Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eco Heroes tackle local ‘food print’

Robyn Waxman checks up on Nibbles, her sheep, on her farm northwest of Davis. Her farm doubles as a FARM (Future Action Reclamation Mob), where people can help grow food for themselves and their community. Her commitment and passion have earned her a 2013 Eco Hero Award from Cool Davis. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Join the fun

What: Earth Day celebration/John Muir’s 175th birthday party, featuring a slide-show talk by author Kim Stanley Robinson of Davis and presentation of Cool Davis’ 2013 Eco Hero and Climate Solutions Awards

For kids ages 4-10: An adventure outing with Nature’s Theater, plus birthday cake and party favors

When: 3-5 p.m. Sunday, April 21

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

How much: A “birthday gift” of $5 to $10 per person is suggested

By Claire Black Slotton and Julie Cross

Each year, Cool Davis recognizes visionary Davis residents who model how to incorporate sustainable practices into their civic and everyday lives. The organization seeks to honor some of the hidden heroes among us who are forging and implementing new ways to live lightly with less impact on the environment.

Acting out of personal conviction, they are just doing “the right thing” for themselves, their community and their planet. This year’s Eco Heroes are Dani Lee, Robyn Waxman and Diane Swann. Climate Solutions Awards, which go to local businesses or organizations for exemplary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will be presented to the Davis Bike Collective (Jason Moore), the Local Government Commission (Judy Corbett) and the Davis Flea (Lauren Norton).

Two Eco Heroes who deal in very direct ways with our “food print” are profiled today.

Dani Lee

Dani Lee is one of those natural beauties who sparkles all on her own. Had you seen her in the 1970s, you might have thought “mellow hippie,” but Lee is full of energy and enthusiasm about her dream job.

She is the sustainability manager for UC Davis Dining Services where, as an employee of Sodexo, she oversees myriad tasks. Dining Services serves more than 56,000 meals per week in the three campus dining commons and provides food for 1,000 events per month. It’s Lee’s job to help that division achieve zero waste as part of UCD’s goal of zero waste for the whole campus by 2020.

Lee and her team are responsible for:

* Educating clients about their food choices for personal health and for the health of the planet, as well as steps individuals can take to reduce waste;

* Training all 700 Dining Services employees on waste sorting and general sustainability;

* Working with all the Dining Services food outlets on campus to reduce waste; they are currently diverting 85 percent of their waste through solid and organic waste recycling programs. Next, they are looking at reducing thin plastics like gloves and packaging;

* Reducing their carbon footprint by buying locally and sustainably grown produce and food;

* Meeting with chefs weekly to encourage use of locally and campus grown produce in campus menus;

* Meeting with her 20 student sustainability coordinators and interns who help oversee the education programs, a resident garden outside the dining commons, delivering campus-grown produce from the UCD Student Farm and implementing zero waste programs;

* Overseeing waste reduction and composting programs in food service locations;

* Helping manage the UC Davis Farmers Market on campus; and

* Supporting and overseeing a variety of events such as the recent California Higher Education Sustainability Conference and UC Davis Farm-to-College.

In part due to Lee’s efforts with Dining Services, UCD was voted America’s No. 1 Coolest School by Sierra Magazine this past year and ranked No. 1 in the national competition as well for efforts within food service operations.

But she is the first to admit she couldn’t do it alone. The staff, faculty and management team on campus are very supportive of UCD’s commitment to a “sustainable second century.”

“It’s a lot of work, no doubt,” Lee says, “but I couldn’t do it without my incredible team of passionate managers and directors, students, my colleagues in various campus departments as well as support from our community partners.”

Connections with friends and colleagues at local farms and campus farms led to new sources of locally grown food; with every new source, the campus’ carbon footprint is reduced and increased transparency is provided to students about their food sources.

Currently, 45 percent of the produce comes from within 250 miles of Davis. Locally based Clover Stornetta provides American humane certified dairy products and all the white and brown rice served on campus is certified organic, grown by UCD alum Michael Bosworth of Marysville.

