By Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

“We will seat everyone at one long table and serve dinner family style—just like Thanksgiving,” envisioned Chef Tony Marciante as we discussed final preparations for dinner. And what a festive event it was, as 28 guests dined together at Chef Tony’s Restaurant on Monday, September 19 in downtown Bethesda.

Savor Local Flavor dinner was the finale of our three series event, On the Farm, Around the Table: connecting food, farmers, and community in three meals, hosted by Bethesda Green and Full Plate Ventures.

Even though I was a wreck waiting to write the program until Tony finalized his purchase of seasonal and local ingredients and created the menu just hours before serving, it was well worth the wait. He created a fabulous four-course meal. “My approach to cooking is to choose the freshest ingredients that dictate the evening’s menu,” Chef Tony shared with guests as he introduced the evening’s dinner. “Then I prepare each dish simply—so that the flavor of the food speaks for itself.”

The early autumn menu started with two appetizers–Cherry Glenn Goat Cheese variety served with fresh figs and a Balsamic vinegar reduction and an array of Carolina Gold and Red tomatoes with basil. Huge platters of pan-seared Virginia rockfish and chicken scaloppini followed with more platters of couscous ringed with tiny cubes of roasted beets, baked spaghetti squash, and a medley of tomatoes and zucchini. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, Tony served a warm Honey-crisp apple and peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

“Did you feel the magic happen from eating together around this huge table, sharing platters of delicious, fresh, locally-grown food?” asked Caroline Taylor, Executive Director of The Montgomery Countryside Alliance. “We have much to be grateful for tonight.”

Indeed, I felt the magic of the evening as I did at each event in the series, reflecting on our shared learning. Bethesda Green and Full Plate Ventures’ intent in creating this educational series was three fold.  First we wanted to increase public awareness of what a local, sustainable and healthy food system looks like, starting with the land where our food is grown. Caroline taught us about today’s challenges she faces in advocating for Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. She and our other presenters throughout the series discussed these challenges including:

  1. Access to affordable farmland in our region
  2. Financial and technical support for new farmers
  3. Aggregation of small farmer’s products, retaining their story and brand and efficient distribution systems to bring food to market, especially to small businesses like Chef Tony’s Restaurant and Yamas Mediterranean Grill
  4. Food access for all—changing federal and local food and farm policies
  5. Learning where and how to shop seasonally; the lost art of cooking, and making healthy food choices

    Cheryl Kollin and Chef Tony

Second, because our local food system is still nascent and has many gaps, we wanted to begin to connect stakeholders with one another. We introduced buyers to producers in the series— by visiting the Bethesda Central Farm Market, touring of Rocklands Farm, and introducing chefs to farmers. The series also connected businesses with one another—farmer Shannon Varley found new sources of animal feed, growingSOUL’s Jessica Weiss found a lead on land for her food composting operation, and a photographer scouted out her next subject—a farm in the Agricultural Reserve.

Third, even though there are many challenges ahead in creating a sustainable, healthy, and local food system, we showcased our speakers, sponsors and contributing partners who are already active in this effort. And we see many entrepreneurial businesses, partnerships, and initiatives emerging to piece together this puzzle, including:

  1. The On the Farm, Around the Table Series has been filmed as part of Growing Legacy on Metro’s Edge, a new documentary film by Mark Leisher
  2. Montgomery Countryside Alliance’s Land Link, connecting farmers with affordable available land.
  3. An increasing number of producers who are farming more sustainably—raising pastured poultry, grass-fed meat, building soil, and protecting our waterways and our health.
  4. Emerging National and local models of aggregation and distribution systems called—food hubs or value chains, such as The Food Hub in Charlottesville.
  5. New technology tools for small business such as coordinated production among many small farmers; online ordering for individuals, restaurants, and institutions; and digitally tracing where your food comes from—learning about the farmers’ and their story
  6. Newly created Montgomery County Food Council

As we end this series, here are some ways to stay connected to the issues and learn more:

  1. Join non-profits to keep abreast of local food issues and opportunities: Bethesda Green, Montgomery Countryside Alliance, growingSOUL, and SlowFood DC.
  2. Learn more with others through Simplicity Matters Discussion circles: The Northwest Earth Institute’s newest six-session discussion course, entitled Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, will be available soon. Visit the Simplicity Matters website to join a Discussion Circle
  3. Participate in Food Day-Oct. 24, spearheaded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest with local activities throughout the U.S.
  4. Support businesses that walk the talk.

Bethesda Green and Full Plate Ventures gratefully acknowledge our supporters, including MOM’s Organic Market, Chef Tony’s Restaurant, Norman’s Farm Market, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; and all of our contributing partners.

Our newest non-profit partner at Bethesda Green, growingSOUL — Sustainable Opportunities for Universal Learning — is closing the gap in the loop between fresh food production, distribution and waste in the area.  Working with other non-profit organizations, local restaurants, small farmers in Montgomery County, and the community-at large, growingSOUL is raising awareness of the critical importance of creating a zero-waste sustainable food system.

It is all made possible by each citizen doing their part to rescue vital nutrients, diverting them out of our waste stream by sorting and recycling their food scraps (including meat, dairy and oil that others will tell you cannot be composted safely at home).  The scraps can be brought to the local farmers market or collected by calling on growingSOUL’s waste-vegetable oil fueled mobile compost station for business, home or community pick up.

