Interview: Ken Hernandez of Collective Green SF

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Ken Hernandez started his catering company, Collective Green SF, two-and-a-half years ago. He now serves almost 400 people a day, and just doubled his capacity. He cooks over 100 lbs of Bacon a week!


 

Ben Hanna: If somebody asks “What is Collective Green?” What is your answer?

Ken Hernandez: We’re a holistic gourmet catering company. I define that as sustainable, healthy great food, with a twist. We had to learn how to take normal food and make it healthier, but still make it taste good.

Ben Hanna: What put you on the track of what you’re doing now?

Ken Hernandez: A lot of the pushing, to be honest, came from Jason Sanders. He’s said “I think you should do this.” and he fully supported me in what I was doing. Because, essentially I was an employee at Couchsurfing, so I was supposed to be focused on CouchSurfing but he really let me have some lee way to figure out what I was doing and restructure my arrangement. That really, really helped a lot. But, I remember doing a catering gig for someone else after being at Couchsurfing. Then, I realized that it felt really good that I could cater for two companies. I thought it was going to be a two company thing.

Ben Hanna: How many companies are you working for now?

Ken Hernandez: Right now, we have about 10 companies, but overall we’ve cooked for about, I’d say 50 companies throughout the years. Both in events and lunches. We have cooked for Anchor Brewing, Instagram, Anyperk, Apple, Beats, Camp Grounded, CrowdFlower, Couchsurfing, Heroku, Lookout, MetaMarkets, Lumnia, UpShift and others.

Ben Hanna: Where are you at right now with staffing and how do you handle that? How many people per team you’re working on?
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Sky Report

What will the sky look like tonight? Use this to see if it is a good time to go star gazing!

Click the image to get details on what the colors mean, and to see your own city. Blue / darker blocks are better for the Sky section.

Interview: David Boone of Boonation Custom Cycles

David Boone has opened up the most local of bike shops out of his garage in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood. On the bike route, he offers personal service for bikes that need a tune-up, and he builds custom set-ups for people who know they want something better than a cheap bike from Craigslist. You can find him on facebook or by email: boonationcustomcycles@gmail.com


Ben Hanna: So how long that you have been working on bikes out of this shop?

David Boone: A little over two years. The only reason I have a consistent record is because of when I started my Facebook page. It was August, so it’s been a couple of years. I was doing it as kind of a side gig before I started doing it full time.

Ben Hanna: What did you do before you started doing this?

David Boone: I was working as an outside trader for Urban Ore, driving the truck around with another guy.

Ben Hanna: Have you always been working on bikes or has it been a hobby?

David Boone: I have always been mechanically inclined but working on bikes using these tools isn’t something I had a mind to do. It hasn’t always been something that I have been crazy about.

Ben Hanna: It wasn’t always something that was going to be your business.

David Boone: Yeah.

Ben Hanna: Do you like it more now that you are doing it more and have gotten into it?

David Boone: Yeah, it took me while when I first started it up and started offering services to get the hang of it. There are lots of problems that can exist within a bike and lot of it just takes experience to know how to solve them. I’m pretty intuitive with my mechanical mind, but some of the things just need experience. The bike is not shifting right! The bike is not shifting right can mean a lot of different things.

Ben Hanna: How do you people find about you? Just walking by or biking by?

David Boone: Living on the bike road has been the best thing for this business. Once I put up my sign, it actually is enough for them to see as they ride by.

David Boone: So what I want to do from there is just take it from here and have a sign here, have a sign down at 55th and Genoa, and then have a sign right here at the intersection of Market and 57th and Adeline. A lot of bikers come through that area, especially coming up and down Adeline. So then, just direct the traffic in this vicinity to this location, and really… I think that’ll…

Ben Hanna: Build a little local traffic. People are coming by anyway.

David Boone: Yeah, I think that’ll be enough. I don’t think I need to go too far out there. There’s plenty of bike shops, and I don’t claim to be the best, or anything. I just…

Ben Hanna: Like to be here doing it?

David Boone: Yeah. [laughs]

Ben Hanna: Which really is all that really matters, in a lot of the cases.

David Boone: Yeah. It’s a service.

Ben Hanna: People like to shake hands with the person who’s going to be working on their bike.

Ben Hanna: Two years ago you opened, when did you go full time?
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Interview: Erin Cochran on Cooking and Starting a Business

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Erin Cochran has been working with food since she was 14. From start-ups in Istanbul to fine dining in The Mission District, she has done some of everything. She runs C&B Bottling with her wife out of their home in San Francisco, and is in the process of starting her own restaurant / farm.


 

Ben Hanna: How did you originally get interested in food and cooking? How did that start?

Erin Cochran: I feel like I just sort of fell into it actually. My first job I got as a counter girl, that was my actual title, at a pasta restaurant that was right up the street from where we lived when I was a teenager. I was 14 and I went and told them I was 16 and got a job because I really wanted a job. I got that one specifically because that one was within walking distance of my house and I didn’t have to drive, because clearly I couldn’t. I worked the counter and took money and whatever else.

