UPDATE #7 2/15/2018
Week #3 of Hydroponics and Catering collide, step 2: The Seedling Phase!
UPDATE #6 02/09/2018
Part #2 of our series on Hydroponic vegetables used in our catering operation. Germination Phase is where it all starts!
UPDATE #5 02/01/2018
Hydroponics meets catering! Take a look at Brad touring True Garden, our new local, 100% organic and sustainable provider of all of our lettuce. Follow us on our weekly journey from seed to harvest!
UPDATE #4 01/10/2018
Yesterday, we received our first delivery of locally urban grown lettuce. This is something we have been searching for two years to find and we couldn’t be happier. It is absolutely beautiful – so deliciously fresh and stunning in its color! You’ll notice the roots on the bottom of each head which means this lettuce can keep growing and can maintain a shelf life far superior to what we had been using before. We are excited for our new partnership with True Garden and are looking forward to the day when we can convert all of our lettuce and herbs over to them. Our effort for sustainability is a long and sometimes slow process but it’s moments like these that make it all so worthwhile. Not only are we able to feature an innovative company that is utilizing an extraordinary hydroponic process, but we can bring fresher and better quality ingredients to our customers. We will keep you updated on our progress along the way, but look forward to getting a video tour of the greenhouse and of the process of taking these incredible crops from farm to fork!
UPDATE #3 12/06/2017
This greenhouse is located in Mesa Arizona and produces 100% of its plants to all GHP GAP standards and they do it 100% hydroponically! Not only is this product as fresh as it gets, it is produced in an 100% toxin free environment! We are so excited to launch this pilot program in January and are hoping for a long lasting relationship with our partner grower. The product is of the highest quality and better yet LOCALLY PRODUCED!
More updates to come soon as we’ll be taking another tour of the facility shorty to witness our lettuce actually growing! We’d love to show everyone just how amazing this greenhouse is! Don’t worry we’ll be shooting video so you can follow along as our plants grow from seed to salad.
We are so thrilled to support a local business like ourselves and hope you are as excited to try this incredibly fresh produce!
Wishing everyone a blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2018…Stay tuned!
UPDATE #2 11/02/2017
Well this blog has been quiet lately as I have to admit we were a bit stumped as to what our next step would be. The Road to Sustainability can be a long one and we have experienced several bumps already. Currently we are working hard to find a local farm to partner on our produce usage. Farm to table is a very basic concept used in restaurants all over the world. Simply put the farm provides fresh produce and the restaurant creates a menu based on what’s available. It’s a very simple concept however in a catering setting we find its really not. We don’t just need a case or two of lettuce for our large days of 800 or more meals, we need like 8-9 for the week. Some of the small farmers simply cannot keep up with the demand or the pricing is just too high for us to efficiently operate properly in line with our pricing model. Additionally, seasonality of lettuce and other produce would force us to change our menu quarterly if not monthly. Currently, we have not found a viable solution but will continue along that path until we can figure out some form of locally produced items. More on that later.
We did however take our next step (a small one) in the conservation area of our business and we’d like to share it. Most of you have probably seen these but never really thought much of them. Pictured below are switches that detect motion and turn the lights on when anyone enters the motion detected area and turn off after a specified time when there is no motion. Between my assistant and I we had them in in about an hour (3 switches total). What I was noticing was that our bathroom lights where always left on and the hall light was on at all times every day. Literally NEVER turned off. I have no idea what impact we’ll see on our power bill (probably not a lot considering our usage with electric ovens) but this was just one more step toward reducing our impact on this earth.
Celebrate the small victories! Sometimes your next step isn’t huge…sometimes its replacing and old light switch with a $20 motion detection model. Stay tuned ladies and gentleman, plans to refresh our herb garden and possibly go Hydroponic are already in the works. I PROMISE to keep everyone up to speed as that plan unfolds.
Well folks, I have to admit this is a very challenging blog for me to write. My family takes this initiative so seriously and personally we have spent the last 2 years operating it very quietly. We know how much farther we have to go, and sometimes the mountain we have to climb is intimidating but after many conversations, deep thoughts, and careful consideration we have finally decided we are ready to come out with our decision to work toward full sustainability. *Deep Breathe*….here goes.
Lets back up a bit and give you all an idea of how this all started. My name is Brad Taylor and I am a 2nd generation Caterer here in Tempe Arizona. My family started Special Moments Catering with the intention of giving my mother, Michelle Taylor, a means to help support the family and also express her love for all things culinary. It was 1984 at the time and she simply wanted to use her creative skills and culinary knowledge to create unique dining experiences for small groups. Our product lines were simple. We offered gourmet gift baskets, dinners for two, specialty cakes and so on. She, with the help of my father would host private dinners for two in people’s homes. There were even times she’d dress up as a Disney character to deliver a cake for some lucky kid’s birthday. It was fun, a hobby that she loved and she put her heart and soul into. She made pretty good money doing it and her customers loved her. Well, what was intended to be a small operation quickly grew and now 32 years later we cater for some of the most prestigious events in the state. It truly is the American dream. A road riddled with adversity, long hours, stress,highs, lows, but most importantly a dream. So why am I sharing all of this and not just cutting straight to the point? Because I want you to understand how personal this business is to us. Simply put, we care. We treat out customers as though they were family. We have pledged that our company will NEVER grow so large that we lose sight of that. We understand we exist to serve our customers and serve them to the best of our ability. THIS one concept is what drives our entire operations and most of all our desire for Sustainability. We want to take care of our customers both on catering site and off. 100% commitment to creating a business that CARES for its customers. I think my Dad put it best when he said, “It’s my kids, caring for the future of your kids”.
