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.