Monday, June 6, 2011

Make it so.

For the past few years, my (geek) husband has read every issue of Make Magazine cover-to-cover. For the uninitiated, Make is a do-it-yourself (DIY) magazine that provides instructions for building gadgets like a camera that can be flown on a kite or a credit card reader. They also offer reader challenges such as the best way to tie one’s shoes. The sister magazine, Craft, offers similar DIY advice on everything from shelving units to pillows to clothing and jewelry. Both magazines enable people to tinker and create in ways we didn’t know we could or have simply stopped doing in the “age of convenience”.

In addition to slick magazines and websites chock full of even more project ideas, tips, and forums, the magazines have spawned the Maker Faire. Several times a year, in cities across the US, self-proclaimed “makers” meet up to share ideas and techniques, peddle their wares, and contribute to a community of people who like to do-it-themselves.

My local Maker Faire took place in San Mateo on May 21st and 22nd (yup, same day as the apocalypse). I attended the first day with my husband and several friends. There is so much to see and do at a Maker Faire! This year, though, I was most excited for the Hometown Village – an area devoted to DIY food, farming, and homesteading. Seeing people take such pleasure in activities we often think of as chores, and coming up with creative innovative ideas, was inspiring. Here are a few booths/groups that really caught my attention.

I am 100% Homegrown.

Created by the non-profit organization, Food Aid, is building a social network around food cultivation, preservation, and enjoyment. Like all social networking sites, members create profiles, connect with friends, upload photos, and post status messages. Groups and discussions add value to the site by allowing people to access information about when to plant a certain vegetable or the best way to raise backyard chickens. They also have an easy way of connecting people with their real-life communities. Produce swaps and dinner clubs are examples of the community-building potential of

Homegrown also enables bloggers to add their posts to their profiles and aggregates all members’ posts on their blog page. What a great way to connect readers and bloggers! I am already hooked on Dissertation to Dirt, a blog by a young married couple trying to start their own organic farm.

At the Maker Faire, Homegrown distributed fun and colorful info cards (found here). One had recipe for kale pesto, another had instructions on how to save tomato seeds, and the third explained how to build a self-watering container. They also had free pins and stickers!

I’m a fun guy.

It turns out that great coffee doesn’t just perk us up. It also perks up mushrooms. That’s right – used coffee grounds can be reused as soil to grow gourmet oyster mushrooms. I know this because Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots, explained it to me at his Maker Faire booth.

Along with his business partner, Alejandro Velez, these two UC-Berkeley students (Go, Bears!) have created a thriving business in which they collect used coffee grounds from participating Peet’s Coffee establishments and use them to grow mushrooms that are sold in various Whole Foods stores. They also sell mushroom growing boxes that contain enough used coffee to grow at least two batches of mushrooms in your own home. The best part is that mushroom growing enriches the coffee grounds so they can be added to the soil used in other plants. Rather than sending tons of coffee grounds to a landfill, Back to the Roots enables people to turn that coffee into delicious mushrooms and great fertilizer.

I picked up a Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden from the Maker Faire booth. Nikhil explained that it would take about 10 days for my mushrooms to grow once I started them. Hopefully, I will soon have cool pictures of my mushroom farm to share with all of you! You can pick up your own mushroom garden from the Back to the Roots website for $19.99 plus shipping. There is also a blog with many mushroom recipes. (You can read more about Nikhil and Alejandro in a post over at Civil Eats.)

I am a very-veggie partly-paleo dairy-intolerant ethical omnivore.

I’ve talked a lot recently about shopping because healthy eating begins with what foods you choose to bring into your home. The NuVal scoring system and Whole Food’s ANDI scores are intended to help people make better food choices once they get to the grocery store. While useful, these systems only reflect one idea of healthy and are not available in all areas.

Shopwell is an interactive customizable scoring system you can access online. Added sugars and foods with low nutritional content perform poorly, just as in the other systems, but Shopwell allows you to alter the scores based on your preferences. Scores can be augmented to account for various food intolerances, target specific health problems such as diabetes or high cholesterol, or to avoid certain nutrients like sodium. There are positive alteration options, too, such as athletic training or getting more fiber.

Shopwell allows you to build your grocery list and then gives you the option to “trade-up”. Based on your preferences – and the standard scoring system – Shopwell recommends similar foods that score higher than the brand or food that you would normally purchase. Little changes can go a long way, and it may be easier than you think to make better choices.

I’m a Maker.

The Maker Faire was exciting, and not just because I got to have my picture taken with R2D2. It’s because people are finding fulfillment in the simple process of creating. And a lot of their creations are making a sustainable, healthful, ethical food system closer to a reality. I am proud to be a part of this community – a maker of worm bins, tomatoes, and in my small way, a whole food revolution.

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