Do you put up the extra tomatoes from your yard each summer? Here’s a number to boggle the mind: With the support of Lee’s friends, team members and colleagues, more than 12,000 pounds of tomatoes from UCD’s Russell Ranch were preserved by the on-campus kitchens last summer, yielding 800 gallons of roasted tomato sauce for use during the year. That’s a long, hot afternoon of canning, no?

Lee’s morning begins with breakfast next to her rabbit, Bon-Bon, and she bikes to work by 9 a.m. In her spare time, she is an avid adventurer. She just returned from a wilderness trip in Joshua Tree. She is also a vegan and runs Club Vegan at the Davis Food Co-op Teaching Kitchen on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. for those looking to lower their carbon footprint by reducing their consumption of animal products.

Robyn Waxman

Robyn Waxman is, without a doubt, the nicest revolutionary you’ll ever meet. Charming and articulate, she could be a professor, mom or farmer — in fact, she’s all three. Being nice is part of her plan for revolution.

“FARM was my graduate thesis,” she says, “which was a way to engage these very polite Millennials in revolution.”

“FARM” is the Future Action Reclamation Mob, “an alternative form of nonviolent protest, reclaiming public space to build community, providing services for underserved and transient populations and/or rehabilitating toxic land.” FARM is also a collection of physical locations where people can help grow food for themselves and their community. And FARM is, in very large part, why Cool Davis named Waxman a 2013 Eco Hero.

The first FARM location, in San Francisco, was the end product of Waxman’s graduate thesis — and the beginning of a real movement. On a 66-foot strip of toxic land, Waxman and a group of volunteers began growing food as both a form of social protest and a bioremediation project. The project proved so exciting to the California College of the Arts community that Waxman was named that year’s commencement speaker. The San Francisco FARM is still operating, being passed from one class of farmers to the next.

Returning to Davis after graduation, the 2,000 square feet of lawn in front of her K Street home proved irresistible to Waxman. FARM Davis was born on Halloween 2009, transformed by a group of farmers who came dressed as their favorite cover crop.

Volunteers? “They’re not volunteers,” says Waxman, “they’re farmers. There’s no one to tell them what to do. They have to decide.”

The only rule? They give away half of what they grow, in the case of FARM Davis to the residents of the César Chávez housing complex on Olive Drive.

How was it, having a farm as your front yard?

“It was great. We wanted to reclaim the front yard as public space,” Waxman says. “People were in and out all the time.”

While the K Street FARM is still operating, Waxman couldn’t resist the lure of a larger space — FARM 2.6, on the outskirts of Davis, where there’s room for rescued bummer lambs, a fiber garden and a wealth of community activities. Meanwhile, there’s a new FARM, the smallest yet, on Valdora Street in South Davis.

Waxman doesn’t confine her activities to her own education or home: She incorporates agriculture into her design and illustration courses at Sacramento City College, in what she calls the “home ec of graphic design.” She also manages City Farm on campus where she assists other instructors in planning to “use this dirt to understand your discipline better.”

Last year, City Farm grew indigo, which a chemistry class processed into dye while a design class produced a book about the project. This year, she hopes to add an African-American history class to provide context for the project.

Waxman is slightly astonished at being named an Eco Hero for “merely” starting a series of public farms and piloting coursework incorporating agriculture into ordinary life. When asked, she agrees that she’s a vegetarian, composts and grows her own food.

“I’m going to make my own clothes, too” she volunteers. “I’ve learned to spin, and we’re growing a dye garden, so I just need to learn to knit.”

Ultimately, Waxman says of her initial work with Millennials and FARM, “It was really because I wanted them to be able to teach Sophia,” she says, referring to her 11-year-old daughter. “It’s pretty much all always about Sophia.”

To learn more about FARM, visit

Special to The Enterprise


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