Member Highlight Interview: Chris Wolf, Transition Whatcom

Chris Wolf

Wednesday Oct. 27, 2010 – Conducted by Emma Brewster

You came to PSFN through your work with Transition Whatcom.  Can you tell us more about what that is and what your role in it is?

Transition Towns are a movement that was started in England.  It’s communities that are concerned about climate change, concerned about oil, and realizing that we need to seriously reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, find other ways to grow our food, transport ourselves and meet our own needs more locally.  There was one town in England that decided that, “Well, you know, our government isn’t doing anything about this and the business sector isn’t doing anything about this.  We, as individual people, need to come together as a community and make a plan and decide what kind of future we want to make for our town.”  And so they did this, and then other towns nearby said, “That’s such a great idea!” and they started doing it, and it just spread — in just a couple of years — all over the world.  And now there’s something like 300 Transition Towns, and maybe more.  So a group of us in Whatcom County decided to start a Transition Whatcom so that Whatcom can begin coming together and having conversations about true sustainability.  Not just little things we can do to help a little bit, but how could we actually create a future that our kids and our grandkids can live on even when oil becomes really scarce.  We’re part of the transition all over the world and I was one of the initiating group — one of eight people who got that started in our county.  Now there are 750 members.  

Do you work with Transition Whatcom full time?

It’s just volunteer.  It’s not a job, but it’s something I put a fair amount of time into, and then I volunteer for a couple other groups.  Like today, I was harvesting carrots for the food banks.  I’m also a permaculture designer, so I do permaculture  consultations for people.

So what’s your background? What have you done, where are you from and what led you into this type of interest?

I grew up in Bellingham, so I’m a native of this area. My professional training is in counseling and working with human behavior and human systems.  But after doing that for several years I think I really started to realize that a lot of the problems that were showing up as individuals’ symptoms, like depression and anxiety and things like that, were actually responses to much more cultural problems — things that are completely lacking in our culture.  People were coming to me for counseling for their depression but they were eating a very poor diet of a lot of unhealthy food, they had no family support, no social support, they don’t know their neighbors, they don’t have meaningful work…  So they just feel like their life doesn’t have much meaning — so of course they’re depressed! So I shifted my focus from trying to help those individuals to trying to create social change; change that is going to help all of us be happier, help all of us be more connected to people, help all of us eat better. So that’s really where my focus is now.  So kind of like “big-picture mental health!”

I shifted my focus from trying to help individuals to trying to create social change; change that is going to help all of us be happier, help all of us be more connected to people, help all of us eat better.

You came to PSFN’s WholeSale market in Seattle.  As an individual and not an institutional buyer, why did you attend, and how did you find out about, the WholeSale market?

We had a conference in Seattle where leaders of Transition Towns from all over the Northwest were going to get together and spend the day together sharing ideas, and I was asked to cook all the food for the day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about 70 people.  And so of course, because the whole movement is about re-localizing, I wanted to do as much of the food as possible with wholesome local produce that I got from farmers in our area.  So I started looking into what was available as far as farmers market in Seattle.  I called Sustainable Connections, a great local non-profit, and they hooked me up with the Puget Sound Food Network and that’s how I found out about the Seattle market.

What did you decide to buy and how did you cook it?  I’m curious what you were able to make for seventy people as a one-woman-show.

Well, I got to use my friend’s big kitchen in Seattle, and I planned a menu for which I could make a lot of the food ahead of time and then bring it to the conference and warm it up or slice it the day of (rather than do all the cooking the day of). So for breakfast, I made homemade granola with local hazelnuts, flax seeds, and honey, and a few other ingredients that were not local.  So I made all the granola ahead of time.  And then I served it with fresh raspberries and strawberries that I got from the market in Seattle, and I made hazelnut milk from local hazelnuts for the granola.  And I got eggs from the market in Seattle and made hard-boiled eggs.  For lunch I made a huge salad, and sandwiches, the local ingredients being from Boulangerie Nantaise at the market, and I got a couple shoulders of lamb.  I roasted the lamb and sliced it up.  I got a bunch of goat milk from a local goat farmer  and made my own goat cheese for lunch — garlic goat cheese! — it was delicious.  And then sliced up fresh fruit: apples and things I got from your market in Seattle. And then for dinner I made another huge salad, and I made two big soups.  All the vegetables and beans in the soups were locally grown, and there was some ham in one of them that was locally grown.  I made some cornbread, and then Theo chocolates — made in Seattle!   So that was my menu for the day.

Sounds great, how did you learn how to cook?