All the boys would smoke pot during the day.  If I worked the shifts when they were smoking, then they were more than happy to let me do the cooking as well so that they could just not do anything. Those were my favorite shifts by far. It was super fun to go back there and try to figure out how to make these different pasta dishes which at the time seemed very complicated with a lot of cooking involved. I realize now that they weren’t really.  Apart from a few weird jobs along the way — in New York I ran a magazine for a year because I got too burned out on cooking —  I never left because I liked it so much. And that’s how I got started. I just stuck with it.

Ben Hanna: Do you have any formal education in cooking?

Erin Cochran: I’ve had an unbelievable amount of jobs. I can’t remember them all, actually. I worked at a ton of different restaurants. During college I was going to school for hospitality management and was the kitchen manager of this brew pub. Of all my classes in hospitality management, the only ones that I really liked were the cooking classes, the food prep classes. All of the other business classes I did but I didn’t really enjoy. One day I was talking to my dad and said “This is the only thing I really like doing, I wonder if I should just go to culinary school?” He said “Maybe you should,” and then I applied and got in and quit school and moved to Vermont.

Ben Hanna: How long was culinary school? How long did that last for?

Erin Cochran: Two years. The school that I went to was New England Culinary, and they do a six months on campus, six months internship off campus. Six months on, six months off so it is a two full years, but you are only on campus for a year.

Ben Hanna: Did you focus on a specific type of food preparation or specific aspect of cooking?
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Interview: Justin Cutter of Compass Green

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Justin runs Compass Green — a school garden on wheels.  It is a fully functional greenhouse built in the back of an 18ft. box truck that grows vegetables, grains, and herbs and is powered by waste vegetable oil.  He travels the country teaching students. I talked with him about some of the ins and out of his business.


 

Ben Hanna: How many students are you serving a year right now?

Justin Cutter: This year, I taught 10,000 students, which is my goal since I started Compass Green – to be teaching 10,000 students with one truck per year. 

Ben Hanna: How did the idea for Compass Green kick off?

Justin Cutter: I had been working with John Jeavons, this world-famous agriculturalist, to help start a program called the Green Belt Team with the goal to train people to go to developing nations and start sustainability centers.

After doing that, I felt like I wanted to do something for agriculture in my own country. I started traveling to colleges and teaching workshops on Biointensive sustainable agriculture, which is just a kick ass system that is super productive and super sustainable.

When I was part of that I would also give this presentation on our global food situation and what our choices about food are doing to our bodies and our planet. How it can be incredibly positive, but right now we’re on a pretty bad track.

Those would be open to the public and some were very well attended. There are all people who are already interested in sustainability and I saw pretty quickly that I was falling into these traps of preaching to the choir, which is a very enjoyable thing to do but not very productive. I realized that if I’m actually going to make any difference in sustainability in the US, then I would have to reach the people who:

1) Did not have access to this kind of thing.

2) Who were also “just” interested… The people who saw a poster for a talk about food sustainability or anything with the word ‘sustainable’ in it. People who would just not want to go because it would trigger some kind of trippy tree-hugger sentiment that they didn’t want to be a part of.

Around that time, one of my old high school buddies called me with this idea to turn a truck into a greenhouse. He was thinking of going to farmer’s market and stuff like that and knew that I was in agriculture and so that’s why he brought it up to me. 

To me, I instantly felt like it was a fantastic idea but instead of using it as a way for us to have an adventure in itself and it seems like an amazing way to have an adventure and really reach people who would not, otherwise, be exposed to this kind of education and teach them about sustainability.

The truck would serve both as a vehicle to get to those places but also as a really cool interest piece that would capture the attention and imagination of the audiences, regardless whether they were already interested in gardening or sustainability or anything like that.

From there, we just ran with it. Started up in Brooklyn, New York in 2011.

Ben Hanna: You guys actually started by funding yourselves with a Kickstarter, right?

Justin Cutter: We did, yeah. Kickstarter was very crucial for us. We didn’t have any money and we weren’t interested in going into major debt to get us off the ground so we did a Kickstarter campaign and were successful in meeting our goal of $27,000. That was enough to buy the truck and retrofit it into a mobile greenhouse that can also be run off of vegetable waste vegetable oil.

Ben Hanna: How are you funded now? What’s your primary source of income?
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WorkShop Winter Clean

I generally live with a decent amount of chaos, and am not fastidious about being neat and organized in my physical life. Digitally, I like things trackable, with in reach at a thought, and where they belong. However, there is a certain satisfaction that I get from taking chaos and transforming it into order that only comes when using my hands to make it so.

This weekend we tackled “The WorkShop.” It had become a nightmare.

Ahhh!!

After a few projects left un-resolved, and the need to store my old car for our three month road trip, this place had become a glorified storage container.

No more!

  • Step 1: Sell the car. Done in 2 hours via Craigslist. Cash in hand.
  • Step 2: Clear out the stuff we don’t need. Street pile and junk garbage pick up.
  • Step 3: Have a place for all things. Working on it!

Now to just put the stuff on the tables away…

Getting there… Still more to do.

