The Treasures of West County
It’s no wonder that the California Bay Area holds surprises. After all, it’s the El Dorado of this century, no? It’s the promised land of innovators and inventors, the Jerusalem of creative businesses and technology that set the norms of socialization. But if you know the area just a bit, you’ll know that just steps away from the headquarters of tech giants stretches beautiful Sonoma County and Napa Valley, wonderful plains rich in farms and vineyards as well as ideas and projects. The territory is home to heroes and phenomenon perhaps less known and celebrated than those developed by their neighbors in Silicon Valley, but no less useful or less worthy of attention.
The Food Innovation Global Mission is giving us the opportunity to meet wonderful people and stories along our journey that are worth telling about, but before going ahead in my digital chronicles, I will share with you my astonishment as I tell of three projects that we discovered during our stop in California.
The first special meeting took place with the passionate visionary Cathryn Couchè in the garden of the Ceres Community Project. Cathryn founded, and today leads, a community of young volunteer chefs that grow and cook organic foods for low-income people suffering from serious illness. Cathryn explained that eating healthy is one of the most important factors in healing certain diseases, and yet it often winds up last on the list of priorities, either for lack of time, fatigue, or even economic impossibility. It all started from a summer project created because a friend asked Cathryn to teach her daughter to cook. Gradually the project expanded to include dozens of young people until it became the non-profit organization that it is today.
The daily mission of the Ceres Community Project is to prioritize the health of their members, the community and the planet, all starting with food. Through food, they aim to inspire and educate new generations.
Today this community has more than ten affiliates and collaborates with doctors and experts to produce hundreds of organic meals prepared by student volunteers, some who must fulfill community service requirements and others who are just passionate about the cause, who are accompanied by professional chefs. As Cathryn calls them, “Delivery Angels”, are in charge of getting the meals to the houses of those involved in the program. The underlying idea is that that food can, even in just a small way, soothe the misfortune that some people suffer. But above all, the idea is to connect those people to a larger community of people who care, compassionate people who are worried about the wellbeing of those around them.
The same underlying principle inspired SHED, a community of farmers in Healdsburg, Sonoma County. The founders are a couple from San Francisco who moved to to Healdsburg to follow their dream: to build a community around the “farm to table” concept — from the fields and crops behind their houses to the tables of restaurants in the city. Cindy Daniels and her husband are combining (with great success and style!) the joys of cultivating and preparing one’s own food in a sustainable and natural way with the social impact that expanding such a project can have on a small town like Healdsburg. Today their “shed” is a meeting place for the city: you can participate in cooking courses, choose your favorite grains and grind your own flour, find sought-after design objects, along with spices and herbs, or eat from an abundance of local products, and drink from their magnificent fermentation bar where they serve kombucha, kefir, shims (low alcohol drinks) or any number of shrubs, lovely aperitifs with a fruit and vinegar base that can be compared to our beloved spritz.
But the real reason for our detour to this part of allegedly bucolic California is truly because of Sherry Huss, mother of the Makers, who, with a simple invitation made us fall in love with her “kingdom”, or rather welcomed us into her “ecosystem”. Just like that! The Make Foundation, the same that started the chain of Maker Faires that now are up to 197 worldwide, was created in this part of the world. The idea was conceived, as one might expect, in a small backyard courtyard in California by Dale Dougherty and Sherry.
The mission that drives the Marker movement is that any object or concept can be hacked in a way to distort the features, thereby turning even the most ordinary thing into an innovation.
A Maker Faire isn’t a competition but a recreational facility that fosters cooperation. The culture of the Makers has rapidly spread through schools and aggregation labs all over the world and even into the most innovative theories of management in the business world. Fab Lab and “makers space” are spreading from big cities to small towns, creating a virtual community made of digital artisans, inventors, problem solvers and educators that stimulate the wider community, especially the younger generation, to take initiative and use creativity to invent solutions to daily problems and even create new professions.
And so, Maker Faire Bay Area, as though it were the genuine “sourdough starter” of the movement, is fed by this global ecosystem. It produces, grows and is shared. It’s a secret formula that has now spread around the world with a desire to disperse a common culture that is more productive, creative and inclusive, and that integrates science and technology alongside art and the art of making.
The thread the unites these three projects is the true paradigm of Silicon Valley: Be Exponential. It’s the conviction that an idea born in a backyard courtyard, in a garage or even a student dorm, can revolutionize an entire generation.
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook and possibly the most famous of said paradigm, published a long post on Facebook together with an admission of guilt. The apology of Zuckerberg is admirable and recognizes that Facebook fall through, in many ways, in its plan to create a global community that is truly a place of strength and the center of connection between ideas. The risks connected to this “post truth” era weren’t openly pointed out and acknowledged until now, with the rise of false news and the ever-increasing incidents of cyberbullying. At the same time, however, he underlines a manifesto for globalism and bottom-up community idealism that I can’t help but share: “Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.”
In many ways he gave voice to all of us: makers, farmers, hackers, foodies, social innovators. All of us who each day wake up and contribute, in our small ways, to sew a small patch onto the quilt of innovation. My patch, for now, continues to the land of the rising sun, but I can’t help but look on with admiration all the people that so deeply enriched our United States leg of the Global Mission.
And whoever is heading to California hoping to find the pirates of Silicon Valley, who are always becoming more hip, I suggest instead to cross that famous red bridge and immerse yourself in the meanderings of the backcountry, to seek out the likes of those such as Cathryn Couch, Cindy Daniels, Sherry Huss and Dale Dougherty, who help more than any others to expand our widening horizons.