Monday, September 9, 2013

Queens of the Foothill Kitchen

One of the things that keeps me enthused about life during these really challenging times is my experiences as a food talk show host. The big secrets is I have more fun doing this than I should have, and actually need the programs more than you my adoring public does. It is my drug, to see that there is so much hope, creativity and greatness of human beings in my local, state, national and global community. As I have no outlet or addictions to numb the pain, I transform my sorrow by witnessing and documenting the emerging food movement all over the planet. Let me tell you, it is better than any drug or distraction because of the vision not only into the really great present time on the planet, but also into the bright future.

When I was doing my program in the Inland Empire, I was constantly amazed at the creativity and quality of all the different food initiatives I was witnessing. I had come back to the South land to help take care of my parents, and thought I was going to die from franchise-itis in terms of food. I had been living in the Bay Area and was involved with the food movement there, as well as being a docent at a food and wine museum in Napa, California. I quickly found a Slow Food Chapter and the rest is history.

While people in other parts of the state of California sort of snicker when it comes to the Inland Empire, what I was seeing was one of the most vibrant food communities I had ever encountered. The Inland Empire is a poster child of all that is wrong with American economic policy. The San Bernardino Valley has abundant sunshine, rich soil and access to fresh water from the local mountains. Once the jewel of California agriculture, people flocked to the area from all over the world to farm in the warm glow of the Southern California Sun. The Valley is home to the largest number of small family farms in the nation, with a rich history ranging from vineyards to citrus and dairy farming.

When Norton Air Force Base was established in 1942, the focus of the economic base for the San Bernardino area became the military. When the base closed in 1994, the economic cost to the area was devastating. Economic planners then focused on housing. Home prices in Orange County and Los Angeles were out of reach of most lower income workers, but cheaper land in Riverside and San Bernardino county coupled with not so high gas prices enabled people who were tired of renting in the areas of their work, to commute from inland homes to the coastal area jobs. With the economic collapse, outsourcing of jobs, many people started to do home based food businesses and made the Farmers Market circuit. I did a Farmers Market report every money on the KCAA Morning Show, which meant that I visited a different Farmers Market every week to make my segment. What I saw in my rounds all over the county, was the same food producers in most of the markets. From jams, to pastries, candies, spices and sauces, people in the Inland Empire were making yummy stuff with local ingredients and making a great living at the same time.

Two initiatives that were prime examples of this trend : Queenie's Llc of Redlands and Foothill Kitchens of Upland. Rosie Ogden started at the Grove School Farmers Market in Redlands, where she had a loyal following for her spice and seasoning mixes based on her mothers recipes. 

Rosie Ogden of Queenie's Llc

Ogden would bring Southern specialties for sale at the market, and had her spices ready for thrilled customers. She started to go to other regional markets and decided to go full throttle, tapping Foothill Kitchens to expand her product line. She now has a permit from the USDA and is launching her seasoning lines in chain grocery stores.

Foothill Kitchens is an incubator kitchen in Upland that was founded by Judy Ott-Magoon. 

Judy and Doug Ott - Magoon of Foothill Kitchens

Incubator kitchens are key to helping launch small food based businesses in local communities. To build a certified kitchen can cost hundreds and thousands of dollars, beyond the capabilities of most start up food companies. An Incubator kitchen is sort of like a food making library, where patrons can rent the kitchen facilities to make their goods, and be able to meet strict public health standards and permits at the same time. Clients can rent for a few hours at a time or for an entire day, several days a week. Foothill Kitchen also is available for cooking classes and has a store in the front offering goods prepared by the Foothill Kitchen client family, lunch and takeaway items are also for sale. As Ott - Magoon had been in the catering business for years, she also brings to her clients mentoring skills and experience on how they can fast track their businesses legally to success.

Both Rosie and Judy are dedicated to giving back to their communities. Queenie's is donating part of her profits to help prevent domestic violence through the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

Ott-Magoon is using Foothill Kitchens to foster a project close to her heart: Fallen Fruit for Rising Women. The program pairs women from Claremont's Crossroads, a nonprofit providing housing, education, support and counseling for formerly incarcerated women with Scripps College students who teach them how to produce jams and jellies to be sold at farmers' markets.

What is particularly fun for me personally, is that both of these ladies were guests on my program while I was on KCAA and found each other because of the program.

These are difficult economic times, but the key to our economic transformation is creating sustainable local economies based on food and agriculture. What I was watching in the Inland Empire is going on all over the globe. As we can see with both Judy Ott- Magoon and Rosie Ogden is women creating their own economic opportunities, creating jobs and contributing to help solve community problems through their businesses.

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