Food

Project Connect begins hooking up volunteers & donations

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Project Connect Wood County is more than a one-day event. Project Connect provides direct services to people who are homeless or in poverty, or in danger of becoming homeless or in poverty. The benefits accrue to the guests all year, and to the volunteers who make it happen. “It’s very gratifying. I see people in the store, and they ask if we’re doing this again,” said volunteer Marisa Hutchinson. She’s happy that she can answer yes. And she’ll be there to help out again. “Once you volunteer,” she said, “you start planning for the next year.” Planning for Project Connect gets started months in advance. About 30 people gathered for the kickoff meeting Thursday morning at St. Mark’s Church. The church will host Project Connect on Oct. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Project Connect was started in 2013, launched by the Continuum of Care Wood County. It was spurred by concern about homelessness. But shelter insecurity has many dimensions. People also need food, sanitary products, mental health services, legal assistance, and haircuts. Rhonda Stoner, a social worker with the Wood County Community Health Center, said she was surprised to see the change in people after they’d gotten their hair cut. The guests reported just that made them feel so much better about themselves, she said. Last year project volunteers cut the hair of 118 guests. Those seeking help are not clients, they are guests, neighbors stopping over for a helping hand from other neighbors. “We approach everything from the aspect of hospitality,” said Erin Hachtel, one of the co-chairs for the event. Each guest first talks with someone to determine what they and their families “need to be healthy, safe and secure,” Hachtel said. Then they are assisted by a host who guides them through a maze of stations to help find just what they need most. What brings them in varies. Last year, the biggest need was help getting through the holidays, Hachtel noted. That was the first time this was mentioned. The survey of the top reason they came included seeking employment, desire for more education or training, stress management, legal assistance, mental health treatment, housing, and internet connectivity. By having hosts and guest navigate the event together, Hachtel said, “we’re saying we’re all in this together. Let’s walk together to find what will help you and your family.” In 2017, Project Connect helped 574 individuals from 278 households. More than 200 people volunteers and 52 providers and agencies set up shop. During the day…

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City trying to digest on all sides of food truck issue

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A downtown restaurant owner suggested last week that Bowling Green focus more on keeping its existing restaurants busy than on bringing in new competition. During the fifth public meeting of the City Council committee working on food truck regulations, Garrett Jones, the owner of Reverend’s at 130 E. Wooster St., said some brick and mortar restaurants are struggling now. Rather than the city working so hard to come up with provisions for food trucks, the community should patronize the brick and mortar restaurants that are already here, he advised. “Instead of bringing more competition, you should support local businesses as it is,” Jones said. City Council member Sandy Rowland said food trucks have helped restaurants in other communities. “More people go out to eat when there’s more to choose from,” she said. But Jones said the downtown parking is already difficult enough without adding more congestion. “I’ve got customers who tell me they drove around 15 minutes looking for a spot,” he said. Bowling Green resident Kathy Pereira de Almeida asked if it might be helpful to allow the downtown brick and mortar restaurants to set up some tables outside on the sidewalk. But Jones said that would require restaurants to hire more staff and would be a strain on their kitchens. “I was just thinking it might satisfy some restaurants downtown,” Pereira de Almeida said. The council committee working on the food truck issue – made up of Bill Herald, John Zanfardino and Rowland – continued looking at questions that must be resolved. Should the food truck rules cover food vendors and farmers selling produce from trucks? Should the types and size of vehicles be restricted? Where can the vehicles sit? How close can they be to restaurants? Can they be on residential streets, along Main Street, along Wooster? What hours will they be allowed to operate? What type of noise restrictions are needed? How will litter be handled? Can they set up seating for eating areas? “We don’t want structure to get in the way of creativity. And we don’t want creativity to get in the way of structure,” Herald said. The goal is to perform a “balancing act” so the city allows food trucks and retains a vibrant downtown, he said. The food trucks must pass inspections by the Wood County Health Department, and income tax collection provisions are already in place. The mobile vendors can have their licenses with the city revoked if they violate noise or litter regulations, Herald said. Municipal Administrator…


