Written by: Mary McNulty
Photography by: Mariusz Jeglinski
Founder and Executive Director of the Ecology Center, Evan Marks, and Vice President of Business Development for Santa Monica Seafood, Chef Paddy Glennon, are out to save the planet. The bromance between Evan and Chef Paddy is built upon mutual respect for both the land and sea. Each of them refers to the other as “their hero.” The partnership has led to the creation of a sustainable seafood tank at the facility as well as collaborating with many events. It is obvious both men are in their element when discussing the need to be proactive on environmental concerns.
Located in San Juan Capistrano, the Ecology Center showcases farm goods produced within a 200-mile radius. Tomatoes come from Irwindale. Onions come from Visalia. It is a definite reminder of how lucky we are to live where fresh fruits, vegetables and fish are available year round. The Center, while only an acre, is amazing.
With chickens, various demonstrations, and fruit fresh from the trees, it is an educational tool for Orange County on practicing sustainability. Realizing the need to reach children while they’re young, the Center currently has farms at 22 schools within Orange and San Diego counties. For adults, there are two major fundraising dinners. The next one is Green Feast set for September 12, featuring 20 chefs and adheres to the 200-mile sourcing requirement. This has grown to a major soiree with 250 attendees last year. Tickets are available on the Ecology Center website for the upcoming event.
The Ecology Center and Santa Monica Seafood promote local suppliers for all commodities. They promote sustainability and bring that concept to the next generation by collaborating on many educational activities. Each year the dinners and options expand. It is obvious from the mutual respect shown the team will stay intact for an indefinite period. After all, they are each other’s hero.
Q: Give us a little bit of the site’s history.
Chef Paddy: The farm (adjacent to the Center) is owned by the city of San Juan Capistrano. The house is in the oldest wooden structure in Orange County. It was on the Pony Express run and was rotten. The city spent a lot of money developing it then put it up for usage. Evan put together a nonprofit called the Ecology Center. Evan is a lightning rod of getting people inspired.
Q: What is the common goal?
CP: The goal is to share with chefs where they can go for local produce, local ranchers as well as where, how and what sustainable seafood is.
Q: How would you describe the Ecology Center?
CP: It’s a think tank. However, during the summer there are camps teaching children sustainability in things like clothing and printing. In printing, they make the inks and dyes, there’s solar cooking — they have all kinds of stuff to do.
Q: Give us an example of one of the exhibits at the Center.
CP: A good one is the vermiculture tank. It’s a fast track way of composting. It’s composed of worms, papers and oranges. They don’t seem to like the oranges as well, it’s really rich stuff. You can make a tea out of it and spray it on the plants — it’s like Miracle Grow. There are companies out there producing it on a commercial basis. Composting takes forever but in my house with vermiculture, it breaks down in two weeks.
Q: Are there guidelines to help restaurants move towards sustainability?
CP: “The Chef’s Accord” is a living document of people working towards sustainable goals. It is not that they will be 100 percent green at the restaurant, but they are working to improve. It’s a journey. There are so many things you simply don’t realize.
Q: I understand you take salt very seriously and are willing to go to great lengths to insure the 200-mile radius is maintained.
CP: Salt varies by region and mineral content. I have a fisherman when he is about 80 miles off shore he dips the buckets deep. We pull the ocean water up, and I make a really fine grain salt. We might use it to cure fish which makes it hyper local.
Q: How would you define sustainable seafood?
CP: Sustainable seafood is an overused term. I prefer properly sourced. Properly sourced covers many things such as safety for the fisherman, a fair wage and nonuse of slavery in the fishing industry that is a major concern. Sustainability is consuming today, but leaving for the future.
Q: Most Americans would be extremely disturbed if they were aware of the human rights violations that exist within the international fishing community.
CP: I mentor a young man from El Salvador, who is currently working in Texas. He was a semi-slave on a tuna boat for about four years. They let him off, but he wasn’t paid a wage. They charged for a bed, so he was lucky to break even.
Q: What percentage of our seafood is imported? Why?
CP: We import over 92 percent of our seafood. People in this country want what they want when they want it. They want strawberries 12 months a year. They want tuna 12 months a year. Locally we have Blue Fin Tuna but the Ahi won’t be here until September, so we have to bring it in. Farmed salmon is still the number one item consumed in America but is brought in from somewhere else. What people don’t realize is the farmed salmon from Canada is five to six days old before hitting the grocery store.
Q: What country is taking the lead in promoting seafood sustainability?
CP: The U.S. is the blueprint for sustainable oceans around the world. When you’re buying U.S. fish, whether you think it’s politically correct, it’s done correctly. Period. End of story. You start buying stuff internationally or from an unknown source, then it’s anyone game. You really don’t know what you get.
The Ecology Center
32701 Alipaz St
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
949.661.9381 | www.theecologycenter.org
Santa Monica Seafood