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Good food meets good deeds

Sometimes, making environmentally conscientious business choices means shopping in your own back yard. A few weeks ago, I met a colleague for coffee at a neighborhood café around the corner from my home and office in Fullerton, Calif., and there I discovered that sustainability is the fare du jour.

The Monkey Business Café is a nonprofit restaurant and caterer that incorporates the best of organically grown foods, community action and green business practices, creating lasting benefits for everyone they serve.

This social venture began in 2005 and is affiliated with Hart Community Homes Inc., which provides housing, treatment and life skills training to at-risk youth. HCH operates two, state-licensed residential treatment homes in Orange County, Calif. for boys 13-18 years old. Their mission is to help the young people they receive from the child welfare system to emancipate from foster care and into the community as productive, self-sustaining adults.

The Café plays a significant role in this process, as it is the center of a 6-month workforce development program, where young people are teamed with a mentor to learn essential skills for work and living. In the program’s own words, they are “empowering youth one harvest at a time” by means of their “nonprofit social enterprise with the mission to heal, educate and empower at-risk youth to become healthy, self -sufficient adults in the community.”

I spoke with Ian Layman, HCH alumnus and floor manager at the Café. He explained, “This program offers exposure to the real world where kids learn entry-level job skills. Many are introverted as a result of their backgrounds, and this is a good opportunity for them to learn to communicate with customers and co-workers in a safe environment.”

The Café is assisted by the Fullerton Arboretum, which houses a combination of botanical parks, community gardens and a museum and events venue. Participants in the Café’s workforce development program learn how to plant and harvest organically grown produce on a half-acre of land set aside at the Arboretum in partnership with the Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience (U-ACRE) program at California State University Fullerton (CSUF). CSUF is currently creating an urban agriculture certificate program that will offer participants college credit for their work at the Arboretum and at the university’s food lab where they are conducting nutritional analyses of foods served at the café.

Produce cultivated at the Arboretum is brought to the Café kitchen and incorporated into signature seasonal menu items, catering dishes and specialty retail products. Layman continued, “The kids learn everything from the germination process, to cultivation, to harvesting and proper food storage. It’s a chance for them to use their hands and do some labor. Our menu specials change depending on what’s currently available.”

The Café’s commitment to sustainability also extends to its eco-friendly to-go packaging and “coffee with a conscience.”  “Our coffee is organic, single-origin and is locally roasted at Wilson Coffee Roasting Company in Costa Mesa,” Layman said. “We are doing all we can to contribute to the community by making local purchasing choices whenever possible.”

In addition to catering for local individuals and businesses, the Café regularly caters events for CSUF. This is an impressive trust, since the university has the largest student body of all 23 campuses making up the California State University system. The Café is open for breakfast and lunch, so the restaurant space is available for events after 4:00 p.m. daily. Word about the Café’s quality of food and service is getting out. According to Layman, sales doubled last year and continue to increase.

The Anaheim events and entertainment corridor is only minutes away, making this vendor an excellent choice if you are based in Orange County or are planning a special event in the area. Layman said, “In addition to eating healthier food that is unique and always made to order with fresh ingredients, our customers have an opportunity to contribute to a cause that helps better the community in a social way. That is something we stand by, and everybody here is dedicated to the cause.”

Green Tip:
Monkey Business Café catering:
714-526-2729 or www.monkeybusinesscafe.org
More about Hart Community Homes, Inc.:
www.hartcommunityhomes.org
Planning events at Fullerton Arboretum:
www.fullertonarboretum.org

Posted in Columns, The Green Piece
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