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May 24-30, 2006

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Live Feed - Stett Holbrook

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You Are What You Eat

By Stett Holbrook

YOU'VE HEARD the saying: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. It's a cliché, but the thing with clichés is they're usually true. Village Harvest proved this point at their seedling and seed giveaway earlier this month. Village Harvest is a San Jose-based nonprofit that picks surplus fruit growing in people's backyards and distributes the bounty to the hungry. A noble undertaking to be sure. So far this year the volunteer organization harvested nearly 52,000 pounds of fruit. But handing out oranges and plums to the needy isn't going to solve hunger. Village Harvest recognizes this and has started teaching people to grow their own food.

Village Harvest held its "Grow 2 Grow" at Mountain View's Community Services Agency earlier this month. The Community Services Agency runs a weekly food pantry and before distribution Village Harvest set up shop to hand out a variety of seeds and vegetable starts such as tomatoes, chile peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and herbs. Participants got instruction in planting and caring for their plants, with translators on hand speaking Spanish, Russian and Cantonese. Seeds and seedlings were generously donated by Kawahara Nursery and Renee's Garden Seeds.

About 300 seedlings (two per person) were distributed at the event. Participants included homeless people who were going to plant vegetables in containers near their cars, and low-income people living in apartments who said they would plant the vegetables in pots or small garden plots.

"They just came out in droves," said Joni Diserens, executive director of Village Harvest, afterward.

Growing a few tomatoes and cucumbers in pots isn't going to solve the hunger problem, but giving the hungry the opportunity to grow their own food is a necessary step toward a longer-term solution to food security issues in Silicon Valley.

"There was very definitely that sense of empowerment to be growing their own food," said Diserens.

Free food distribution at local soup kitchens and food pantries offer critical support for the growing number of the hungry in Silicon Valley. But free food handouts are just a Band-Aid.

Village Harvest's program (the only one of its kind in Silicon Valley) should be replicated on a larger scale with things like community gardens and small-scale urban farms. To quote another cliché, heaven helps those who help themselves.

In spite of the donations it received, Village Harvest still spent about $1,000 on the event and is trying to recoup its costs. If you feel like helping out or donating some fruit, contact the organization at 888.FRUIT.411.

THAT'S B.S.: The April 19-25 issue of Metro included my review of Chez T.J. in Mountain View. I loved the place. Executive chef Christopher Kostow is creating some of the most exciting food in the South Bay. But there was one thing I didn't get quite right.

Here's what I wrote: "On my first visit, I ordered the menu gastronomique. The meal began with an amuse bouse, described as a little something the chef was working on: a single satiny pillow of ravioli plumped full of oyster and clam."

It was delicious, but a true French speaker might have wondered about my grasp of the language. What I meant to write was amuse bouche, which translates as "mouth amuser" and is typically a tiny appetizer to kick off a meal. A bouse, however, is something very different. It's cow dung. Kostow definitely did not serve an amusing cow patty.

Those damn French. They have a different word for everything.

Thanks to Le Blog de San Francisco for pointing out the error of my ways.

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