Climate change poses threat to coffee business

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Climate change may increase the cost of your morning coffee. Kelly Wicks, who owns Grounds for Thought in Bowling Green with his wife, Laura, was quoted in a recent Business Forward report saying that climate change is “adversely affecting the long term outlook for coffee, putting additional burdens here at home and putting small farmers in potential financial peril in all the major growing regions worldwide.” Early this year, the Wicks family and a couple key employees traveled to the Siles Farm in Matagalpa, Nicaragua to get a first-hand look at how their main product is grown, and the challenges facing the  farmers, small business owners like the Wicks family, who provide it. Coffee growers, Wicks said, are battling “rust,” a pathogen that can have devastating effects on a coffee plantation. The disease thrives at warmer temperatures. Even a temperature increase of a couple degrees can promote the disease and that can reduce the crop dramatically. The Siles farm is large enough with several thousand acres, that the growers can, for now, combat the spread of the disease by moving production to higher elevations, where the trees are less susceptible. “They have some ability to combat the challenge from climate change,” Wicks said. Siles also has its own dairy herd. The whey is used to produce a material to help protect the trees from rust. The milk is given to their employees. “It’s small growers who have no option.”  While Siles produces thousands bags a year, a small farmer may produce 20-30 bags. “They can’t say we’re just going to go up the mountain,” he said. “And if their well runs dry, they’re out of luck.” While rust is a problem wherever coffee is grown, it is a particular issue in Central America. Should the region’s coffee crop be devastated, that would put a million people out of work, Wicks said. Coffee harvesting and processing is still a labor intensive process, Wicks said. “It’s labor intensive hands-on commodity.” The crew from Grounds got to experience that first hand, getting up before dawn to head out to pick the fruit that contains the beans from the trees. They did so under the watchful eye of the experienced hands at Siles Farms. The coffee fruit that look like mini crab apples, must be picked one by one since they ripen at different rates. And this highlights another problem posed by climate change. It is extending the growing season by as much as 30 days. That means more labor for a smaller crop. Once…


Public hungry for solution as food truck talks continue

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials hope to recreate the winning recipe used by other communities where food trucks co-exist with brick and mortar restaurants. A group of three council members – Bill Herald, Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino – has now held four meetings on the topic of food trucks. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, at 4 p.m., in the city council chambers. “I really would like us to start to put some meat on this,” Herald said about food truck regulations. During last week’s meeting, Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter explained the city’s current process for allowing food trucks on private property. At the committee’s request, Tretter also outlined public owned lands, such as city parks and parking lots – areas that could potentially be used for food trucks under new regulations being considered. Tretter also outlined the city’s special event permits, such as those used for food vendors at the annual Black Swamp Arts Festival. The 14-page permit is extensive, and sets requirements on insurance, litter control, security, locations, host organizations, parking and other issues. The Wood County Health Department inspects the actual food service operations. “This is a very extensive permit process,” Tretter said. “This is like gold,” Herald said. “It’s so comprehensive, there’s nothing left out.” Zanfardino questioned if the food vendors will have to avoid the downtown area, due to concerns from brick and mortar restaurant owners. He also suggested some pilot projects, “to see if it truly works for vendors who want to serve Bowling Green.” Both Zanfardino and Rowland pointed to food truck information from the National League of Cities. “There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel,” Rowland said, suggesting that Bowling Green also build on the success of communities like Perrysburg and Toledo that allow food trucks. “We know there were trials and tribulations at the beginning, but it works well now,” Rowland said. Rowland pushed back at the idea that food trucks should avoid the downtown area. “I’m bothered to think that nothing will work downtown,” she said. “I hear everywhere I go that people want food trucks,” and that those same customers will still continue patronizing downtown restaurants. Herald suggested the food truck committee build on the city’s existing permit process – with the rules covering four main categories for food trucks: On private property for planned events. On public property for planned events. On private property for unplanned events. On public property for unplanned events. “I think this is the place we actually start to construct something,”…


Ohio Signature Food Contest seeks innovative culinary ideas

From CENTER FOR INNOVATIVE FOOD TECHNOLOGY Ohioans with a strong passion for the food industry now have the opportunity to land their product on grocery store shelves with the Ohio Signature Food Contest, running now through May 31, 2018. Sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF), the contest will showcase new, innovative products from across the state. “This unique contest serves as a catalyst to the growth of the food industry in Ohio,” said Rebecca A. Singer, president and CEO, CIFT.  “There is such a deep history of great products that started right in this state, such as the iconic Dum Dums lollipops, Quaker Oats, Bob Evans sausage, and Life Savers candy.  The creativity and innovation we have seen each year means there is a bright future ahead toward launching the next signature food item that can in turn enhance the economy and create jobs.” The economic benefit from a food manufacturing company can be significant based on the number of people employed, use of Ohio resources for products, the increased income potential realized by an existing business/restaurant advancing a “signature item” consumers recognize, and the trained base of resources already available within the region. Entering is simple and quick.  Contestants complete a simple online form outlining the basic details of their product, and food industry experts will judge each based on the viability of the product, commercialization potential, business strategy, marketability and overall appeal to the marketplace.  Emphasis is placed on products integrating Ohio ingredients when possible.  Finalists will then be invited to present their business concept and product to a panel of judges. The Ohio Signature Food Contest winner will be announced during a special ceremony in late July at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio. Following the announcement, the winner will receive: Technical and business development assistance to help advance a product to the marketplace Production of product to be used for consumer feedback Nutritional analysis Shelf life/stability testing Review of trademark and copyright components Coordination with Ohio Department of Agriculture for label approval Label design, packaging, and ingredient source consultation Attendance to training seminars for free Inclusion in news release sent to media outlets across the state. Production will be available at the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen in Bowling Green, Ohio, a nonprofit commercial facility that educates and advises new and growing businesses, provides access to a commercially-licensed kitchen, networking opportunities with other similar entities, and technical assistance. Products do not need to be fully designed or ready for market, rather an ability to…


