Friday, June 4, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Nonprofits

So The Eating Well did not open to the public this week as I had announced it would. Various reasons for that, but this is not the first, and will certainly not be the last time that the cafe's plans have changed. Guess that's how things go in the world of small, nonprofit, experimental social enterprises (or any enterprise?). But The Eating Well did continue its training program this week, and a subcommittee of the Harmony Health FRC Board of Directors had lunch there yesterday. That's my "Raging Bull" panini in the pic above, with Southwestern Salad and fresh fruit. Delicious! I would say that the cafe will open next week, but maybe its better if I don't (but it should!).

This pic, which I posted previously, shows an olive tree in the orchard that has regenerated itself. This is just one of the many amazing things that olive trees can do. But while olive trees may be self-regenerating, olive orchards are not. That's why Ramon has been out there this week irrigating the trees and weeding the ground around them. To become truly productive, Ramon says we will need eventually to prune the orchard pretty heavily, but for now, we (he) will focus on giving the trees the proper irrigation they've been deprived of for so long. Because olive trees are "alternate bearing" (i.e., they tend to produce fruit every other year), and because this year's looks to be a big crop, Ramon figures we can prune aggressively next year, to prepare for an even better harvest the following season. Ramon says he has never been the lead of an olive operation before--i.e., the one making executive decisions like when to prune, when to fertilize, when to harvest, etc.--so he, too, is excited about this adventure.

"Drove my Chevy to the levee and the levee was dry...

The Sacramento Bee reports today that Yuba County's $405 million levee improvement project has received notice from FEMA that the levees meet the 100-year flood safety threshold. This is a major milestone, and should be a big step toward revitalization of the county. These levees should be especially beneficial to the communities of Linda and Olivehurst, which is where many of the clients of Harmony Health FRC and the students of Yuba College, live. The article reports that these are not just big levees, but smart ones. Sounds a little funny, but in fact, "setback levees"--of which this project now has the largest in California--actually are smarter than other levees because they are set back from the river, letting it take a wider and more natural course, and also providing wildlife habitat. So the launch of Harmony Health FRC's social enterprises, The Eating Well and the olive venture (we'll need a name for it, eventually), coincides with Yuba County's first step into a flood-safe era. Seems like another positive portent to me!

"Them good 'ol boys was drinkin'...imported adulterated olive oil?!

This is a jar of olives from my refrigerator. Don't know if you can see the fine print, but these garlic stuffed olives are marketed as a local product from Stephens Farmhouse in Yuba City. Indeed, I bought them in a special "Local Produce" section of an independent grocery store in Marysville. But while I can't prove it, I strongly suspect that these olives were actually grown in Spain, or possibly Italy, not in California, and definitely not in the Yuba-Sutter area. The label on the jar says the olives were "especially made" for Stephens Farmhouse, but where and by whom is not discussed... One of the most surprising things I've learned about the olive industry so far is that, although California produces virtually all the olive oil and table olives made in the U.S., the U.S. accounts for a very small share of the world olive market. The vast majority olive oil consumed in California is not produced in California. And if The New Yorker is to be believed, much of the "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" that we import has labels that may be about as truthful as the one in the pic above. So why aren't more people in the U.S. consuming actual olives and actual olive oil from California (or just *actual* olive oil)? There are various and complicated reasons for this, including the fact that most European olive and olive oil producers are heavily subsidized by their governments, and the fact that many Americans still attach mystique to terms like "imported" and "real Italian". But then, many Americans think The Olive Garden is a great place to eat, so I guess The Eating Well and the olive venture (and the local food movement in general) really have our work laid out for us...

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