Q&A with Locavore Jessica Prentice of Three Stone Hearth

by Sarah Henry on June 5, 2010 · 4 comments

in berkeley bites,food businesses,food organizations,food politics

Jessica Prentice’s claim to fame comes from coining the term locavore, chosen as the 2007 Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.

The New York City-trained natural chef lives and breathes the locavore lifestyle. She is a co-founder of Three Stone Hearth, a community supported kitchen cooperative in Berkeley, California, which sells nutrient-dense, prepared foods (think soups and stews in bone broth made from scratch), and co-creator of the Local Foods Wheel, a whimsically illustrated guide to local, seasonal and ecologically-sound eating.

Prentice, 41, is the author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, and one of the women profiled in Temra Costa’s recent book Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat.

She lives with her partner, fellow food advocate Jacob Wright who works at the Center for Ecoliteracy, and their 16-month-old son.

We sat down to talk at Three Stone’s communal table. Prentice nursed a large mason jar of reverse-osmosis filtered water spiked with trace mineral drops.

What do you like about running a food business in Berkeley?

We attract open-minded, forward-thinking people who want to eat well.  I love the diversity of our kitchen volunteers and apprentices.

One of our volunteers is a follower of The Hate Man, who espouses oppositional thinking. At first I just thought he was kind of intense and eccentric; he only ever wears a skirt.  He’s worked with us for three years — he sears the meats for us on Tuesday nights. Now I know that I have to just make commands: “go to the walk-in and get whatever”, without saying please or thank you. If I ask him how his day is he’ll say “bad”, and when I introduce him to new volunteers I let them know that they need to say “I hate you” to him as a greeting.

We also have a lot of transgender volunteers. People you call “he” but they’re on their period. We have plenty of only-in-Berkeley moments.

What’s challenging about owning a food co-op in town?

This is an expensive area and our community cooking business wouldn’t work if we had to pay all our kitchen workers. Labor is expensive. But we give people commercial culinary experience cooking high quality food in exchange for labor.

What kind of customers do you attract?

We have a cutting-edge group of customers that fall into several sub-sets. We have a lot of followers of the Weston A. Price diet, a nutrient-dense way of eating. We have people with kids who want their children to eat healthy. And we have people who have been through a major life-changing illness like cancer, come out the other side, and want to take care of their bodies. We get a lot of people who are interested in healing practices, and we get our share of wealthy customers who can afford to eat this way and just think it’s a good idea.

People who come to us know that good food is an investment — our meats are pasture raised, our produce is organic, we even use biodynamic raisins. It’s quality, nutrient-rich food so you need less of it but you pay a bit more for it.

Are there any misperceptions about the food scene here?

Eating locally is elitist — a notion that needs to be questioned.

It comes down to priorities and choices. Think about the amount of money that people — of all races — spend on their hair. You could buy a lot of good food with the money some people spend on hair treatments and products.

Almost every adult now has a cell phone. I ride the bus a lot, presumably a lot of people on the bus are of lesser means, but they’re all talking on their cell phones. What people pay for a cell phone plan could also pay for a lot of good food.

What’s missing in the community, food-wise?

Three very specific things that have everything to do with running the kind of kitchen we have:

I’d like to see a local miller producing sprouted flour. We carry it and it’s very popular. But it comes from the East Coast. It could be a good sustainable business for a local farmer.

We need someone who can can tomatoes for wholesale purchase.  A local farmer could process all those second tomatoes over the summer and jar them and do pretty well here.

There’s no one reliably and consistently cultivating nettles for wholesale in the community. We use them in soups and fritattas and they add great flavor and nutrients. I can sometimes get them at the farmers’ market but we’d use them more often if we had a good local source.

Do you have any local heroes?

The farmers doing cow shares and selling raw milk directly to families like mine.

Who are your favorite food purveyors in town?

Farmers’ market vendors. I buy Morell’s Breads and Brickmaiden loaves. I love naturally leavened, whole grain, wood-fired breads. I frequent the Fatted Calf for liverwurst and sausages, Highland Hills for all kinds of meats, Soul Food Farm for chickens and eggs and RiverDog Farm for produce.

Where do you like to go when you eat out?

I mostly cook at home and I can make California cuisine as well as, if not better, than most fancy restaurants. So I don’t do that kind of dining very often.

I like Tacubaya on 4th Street. It’s authentic, good, the right price, and it’s pleasant to sit outside in the sun and eat fish tacos, shredded pork, and gaucamole.

I also like the Indian restaurant Cafe Raj at the base of Solano Avenue. It’s real food — it’s not organic and I wish it were — but they do a great butter chicken and mater paneer.

Kensington Circus Pub is kid-friendly and good for fish and chips and a beer.

When I eat out I’m after something that’s hard to make — it either takes a long time to prepare or it involves a lot of grease. That’s why it’s an occasional thing.

[Photo: Anja Weber]

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.


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