Leaders for a Greener Omaha

Five that are making a difference

Clayton Chapman-Executive Chef, The Grey Plume

The simplicity of chestnut puree blends perfectly with a slice of lemon on a spoon. Details are the highlight of this subtle bar; the lip of a wine glass matches the silverware. This place could be nestled in the hills of San Francisco, celebrities knitted among the seated clientele.

Only this is Omaha. This is The Grey Plume, already so well known it seems to have been a staple for years.

“Omaha is home to me, where I grew up,” said Chapman. Cultivating his love for food at a young age, Chapman worked in restaurants throughout Omaha, including M’s Pub. Following his passion to Chicago, he attended the Illinois Institute of Art, working at the respected Tru Restaurant. “I had a meal in Chicago when I was 17 that shaped the way I look at food today,” he said. “This was the meal that helped me to determine what type of kitchen I wanted to pedigree myself in.”

Time passed and travels through Europe and West Africa were completed. In 2007, Chapman moved back to Omaha, acquiring experience at V. Mertz, Spencer’s, and teaching Chef Instruction at Metro Community College.

The Grey Plume was then opened that December, giving Omaha a fresh way to experience luxury on a plate.

Chapman and his staff not only offer delightful food; they also are the first Certified Green Restaurant in Nebraska by The Green Restaurant Association.

“We are constantly looking at what we are doing and asking how we can better our environmental consciousness,” he said. “We think it is important to do what we can to stimulate the local economy. Spending our dollars with Nebraska owned companies does just that.”

Keeping the sustainable lifestyle flowing from work to home, Clayton and his family maintain the same standards in their personal lives. “We say that every time we purchase something, we are voting for whom we want to see stay is business. We try and support other small businesses as much as possible.”

When you visit The Grey Plume, you are guaranteed an experience that seems straight out of the West Coast. As a Green Leader for Omaha, Chapman and his staff will continue to raise the bar for other businesses throughout the metro.

Jody Fritz: Manager/Co-Owner: Tomato Tomato

There is a place in Omaha that is a haven for farmer’s market addicts. Tomato Tomato is Omaha’s only year-round indoor farmer’s market, supporting nearly 30 vendors throughout the area.

A young woman stood with her back to me, counting out bottles of olive oil with a vendor. This is Jody Fritz, co-owner of the store, friendly and outgoing, surely the result of her diet of local vegetables.

“My husband Jeremy’s family had a business called Garden Fresh Vegetables,” she said. “We started to help his father with the distribution of tomatoes to sell them at the farmers market. It was here we got to know different farmers and came up with the idea of a year around market.”

What began on a white Costco table in a basement turned into a consignment successful enough to invite more vendors while ensuring the farmers were properly paid, an important part of having a sustainable business.

Eating locally not only tastes better, it is an important part of a “green” lifestyle. “This is the best use of all the land we have out here in the plains,” she said. “We have people right here in Nebraska and Iowa growing outstanding food. By choosing local you are lessening your carbon footprint and supporting your own economy.”

With the options available at Tomato Tomato, you will never miss the sad, wilting produce at a supermarket. Fritz is dedicated to the community here in Omaha, providing food to residents who need it most. “One of the greatest successes with our CSA program has been the community market basket program we began last year,” she said. “We worked with No More Empty Pots, Hunger Free Heartland and Alegent to get bags of fruit and vegetables into the hands of 50 low income families at a reduced price. We are planning on doing the same this year with 100 bags.”

Come visit this incredible local food gem, and cultivate one of the most important relationships you will every have, one with your food. 

“We get to know our customers and connect them to what they are buying,” she said. “We realize we are not only representing Tomato Tomato, but the many vendors in the store. We do not take this responsibility lightly.”

Dr. Angela Eikenberry and Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer: ModeShift Members

“A green leader is like a good personal trainer; someone who has realistic expectations for how much they can improve, and then pushes to stretch those limits.” Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer balances his bike helmet on his knee, leaning on the handles of his bicycle.

Dr. Angela Eikenberry sits back on her bike, soaking in the last of the sun. “I think a green leader is someone who tries their best to live being ‘green’; and helps change systems to make it easier for others to do the same.”

Known throughout the active transportation scene, Dr. Eikenberry and Farmer lead by example, commuting mainly with their bicycles and leading the grassroots organization Modeshift, an organization dedicated to making active transportation safe for all residents.

Farmer got involved with Modeshift in the summer of 2011, after a series of poorly attended public meetings on the Transportation Master Plan revisions planned for the city. Dr. Eikenberry was the organizer of this first meeting. “We reached out to other people and groups interested in transportation issues as well. We are what I would describe as a “loose network” that gets a lot done.”

As a graphics specialist, Farmer finds a love in civic planning and the arts, as well as educating people on how to be more sustainable in their lives. “In my philosophy responsible living emerges from reducing your impact a little at a time by consuming less, being conscientious in your action, and looking for further opportunities once you've incorporated a change into your lifestyle.”

Dr. Eikenberry, a professor of Public Administration at UNO, focuses on the details of green living. “We made small (and sometimes large) decisions about where we lived, how many cars we owned, and so on to work our way up to this. Even so, we still have to have a sign on our back door that says, “Do you need to drive?”

This simple phrase would be perfect on many doors in Omaha, a reminder that being active is always the greener way to move about the city. With the work of ModeShift and the changes to the Transportation Master Plan, more residents may be closer to changing the way they move.

“It seems like Omaha is on the verge of embracing more sustainable ways of living,” said Dr. Eikenberry. “There are a growing number of people passionate about the need for healthy transportation options in Omaha.”

Eric Williams: Program Coordinator, reEnergize Omaha.

There is hardly a way to be more sustainable than supporting community gardens. These plots feed neighborhoods over the course of a season, providing produce to those who may not have access to nutritious food. I met Eric Williams beside the Dundee Community Garden, his pride evident as he beamed towards the budding grasses.

A graduate of Rice University, Williams earned his B.S. in Civil Engineering, inspiring him to move back to Omaha to focus on local issues. “My primary interest is in finding ways to conserve resources, as well as promoting renewable energy and healthy foods.”

An active community member, Williams founded the Omaha Biofuels Coop, is a founding Board Member for the Dundee Community Garden, and is involved in the efforts of Transition Omaha and Mode Shift Omaha. This variety of activities led him to his current position with the reEnergize Program. “This job is a great fit, it combines my background in engineering with my interest in efficiency and clean energy in our community,” he said. “I have currently been working to help build the market for energy evaluations and energy upgrades in both the residential and nonprofit/commercial sectors.”

Williams is admirable in his green living practices. “I am continually working to reduce the energy use in my own home,” he smiled. “I choose a non-meat food options whenever possible (maybe you'd call me a flexitarian), eat at local restaurants and specifically purchase from local food growers and producers whenever possible.”

We stood beside the garden, Williams tapping his bicycle helmet on his leg as we spoke. “Last year I rode my bike, took the bus, and tried to use the right mode of transportation for every trip. I try to live my life so that the world is measurably better for me having been here.”

An unwavering example of sustainable living, Williams will continue to inspire residents to change their lives for the better. 

posted at 04:57 pm
on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

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