Back Home

Coming home after a 3 month / 11,000 mile road trip is somewhat of an adjustment.

No longer do I need to spend any time planning where I will be next, or how I need to get there. No longer is finding a place to camp how I end every day.

After a week of driving from 6am to 11pm every day to get across the country, I am taking time to just relax. But man, will I will miss those views…

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Autodidactic Learning

I have recently been asked my opinion on returning to school by a few friends. We are all in our late 20’s, and it is a transformative time. The pervasive feeling seems to be either to commit to your current career, or make a shift, now by going back to school for some more education. (Personally, I plan to shift my career and focus every five years or so until I die.)

Going back to school for a PhD, Masters, or other degree or certificate can be a good choice, but in this day and age where you can learn anything online, showing what you know is often better than a degree.

My alternate approach to learning started early. High School always frustrated me. I felt that it was using an outdated model which placed in inordinate value on my ability to memorize and repeat random facts. Learning was not spontaneous. Most teachers would not follow an idea deep and emerge somewhere unexpected. They followed the lessons.

I used to spend long hours at home in our basement “playing around” on the family computer. I had discovered that I could learn real skills and applicable knowledge online. I taught myself how to code HTML and CSS, how to use Photoshop, After Effects, 3D design programs and video editors. My brother and I filmed sci fi battles where we rotoscoped lightsabers in place of brooms, shot electric fireballs across rooms and played with slow motion.

My junior year I joined the yearbook staff, and taught myself pagemaker / indesign. We decided to do an additional digital yearbook that year, and it fell to me and and a classmate to put it all together. For the first time I started learning to project manage and juggle operations tasks.

I got into film photography, and convinced a family friend to pay me to photograph a birthday party. I learned by trial and error again how to best compose, develop and sell photos. These trials led to a job doing product photography and web design for a pre-Etsy custom parasol designer. (Prissy Parasols!)

Recently, I wanted to get into woodworking. I spend most my time on a computer, and I wanted to build things with my hands. Things that don’t disappear when the battery dies or the power goes out. Things that might outlive me.

I joined a free furniture building class at the San Francisco Community college. It was initially great, and provided access to tools, and an instructor who was knowledgable. Unfortunately, the class was large, several people were slow learners, and I couldn’t move at my own speed.

I ended up spending $1,000 on wood-shop tools via Craigslist, and through trial and error, Youtube videos, and immersion I taught myself basic furniture building. I now know other woodworkers who I can learn from, and have work to show for my time.

Arguably, I learned more from these attempts that I ever could in school. True learning follows passion, which can only develop from experimentation and immersion.

Cafe Culture

The social role of cafes in 2013 – 2014

I went to a cafe this morning to get some work done and change up my work environment. It always helps me zone in and focus. I am able to set an “Until my battery dies, I will work on this one project” time frame.

Today, the world had other plans. I got to the cafe, ordered food, got my coffee sat down, and… no internet. Hmm. Went to the counter and asked about it.

Yeah, it is down. We have a guy coming this afternoon to fix it.

I personally was upset, because I had just paid for food at this place expecting to stay their for the morning and work.

This brings up the question “What is the primary purpose of a cafe in 2013–2014?” I was planning on using it for internet and to work. Others were there for food and socializing. Most people had laptops out. What is the primary use of the “Third Space?”

As an experiment, I pulled out a sharpie from my bag, and clandestinely hung an “Internet is down :( ” sign from the door. As I watched from the window while I ate my food, I saw person after person frown and turn away — headed to more internet rich pastures. In fact, of those who saw the sign not a one entered the cafe.

How often do you go to cafes alone for a meal vs to work?

5 Tools to Optimize your Web Design Workflow

The toolbox you have for creating websites affects the projects you work on and how you approach them. If it is hard to do something you will do it less often, which means you may take the easy way out. These are some of the tools I use that will help you optimize your web design workflow.

CodeKit – you want this, it makes your images smaller, automatically injects CSS changes to your page from Sublime Text so you can code live, and will compile SASS or LESS to CSS automatically if you ever start using either of those CSS languages. (Use SASS, it is better, and has more support in the professional community)

Chrome’s Developer tools are going to be your best friend. Built-in to Chrome, they let you test everything for problems, design in the browser, and will let you learn how to code better than any other tool. Simply right click on any part of a web page anywhere, select “Inspect Element” and it will show you where the element was created in the code, the css that styles it, and allow you to edit it.

STFP – this is a plugin for Sublime Text that allows you to upload via FTP from within Sublime, and sync local and remote version of your website. Saves having to use Cyberduck for most things.

Emmet – This is a shorthand system for creating large amounts of HTML quickly. Learn the basics first, but once you understand what you are doing, graduate quickly to this style of writing HTML. It allows you to plan the skeleton of your site rapidly, and fill in from the in side out. There is a plugin for Sublime Text.

Adobe Fireworks – A big one – this tool is perfectly set up for web design. It has object based layers, will show you the CSS that is needed to make the designs you create, and it allows you to make clickable mockups.

That should be enough to fill your weekend ;)