Over the past seven years, the annual Berry Good Night dinner has aimed to connect and celebrate local and sustainable farmers, ranchers, fishermen, chefs, vintners and community leaders.

In September 2017 we debuted a new format (#BGN100) to increase interaction and engagement, and 100 “idea ambassadors” were hand selected for their commitment toward fundamental change in our food system.

Over the course of 2018, we will profile a number of the participants to highlight their efforts and create greater awareness and connection within our community.

This month we focus on the Cali-Baja region, and speak with:

  • Eileen Gregory, a hotelier, restaurateur, vintner, and an early and active sustainability advocate from Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe, Grupo La Villa del Valle
  • Jonathan Zaidman, an educator and conservationist, and the Director of Regional Expansion, Special Projects and Engagement at The Ecology Center
  • Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade, an active and passionate philanthropist and community leader in the Cali-Baja region

Eileen Gregory, Grupo La Villa del Valle

Eileen Gregory

Please tell us briefly about your work and your goals.

Together with my husband, I am the proprietor of a boutique hotel, La Villa del Valle, which includes a winery, Vena Cava; a restaurant, Corazon de Tierra; a food truck and line of lavender bath and beauty products, Baja Botanica; in the Valle de Guadalupe. We are committed to being as sustainable as possible with an emphasis on organic production and waste avoidance in all spheres of our businesses and lives.

Did you make any interesting connections at BGN100?

I already knew many of the fascinating people doing such wonderful work at the BGN100 event. I am terrible remembering names, but I did enjoy meeting the woman who did the Q&A with Trey, a cheese maker and I enjoyed a wonderful drink from the whey. I also spent some productive time speaking with the person from Solar Rain and the couple who are doing hydroponic farming working with veterans.

What are the other ways you successfully connect with like-minded members of the sustainable food community to further your mission?

I organize a sustainability conference in the Valle de Guadalupe which deals with water, agriculture, architecture and tourism issues. I am also part of a group of sustainable vineyard owners and farmers who pool our resources and share our experience. We are currently sponsoring young agronomists to come to the Valle and learn best regenerative agricultural practices from our collective team.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I enjoy traveling, the arts and learning about other cultures.

Working in the Cali-Baja area, do you have any favorite traditions you’d like to share?

There are currently three events in Baja that are especially near and dear to my heart. The first is the sustainability conference which this year will be over three days, with the first day dedicated to visits to a few ranches and wineries that are implementing water capture and conservation practices. A native plant expert will lead a tour showcasing the native plants in situ and explain their medicinal and culinary uses. The second day will be a series of talks and panels, and the third day will take place at the Vinedos en Flor event which is part of the annual Fiestas de la Vendimia celebrations.

We have also just completed our first “Artist in Residence” program at our winery, Vena Cava, which will be an annual event where we host three artists who will create an artwork that will be installed in the area, and who will also lead various community activities during the event. We hope that next year four additional wineries will participate, with the goal that in just a few years we will create an Art Route in the Valle with artists developing pieces in harmony with the landscape.

The third event is not so much an event as a new committee the winemakers’ association is forming to benefit the local community.

Jonathan Zaidman, The Ecology Center

Jonathan Zaidman

Please tell us briefly about your work and your goals.

The Ecology Center seeks to educate, inspire and empower our community in the stewardship of ecological design and sustainability in the core areas of Water, Grow, Eat, and Make. We aim to model solutions that will be replicated based on the core belief that we are all part of nature, intimately interconnected to each other and our shared environment, and that together we can create a healthy, abundant future.

Did you make any interesting connections at BGN100?

I was able to connect with a great deal of passionate, interesting, like-minded professionals and celebrate with those of whom I already have a vibrant relationship.

What are the other ways you successfully connect with like-minded members of the sustainable food community to further your mission?

Not enough. I would only hope for there to be more functions like BGN100 to allow for further collaboration.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

Gardening, exploring local food and beer options, camping, and traveling.

Working in the Cali-Baja border area, do you have any favorite things you’d like to share?

Growing up in a Latino family, I was able to enjoy the rich cultural elements of San Diego and Mexico daily. We grew up shopping for groceries in Tijuana and I would often compare my school snack of carrots, cucumber, and jicama with lime and chile to my classmate’s bags of chips or cookies.

To date, I enjoy replicating plant-based versions of the foods I grew up with: Chile Relleno, Sopa de Tortilla, Flautas, and others.

Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade, community leader

Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade

Please tell us briefly about your work and your goals.

