They Came Hungry for Change and Left Inspired

By Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Before settling into a full day of TEDxManhattan presentations, our local viewing party began with a different kind of meet and greet activity—human mapping. Participants moved around Bethesda Green’s spacious lobby in different spatial configurations as if it were a Google Map in response to: Where do you live within the DC metro area; who do you represent along the food value chain; and what one food-related issue do you want to voice your passion about?

More than 70 people attended the second annual local viewing party co-hosted by Bethesda Green, Full Plate Ventures, and SlowFood DC. As the only TEDxManhattan viewing location in the Metro DC region, we had a very diverse group of participants that provided a rich mix of locales, interests, ages, and community sectors. Throughout the day people mixed and mingled, grouped in two different viewing rooms, and feasted on delicious and homemade fare — responding to our local, seasonal potluck challenge.

Seasonal Local Potluck Challenge

People shared some new terms and concepts they learned throughout the day, including: Food labeling transparency, green carts (in the Bronx), aquaponics vs. aquaculture, good food = good health, food traceability,  neurogastronomy, and Land Link. The inspiring TEDxManhattan presentations, sponsored by the Glynwood Institute will be posted online soon. Our local program featured several new initiatives and entrepreneurial businesses bubbling up in Montgomery County.

Land and Labor Link

The national demand for local food has exploded and continues to grow, yet in our region the supply can’t keep up with demand. The problem stems from a lack of affordable, accessible land in which to grow food locally along with a lack of training for a new generation of farmers without family farm ties and available labor to farm. Kristina Bostick, senior conservation specialist with Montgomery Countryside Alliance described Land Link and Labor Link, two new programs launched this year to facilitate linking farmers with farmland and labor. “We are proud to announce the first match between land owner and farmer this year!” Kristina reported.

This farmer and land link will expand our supply of locally-grown table crops in years to come without the volatility of short-term leases.

Montgomery County Food Council

The new Montgomery County Food Council launches this month with a diverse group of stakeholders whose mission is to foster a robust, local, and sustainable food system in Montgomery County. This independently organized diverse group of stakeholders is charged with improving the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of our local food system. “The public is welcome to join the broad-reaching Council network by attending monthly meetings, joining a Council working group, or joining as a capacity partner organization,” explained Council Coordinator Claire Cummings on ways the public can get involved.

On-line Food Marketplaces

In the last few years, a plethora of on-line market places have sprung up on the web to help people find local sources of sustainably-grown food. Among the many direct farm to consumer sites include: Local Harvest, which shows you where to find farmer’s markets;  Real Time Farms, a crowd-source online, nationwide food guide that gives you local farmer’s market and eatery locations; and Arganica, a food-buying club that delivers in the DC Metro Region.

Foodem.com is a new on-line food marketplace that matches wholesale food sellers and buyers. “I saw the need  to make wholesale food distribution more efficient and competitively-priced as an alternative to the largest national distributors like US Foods and Sysco,” explained Kash Rehman, CEO and founder of Foodem, who launched in 2010. “I’m very excited to connect local farms with local restaurants and food institutions as a way to grow the sustainable food movement.”

Tracing our Food to its Source

As food contamination outbreaks continue to make headlines, there’s a growing need to know exactly where our food comes from.  Also, small farmers don’t have the budgets to effectively market their products. Dick Stoner, of Locale Chesapeake, shared his exciting entrepreneurial labeling venture. “Locale Chesapeake uses  new affordable technology—such as bar codes, QR codes read with smart phones, and radio frequency ID tags to provide both traceability and better marketing so that farmers can share their story about their growing practices and unique products,” said Stoner.

It Takes a Community to Feed the Homeless

Today, one in six Americans is food insecure, meaning that individuals are not getting adequate nutrition for themselves and their families. Even in affluent Bethesda, the non-profit Bethesda Cares serves 20,000 meals to the homeless every year. Executive Director Sue Kirk outlined the grim reality of their clients—the long-term homeless population that are the hard to reach.

Yet, food—especially a hot meal is a great way to connect, to engage, and offer additional social services and medical resources needed to break  long-term homelessness.

“We are so fortunate to have a vast network of government, business, community groups, houses of worship, and volunteers who partner with Bethesda Cares,” explained Kirk.

Viewing TEDx

At the end of the day, participants offered their reflections. “This was an immensely invigorating and inspiring event,” shared Ashley Shaloo. Others pledged new habits they plan to adopt, including to deepen their commitment to buy local, compost more aggressively, join a CSA, garden more at home.

Next up: A new six-week discussion circle will begin in March using the Northwest Earth Institute’s curriculum, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, led by Marney Bruce, Simplicity Matters. Contact Marney marneyb@earthlink.net for more information.

We gratefully acknowledge our sponsors for this event: South Mountain Creamery, Honest Tea, and Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company.

TEDxManhattan’s “Changing the Way We Eat” is a one-day event in New York City that was simulcast at viewing parties all over the world.

Bethesda Green brings business, government and community together to promote a healthy economy and sustainable living practices in order to reduce our collective impact on the environment.

Cheryl Kollin of Full Plate Ventures, LLC is passionate about building sustainable, regional food systems. She provides business consulting and educational programming to social enterprises to enhance their profitability while serving their social mission.

SlowFood DC is a community that promotes and celebrates local, seasonal, and sustainable food sources; works to preserve the culinary traditions of the region’s ethnically and culturally diverse populations; and supports the right of all people to enjoy good, clean, fair food.

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