Data: It’s what’s for dinner

Matt (center) in Today Show Promo. Oldest member of cohort with youngest members.jpg

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from hero and friend, Paul Chatlin. Paul checks in every few months and his words are highly valued. As the voice mail played, in crept the realization that Paul had no idea we’d wandered to San Francisco so, at 40 years old, I could go Dangerfield and go back to school to study Data Analytics & Business Intelligence at MissionU, a startup college alternative. I excitedly returned his call and this article is a product of that conversation; to explore the relationship between data and food.

Farmer Dan Lehrer at Berkely Horticultural Nursery.jpg

First, a moment to catch up as it’s been a while since the last article. In 2011, Erica (wife) and I viewed Forks Over Knives, which inspired us to Plant Based. In 2014 we created The Wandering Food Pharm to share the message of “Food is Medicine”. Soon we met Paul, became PBNSG “Farming Ambassadors”, and wandered the country reporting on urban farms, producing homemade WhoatsUp Protein Bars, and sharing Whole Food Plant Based information. In April 2017, podcaster Rich Roll interviewed MissionU founder Adam Braun, who described a “debt-free college alternative”. With an unused teaching degree, unpaid student loans, and uninspiring options, this moment resonated deeply. I applied that night, and was among 30 of 5k+ applicants accepted into the 1-year program. Mr. Roll, thank you.

I’m most excited to tell the story of data and food. How is data analysis telling a story? An example is using data to better understand impacts. Data is only a tool; the story is crafted by the analyst. Consider North Carolina CAFO pig waste. It can be difficult to imagine the yearly impact of 10 Billion gallons of swine waste. But using available water data we can reinterpret the number. Let’s say 10 Billion gallons of Pig Poo was like water and the residents of North Carolina used Pig Poo to shower. The yearly amount would each week provide one eight-minute shower of Pig Poo to each of 10,000,000 NC residents. Now, that’s a bit easier to digest-thanks data! This excitement drives my current mission: to utilize data to tell a conscious story. Living in the East Bay, Erica scored a job at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery (BHN), a family owned company celebrating 95 years in business. Recently, BHN hosted Dan Lehrer of Little Apple Treats & Flatland Farm for a free “Winter Gardening Class”. Lo and behold, Farmer Dan spoke of data, explaining that the past 9 of 10 years since 2005 have been the hottest on record. How he “used to trust NOAA” every year for the Spring rain predictions, but for the first time in history were incorrect 2 years straight. We’ve heard farmers from Michigan to California echo this climate sentiment; There is no more normal. Thus, extracting “the story” from data proves to be a critical tool to make conscious food choices within an unconscious food system.

Check out Farmer Dan’s winter gardening tips. Note- Tips are for CA- Bay area, consult your local nursery for winter growing needs! 1. Plant everbearing strawberries, artichokes (Cardoons for increased yield), peas (snap for increased yield), and kale. 2. When planting in pots, dial back sun exposure ½ (if package says full sun, give it partial sun). 3. Mix potting soil and compost with a 75%/25% ratio. Matt & Erica, the Wandering Food Pharm