HOME COOKING: Volunteer Aline Martin, second from right, and intern Lenaya Pongan preparea handmade dish at Three Stone Hearth community-supported kitchen
HOME COOKING: Volunteer Aline Martin, second from right, and intern Lenaya Pongan prepare a handmade dish at Three Stone Hearth community-supported kitchen in Berkeley. (D. ROSS CAMERON Staff)
IT IS MINUTES before 5 p.m. on a Wednesday evening in Berkeley and already a line is forming in front of a white plastic table at Three Stone Hearth, a community-supported kitchen near the city's waterfront.

The kitchen's five worker-owners and about a dozen volunteers are busy, really busy.

In fact, they are too busy to chat as they prepare to dole out the kitchen's broth-based soups and stews, homemade cheeses and pies to a dedicated group of customers, some of whom travel as far as 50 miles to pick up their weekly supply of the kitchen's nutrient-dense food.

The line grows longer at 5 p.m. when the kitchen opens, but no one seems too concerned. Moms bounce babies on their hips as they chat with one another about the week's menu.

Men and women, most of whom are carrying their own shopping bags, hold multiple lists in their hands. One list is their own weekly order.

The others are orders placed by their neighbors.

Once the orders are filled, these customers will take the food to their hometowns — Walnut Creek, Marin, San Francisco, Alameda — and deliver the goods to the other Three Stone Hearth customers who live near them. Next week, those customers who stayed home will repeat the process for them.

These people are building a community around the food they enjoy and around Three Stone Hearth. This community cares about its neighbors, the environment and nutrition, says Three Stone Hearth worker-owner Larry Wisch.


Advertisement

"I go to the grocery store maybe once a week now," says San Francisco resident Sherry Morse as she picks up her order and the orders of three others who live near her in the city's Richmond district. She says she used to shop for fresh, nutritional foods five days a week, driving to the store each time.

Next week, Morse will stay home and her neighbor will go to Three Stone Hearth for her, further reducing her number of shopping trips. And while Morse reduces her need to go to the store, she is also cutting back on car trips, saving gas and doing her little part to save the environment.

"This is really convenient, that's the secret," she says as Three Stone Hearth workers pile glass jars full of food into a bin for her to take home.

One of the Three Stone Hearth goals is to offer high-quality food to people who care about their nutrition and do so without making a lasting, negative imprint on the Earth.

"American corporate agriculture is degrading the planet," worker-owner Wisch says. "We're building the planet."

The business is built around three "stones" says worker-owner Jessica Prentice — health, earth and heart.

Broths are slow simmered with bones, making them rich in minerals and gelatin. Meat

patties are enriched with organ meats such as the liver and heart. Vegetables are lactofermented, a natural preserving process, so that they are full of active enzymes and other important nutrients, according to the kitchen's Web site.

The kitchen also shops locally and makes it a rule to buy products from farmers no more than 100 miles from Berkeley, reducing the amount of fuel expended through shipping goods across the state or the country.

The meat and eggs used by Three Stone Hearth are pastured, which means the animals run around on a farm and eat grass and other biologically-appropriate foods.

And nothing is wasted here. Bones used in soups are ground up for dog food. Glass bottles and jars are reused, paper ones are tossed in the compost bin and tin containers are recycled.

The food is not cheap. A 26-ounce jar of pork adobo, a stew-like meal, sells for $15, and a similar portion of chicken and rice with coconut milk sells for $14. A bag of cereal costs $8.50, and a cup of coconut candies sells for $6.

How does the food taste?

"For the most part we really like the food and we trust that it is very high quality," says Kate Greene of South Marin, who says her Three Stone Hearth community is growing every week.

Three Stone Hearth was founded in June of last year by five worker-owners who all believe in the work of Weston A. Price, a dentist who in the 1920s and'30s researched the traditional diets of indigenous people. Price discovered through his research that the maladies of modern civilization — which include tooth decay and tooth crowding, allergies, heart disease and cancer — were not present in the people he studied.

"He discovered many people in their traditional diets had a very high level of health that we don't have," says Wisch.

Price also found that once Western ingredients like refined sugars and flours were added to the diets of indigenous people, they started getting the same diseases and maladies as their Western counterparts.

In 1999, nutrition activists Sally Fallon and Mary Enig founded the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the life work of Price. The foundation promotes small-scale food production by independent farmers, and its founders want people to eat nutrient-dense foods that include healthy fats and meats and exclude things like preservatives.

"That's really the philosophical basis for what we're doing here," says Prentice, a chef and author of the book "Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection."

It was Prentice's idea to open a kitchen in Berkeley run by people who not only follow Price's theories on food but also buy from like-minded vendors and get the food to customers without undo waste of fossil fuels.

Three Stone Hearth is "a great experiment in seeing if there is a way to do food preparation and processing on a community scale," she says.

One of the company's biggest challenges was finding a way to get the food to people in the most ecological way possible, Wisch says. That's why Three Stone Hearth created a "cluster map" showing customers where other customers are.

"If people could know who also was buying in their neighborhood they could get together and pick them up and have only one car out there instead of three," Wisch says.

The kitchen's map is posted on the Three Stone Hearth Web site and it shows the locations of the families who are customers.

Each week, Three Stone Hearth customers order food from the kitchen's online menu. They then work out delivery schedules with their neighbors.

"We only have to come once every third week," says Barrie Cook of Piedmont, who shares pick-up duties with two others who live in Oakland.

The experiment is, so far, a success. During the third week of January, 514 families had signed up as customers and most are in delivery clusters.

"We're about halfway to our goal of a sustainable business in less than six months, which I think is fantastic," says Wisch.

If Three Stone Hearth becomes a success, Wisch says the kitchen's prototype will be used by other community-supported kitchens in areas like Portland and Seattle.

"They'll be able to learn from our mistakes and our brilliance, and they'll be able to do it," he says. "The more places like ours that exist, the number of farmers that grow in a sustainable manner will grow. We want to have people who are farmers expand their good practices and be prosperous."

- To learn more about Three Stone Hearth, visit the kitchen's Web site at http://www.threestonehearth.com.

Contact features writer Laura Casey at (925) 416-4860 or by e-mail at lcasey@angnewspapers.com.