh food all year, it’s just a matter of finding out what grows each season. Situated in the largest alpine valley in the western hemisphere, he’s gone one step further with an underground greenhouse, they affectionately call “The Bunker,” from which he’s been pulling produce since February. Owner of Sierra Valley Farms, he left the security of a government job to preserve the last vestiges of his family’s farming heritage, and he speaks from deep experience about the plight of the small Sierra farmer. Ruminating on his trials and experiments creating a year-round farm, he wrote “Why I Farm” to encourage other people to get back to the land, no matter how many hardships there might be along the way.
• Susie Sutphin: After a personal journey that taught her the importance of a regional and equitable food system, Susie is working to establish a sustainable foodshed in Tahoe, seeking to dispel notions that it’s impossible to source your food locally when living in the mountains. Her notion of the foodshed follows along with the idea of a watershed: it knows no political boundaries — it is a socio-geographic space that follows the flow of food. Susie founded the Tahoe Food Hub to connect farmers within 100 miles of Tahoe to the restaurateurs and consumers that want locally grown produce. The Hub also promotes education as an essential component of a foodshed through programs at schools, growing domes, meet-your-farmer dinners, and more.
• Maria Martin: As a registered dietician at Tahoe Forest Hospital, Maria understands the importance of creating healthy habits early on. That’s why seven years ago she helped cofound the Nutrition Coalition, an organization that promotes healthy diets and active lifestyles to children in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Through its Harvest of the Month program, parent volunteers introduce students to California-grown, seasonal produce paired with fun, delicious recipes. Currently this program exposes every student in 108 classrooms to vegetables like kale, turnips, and cabbage. Turns out, kids do like vegetables.
WHY THE INNOVATIONS?
For brevity, we came up with four overarching, very general challenges we face in terms of food in the Sierra:
…but in order to even begin making a film about innovations in Tahoe, we had to figure out everything that we’re up against. Survey says, there’s quite a lot.
Growing in granite just isn’t near as fun as it is in the fertile Central Valley down the hill. Snow is an ever-present possibility (longtime locals will tell you they’ve seen it snow every month of the year) and the harsh high-altitude desert ecosystem means there aren’t many farms or local food producers in the immediate area. As with many places, our food historically has been bussed, trucked, and flown in.
It’s not only hard to grow food here, it can also be downright impossible to afford food up here. In 2011, Truckee was ranked as the ninth most expensive city in the country, just shy of beating out the nation’s capital for the eighth spot. The same survey clocked Truckee’s grocery costs as the fourth most expensive in the states, 136.9 percent of the national average and beating out Anchorage, AK by 3.4 percent.
Due to being a ski resort community, we have tremendous swings in our economy. At times, we’re flooded with visitors. At others, you could walk down the middle of the road on main street at 7 p.m. Businesses are compelled to make their money within a few short months. Prices go up and food quality has to follow the dollar.
After this brief intro to the difficulties with food in Tahoe, and the people that don’t let those obstacles stop them, we hope you’ll be even more inspired to get involved and help us make this film. What would be even better than your support? If you also feel driven to learn more about sustainable local food systems and get involved, whether you backyard garden, forage, get your hands dirty on a farm, buy super-local, whatever feels right. The more awareness and knowledge we can spread about sustainable healthy food systems, from alpine communities to urban jungles, the healthier and happier we all will be.
Moonshine Ink is Truckee and North Lake Tahoe’s independent newspaper. We’ve been on the streets since 2002, and have 24,000 dedicated readers. With a motto of “Keep Tahoe Smart” and monthly stories that range from hard-hitting investigative pieces to features on incredible community members and initiatives, we bring the journalistic skillset to dig up the facts and tell the story of food in Tahoe in this film. Publisher Mayumi Elegado and Food and Culture editor Ashley Owen are our Elevate Tahoe representatives.
SBS Media House was founded by Evan Buzzell and Scott Thompson in the summer of 2011 when they adventured to New Zealand to shoot a six-episode Snowboarding Documentary for their blog, Lost Down Under. Since, SBS Media House has directed award-winning music videos, commercials, press kits, product demos, and even branded a TV station. At the core of SBS Media House lies a passion for storytelling and near-life experiences. We create to inspire.
Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation: We are passionate about preserving the paradise that is Tahoe while unleashing leadership in our community. Through connecting people and resources, TTCF has provided more than $20 million in grants to community nonprofits throughout the Northern Sierra Region. At 15 years strong, we are excited to partner on this project to tell the unique story and uncover innovations in our food system. CEO Stacy Caldwell is a key partner in launching this project.
The actual cost of the work is estimated to be $12,000, but the team is passionate about this project, each of us donating a lot of time to keep costs as low as possible. We are looking to raise $5,000 to help make this project to become a realistic reality. Otherwise, we are all looking to eat canned beans for a couple months. How sustainable is that?
We have named our partnership “Elevate Tahoe,” because our mission is to uncover the innovative aspects of the community that raise up residents and visitors to a better way of living. If this project gets traction, we plan to continue by delving deeper into the food system, such as a film with how-to demonstrations, as well as exploring other topics such as alternative energy, transportation, and housing.
Won’t you join us on this adventure of elevating the food landscape of the Sierra?
Risks and challenges
Having under 30 days to complete the entire project in an unpredictable area can lead to some uncertainty. Our shooting schedule will require us to constantly be on the move, meeting continuous deadlines, in a high mountain landscape that could be engulfed by a 5-foot snowstorm any day. Plus, in addition to producing and promoting this film, we are also organizing community screenings with panel discussions, and other ways this film can become a conversation-starter within towns throughout the Sierra. Oh, and did we mention that this project is on top of each team member’s fulltime job, from publishing a newspaper to running a media house to organizing a community foundation. So there’s a lot going on, and crammed in a short period of time. With an all-or-nothing catch at the end.
This is also the first collaborative project between our three organizations, and while we know that we are forming a trifecta of complementary skills, there are definitely some learn-as-you-go experiences that both challenge and strengthen our team and our project.
Another challenge is actually narrowing down the candidate pool to select our film subjects. We’re keeping the film under 10-minutes while also trying to include as much information as possible. There is a multitude of organizations, individuals, and businesses that are making amazing strides within food in Tahoe, and many of them have helped us with our research, filled out surveys, and updated us on everything food in the area. And though we wish we could feature everyone’s story, it is certainly hard to choose only a handful of subjects.
How will we succeed you ask?
Our trifecta powerhouse team! We have a production team that lives for adventure and loves to take on new challenges. SBS Media House is accustomed to tight deadlines and uncertainty, determined to push forward and succeed at what they set their minds to. The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation sparked the idea for this film and will provide immense support and connections to the community on the ground level. And Moonshine Ink will use their influence in the region to make contacts, schedule shooting dates, and ensure that everything is in place to deliver an innovative and intriguing final video. When it comes to storytelling, there is no one better than Moonshine Ink, and they have the track record to prove it.
What will ultimately motivate us to produce a powerful, beautiful, and compelling film is our shared passion for the root of this project, sustainable regional foods, and our collective hunger to learn more about them and promote them as much as possible. The people, projects, and initiatives we will feature in this film are so gosh-darn moving that we WANT our community to know, and film is an accessible, perfect medium for the job. Even the thought of giving our film subjects, these inspirational movers and shakers in our food systems, a forum to share their work and goals with an intrigued audience, well that gets us even more stoked for the final Elevate Tahoe product.
What happens if we don’t get funding and use up our personal savings, can’t pay rent and end up living in a van down by the river?
This is where you come into play…. We NEED your help! Any amount will do, and we will be eternally in gratitude to you. Really, we mean it! Check out our rewards, we’ve put together an awesome abundance of sweet prizes and perks as huge THANK YOUs for all of your support. If you can’t donate because you spent all your money food shopping in Tahoe, share this project with friends and family. Even if they don’t live here they can still benefit from this video. Every little bit helps us get closer to our goal, and we’re fired up and ready to go.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)