Appetite for environmentalism

Popular eatery goes the distance for the Earth

Brandon Wooley puts the finishing touches on a pizza before placing it in a wood-fired oven.

Brandon Wooley puts the finishing touches on a pizza before placing it in a wood-fired oven.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Sierra Nevada Brewery’s kitchen buzzes with energy as silverware clanks against the stainless-steel setup. Although the scene is what one might expect from a busy restaurant, the bustling is also centered around cuisine crafted with the environment in mind.

“Everything from where we purchase our food to how we get rid of the waste in some way touches sustainability,” said Michael Iles, the restaurant’s executive chef.

A fixture in Chico, the brewery has long been recognized for its environmentally friendly methods, such as a prominent solar array. But the business is making a difference with lesser-known efforts as well.

Iles works hand in hand with Cheri Chastain, the sustainability coordinator for Sierra Nevada, whose duties encompass all aspects of the brewery’s production, including the Taproom and Restaurant. And it all starts with the food. Chastain and Iles prefer serving organic, locally grown produce, which is often purchased from the Chico farmers markets or other local growers.

Buying from nearby farmers helps the local economy, but Iles notes that the use of organics also enhances the quality and taste of the food. Special attention is given to every purchase, such as salmon imported from a certified sustainable fishery in Alaska.

“It’s not a fish farm; it’s all wild fish” Iles said. “They don’t overfish it, and they protect the watershed, too.”

In addition, the majority of the beef served is from brewery-owned cattle raised without hormones or antibiotics at the Chico State University farm.

Other details of the operation reveal a commitment to reducing the facility’s waste stream. Grain used in the brewing process, for example, is fed as a supplement to the cattle. The spent grain is also used to make the restaurant’s signature pizza crust, fired in an oven heated by local wood of nonproducing almond wood trees.

Grain used in the brewing process is reused for pizza crust.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Inside the restaurant sits a big yellow barrel for orange peels, wilted lettuce and other unusable produce. Instead of going to the landfill, 500 to 600 pounds of the waste is transported each week to a composting pile—also at the university farm. Non-food waste is also handled with care.

“Pretty much everything we can recycle, we do, right down to the coasters,” Chastain said.

Unused beer-bottle labels are glued together and converted into notepads for the staff, for instance.

Recently, the restaurant completed a trial program of converting used vegetable oil from the kitchen’s deep fryers into biodiesel. Eventually, the plan is to run a full-time biodiesel program to fuel long-haul trucks.

Additionally, within the next year, a new rail system in Hamilton City will allow the business to transport grain by train from the northern states where it is produced, Chastain said. One rail car will hold the equivalent of four truckloads of grain, significantly lowering the amount of pollutants emitted in the transportation process.

“It’s cost-effective, too,” she said.

Unused fruits and veggies are tossed into a bin that will be sent to a compost pile at the Chico State farm.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Sierra Nevada employees are allowed to grow vegetables for their own use in a company garden where the brewery grows hops, Chastain said. Some of the herbs and veggies grown there have been used in the kitchen.

“The only rule is absolutely no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals of any kind allowed,” she said.

Iles thinks that the company’s environmental efforts have sent a message that the operation’s 400 employees take to heart in their personal lives: “The little things you do can make a difference,” he said.