This week’s list

Farming and Sustainability

Sustainability is an ideal. Its principles reinforce the idea that everything you do has consequences, even when they’re hidden from view. Its worldview imbues you, as either a consumer or producer, with a clear, undeniable sense of responsibility. It gives you a role — to change how you think, what you make, and what you buy — and confirms that your actions matter. Finally, it reinforces that we’re both the cause of all that ails us as a society, and the solution. Only you can decide which path to follow.

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Sustainability offers us a road map for managing natural resources. This requires all participants in the food system to make conscious and responsible decisions. Sustainability relies on the principle of land stewardship.
“Respect Mother Earth. Respect the land. Learn from the animals. When foraging always leave something behind for whoever comes next. In this way you’re sure to find something when you come back.”
Running Squirrel


“Upcycling is about creatively adding value to waste so that as a whole it can be converted into another product, without being broken down. Upcycling is extremely important because it makes us think about things in an entirely new light. It shows us how there is immense value in our waste.”
Nikhil Aurora, of Back to the Roots


The fundamental challenge now facing ambitious farmers across the US: how to transition land from conventional farming back to its organic or “pre-chemical” state. Years of conventional farming with high inorganic inputs renders land nearly lifeless. A sustainable agriculture system is one that renews itself and a massive campaign of transition is under way.
“Each generation is entitled to the interest on the natural capital, but the principal should be handed on unimpaired.”
Canada’s Commission on Conservation (1915)


The goal of maximum sustainable yield is to collect enough measurable data to guide a bountiful harvest while still ensuring the viability of a species. Maximum sustainable yield is a management strategy. In this way, a window into the lives of a species is created and a greater understanding of how to safeguard a population is realized.


Sustainability is an ideal. It gives you a role to change how you think, what you make, and what you buy—and confirms that your actions matter. Finally, it reinforces that we’re both the cause of that which ails us as a society, and the solution.



Excerpt from Lexicon’s Film Discussion Guide “What is Sustainability?”:

In 1915, A Canadian Commision on Conservation proclaimed that each generation is entitled to the itnerest ona natural capital, but the principle should be handed on unimpaired. For example, if a tree is the natural capital, new trees grown from seeds are the interest. Those trees should be left unaffected so others can benefit in the future. If you cut all those down, the principle and interest will be gone – forever.

Discuss resources that people benefit from but that’s source, or principle, is being compromised or destroyed for generations to come.

Download Film Discussion Guide

Local Book CoverTitle: Sustainability
Location: Skamania County, WA
Featuring: Running Squirrel, a Cherokee forager
Found on Page 135 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

“Respect Mother Earth. Respect the land. Learn from the animals. When foraging, always leave something behind for whoever comes next. In this way, you’re sure to find something when you come back. If only the top three leaves are taken, a plant will re-grow. If cut off at the ground, it dies. Most people, they want the whole plant. When the Indians came upon a new land and didn’t know what to eat, they asked Mother Earth for Guidance. Her answer was to eat what the animals eat: elk eat ferns, skunk cabbage and licorice root. Deer search for miners lettuce and wood sorrel. Rabbits like licorice root.”

Running Squirrel thrives from these guiding words and mixes it all together for his famous Wild Salad: lemon balm, mustard and wood sorrel for a “dry taste”, and miners lettuce, wood violets and chick weed for “moistness.”


Local Book CoverTitle: Maximum Sustainable Yield
Location: Situk River, Yakutat, Alaska
Featuring: Gordon Woods, Shannon Spring and Alex Pettey from Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game
Found on Page 39 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

To define maximum sustainable yield (MSY), one assumes a high level of understanding of the target population, including biomass, life cycle, habitat utilization and age group demographics. Most world fisheries don’t have this information available. MSY is a viable management strategy for salmon because we understand large parts of the fresh water cycle, control to some extent escapement onto spawning grounds, and gear to attain escapement goals necessary to perpetuate the species while allowing it’s optimal harvest.

Salmon season is extensive due to the fish variety: Sockeye and Chinook salmon run from late May to mid-August; Pink salmon run from mid-July through late August; and Coho and Chum run from mid-August through early October. Measuring the harvest and escapement numbers of specific species assists Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game in their deployment of viable fishery management strategy, one that considers time, area, and gear type for catching different fish.


Local Book CoverTitle: Upcycling
Location: Back to the Roots Warehouse, Oakland, CA
Featuring: Alejandro Ruiz and Nikhil Arora, Co-founders of Back to the Roots
From Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Upcycling is creatively adding value to waste so that as a whole, and without being broken down, it can be converted into another product. At Back to the Roots warehouse, coffee grounds are repurposed and used as a medium for mushroom gardening.

Alejandro and Nikhil want to encourage people to think differently about waste. They mix their coffee grounds from Local Peet’s Cafes with mushroom seed to create real social value. Through their initiative, waste is diverted, food security is pursued, donation campaigns gain momentum, jobs are created, and consumers are inspired and educated.

Local Book CoverTitle: Road to Damascus Moment
Location: Hodge Ranch Carrollton, GA
Featuring: Cattleman Bill Hodge of Hodge Ranch
Found on Page 6 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

A “Road to Damascus Moment” is a revelation especially about oneself, denoting a change in attitude, perspective or belief.

