Creating celebrations to feel good about
By Kathryn McKenzie
Photography by Michelle Magadalena and B&E Photographs
Big parties have big checklists—that’s a given. Food, flowers, decorations, tableware, linens, favors and more have to be chosen and arranged for, so who has time to think about the potential impact on the environment?
Jamie Jean Jarrard thinks about this every day. The Big Sur caterer, pastry chef and event planner not only stamps her personal philosophy on every celebration that she works on, but also did likewise for her own wedding in August.
“I’m really passionate about the environment,” says Jarrard, who composts food waste from her events for her own vegetable garden, forages for wild fennel, offers vintage linens and homestead-grown flowers for table décor and uses only eco-friendly dish soap to wash up.
Jarrard, who uses only organic and seasonal ingredients in what she makes, says some couples at first are resistant.
“But I push for it, and I explain to them, ‘You don’t want that (non-sustainable food), and this is why,’” she says.
Jarrard is not the only one trying to make a difference in the Monterey Bay area. As more people in catering, event planning and hospitality become more aware of what a huge amount of waste is produced by a wedding or other big event—not to mention the immense carbon footprint that’s generated—green and sustainable celebrations are be- coming increasingly easier to accomplish.
“Being sustainably-minded is part of having a great party!” says Tran Doan, general manager and catering coordinator for long-time organic catering company Carried Away in Aptos. “You can feel better knowing that you have gathered your family and friends and made efforts to take care of our community and planet.”
TO LOVE, HONOR AND BE GREENER
Many people don’t realize how much waste a big party generates, says Heidi Schlecht, co-owner of Feel Good Foods in Santa Cruz, an organic catering business.
The Green Bride Guide (Sourcebooks, 2008) estimates that the average wedding creates 400–600 pounds of waste, and in addition produces 62 tons of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas responsible for global warming. What’s more, if sent to the dump rather than composted, food waste releases methane—a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
If you’re aiming to plan a green wedding or a holiday party in the Monterey Bay area, there are plenty of choices but also some pitfalls. Among the initial questions to ask are how food and drink for the event will be sourced, what the venue will use for tableware and food service and how recyclables, food scraps and garbage from the event will be handled. (See a full checklist of such considerations below)
WEDDING FEASTS WITH LEAST IMPACT
James Beard Award-winning chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who partners with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to create its restaurant and banquet menus, says it’s really not that difficult to feed big groups using organic, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
Pawlcyn says the key is to establish relationships with local organic farmers and to make a yearly calendar outlining what seasonal items will be available at what time. She and aquarium executive chef Jeff Rogers plan their banquet menus accordingly.
Dealing with farmers is what she calls “the fun part.” “They get so excited—they are so proud of what they do,” Pawlcyn says.
The Aquarium avoids filling up the landfill and generating greenhouse gases by sending its food scraps to the MRWMD’s high-tech Organics to Energy commercial composting program, which turns the waste into natural fertilizer and green energy.
And the Aquarium’s medium is also the message: “It provides education without knocking it down your throat,” says Pawlcyn, noting that the sweeping backdrop of beautiful living sea creatures at the aquarium’s venues may prompt guests to think more about preserving the oceans.
Rocky Point Restaurant south of Carmel is also working hard to revamp its wedding program and become certified by the Green Restaurant Association.
Perched above the Pacific, it has always had drop-dead gorgeous views of Big Sur’s craggy coastline; now, consulting chef Soerke Peters is working on local sourcing of ingredients, putting in an organic herb garden, reducing food waste and getting rid of chemical cleansers.
Although Peters notes that all this comes at a cost, he says savings on using less electricity and water help make up the difference. He’s anticipating the changes will also attract couples who want to go green with their ceremonies.
“And besides,” he says, “it’s the right thing to do for the environment.”
For Chaminade, a resort and conference center in Santa Cruz, being green and sustainable is a vital part of its business. Not only are the menus seasonally based and locally sourced, the 300-acre establishment also employs a wide variety of green measures, including electric staff vehicles, an on-site co-generation unit that produces 40% of the resort’s electrical demand and a commitment to recycling that far exceeds most resorts—including donation of leftover food to a local soup kitchen and composting of kitchen scraps.
