Friday, July 29, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week five: feeling the family love

The theme of this week’s curriculum was the magic of the family meal. The benefits of the family meal institution are vast and proven. Family meals create stronger familial relationships, keep kids out of trouble and on-track in school, enable kids and teens to be well-adjusted members of society, and improve health and well-being.

As we discussed the power of connecting with your family over a meal, we realized we’ve become something of a family ourselves. We shared a fresh fruit salad together and check-in on our weekly goal progress. This week our family’s matriarch (fearless facilitator and head chef Christy) blew us away with her unprecedentedly sunny attitude. She announced that she accomplished her truly ambitious weekly goal of not eating anything fried or eating any added salt all week. “I am a goal goddess,” she justly proclaimed. Josephine R. also wowed the family with her success on her three-part goal of going to the gym, drinking water, and eating green vegetables. In fact, she exceeded her goal by going to the gym four times instead of three. We are extremely proud of both of them!

(Photo: our fresh fruit salad with crumbled pecans and walnuts)

Gilda B. shared with us the impact family members can have on each other. She told us about how classmate and friend Sandra S. “is an inspiration. We should call her ‘sugar-free Sandra.’ She is always reading the labels and now I’ve started to do it too. It’s one thing to have someone like your doctor tell you to read labels. It’s another thing to have your friends and the people around you doing it all the time.” Along a similar vein, Shalina talked about how changing her own eating habits has impacted her daughter’s behavior. “This class has changed my whole life and my daughter Nasiya’s life too. Because I’m now trying new foods all the time, she’s also trying foods she’s never tasted before.”

(Photo: Gilda B. talks to us about the inspiration she gets from her friend “Sugar-free Sandra”)

As we all know first-hand (from being kids and perhaps raising kids too), kids aren’t always the most open-minded and adventurous eaters. This week we all shared tips on how to incorporate healthy foods into a child’s diet. Research has shown that kids are more willing to eat fruits and vegetables when they’ve been involved in the process of bringing them to the table: whether through cooking, picking out produce at a farmers’ market, or growing the fruits and vegetables at their schools or in their backyards. To demonstrate ways to incorporate veggies into traditional kid-friendly recipes, our meal this week was a healthy macaroni and cheese with spinach.

We also all know that family meals aren’t the only institution influencing children’s eating habits. This week our food justice educator, Shalina, talked to us about the strong need to advocate for healthier options in school lunch and breakfast programs. Our participants shared stories about the lunches being served in West Oakland schools and talked about the need for change.

Next week we’ll learn more about the importance of a healthy breakfast, and sneak spinach into yet another innocuous food item: fruit smoothies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week four: touring the social venture landscape

The theme of this past week’s class was local and seasonal produce. Everyone was really excited to learn about places within West Oakland where they can buy local fruits and vegetables, like Mandela Marketplace, O.B.U.G.S. (Oakland Based Urban Gardens), and City Slicker Farms locations. The idea of keeping dollars within the local community and supporting local farmers really resonated with the participants. Most of them didn’t know there were places in West Oakland where they could access local produce.

Furthering the theme of seasonal produce, we snacked on a Pear Celery Salad and cooked Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers. The peppers were stuffed with brown rice, walnuts, carrots, peas, fresh herbs and tomato sauce. Christy brought in a plate of cooked peppers for us all to sample before we made them ourselves and they were delicious. Most of our participants would never think of making stuffed peppers without any meat but they were pleasantly surprised. As Josephine R. explained to Cynthia B., who joined us for the first time this week, “In this class, I’m trying foods I never would’ve tasted before.”

(Photo: This week’s Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers)

This week I was really impressed by our participants’ progress on their weekly goals. Josephine R. succeeded at her goal of going to the gym three times over the past week, of which she was very proud. This next week she’s going to combine three of her past goals: going to the gym, drinking water, and eating vegetables every day. Sandra S. had set a pretty ambitious goal of eating absolutely no sugar over the past week. She succeeded on four of the seven days, which is something I’m not sure I could do. Now Sandra is setting her sights on exercising five days over the next coming week. Each week our participants push themselves a little harder.

(Photo: Cynthia B stirs the brown rice and veggie stuffing)

Outside of Get Cooking!, my fellow interns and I have been exposed to a handful of other exciting social ventures this summer. New Foundry has planned some awesome field trips for us, including tours of Juma Ventures, Green Streets, Community Housing Partnerships Enterprises, and Rubicon Bakery . Each of these organizations impressed me with their innovative methods of accomplishing social change. I especially enjoyed our Juma tour, probably because it was coupled with attending a Giants game and I’m a huge fan. Juma’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty by ensuring that young people complete a four-year college education. They accomplish this mission through a few programs. The program we witnessed was employing youth to sell concessions at sports venues in San Francisco, the East Bay, and San Diego. We met a ton of teens selling snacks across AT&T Park and learned about how Juma runs the business to compete with other non-socially-oriented vendors.

