Window on the Ecology Center

Lone Star Stops By for a Spell

Becoming a site coordinator for the Ecology Center’s Farm Fresh Choice program was a natural progression for Lluvia Vela; she’s been firing up a stove since she was nine. The eighteen-year-old cooked for her parents’ reggae act, Tchiya Amet & the Lighthouse Band, as they rehearsed at her childhood home in Texas. “Growing up, my mom would make beans and rice and vegetables and tortillas every day since they were so busy,” remembers Vela. “I wanted some variety, so one day I went in the kitchen and started experimenting with what I called Texas Chili, and all the musicians loved it.” Now Vela creates on a professional scale: in November, she began studies at the Cordon Bleu, the prestigious culinary academy, in Los Angeles.

Vela’s parents traveled across the nation with their band, and young Vela accompanied them on tour, home-schooling as she went. She’s traveled from Florida to Oregon and at one time lived on an Indian reservation in Mendocino County. When she was sixteen, the family moved to Berkeley so that she could attend Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition & Culinary Arts, where she was the youngest in her class to graduate from the Natural Chef program. She says her specialty was international vegetarian cuisine.

Vela came to FFC in 2007 after a stint landscaping in gardens around Berkeley as part of Berkeley Youth Alternatives. She interned sorting produce for the FFC market stands and quickly moved into the site coordinator position; soon after that, she began performing cooking demos with FFC co-manager HuNia Bradley. “I remember one demo where we didn’t know what we were going to make. We brought in squash, salad dressing, olive oil, and oranges, and we sliced up the squash really thin like potato chips,” Vela says. “I made a sauce out of olive oil, orange juice, and Bragg’s and we served the chips with the sauce. I was worried the kids wouldn’t like it, but they went crazy for it!”
Vela’s current fave is a mushroom dish with fennel, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, orange juice, and basil. “I’ll add all kinds of twists to it, and it can be served on top of bread,” she says. “I made it for a friend who didn’t believe I was a chef, and he loved it.”

After graduation, Vela’s goal is to be a personal chef for a touring hip-hop artist. “I’m a music producer, so I know a lot of artists, and I’d like to go on tour with one,” she says. “I want to get my name out there and gain experience.” In the next breath, she says her goals change regularly, and that she’d also like to travel the world and be a guest chef in restaurants across the globe. Travel is the theme, not surprising, considering her childhood—and cooking. Expect to see Vela’s name in the future. –Mary Vance

Berkeley Farmers’ Markets First to Ban Plastics

Come 2009, plastics will be pulled from all three Berkeley Farmers’ Markets. The ban includes plastic bags, packaging for prepared foods, utensils, and to-go ware, says Ecology Center Market Manager Ben Feldman. “The overall goal is zero waste,” says Feldman. “This initial step is really a step in eventually preventing us from putting anything in the landfill.” Vendors will be asked to phase out plastic in favor of compostable bio-bags.

The Berkeley Farmers’ Markets received a grant from Alameda County Waste Management ( that will allow the purchase of over 120,000 compostable bags to sell to vendors. The markets will subsidize the cost of the bags to provide an incentive and to ease the transition to the compostable bags, which run about fourteen cents per bag compared to two cents for plastic bags. The subsidized compostable bags will be priced to what the farmers pay now for plastics.
Vendors selling prepared foods will be required to use compostable packaging and utensils or reusable containers that can be returned with a deposit. Feldman notes that many vendors and farmers have already begun using compostable packaging and bags, and that the overall reaction to the ban has been very positive.

In conjunction, Ecology Center staffers will launch a customer education campaign about zero waste. Feldman notes, for instance, that customers can get multiple uses out of the compostable bags, using them to reline kitchen scrap buckets or small compost bins at home.
And of course, Feldman wants to encourage market customers to bring their own reusable bags. “While we consider the compostable bags to be better than plastic, they still require natural resources and energy to produce. They’re considered renewable resources, but they’re ultimately not the way to go.”

Feldman has a vision in mind: “Ideally, if we could move up the chain and not be producing the bio-bag material at all, and the compostable stuff stays on the farm, and our prepared food vendors are using reusable plates, we won’t be putting anything in the landfill,” says Feldman. “Once we get that far I’ll consider us a zero waste zone.”

The Berkeley Markets are the first in the Bay Area to ban plastics. The decision comes on the heels of November 2007 legislation to remove plastic shopping bags at grocery stores in San Francisco. Stores distribute over 180 million plastic bags each year, and these bags eventually find their way into landfills, waterways, and the ocean. –Mary Vance

Shopping Made Simple

Don’t stress—head to the Ecology Center for your eco-friendly holiday shopping. Stop by the Ecology Center Store at 2530 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am-6 pm, for reasonably priced gifts and stocking stuffers for everyone on your list. Store manager Alison Moreno has scoured trade shows for the best in green gifts.

Start by spreading holiday cheer with Tree Free Greetings’ earth-friendly cards, made from such sustainables as reclaimed sugar cane and post-consumer recycled paper printed with soy-based inks.
For the little ones, holiday-themed onesies made from soft organic cotton from Maggie’s Organics and Kee-Ka will make baby happy. For the kids, the store carries an array of educational toys from Plan Toys and Tree Block toys made from recycled wood. Check out the recycled wooden tree house, complete with furniture.

Dad will like the new hemp shirts from Santa Cruz-based Ecolution, or try a hemp wallet, bag, or backpack. Pamper Mom with Berkeley-based organic skin care from Grateful Body. For the bookworms, the store stocks titles on topics such as ecology, gardening, nutrition, children’s books, social justice, activism, and politics.

Set the mood with lead-free, ornamental 100 percent beeswax candles for Hanukkah or Christmas meals. Drink from blue goblets, frosted tumblers, and glasses made from recycled wine bottles and grace the table with handcrafted bamboo bowls and dishes made by Southeast Asian artisans.
Don’t forget stocking stuffers! Instead of candy, try delicious, organic BumbleBars in flavors like chocolate cherry and lemon. Citronella tea lights keep bugs away and Burt’s Bees organic lip care keeps those kissers soft. Maggie’s organic socks (can you stuff a stocking with socks?) will make your holidays sustainable and bright (green).

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