Food truck meeting gives BG officials a lot to digest

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The committee studying food trucks in Bowling Green got a heaping serving of advice from a wide range of food providers Monday evening. They heard from the owners of a burger bar, family diner, fast food site, and the chef at a country club. They also heard from food truck owners who sell everything from perch and grilled cheese, to grilled lamb chops and lobster macaroni & cheese. And all of them seemed to want to find a way that brick and mortar restaurants can not only survive, but can benefit from having food trucks in the city. “I’m here to find out how we have to adapt to compete,” said George Strata, who owns Beckett’s Burger Bar and Call of the Canyon with his wife, Phina Strata. “Competition is good,” as long as it’s fair, he added. A current city ordinance allows food trucks on private property, but not on public property within 150 feet of a right-of-way. A committee made up of Bowling Green City Council members Bill Herald, Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino, is studying if those rules should be changed to make it feasible for food trucks to set up in the city. Herald asked for input on where trucks should be allowed, the specific hours of operation, the duration of operations, and how many locations may be used? Food truck operators abide by a “code of the road,” Herald said, but some specific rules may be in order. “We’re in the process of trying to see what’s feasible in town,” Zanfardino said. Russ Courtney, owner of Rusty’s Roadtrip which sets up weekly in Perrysburg and once a year at the Black Swamp Arts Festival in Bowling Green, suggested that the rules not be made too restrictive. “If the law gets convoluted enough, people will say, ‘Forget it,’” Courtney said. The city of Perrysburg has no rules limiting the days of operation, said Phil Barone, owner of Rosie’s Italian Grille, a food truck owner, and president of the area food truck association. The food trucks go to Perrysburg on Thursdays during the weekly farmers markets, and go to Maumee for “Food Truck Fridays.” “You don’t need to worry about food trucks hanging out,” Barone said. They are too busy, and will only go where there is demand. “Maumee embraced this,” Barone said. And Perrysburg restaurants are thriving on the farmers market night because the food trucks bring so much business downtown, he said. “It’s really working.” Rowland said she has spoken with many…


Urban agriculture helps communities blossom

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News American agri-business brags that it feeds the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that food industry does a good job feeding its neighbors. Agriculture is Ohio’s number one industry. Ohio also ranks seventh in food insecurity, said Carrie Hamady, from the School of Health and Human Services at Bowling Green State University Hamady was moderating a panel of six local food activists brought together by BGSU’s Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at to discuss “Sustainability, Sustenance, and Stewardship” at the Wood County District Public Library. The activists from Toledo and Bowling Green covered a broad range of issues, related to food, health, and community development. “The end goal is to get healthy food into people’s hands,” said Sean Nestor, who is organizing the Urban Agriculture Alliance in Toledo. Toledo GROWS is one of the urban agriculture pioneers in Toledo.  For 23 years they’ve assisted grass roots efforts to develop community gardens, said Yvonne Dubielak. Their seeds and seedlings have helped spawn 130 community gardens. One of the beneficiaries of Toledo GROWS has been Elizabeth Harris, of Glass City Goat Gals. Once when Attorney General Mike Dewine was campaigning, he asked Harris what was needed in her neighborhood. “Goats,” she told him. Goats can survive in city lots. They keep down the weeds, provide milk, and meat, which can be sold to provide cash. Harris’ project, which includes a community garden as well as the goats, has helped turn around her neighborhood, once known as “murder alley,” into a good place to live. These gardens, she said, can help provide nutritious vegetables that are otherwise not available in a central city neighborhood. Harris said, she remembers going into a corner store, and basically all she could find were chips. The few fruits and vegetables are wilted and unappetizing. This lack of grocery options in the city led ProMedica to finance a grocery store in its neighborhood, said Kate Sommerfeld. The shop benefits the hospital’s patients, who now sometimes receive food prescriptions, as well as its employees and nearby residents. The hospital’s concern about food, Sommerfeld said, stems from the realization that many of the health problems its patients face are not medical, but social, including food insecurity. Doctors now screen patients for hunger. Lack of proper food, Harris said, results in people lacking energy and mental acuity. She has seen one woman lose 40 pounds through her involvement with the community garden. Working in the garden provide people with job skills, and “gives them ownership in their community,”…