ZingLife

Chef Alex Hits the Road to Eliminate Childhood Hunger

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Last week, Zingerman’s Roadhouse Executive Chef Alex Young took a mini-tour of Baltimore and Washington D.C. with an organization called Share Our Strength, a group dedicated to ending childhood hunger. We recently caught up with Alex for more details:


Tell us about your tour…
I toured Baltimore with the folks from Share Our Strength and eleven other chefs from around the country. They took us to these vast areas of the city where there are no food stores, there is no work, and there is no nothing. It is just unbelievable. But in Baltimore, they’ve created some really fantastic systems to get food to these kids. The Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry organization has looked each of these individual areas, each of these individual schools, and has come up with really creative solutions to get these people food. They’ve really done a lot of wonderful things. 

What can you tell us about Share Our Strength?
Share Our Strength was founded by Billy and Debbie Shore in 1984 in response to the famine in Ethiopia. Since that time, they’ve transitioned to spending more and more resources in this country. More recently their goal has been shifted to “ending childhood hunger by 2015.

There are a lot of kids pre-K thru 12 who are on free and reduced cost lunch programs at school who currently receive food, but there are lots of kids eligible for these programs who do not receive food. There are many reasons why a child eligible for these programs does not receive food, and much of it has to do with stigma and peer pressure. Variables like the school environment, how the food is delivered, how it’s made available, what time it’s made available, all of these things play into whether or not a child elects to receive food even if they are hungry.

In Michigan, for example, only about 53% of eligible kids actually receive lunches. And just 13% of those kids receive lunch or breakfast in the summertime. And you can bet if you are poor and live in a food desert in places like Detroit, or many other parts of our state, or even say an isolated trailer park or home in a rural areas of the state, you can’t get to the where the free and reduced food is being distributed and most of these kids sit there hungry all summer long.  They either live too far with no transportation, or the area isn’t safe…they just can’t get to the food. In these areas, there are no grocery stores within 2-3 miles of these people, which fits the definition of a food dessert. *

Michigan is truly in great need. Michigan is economically suffering, and the children are really the key to the future. If you start with kids and educate them, there is hope. And the reality is that for many of these kids, the only real square meal they get each day is the school lunch. And kids simply cannot learn if they’re hungry. There are many, many studies that show the negative effects of lack of nutrition on one’s ability to learn.

What did you learn in Baltimore that might help fix this?
In Baltimore, they figured out a way to get meals delivered to classrooms under the free and reduced cost meals program before the first bell goes off. The kids eat their breakfast, they clean up after themselves, and they go about their lessons, and they are so much more focused. Teachers love it. They are singing the praises of this program because the kids are not hungry and distracted; they’re more focused and they learn better. We spent all day [last] Monday in these areas of Baltimore and hearing from teachers and program administrators.

But that was just the first stop?
Right. So on Tuesday, we got a nice tour of the White House with Sam Kass, chef at the White House. In addition to his duties as chef, he’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, and he also works very closely with the First Lady on her initiatives to end childhood hunger.

From the White House, we then went to Capitol Hill to meet with U.S. Senators, Representatives, and their staffs. We met with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s staff, for example. All twelve chefs on the tour met with these folks to tell them about our tour. We all had bullet points to discuss why this issue is important, what we saw in Baltimore, and what we’d like them to do to help us. We know that many of these folks have [congressional] breaks coming up, and we lobbied them to come and visit some of these food desert sites with us. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act is also coming up for renewal next year. It’s very important that this act is reauthorized, and that we have enough people in congress on the right side of this issue.

We’re not asking for anything new, we’re just asking that we be more creative in getting these kids the food they need. All of these programs already exist; they’re already funded, they’re already paid for, they’re already available. What we need to do is push our elected officials, and folks the private sector, like us, in getting this done. In some instances, you have to get permission from one state department, and then permission from another department to do the very same thing. So, we’re just trying to get past these silly little political roadblocks and get this stuff done.

What’s next?
So, the next steps are to reconvene with Share Our Strength and coordinate our efforts. By many accounts, there will likely be a big turnover in the House of Representatives next year.  Many of the incumbents, such as U.S. Rep. John Dingell for example, have done a tremendous job on this issue in their careers. But he’s retiring, and we need to start working on this now, and hopefully, get it in front of the candidates before the election. It’s an opportunity for the public, with a little bit of information, to make better choices.

