’The natural rhythms of nature:’ Shih Fu brings ’tao’ to Nevada County dining, food relief
Shih Fu brings Tao to Nevada County dining, food relief
Shih Fu Eileen Hancock and co-conspirator Jocelyn Brown were lamenting the delay and size of the second stimulus checks on Dec. 21 — the winter solstice, Hancock noted — when they devised a plan to stimulate the local economy and nourish Nevada County.
Today, Tao Te Cafe’s Door-to-Door delivery launched to provide more than fresh poke and hot miso soup to Nevada County residents. The delivery service connects consumers with local growers — like Father Daughter Farm — to create meal kits that sustainably source their household’s produce, meat, dairy and alcohol.
Hancock first started the restaurant to extend the care for her community’s health and wellbeing beyond the doors of Body Balance Academy on 151 Mill St. Tao Te Cafe opened in the lower level of the academy, located in The Union newspaper’s old downtown building, which pre-COVID functioned as a poke bowl, tea house and event space.
Hancock opted to close the doors of the cafe amid the pandemic to ensure the safety of her kung fu and tai chi students. Additionally, Hancock said she felt privileged to run two businesses in the same building, and was conscious that Cafe Tao Te might present some competition for neighboring eateries already struggling to stay afloat with the indoor dining restrictions.
“Tao has many translations, but the most common is ‘the way,’” Hancock said. “It’s the idea that we move with the natural rhythms of nature and our environment in order to harmonize and flow with life.”
As a shih fu, or teacher, Hancock said finding one’s flow state always requires intention. Even so, Hancock said the degree of hardship her community is facing felt like a personal call to action.
“I guess we’re sort of shih fu-ing people into becoming their own chef,” Hancock said.
Hancock said she is sensitive to the financial strain her community is facing because of the obstacles she has faced as an entrepreneur and business owner during COVID-19.
While Nevada County was in California’s purple tier, Hancock continued to conduct classes outdoors under heaters she originally purchased to support the cafe’s pop ups on Mill Street. Since the new shutdown order, Hancock continues to teach and maintain contact with students through Zoom.
Hancock said some of the academy’s students are able to pay for their classes through physical education options made available by their charter school. Hancock said since the pandemic began, she witnessed and worked with families reckoning with reduced financial capacity.
“Fourteen percent of Nevada County is facing food insecurity,” Hancock explained. “We need to come together collectively and we can help resolve this issue.”
The California Employment Development Department’s unemployment numbers are unavailable since the latest statewide shelter-in-place order, but the difference in need is obvious to volunteers and employees at the Nevada County Food Bank.
According to Nicole McNeely, the executive director of the Nevada County Food Bank, the food distribution organization fed Nevada County residents 24,881 times in 2019. In 2020, the Nevada County Food Bank provided food to families in the area 96,290 times.
Jocelyn Brown, Hancock’s friend, said the need, tripled since last year, makes her work — offering children a chance to get physical and feel normal — that much more essential.
“As a midwife I am already aware that a lot of people can’t even afford good maternity care in this country,” Brown explained. “We don’t have universal health care, the Affordable Care Act is expensive — I think about what people can and can’t afford and the choices they have to make.”
Hancock said she was aware of these tough decisions when she first thought of creating the academy’s affiliated nonprofit, Lifelong Health, which sponsors students in financial need. Tai chi is accessible to students with varied levels of health because of the low impact approach to building muscle strength and flexibility, Hancock explained.
Hancock said she worked with Catherine Stifter, one of the academy’s “best tai chi instructors” and a grant writer to successfully incorporate Lifelong Health and sponsor students receiving treatment for cancer or other autoimmune disorders in 2014.
As Hancock and Brown devised a plan to revision the cafe and connect with people in need, they realized how important it is to include all local stakeholders.
Hancock said Tao Te Cafe’s Door-to-Door service officially expanded to include a Food Fellowship under the same 501c(3) status, wherein the cafe might offer Nevada County families and farmers reciprocal relief.
Hancock the service reduces carbon emissions by reducing miles traveled for purchased products — she can walk to Father Daughter Farm for her micro-greens, and lives on the vineyard where her business sources its olive oil. Further, Hancock said she is proud to say that the door-to-door deliveries will not come with the abundance of packaging usually accompanied with orders from some meal kit delivery service giants.
Hancock said working with the farmers directly also gives her an opportunity to assess and design meals that not only correspond with what’s in season, but offer those in need discounted or free food items for the food fellowship.
“We do it locally with farmers that we love and with minimal waste,” Hancock said.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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