Rubicon Bakery was also an exciting field trip. The bakery has a social mission to employ residents of Richmond, where the bakery is headquartered, and nearby communities. It produces amazing cakes and cookies, most of which are sold under private label for some of the biggest grocers in Northern California, while still maintaining the social value of job and opportunity creation in an underserved community. Best of all, we got to sample the chocolate mousse cake, which tasted as good as it looks.

(Photo: Rubicon Bakery’s Chocolate Mousse Cake)

Stay tuned for our next session when we focus on healthy eating for families and kids, and prepare a kid-friendly macaroni and cheese (there’s spinach hidden inside, shhh!!).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week three: monetizing the venture

As I mentioned last week, this past Tuesday we were able to experiment with a few elements of the Get Cooking! model, which was really enlightening. We experimented with cooking first, curriculum second (not so intriguing) and with selling extra meals to community members (potentially very exciting).

We kicked off the session with some homemade hummus and home-toasted pita chips, prepared by Christy and Brenda. No one in the class had ever heard of hummus and most of them were not excited to try it. Gilda B. said she was scared of the way it looked and its texture but she ended up liking it and was glad to discover a new snack that might keep her full and satisfied longer than highly-processed snacks. Victoria H. brought her two daughters this week, Destiny (age 11) and Eunique (age 10) who especially loved the hummus and pita chips.

This week’s curriculum focused on the benefits of whole grains and legumes. We learned why whole grains keep you full longer than refined grains, and spent some time talking about the nutritional value of lentils. This coordinated with our recipe of the week: Lentil Chili. Lentils were also a new food for most of our participants and everyone was eager to sample the chili before taking it home with them. We’ve learned that for unfamiliar foods, it’s really important for participants to sample them. Otherwise there’s a chance they just leave the prepared meal in their freezer and never reheat it because they’re not convinced it will taste good. We’re incorporating this insight into next week by having Christy bring a pre-made sample of the recipe we’ll be cooking: Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers.

(Photo: Jumoke, Gilda H, and a plate of homemade hummus and pita chips)

With the two girls present this week, Christy talked to all of us about our responsibility as role models. Of course the girls’ mother, Victoria H., sets an example for her daughters, but beyond that all of us serve as role models for young people and it’s our collective obligation to future generations to demonstrate and practice healthy eating behavior. Near the end of the session, we actually saw how this relationship works in the other direction. We hold our classes at the West Oakland Senior Center and every week they hand out free loaves of bread. This week Destiny and Eunique put the curriculum into practice and opted for a loaf of seeded whole wheat bread instead of white bread. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of young people to set an example for all of us as well.

(Photo: Eunique and Destiny stir the lentil chili)

On top of cooking and sharing curriculum, our priority this week was exploring alternative ways to monetize the Get Cooking! model, besides selling meals to participants. As our class takes place at the Senior Center, we decided to try to sell extra meals to the seniors at the end of the class. We had two leftover chicken enchilada meals for four that we had frozen after last week and we sold those easily for $7 each. However it was a bit trickier to sell this week’s lentil chili. Again, those lentils are unfamiliar and even scary to some. Going forward we’ll have to incorporate sampling into any additional sales of meals. Luckily we have 4-5 leftover lentil chili meals in the freezer that we can use for future retail experiments, both at the Senior Center and hopefully at other locations around the community.

Until next week!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week two: soaking it all up

We met for our second session last Tuesday to cook chicken enchiladas. We started the session by each sharing our progress on the weekly food goal we had set during the first session, while eating fresh guacamole and homemade tortilla chips for our snack. Participants reported doing pretty well on accomplishing their goals, though I’d still like to push everyone towards setting more specific goals. It’s a lot harder to keep track of whether or not you “ate healthy every day” than it is to measure if you “ate something green at every meal.” We took steps toward specificity at the end of session two when most people set goals around the number of glasses of water they’d like to drink per day during the upcoming week.

After talking through goals, our chef Christy led the curriculum which this week covered the distinction between whole and processed foods. We shared the simple rule of only eating foods that will eventually rot, inspired by Michael Pollan’s food rules, and then walked through the whole vs. processed distinction for three food categories: fats, grains, and sugars. After Christy covered health, nutrition, and cooking skills, Shalina, our food justice educator, talked to us about the proliferation of fast food chains in low-income neighborhoods. She shared personal stories about her daughter being attracted to the bright colors splashed all over fast food locations and used in the packaging of alcohol and tobacco products.