These are very important issues, in my opinion. The very basis of our communities is our children, so this has huge economic implications. We need to talk to the people who are running, and help them understand how they can do a better job on these issues. And we also need to enlist more private sector people, make them aware of these issues, and see what they can do to help. Share Our Strength currently doesn’t have many champions in Michigan, and that’s something that I’d like to change.

How would you sum up your tour?
It was very sobering, but it was also very inspiring.

I’m reminded of something that [Zingerman’s co-founder] Paul Saginaw said many years ago that really stuck with me: “All of our lives are diminished when a single kid goes to sleep hungry.”

It’s just a very basic need that we need to do something about…

 

*Note: According to the US Dept. of Agriculture, food deserts are defined as “…areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet…”

Further, “They qualify as ‘low-income communities’” and “They qualify as ‘low-access communities’” with a significant portion of the population living “…more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store…”

 

ZingLife

Z-Pic of the Week

July 25, 2014

Patio dining at Zingerman's Roadhouse

Patio dining at Zingerman’s Roadhouse

ZingLife

The Secret Stories Old Barns Tell

day one, February 26, 2013

day one, February 26, 2013

An interview with barn expert and architect Chuck Bultman on the history of the Cornman Farms barn.

Tell me a bit about the Cornman Farms project?
Cornman Farms… where should I start? It seems like I should start at the beginning but my chronology, with respect to the project, feels so small compared to the chronology of the site and the buildings. What is so amazing about this project, and this barn, is what we know. On most of my barn projects we are not able to piece together the history as well as we have here. 

You see many barns across our country are basically orphans where they stand. As beautiful as they may be, they have no purpose and are expensive to maintain so they are mostly ignored. When we drive by them we may marvel, oblivious to the relentlessly decaying forces of water and wind the barns endure. Estimates say there are may be six hundred thousand old wood barns in America today. When I consider that only one hundred years ago there were 6 million farms, that number seems frighteningly small. 

February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013

The Cornman Farm’s barn is a small Midwestern barn. It is only 30 feet by 40 feet, where most barns here are about 40 feet by 50 feet or 40 feet by 60 feet. And the smaller the barn, the harder it is to use it on the farm. This barn was also suffering. The west side had seen a fair amount of weather over the years, and had been repaired multiple times and was beginning to warp and buckle. And a number of the rafters were almost rotten through; something we only learned when we were dismantling the barn. Seven of them broke apart when they were being taken down. Had the roof caved in, or the wall buckled, I believe the barn would have been lost forever. Many Michigan barns fell this last winter.

So what we know… we know that this barn was built in 1837. Three years after the construction of the house; the same year that Michigan became a state. I remember the Bicentennial, and all of the celebrations associated with it, and I remember being proud for my country to pass such a milestone. My pride however has to pale in comparison to witnessing statehood, as you built the family’s farm. I have many times tried to imagine the mindset of the people who built it.

March 1, 2013

March 1, 2013

We also know that in 1895 the barn was moved and re-built on a basement foundation. This barn was originally built as a ground barn; it had no basement. But through the middle 1800′s the Farmers Almanac touted the value of having a basement to house animals and store manure. So during the late 1800′s barns from the Atlantic to the Midwest were commonly moved onto a basement making them bank barns. 

How do we know the years so specifically? 
Well there is a scientific method to date the year a tree was cut down. It is called dendrochronology. We used this method to have the timbers definitively dated. But all along we had some sense of the significance of the barn. I knew from when I first visited that the barn predated the Civil War as parts of it had the tell-tale signs of being cut with a water-driven sash saw; a tool which was quickly replaced with the advent of steam power during the Civil War. 

With respect to the barn’s move in 1895, we were helped out by the fact that someone had a date stone placed in the foundation that reads 1894. As it turns out that was the year they built the foundation and then they moved the barn on it the following year; the dendrochronology has the new timbers being cut in 1895. We do not know where the barn originally was located but I suspect it was not far. (And for you conspiracy theorists, we never told the dendrochronologist that the building had 1894 written on it.)

