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.