I was born in San Diego and raised on both sides of the border. A public relations and marketing professional, I was known as the Voice of the Border in my capacity as media liaison and interpreter in head-of-state visits by Mexican presidents, Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel Laureates. I have created and produced signature events for nonprofit/for-profit organizations and consulted with SEMPRA Energy, Twentieth Century Fox, assorted Fortune 500 companies and the Office of the President of Mexico. I established what was the premier interpretation/translation firm along the US-Mexico border working on bilateral initiatives at the federal, state and municipal levels.

My passion for philanthropy and our cross-border region led to my serving as founding member of the Club de Niños y Niñas de Tijuana (the first Boys and Girls Club out of the US and Canada), and the Fundación Internacional de la Comunidad (the first community foundation in Baja with an endowment fund). I hosted the San Diego Latino Film Festival and was Gala Chair for the SD Natural History Museum, the New Children’s Museum, and the March of Dimes. I raised close to $1 million for the Francis Parker School Gala in 2016, and $500,000 for the San Ysidro Health Center in 2017, which provides healthcare services to close to 90,000 individuals a year in San Diego. Currently, I serve on the Berry Good Food Foundation Advisory Board and as an Ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House’s Dia de Alegria.

I especially like connecting our food sustainability system to organizations within our region and showcasing chefs, causes and community. A few of my favorites over the years have been crafting the first-ever bi-national chef and wine showcase for the San Diego Natural History Museum’s event Dos Aguilas over fourteen years ago. Dos Aguilas fostered environmental education and promoted sustainability of our greater Cali-Baja region through efforts such as the film “Ocean Oasis”. The event also spotlighted Baja chefs who are innovating in the Valle de Guadalupe today, such as Javier Plascencia and Diego Hernandez Baquedano. The New Children’s Museum’s two signature events which I co-chaired, “Feasting in Versailles” and “Feasting in Wonderland”, were incredible pairings of chefs with installation artists who formed part of the “Feast! The Art of Playing with your Food” exhibit.

I supported the Chef Showcase for the San Ysidro Health Center, raising funds to provide access to healthcare for individuals who would not otherwise receive it. And I recently served as host of the first ever Valle de Guadalupe Food and Wine Festival; these kinds of multi-disciplinary collaborations are truly what I am all about!

Did you make any interesting connection at BGN100?

I was delighted to serve as Table Ambassador for BGN100. As a connector of people, resources and opportunities, I relished the intense discussion among a group of incredibly talented and committed individuals – from a scientist, to my dear friend and renowned fishmonger Tommy Gomes, to the CEO of a farm, the owner of a winery, and an entrepreneur who harvests seaweed. The same synergy, synchronicity and serendipitous connections which I am passionate about fostering throughout our cross-border region, also took place at our table over an extraordinary meal. I particularly love weaving the knowledge I acquired that evening into my philanthropic or consulting endeavors, or simply helping communicate vital issues about food, sustainability, zero waste or healthy eating to our larger regional community. BGFF helps me identify key issues, direct interested donors to like-minded causes, and pinpoint which causes I am best able to serve with my skill set.

What are the other ways you connect with like-minded members of the sustainable food community to further your mission?

Food sustainability is serious and sexy. It’s vital and vibrant. It’s incredibly important to all of us.

Being a member of the Berry Good Food Foundation Advisory Board has been an amazing way for me to connect with like-minded individuals. BGFF organizes “Future Thought Leaders” panels which are extremely insightful. I keep abreast of relevant literature like Dan Barber’s “The Third Plate” and am looking forward to participating in one of Jack Ford’s cheese-making classes at Franco’s on Fifth. Events such as Collaboration Kitchen or the farm dinners are also wonderful opportunities to catch up with proactive, productive and positive people who are making things happen.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I visit my son Carlos, a sophomore at Stanford, and my daughter Andie, a freshman at Loyola Marymount University, as often as I can. I am a devotee of Lagree Megaformer pilates, am picking up bachata dancing shines and moves, and crossing items like ATVing off my bucket list. On a slower pace, I love day-tripping in the Valle and am reading my way through the offerings at Warwick’s bookstore.

My current fave is a newcomer to the event scene – the Valle Food and Wine Festival! It took place towards the end of 2017 at Finca Altozano, spearheaded by Javier Plascencia, Nancy Silverton and Carolyn Carreno and with the support of Baja Wine + Food, and I was incredibly excited to serve as bilingual emcee—mark your calendars for next year’s event! The slate of chefs from northern California to the Valle promises to be phenomenal, and I am happy to see the funds raised benefiting the fieldworkers and their families in the region.