March 5, 2013

March 5, 2013

Possibly the most astounding thing I have learned about this property along the way I learned by accident… sort of. Alex and I were doing a radio show prior to the barn’s re-raising. During the interview Alex was asked about his family’s connection to the Dexter area and for the first time he used a date. He said that his wife’s family, the Arnolds, had settled there in the 1820s. If the Arnolds lived only a half mile away from this property in 1837 that they would have probably participated in the original raising; it was expected that anyone who could lend a hand would help with all barn raisings. It made me very happy and proud to share the raising experience with the multiple generations of the Arnold family.

What’s your background? How did you get into this line of work?
I have always enjoyed a challenge. Wherever I have worked I always wanted the most difficult projects. So, years ago when I was asked to work with an old barn I was immediately intrigued… and a little concerned. I mean building around a barn was not usual and I had to not only worry about how you do it I also had to worry about the builder’s approach to it, and I had to worry about how the building officials would receive the news that they would be inspecting an old barn.

March 6, 2013 – The barn is now in the expert hands of Rudy Christian (center) and his wife Laura Saeger, pictured here with Chef Alex Young.

Well that project led to other barn projects. And to date I have converted barn projects in 5 or 6 eastern states and some in the Rocky Mountains and one in Arizona. I have been working with old barns now for 15 years and have fallen in love with the kinds of spaces you can make with them. I also am in love with the stories and the history. But sometimes the history can weigh on you as it did with the Cornman barn. 

Maybe it’s because we knew so much, but the day before the barn was to be dismantled I found myself unable to not visit the site. It was a snowy cold Sunday in February and I was alone staring at the barn, considering its history. And all I could think was, who am I to be taking down this noble building for the first time in 170 years. (At the time we did not know that the barn had actually been apart once before; many times barns are moved without dismantling them.) It is an honor to be a small part of maintaining this precious piece of history.

July 7, 2013

July 7, 2013

Restoring a barn like this is no simple project. Can you tell us about the process? 
Most of all restoring a barn is a struggle to respect the barn. How do you convert the barn for a new use and maintain the barn’s integrity? There are purists who will say that that is impossible because to do anything with a barn you have to change it, and then it will no longer be the barn that it was. I however look at it differently because I know that barns are not, and were never, static things. As we talked earlier our barn was altered and made into a bank barn in 1895 and that was just one change. There were many other changes, both great and small. At some point, probably in 1895, the roof was made to be steeper. Why? We are not sure. And those giant sliding barn doors that everyone romanticizes about, they are not original either. No, a barn of this age would have had swinging barn doors to direct the wind which aided in the hand threshing process.

From any barn’s beginning the farmer who used it would have always been adapting it to the changing farming needs. It may have started as a hay barn and then have made into a dairy barn, or a horse barn, or some such. I believe that barn conversions today may be more pronounced, particularly if the use is changed dramatically, but that is far better than letting the barn rot and fall down by the side of the road, which is the destiny for many.

September 24, 2013

September 24, 2013

So for me the process includes how can I do the least to the barn to achieve the project’s goals and if I make changes how can I do that in sympathy with how the building was originally built. So when I ask for changes to the frame I ask that they be done with mortise and tenon joinery which is how old timberframing has been done for thousands of years. 

This is why when we needed to restore this barn we approached timberframers Rudy Christian and his wife Laura Saeger from Burbank, Ohio. I have known Rudy and Laura for some years now, and they restored another barn for one of my projects. I also know that their philosophy with respect to barn restoration is sympathetic to mine. What we all believe is that, despite using 21st century techniques and tools, we can be a part of the continuum of the life of an old barn. 

September 27, 2013

September 27, 2013

September 29, 2013

September 29, 2013

So aside from the background philosophy, a barn is restored by treating it exactly as it was treated when it was originally built. It can be dismantled by taking it apart in reverse order in which it was built. The boards can be stripped and then the frame unpegged and dismantled. Of course that is simply stated. It also helps to know the methods used for standing up a barn because the sequence matters. 

Once the pieces are evaluated, repaired and cleaned you get to have a traditional barn raising, as we did last September, where each bent (structural frame) is raised one at a time just like people reminisce about. We however use a crane and not a team of horses as it is safer, and there are more lawyers today.