The nutrient dense compost made from local community food scraps at the nearby growingSOUL farm is shared with farmers who grow fresh food for Manna, our local food bank, helping Montgomery County residents, 25% of which are at risk for hunger.  The compost is also used in the new Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) vegetable gardens, recognizing the need to provide more fresh produce in public school lunches, including  the 31.1% of MCPS children who qualify for free or reduced cost lunches.

To find out more about how YOU can contribute to creating the healthy soil in which good food and strong communities grow and thrive, contact Program Director Jessica Weiss at info@growingSOUL.org or 301-537-7422, or visit their website: www.growingSOUL.org.

Bethesda Green Hungers for Changing the Way We Eat

by Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Forty food lovers, farmers, business people and activists gathered at Bethesda Green’s TEDx Manhattan Viewing Party February 12 and settled in for a day-long live streaming presentation about “Changing the Way We Eat.”  The independently organized TED event featured 22 live presentations from New York on many aspects of the sustainable food movement and the work being done to shift our food system from industrially-based agriculture to one in which healthy, nutritious food is accessible to all.

Dr. William Li presented compelling evidence of how certain foods, like strawberries, hard cheeses, papaya, chocolate, artichokes, fish, and black raspberries can starve cancer.  Brooklyn-based Dr. Melony Samuels, director of the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, changed a conventional food pantry into an alternative supermarket to restore dignity among its recipients.  She also transformed one backyard into an urban farm to provide more local fresh produce for seniors with diabetes, heart, and cancer  and by doing so, inspired her neighbors to transform their own yards into 2,000 sq. ft  of gardens for growing vegetables.

Laurie David, author of “The Family Dinner” harkens back to my own childhood and cites all the health, and family bonding statistics on why families should eat dinner together.

The TEDxManhattanViewing Party attracted:

  • 11 countries
  • 40 Bethesda Green viewers
  • 130 viewing parties
  • 14,014 computer logins
  • 46,382 total viewing streams

Ken Cook, president and founder of Environmental Working Group put our nation’s growing demand for local and sustainably-grown food in perspective:  Sales of organic food is now a $25 billion industry, however, it only represents 1% of land farmed today.  Community supported agriculture (CSA) has grown from two in 1986 to more than 4,000 offerings in 2010 but still represents less than 1% of the entire food supply.   He urged everyone to learn about the Farmbill and to contact their Congressional representatives in support of sustainable food systems when the debate for 2013 reauthorization soon begins.

Josh Viertel, executive director of Slow Food, USA believes that with our growing public awareness of food issues,  we need to shift from enlightened eaters to engaged citizens.  He believes that change is not longer just about individuals voting with our forks, increasing the demand for healthy, locally-grown food. We must become engaged in changing the food system within our whole community.  This was the perfect lead-in to our off-line Bethesda Green discussions about our local Foodshed, defined simply as where our food is produced and eaten.

Today there are about 90 farmers markets in the Washington Metropolitan region and agriculture contributes approximately $1 billion annually to our regional economy.  In Montgomery County, our 93,000 acre Agricultural Reserve contributes $250 million in food annually to the local economy, however, there is much more demand than supply to meet our growing desire for local and sustainably-produced food.

TEDx Viewing Party attendees break for a locally-produced and prepared pot-luck lunch. No Costco or Safeway food here! Photo by Bill Franz

In the spirit of eating together, Bethesda Green’s attendees were challenged (in February!) to contribute a locally-produced and prepared potluck dish for lunch.  Our table was graced with a bounty of seasonal, locally-grown, and homemade treats — including Devora’s KOL Foods grilled grass-fed beef, Cindy’s homemade roasted winter vegetables in pastry, Claudia’s freshly homemade Schnitzbread with dried apples and maple glaze and Kristina’s mom’s homemade apricot preserves.  Each dish was labeled with its ingredients and source and none of it came from Costco or Safeway.

Over lunch, our local speakers gave attendees a taste of what’s happening in our area.   Kristina Bostick, Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA), spoke of the vision of Montgomery County to preserve farm and open space 31 years ago, and MCA’s work to support farming and protect the land from modern day encroachments.  Mike Kennedy described Fox Haven Farm in Frederick County as an incubator to grow new land-based technologies and entreprenurial businesses on land undergoing conversion to organic status.

Kati Gimes discussed the joy of eating and learning with Slow Food DC members at monthly events at food establishments and farms. Debra Tropp, of USDA, directed the audience to the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website that consolidates federal funding and knowledge sharing in a one-stop shop.

Jessica Weiss of GrowingSOUL passed around a bin that collected all the lunchtime compostable dishware and food scraps as she explained her zero-wasted sustainable closed loop food system.  She’ll take our food scrap donation, compost it into rich a growing medium and donate it to farms that grow food for food banks and the community.  She does this while driving a truck fueled by waste vegetable oil.

During our afternoon break, Bethesda Green attendees broke into small discussion groups and generated ideas of how our community can educate our community and change our local food system. Bethesda Green, serving as a catalyst for initiating sustainable projects, will cultivate these ideas among volunteer coordinators.

“It was great getting together to view the presentations with a group of people with the same interests so that thoughts and ideas could be shared during the breaks,” said local attendee Lori Wark who manages the website, Adventures in Climate Change.  “I also enjoyed meeting the many interesting people and have begun to think of ways we can work together.”

The TEDxManhattan presentations were recorded in three sessions and are available until 6 pm ET on Feb. 26th.

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3

Cheryl Kollin is principal of Full Plate Ventures, who provides business consulting to clients who serve a social mission.  She hosted the TEDx Viewing Party at Bethesda Green.

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