(Photo: Shalina talks through food justice challenges)

We then headed into the kitchen to cook chicken enchiladas, packed with veggies. Overall, session two flowed smoothly and gave us some great ideas for experiments we’ll conduct in session three that I can’t wait to share next week.

In the meantime, I thought this would be a great week to share some of the other experiences I’m having working for New Foundry Ventures. When I accepted this position in January, I never expected to be so fully immersed in the world of social entrepreneurship, outside the realm of New Foundry. I spend three days each week working out of the Hub SoMa which is a co-working space specifically for social ventures. With around 900 members, I find myself constantly meeting new people who are approaching social problems in innovative ways. It might make it a bit harder for me to get as much done each day but I’m learning so much and meeting inspiring people on a daily basis.

(Photo: Christy shows Chantelle H. a quick way to chop zucchini)

The Hub also hosts events that cover interesting topics and have led me to meet even more people that share my passions around food justice and sustainable agriculture. A few weeks ago the Hub hosted a book launch party celebrating Oran Hesterman’s book, Fair Food. The event was packed with people from social ventures in the food space. They hosted another food event recently on Wednesday, July 13th entitled, “Food, Farms, and the Future of Community,” organized by the FeelGood Speaker Series and featuring Michael Dimock, the President of Roots of Change. I feel pretty fortunate to be working in a space that attracts these events and speakers.

Stay tuned for next week when we experiment with selling our prepared meals directly to community members!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Role and Paths for Social Innovation in New Orleans

Read Nick Marinello's article about how New Foundry's CEO, Rick Aubry, is developing new paths for Social Innovation in New Orleans in his new role as Tulane’s first Assistant Provost for Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week one: pulling all the pieces together

Hi everyone. My name is Michelle Klahr and I’m an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’m spending this summer in between the two years of my MBA program working as an intern at New Foundry Ventures. Specifically I’m dedicated to the operations of Get Cooking!, New Foundry’s newest venture. Get Cooking! is a social enterprise dedicated to helping low-income families living in food deserts make healthy eating simple, affordable, and fun in order to lower rates of obesity and diet-related diseases, and improve overall well-being. To do this, Get Cooking! operates cooking clubs where community members meet with a chef to prepare and purchase nutritious, ready-to-cook, low-cost meals for their families in a community kitchen pre-stocked with fresh and healthy foods. New Foundry partnered with two inspirational organizations in West Oakland, LifeLong Medical Care and People’s Grocery to launch an eight-week pilot in West Oakland this past March. After the success of the first pilot, the partner team launched a second pilot, also in West Oakland, on Tuesday June 28th. Besides coordinating many of the behind-the-scenes logistics of this second pilot, I’ll also be spending the summer sharing an on-the-ground perspective with you on my experiences. What does it really take to launch a social venture? And what are some unforeseen challenges that come up along the way? Each week I’ll report back with an update on the pilot’s progress and my reactions. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Getting ready for the first session required a tremendous amount of preparation and a lot of hands-on work. I spent the two weeks leading up to our first session proofreading, printing, and collating curriculum, sorting through crates of cooking equipment, generating shopping lists for our chefs, and creating minute-by-minute schedules to help us squeeze a ton of content into just two hours. Our partners and chefs also worked like crazy: diligently pricing out each meal and snack recipe, doubling down on marketing and recruiting participants, creating binders to house all the materials, and more.

The resulting first session was by and large a success. We managed to get through everything in time: introductions, snacks (this week: a Kale Waldorf Salad), the ground rules, curriculum, cooking, cleanup, and the setting of individual food goals for the coming week (including cutting down on salt and eating vegetables). We had great participants that are really excited about the course including Chantelle who just learned that kale can be eaten raw and Josephine who has never known how to cook anything (self-described as “a woman who doesn’t own any pots and pans”). And the food, both the Kale Salad and the main dish: “Grits & Greens,” turned out great, although we didn’t get to sample the grits because the Get Cooking! model involves the participants taking the meals home to share with their families.

(Photo: Chef Christy shows Destiny how to sauté the greens)

Despite the success of the first class, I continue to be awed by the sheer amount of effort that these classes involve. The dedication of New Foundry, LifeLong, and People’s Grocery to this effort is outstanding. Today, there are four or five of us working hard to bring each class to life. This is not a sustainable approach, so we are continuing to test and refine to figure out a model that can be financially sustainable and replicated in multiple communities. One of the key lessons I’ve learned from taking a class at Stanford’s design school is that you can’t be precious with your prototypes, meaning, if you have an idea, go out and test it, even if it’s not perfect. I appreciate that, as a New Foundry intern, I get to be apart of such informative testing of an intriguing concept.

(Photo: Chantelle H. and Josephine R. package their Grits + Greens meals)

Stay tuned for an update on Week Two, when we’ll cook Chicken Enchiladas and learn about whole versus processed foods…