October 5, 2013

October 5, 2013

December 11, 2013

December 11, 2013

Listening to some of what you’ve said over the last few years there’s a certain poetry and personality in each barn you work with.  Can you say more about this one? 
What many people do not realize is that when this country was first settled the barn was more important than the house. You could live without a house, but not without a barn. Have you ever noticed in western movies the Dry Goods Store never sold tomatoes? Or cabbage? If you wanted vegetables you had to grow them yourself. And to have a garden you needed seeds and a safe place to store your seeds and a sheltered work area to process what you grew. You needed a barn. And so barns were well built, made to last, and usually were imbedded with a lot of consideration because of how important they were.

When the original Cornman barn was built it was well built. It was also a bit ‘sloppy’ as a timberframed building according to Rudy who pointed out that the layout was a bit crude. Maybe because it was so early and at the time this was a fairly remote place. Or maybe it was because the original timberframer was not the best; realities in our world were also realities in theirs.

February 3, 2014

February 3, 2014

But when the time came to restore the barn and convert it to be a bank barn they did a great job. We know, for example, that they took the barn apart, as opposed to moving it intact, because the bottom of the barn had what are called free tenons, which could only have been installed if the barn was apart. They also were innovative when they rebuilt it. When we were dismantling it we found some odd wood embedded in the stone walls adjacent to the windows. No one knew why. As we poked around we found that the window sashes were installed to slide, and when open, they would disappear into this wood pocket in the stone. No one had ever seen or heard of that before in a barn. 

When they relocated the barn they were clearly very proud. They built the newly restored barn on beautiful stone walls that proclaimed the date of the restoration. These walls lasted 120 years. Sadly we could not keep the stone foundation as it was weak and compromised and because we have too many better techniques for dealing with water and drainage today. But the stone that was the foundation of the old barn has all been salvaged and reused on the farm. Much of this stone now graces the outside of our new foundation and the rest was used to build landscape walls around the property. 

And of utmost importance when we rebuilt the stone on the foundation, we put the 1894 date stone right back where it had been for the last 120 years; at eye level on the east wall. We only made one significant change to the foundation, and we did it for all to see. To honor the work and dedication of everyone who helped make this project a success the west stone wall now has a stone that reads ’2014′. It is our way of linking our work to the work of all of those who have labored at this farm for the last 177 years.

June 9. 2014

June 9. 2014

Did you know that Cornman Farms offers educational and informative Farm Tours and fresh Farm Dinners? Check out our events page for more information about dates and times!
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Zingerman’s Co-Founder to be Honored at White House Event

Paul Saginaw Named a ‘Champion of Change’ for Wage Increase Work

Paul Saginaw

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of Communications


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 18, 2014

White House Honors Raise the Wage “Champions of Change”

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 1:00PM, the White House will honor local “Champions of Change,” leaders and ordinary Americans taking action to raise wages for working women and men around the country. The honorees are activists, advocates, business owners and workers who are looking to reestablish the basic promise that no American working 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty.

These Champions distinguished themselves through their community involvement, hard work and sacrifice.  This event will showcase these inspirational leaders and highlight the importance of providing all Americans with the dignity of a decent wage.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live, visitwww.whitehouse.gov/live.  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

Bene’t Holmes, Riverdale, IL
Bene’t Holmes is an advocate, leader and a mother. She works for Walmart and is paid $8.75 an hour. Bene’t is involved with the movement “Respect the Bump,” which calls for a stronger policy for pregnant workers and will allow them to work while protecting their health. Benet has been calling for the company to publicly commit to paying a minimum of $25,000 a year, providing full time work and ending the company’s illegal retaliation against workers who are speaking out for better jobs.

Saru Jayaraman, Oakland, CA
Saru Jayaraman is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. After 9/11, together with displaced World Trade Center workers, she co-founded ROC in New York. ROC organizes restaurant workers to win workplace justice campaigns, conduct research and policy work, partner with responsible restaurants, and launch cooperatively-owned restaurants. Saru graduated from Yale Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She also authored national bestseller, Behind the Kitchen Door. 

Naquasia LeGrand, Brooklyn, NY
Naquasia LeGrand has emerged as a leader in the growing movement to achieve a living wage for all fast food workers. Although she has been employed at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Brooklyn, New York for more than three years, Naquasia still earns the New York State minimum wage of $8.00 per hour and struggles to make ends meet. Since joining the first ever strike of 200 fast food workers in New York City in November 2012, Naquasia has worked tirelessly to organize fellow fast food workers around the country, encouraging them to stand up for their rights and for a better life for their families.    