Chaminade, the first hospitality business to be green certified in Santa Cruz County, is also planning to build a rain catchment system, which will be used to water landscaping.
“We’re trying to be the best steward of the environment that we possibly can be,” says Kevin Herbst, Chaminade’s general manager.
He points out that one way in which people can keep weddings and other events greener is to choose a facility where both wedding and reception can be held, cutting down on travel and, therefore, greenhouse gas emissions from guests’ cars. Another bonus: Guests can also stay at resorts like Chaminade after a wedding there, another step to- ward fewer emissions.
Of course, part of the adventure of such places is the chance to commune with nature. Costanoa Lodge in Pescadero offers weddings on ocean bluffs or against a mountain backdrop, sustainably created reception fare and, if desired, group activities like kayaking, mountain biking or guided nature hikes. A range of accommodations, from cozy lodge rooms to tent bungalows, encourages guests to stay and enjoy.
That’s also the case at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, which offers wedding night accommodations for the bride and groom as part of its wedding packages. Asilomar’s green practices are legendary—it composts everything it can, is changing from CFLs to even more efficient LED light bulbs and has cut its water use by 12% in the past few years.
In addition, it offers numerous venues for weddings and receptions, most of which are in outdoor settings, as well as ample room for guests who want to stay there after the event.
Among the other green-certified resorts in the area are Seascape Beach Resort in Aptos and Portola Hotel & Spa in downtown Monterey, which has a silver LEED certification and numerous awards for its earth-friendly practices.
Carbon emissions are a troubling side effect of destination weddings. Big Sur, for instance, has become a go-to place for nuptials, whether or not the bride and groom live in the immediate area. “There are at least 10 weddings every Saturday in Big Sur,” notes Jarrard, and many of the participants come from outside California. The result is that a lot of greenhouse gases are produced in getting the bridal party and guests from wherever they live to the dream destination.
In truth, the travel-related carbon footprint of a wedding can be almost as bad if the bride and groom are local but many of their friends and family are not. Still, there are ways to mitigate the impact.
One solution is to make a donation to a carbon offset fund, which can be found online and usually offers a calculator to help figure out what amount will help rub out an event’s carbon footprint by, for example, financing tree planting.
One local carbon fund is managed by The Offset Project, a Monterey nonprofit. People can go to www.montereybaycarboncalculator.org to figure out how much they should be contributing; money from the fund goes to help local solar and education projects.
Abbie Beane, the group’s director of sustainability, says that Offset Project staffers are also happy to advise how to make your event the greenest it can be. “We can help with the purchasing side of things, and tell you how to reuse, or repurpose, or recycle when it’s done.”
Eco-Infinity, a new company based in Pacific Grove, provides the Monterey Jazz Festival, Big Sur Food & Wine and other large public events with low-impact equipment such as geodesic dome tents, sustainably made lightweight seating that takes little fuel to transport and lighting powered by portable solar panels.
Owner Sandy Doss says that she anticipates being able to handle smaller-scale private events such as weddings by next year, and she is also testing solar ovens that will allow caterers to cook, bake and grill on site—solely with sun power.
Food for a sustainably-minded party is often more pricey than conventional fare, which Schlecht of Feel Good Foods readily admits. An organic and locally sourced menu will require more expensive ingredients than a conventional one; it also takes more time to prepare, as typically it’s made from scratch. Schlecht also feels strongly about paying her workers well, which adds to the cost, but is a key factor in true sustainability.
But you get what you pay for. Seasonal and organic menus are going to be more interesting, fresher and tastier. Schlecht says she is always willing to work within a budget and suggest how to cut the cost.
“Catering is a luxury, but there are ways to make it simpler and cheaper,” she says. “You can do your own setup, or choose simpler menus, or offer fewer options.” Luckily, what is sustainable and what is economical often go hand in hand.
At the global level, as Anna Lappé points out in Diet for a Hot Planet (Bloomsbury, 2010), livestock production has been found to generate more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s cars and other means of transportation combined—and beef husbandry causes the most environmental harm of all.