I’m mostly just self-taught.  I go to cooking classes whenever I can, I pull out recipes and let them teach me.  I try it once and learn from my successes and my failures.  If a friend makes something really yummy I ask them to teach me how to make it.  So I’ve never gone to school for cooking or anything, but it’s a lifelong pursuit for me to cook healthy food and make things from scratch. I love experimenting in the kitchen.  The more time you spend doing it the better you get at it. I just spend a lot of time cooking — a couple hours a day.

I know you discovered the WholeSale market somewhat accidentally, but from your experience, what was appealing about the WholeSale market setup compared to a grocery store, had you gone and shopped organically or somewhat locally, or as opposed to using a larger scale bulk food distributor for those volumes.

So many things were great about it!  It was really fun, and I got to meet all the different farmers and talk to them about their farms and about their produce. It was a totally different experience than you have when you go to a grocery store. I also got to buy food I knew was really fresh and really local.  When you go to a grocery store, you really don’t know how long ago that food was picked, but when you go to a farmers’ market (and I’ve worked for farms bringing produce to market) you pick it THAT morning, or you pick it the evening before and refrigerate it for one night, so it’s really fresh.  And if you have any questions, you can ask them!  “When was this harvested?” …or “Do you use any pesticides on this?” …or anything that you’re wondering you get to ask the person who grew it.  The other thing was that I was REALLY impressed with was the prices!  Buying flats of raspberries, boxes of apples, big boxes of salad greens … I was buying a LOT of food.  I haven’t really calculated how much it would cost if I bought all that food at a grocery store, but it would have been at LEAST twice as much, maybe three times as much, because per pound… I think I got organic apples for 70 cents a pound or something, and the same ones in the grocery store were $3 a pound. So it was great! I got a ton of food for even less money than I planned to spend, and the farmers were really generous about throwing in an extra cucumber, or extra whatever.  They really just wanted us to enjoy their food, so I got great deals.  Everyone was so friendly and so excited that I was going to be serving their food to people, and they didn’t care that I was doing a one-time thing.  They were happy their food was enjoyed and appreciated.

Is this something that you would do again?  Do you have any events coming up?

I would definitely do it again.  I don’t have anything planned, this is the first and only time I’ve really cooked for that many people.  It was a total blast, I had so much fun, and I would totally consider doing it again.  But it will depend on when the need arises — I’m not going to open a catering business!

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

I just think it’s such a great thing that you guys are doing — and it’s so important on so many levels.  I’ve done a lot of research into health and wellness and nutrition for people, and when people eat fresh, real vegetables and real fruits they get so much more nutrition from it.  So just on the level of helping the health of the general population, this market is such a great thing to be doing.  I just have this dream that every school, and every hospital, and every nursing home, and everything could be connected with local farmers so they could source a pretty big proportion of their food right from the area that they live.  More and more people are starting to think about that a little bit, but over the next few years I think we’re going to see a lot more interest.

For more information about Transition Whatcom, visit transitionwhatcom.ning.com

Read about PSFN’s new Farm to Table Partnership connecting local growers with senior meal services, above/below!

 

GARDEN SOUP

– One local onion

– Several cloves local garlic

– Coconut oil or olive oil for sauteeing

– A few quarts of vegetable broth or chicken broth (boullion cubes are an affordable and low-packaging way to make broth, or if you want to get gourmet you can find a recipe for making your own veggie or chicken broth).

– A mix of seasonal vegetables from your garden or Farmer’s Market (ie: carrots, parsnips, potatoes, celery, celeriac, rutabega, mushrooms, kale)

– Local fresh runner beans, shelled; or dry beans

– Fresh herbs from your garden or Farmer’s Market (ie: parsley, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage)

– Salt and/or pepper to taste

 

1) If using dry beans, soak them overnight.  (If using fresh runner beans, soaking is not necessary, but do take the beans out of the shells and compost the shells).

 

2) Chop your onion and all other vegetables into soup-sized pieces (each piece should fit in a soup spoon).  Mince the garlic a little finer than that.

 

3) Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a big soup pot.  When hot, add the chopped onion and sautee until onions start to turn clear.  Then add minced garlic and sautee for another few minutes, until onions are transparent or starting to brown slightly.

 

4) Add the broth to your pot, along with the harder vegetables (like carrots, potatoes, beans) and herbs and bring to a boil.  Simmer on the stove until the veggies are almost soft.  Add softer leafy vegetables, like kale, toward the end of your cooking.

 

5) Keep tasting your soup, and add salt and/or pepper if you think it needs it (or more boullion cubes if broth tastes too weak).  Soup is done when harder veggies are soft enough to eat, and beans are soft, not mealy.  Bon Appetit!

 

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