Christine Owens, Washington, DC
Christine Owens is Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a leading workers’ rights advocacy organization that brings research and organizing support to lift wages and improve jobs for all of America’s workers. Guided by the belief that anyone who works for a living should earn a decent living from work, Christine’s leadership at NELP played major roles in the federal minimum wage campaigns of the past two decades. This started with the coalition that won the 1996 increase and extending to coordination of the current campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to a historic high of more than $10.00 an hour.  

Lew Prince, St. Louis, MO
Lew Prince is co-owner and Managing Partner of Vintage Vinyl Inc. in St. Louis and a longtime spokesperson for Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a network of business owners and executives who believe a fair minimum wage makes good business sense. Lew played an influential role in the successful campaigns to raise the Missouri minimum wage in 2006 and to pass the last federal minimum wage in 2007. He continues to be a leader in Business for a Fair Minimum Wage efforts to raise the minimum wage today. He has testified both in the Missouri Legislature and before U.S. Senate committees about the business case for raising the minimum wage. 

Karla Quezada, Arlington, VA
Karla Quezada is a leader in the Good Jobs Nation campaign, a campaign of low wage federal contract workers standing up and demanding changes at their work places. After working 6 years for Subway inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Building, Karla and her co-workers decided to stand up and raise their voices to fight against wage theft and other abuses. After going on strike 7 times during 2013, Karla and her colleagues filed a wage theft complaint with the Department of Labor and garnered enough attention to their struggle that President Obama announced an executive order to raise the wages of federal contract workers like Karla and her colleagues to $10.10 an hour.  

David Rolf, Seattle, WA
David Rolf is the President of the Seattle-based Local 775 of the Service Employees International Union, the fastest growing union the Northwest representing 43,000 home care and nursing home workers in Washington state and Montana. He also serves as an International Vice President of the Service Employees International Union. Rolf, 44, has led some of the largest organizing efforts since the 1930s. He helped organize 75,000 care givers in Los Angles in 1999 and led the campaign to raise wages to $15 in SeaTac, Washington, in 2013, the first successful $15 ballot initiative. In 2014, David co-chaired Seattle’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC). The IIAC was the group entrusted by Mayor Ed Murray to formulate what would become Seattle’s historic $15 wage ordinance, which will raise wages for more than 100,000 workers. 

Paul Saginaw, Ann Arbor, MI
Paul Saginaw is Co-Founder and Chief Spiritual Officer (CSO), of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. The “community” is a network of 9 brand-connected, owner-operated run businesses that are permanently rooted in Ann Arbor. Some highlights of the Zingerman’s culture include good wages, health benefits, paid time-off, classes on open book finance for all employees, and a Community Chest fund built from profits to meet employees’ emergency financial needs. With Zingerman’s as its sponsor, Paul founded a nonprofit food rescue program, Food Gatherers, which currently provides 7 tons of nutritious food daily to agencies countywide, serving as a board member for 25 years and now as Director Emeritus. 

Rafael Sanchez, Los Angeles, CA
Rafael Sanchez III is the second child of immigrants from Mexico. For as long as he can remember, Rafael has wanted to be a teacher. He comes from a family of educators and sees teaching as a way to give back to his community. Currently, he is a Degree Track Teacher’s Assistant at Bell High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has worked for the school district for 10 years and earns $10.74 an hour. He is currently a student at California State University, Los Angeles, majoring in history for his secondary credential. The recession, furlough days and stagnant wages have interfered with his dream. It has been difficult to finish his studies. That is why Rafael joined with others in his union, Service Employees International Union Local 99, to fight for and win, a $15 minimum wage. Rafael was part of the bargaining team that negotiated this landmark contract agreement with the second largest school district in the nation.

Congratulations to Paul and all the Champions of Change!

ZingLife

Z-Pic of the Week

July 18, 2014

A sea of umbrellas on the Zingerman's Deli patio.

A sea of umbrellas on the Zingerman’s Deli patio.

 

ZingLife

Z-Pic of the Week

July 11, 2014

Tiger Lilies exploding outside Zingerman's Coffee Company

Tiger Lilies exploding outside Zingerman’s Coffee Company