Now that we have that out of the way, I want to take you on a quick journey to a wonderland filled with flowing rivers of sustainability. A place that first blew my mind, but inspired me to want to make this change. Probably a place you’d least expect, a place filled with……BEER. Yes, you read that correctly, beer. Several years back I had the pleasure of touring the Sierra Nevada Brewing company in Chico, California and let me tell you….MIND BLOWN!. I will let you do your own research on how incredible this place truly is but let me just give you a tiny taste of what they have going on over there. I walked by a small field of hops growing in the front of their property. I asked my guide (the founder’s Brother) what was it that I was seeing. His response, “Oh that’s an experiment. We have our own water reclamation plant on site and just got approval to water our own crops with the water we filter from the brewery’s usage.” My jaw dropped…”did you just say you have your own water plant …at a brewery?” His grin let me know that I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Our tour revealed vast fields of solar panels, generators run from Methane gas captured from the brewing process, and a water system that captured every available drop to be used in the operation of the brewery. It was INCREDIBLE! I had never seen an operation that cared so much for the quality of its product, but more importantly cared how sustainable it was produced. It was something I had never witnessed before and I knew it was the next step in our company’s long history.
So lets get to the meat and potatoes of what we are implementing. Keep in mind our long term goals include a kitchen run completely from solar panels, trucks running from bio diesel or electric, and menus that focus 100% on locally grown / raised products but there are a lot of baby steps along the path that we are now taking. Our first step was a simple one, recycle EVERYTHING. Now I know you are thinking that this is simple and jeez everyone knows that, but I am talking EVERYTHING HERE. Not just sticking a blue pale in the offices and hoping pople throw cans and paper in it. That is necessary and we love it, but lets see how far this rabbit hole actually goes. I want to really dig in here, as this is our first step and we have taken it!
COMPOST INITIATIVE OUR FIRST MAJOR STEP
Let me clear the air here by telling you that we already recycle. We were the only company in our strip mall to request a recycle dumpster from the City and fill it on a regular basis. Keep in mind most trash that we create is ether cardboard boxes, paper, or cans. We implemented our recycling program immediately adding blue cans to our kitchen, offices and back of the house locations. That was a very easy step and I think you should consider that two. The city of Tempe offers a free can or dumpster program and it really only takes a phone call or two to get one delivered. So we really don’t consider that our first step, I think you’d agree that this is common practice at both home and work. However, something that most people don’t see is food compost programs. This is something we are very excited to be a part of.
So what is compost you ask? It is actually quite a science, but put in common terms, it”s the process of taking organic waste and turning it into fertilizer. In fact, it’s some of the best fertilizer you can put in your garden or flower beds. The process is very easy. We have buckets that we keep in our kitchen’s prep stations. Anything that we chop off of vegetables or meat like the tip of a carrot or maybe the the end of a celery stock we throw in the bucket. Our staff, instead of putting that material in the trash takes it out to 55 gallon barrels we store in the back of our building. We add Bokashi (pickled spent grain from brewing beer…go figure) on top of the waste and close the lid. Adding Bokashi keeps the contents from smelling bad and aids in the breakdown of the organic items. We have partnered with a local vendor named Recycled City that comes once a week and removes the 55 gallon drums and gives us new clean ones. It”s hard to believe, but we fill 4-5 of these drums each week. That equates to over 200 gallons of compostable material that could have gone in the trash.
Where does this compost go you ask? Recycled City takes the compost material to a farm and places it in large piles. They continue to add Bokashi and take temperature readings to make sure the natural breakdown process is occurring. After a month or so the breakdown process is complete and compost fertilizer is now ready for use. The majority of the fertilizer goes to community garden’s that grow organic crops for the less fortunate. The rest of the compost is given back to the customers to use in their owngardens. It’s truly an incredible program.
Our company now offers a full line of compostable eating utensils and plates in it’s everyday service to help expand the reach of our Sustainable initiative. We will be rolling out an onsite compost program within the next month allowing all customers to have the ability to compost their items. Two of our regular customers already take advantage of this program and love it! Those programs are extremely close to a no waste catering service, which to us is INCREDIBLE!
As I said before, we have a long way to go before we can look at our company as a fully sustainable entity. We’ll keep taking baby steps until we get there, but we wanted to take you along for the ride. We’d love to hear you comments or ideas about this initiative, after all…SUSTAINABILITY EFFECTS ALL OF US!