So while it’s natural to want to pull out all the stops and serve big steaks at a special event, reducing the amount of beef on your menu, and instead, emphasizing sustainable fish, other meats and vegetarian courses can relieve pressure on both your pocketbook and the planet. And if you do serve beef, grassfed from a local ranch will cost less than some types of fish and is easier on the the environment than factory-raised beef—as well as more healthy and humane.
And, finally, avoiding overly long guest lists will of course help limit the size of the catering bill and the impact—and simply having an accurate head count will help cut back on both waste and cost.
DIY weddings are gaining in popularity and are typically less expensive. Emily Paddock and Luke Gardner, who married in June at her family’s ranch in Carmel Valley, saved money simply by being married at a place they didn’t have to rent—and they also grew their own produce. (See “It’s Your Day: A DIY Wedding,” p. 55.)
Even if you don’t know someone with a ranch, sometimes regional and state parks as well as farms and vineyards offer fees that make events more affordable than traditional venues. They also can provide a much- needed extra source of income for farmers and go a long way towards setting the tone for a planet-conscious event. (Also see ”Farm and Vineyard Weddings,” p. 56.)
But Doan, Carried Away’s catering coordinator, cautions that if an outdoor venue has little equipment or amenities of its own, like heaters, tables, chairs, tableware and umbrellas, the price tag for renting them, if needed, can drive the cost above some more traditional options.
For example, when it comes to drinks, Doan notes, some local wineries as well as craft beer breweries offer their products in kegs. Whether the event is a wedding or a holiday party, providing wine and beer on tap will save both money and the big carbon footprint related to making and transporting bottles.
Reusing decorations and equipment, tableware and linens you al- ready own or can borrow, or purchasing vintage items can also lessen both the price and impact of an event.
“Brides who want green weddings come in regularly to buy vintage table linens, bridal party clothes and items such as old bottles for centerpieces,” says Jane Flury, who has a vendor space at Cannery Row Antiques Mall in Monterey.
As for Jarrard’s own wedding?
Framed by redwood trees outside the Santa Lucia Chapel in Big Sur, it was followed by a locally sourced and organic feast that included porcetta stuffed with Italian sausage, grilled wild fish and a salad made with beets and pears from the bride’s own garden.
And the guests got to take home a redwood tree seedling to plant in their own yards—a lovely and sustainable memento of Jarrard’s special day.
A GREEN WEDDING CHECKLIST
If you’re getting married soon, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the choices that have to be made. But rather than adding to the burden, you may find committing to a sustainable celebration will make the decision-making process quicker and easier, as it will narrow down your choices somewhat.
Here are some things to consider:
• Where is the food for the reception coming from? Is it locally sourced or produced in a sustainable or organic way?
• What about serving local, organic or sustainably produced wines, beers and other liquors—preferably from a keg?
• Can the wedding cake be made from organic or locally produced ingredients?
• Can the wedding party wear clothing that is borrowed, handed down, vintage or quality second hand?
• Are the necessary flowers or greenery grown organically, sustainably and/or locally?
• What will happen to food waste, paper waste and flowers after the event? Can they be composted?
• What are the options for reception accessories? Can tables, tableware, chairs, glasses, linens and other accessories be rented or borrowed? Can one-time-use items be eliminated, such as crepe paper or balloons?
• If disposable goods or containers are needed, where can sustainably made or compostable styles of tableware be obtained?
• What happens to other recyclable objects after the reception, such as beer bottles, wine bottles, plastic containers and aluminum cans or containers?
• What kinds of wedding favors or table decorations could be reused or repurposed and not be likely thrown away?
• How can travel be reduced for the participants and guests? How can the event’s carbon footprint be offset?
Kathryn McKenzie writes about sustainable living, home design and horticulture for numerous publications and websites and, when not at the computer, attempts to grow tomatoes at her home in foggy northern Monterey County.
READ MORE: See www.ediblemontereybay.com/events for a listing of sustainably run caterers, venues and other event vendors.