Bill Hodge says, “I’m the product of three different land grant institutions. All my formal training was based on the ‘Industrial Ag Model’. Part of my job required me to educate other producers. While traveling home late one night in the mid 90’s after making a presentation to beef producers on the merit of the mainstream beef system the futility of what I was doing suddenly struck me: Cattle were not put on this earth to be transported long distances, confined to feed yards and stuffed with concentrated feeds. They were put here to graze. That realization was my Road to Damascus Moment.”

Bill says, “My transition began in the mid 1980’s when I was victimized by the government’s ‘dairy buyout program’ (paying producers to get out of the business by reducing their herds). I’d been “stockering” 700 head at the time (putting weight on the cattle as efficiently as possible) when the bottom fell out of the market causing me to lose quite a sum of money. From that point forward I began researching more sustainable beef production systems. My research revealed a very broken industry, one controlled by corporate meat producers preoccupied with shareholder wealth. Still, my love for meat animal agriculture wouldn’t allow me to quit for another ten years.”

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Nikhil Arora and “Upcycling”

Repurposing waste is somewhat of a taboo in today’s culture. Luckily, creative initiatives all over the country, and the world at large, are demonstrating the versatility of waste and it’s potential to remedy one of the many problems with lifestyles today. How? Upcycling. Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots, discusses the concept of upcycling, how he grew his company while remaining true to its core principles and the nature of socially conscious companies.

Q: Tell me, what inspired you to create Back to the Roots?

Back to the Roots began as an urban mushroom farm. We figured out a way to grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. Through that process we fell in love with the idea of reconnecting people to food and making it personal again. We have unique kits that help people experience growing their own food. One is a grow-at-home mushroom kit and the other is the first home aquaponics kit: a self-cleaning fish tank that grows food.

Q: Why did you start with mushrooms? What was the attraction?

We came across the idea of growing mushrooms on coffee grounds in a lecture during the last semester of school. Our professor asked if it was possible to grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. This idea of turning waste into food inspired and fascinated us. When we delved into it, we fell in love with mushrooms and the fact that it’s such a nutritious and healthy food that can be grown off waste.

Q: Where do you find the grounds and how does it end up being something people can buy in the store?

We have a supply route, and every morning we collect coffee grounds and filters from the local cafes in the area. We take these grounds back to our warehouse and press the extra moisture out of them.

Once the coffee grounds and filters are dried out, we place them into individual bags that will eventually become our kits. In those bags we mix the mushroom spawn with seed and incubate it for about three weeks. The contents of the bags change from black fluffy coffee grounds into a dense white brick of mushroom roots called mycelium. We take those bags, seal them up, package them and turn them into our grow-at-home mushroom kits. People can buy the kits from places like Whole Foods, Home Depot or online. You get a little box, open it up and within 10 days you get a full crop of gourmet oyster mushrooms.

Q: What is your definition of “upcycling” and why is it important?

“Upcycling” is about creatively adding value to waste so that it can be converted to another product as a whole, without being broken down. “Upcycling” is extremely important because it makes us think about things in an entirely new light. It shows us how there is immense value in our waste. Hopefully this can be enough of an incentive for our generation to start looking at how much value we can extract from each product.

Q: There are a number of qualities that your company has brought to the creation of a product. One quality is that your mushrooms kits are a form of “waste diversion.” Can you explain what “waste diversion” is?

“Waste diversion” is taking a product, including agricultural products and different materials that were going straight to the landfill, and looking at them with a different lens. Taking a product and adding one more value, one more life cycle to it—that is waste diversion.
We’re now expanding beyond coffee grounds and looking at using rice hulls and waste from rice farms, cotton hulls from cotton farms, and sawdust waste from wood refineries. We are looking at other kinds of agricultural food product waste, saying, “You know what, we can really reuse that.”

Q: Is sustainability something that is actually achievable?

Absolutely. Sustainability is something you have to constantly strive for. It’s unfortunate our current business ecosystem isn’t built around it. Our economy is built on using things once and throwing them away.

Sustainability is recycling, reusing, reducing; we all learned that as kids. Somehow, as we grow up and become business leaders, that knowledge is lost. Sustainability is totally achievable; it’s just a matter of shifting our mindset as a business. You can make money and do well financially but still be good at the same time. We were fortunate to have started out a couple of years ago surrounded by socially conscious companies who are proving sustainability and profit can go hand and hand.

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profile photo of Nikhil AuroraNikhil Arora is the co-founder of Back to the Roots, an urban mushroom farm in Oakland, California. He and co-founder Alejandro Velez created the company during their senior year at the University of California, Berkeley from a belief that business can be used for good. After graduating summa cum laude in 2009, they founded the mushroom farm that now makes grow-your-own Mushroom Gardens using entirely recycled coffee grounds as the soil – an idea upon which he and Alejandro came across in a business ethics lecture.



Host a painting party with these in your classroom, or at your home and invite the neighbors over! The Lexicon of Sustainability is excited to present a new way to participate in the movement. Inspired by street artists, the Lexicon has converted our popular information artwork into posters for anyone and everyone to paint and share with their community.






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chef ann cooperChef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady. She is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. She is also the founder of Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students.


This is your weekly guide. Use these assets to bring awareness to the important topics in this week’s theme. Don’t forget to link back to the Lexicon of Sustainability and send us any related content you’d like us to highlight with other partner content during June 2-6, 2014 to samantha (at)
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