July 2012

Farm to Freezer: Preserving fresh, local food to nourish the hungry

by Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Last Sunday 10 volunteers came together to beat the heat by washing, chopping, and blanching fresh vegetables at St. John’s Church in Bethesda. In just four hours volunteers with Farm to Freezer prepared 50 lbs. of tomato sauce, diced zucchini, and roasted eggplant for the freezer. This food will be incorporated into healthy meals throughout the year for Bethesda Cares’ meals program that feeds the hungry in our community.

“Hooray for us!  It was actually a lot of fun and nice people to chat with too,” exclaimed Susan Wexler who joined the prep crew on Sunday. “Someone asked me if I was a professional; I said, well, I have spent a lot of time in kitchens!”

You don’t have to be an experienced cook to join us. The program seems to resonate with people for many reasons. Some people volunteer because they like to work in the kitchen chopping vegetables while getting to meet others. Some parents like this project to work along with their teens, while they earn student service learning credits. We welcome teens ages 13-15 with an adult, older teens and adults.

Diced, blanched zucchini ready for vacuum sealing, then into the freezer

Others like the idea of supporting Bethesda Cares’ social mission. Founded in 1988, Bethesda Cares was originally established as a lunch program to combat hunger in Montgomery County, providing meals to those living on the streets. Homeless men, women and children suffer from hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity every day. To help ensure the homeless in Montgomery County receive a warm and nutritious meal, Bethesda Cares serves lunch six days a week and dinner on Sundays to between 40-75 people that adds up 20,000 meals each year. Today, Bethesda Cares operates as a day drop-in shelter, serving hot meals daily, offering clothing and toiletries, outreach worker case management, referrals for supportive permanent housing, psychiatric counseling, prescription assistance, and eviction and utility assistance to county residents.

Still other people like to support family farmers and our local food system. Every year about 40 percent of good but uneaten food goes into the landfill—wasted along every part of the supply chain from farm to table. The idea for Farm to Freezer was born last January during a conversation I had with Sue Kirk, the executive director of Bethesda Cares.

One day’s produce donation waiting to be prepped for the freezer

“We are the official gleening organization of the Saturday Bethesda Fresh Farm Market, but we get many more vegetables than we can use in our meals before it goes bad,” explained Sue. A weekly donation just from one farm—Spiral Path organic farm has averaged almost 400 lbs. every week this summer, and we are not even at peak season yet! The organic produce that Spiral Path produces is just beautiful and it is a real crime to let it go to waste. Farmers get a tax deduction for their donation.

The spark of a Farm to Freezer project was born and six months later we are up and running thanks to generous support from community foundations, donated kitchens from partner churches, and in-kind donations from businesses including Whole Foods Bethesda, Zipcar, and Honest Tea. Even Compost Crew helps by donating their services to compost our food scraps.

Volunteers are key to the success of this whole project—we seek 10 volunteers for our weekly prep days. People can sign up via Bethesda Cares’ Meet Up site individually or as a group activity with friends, family or colleagues. With continued community support this project has the potential to grow into a self-sustaining enterprise, earning operating funds by selling tomato sauce and other preserved food at local farmers markets and even teaching food preparation classes. Fresh local food comes full circle—from farm, to freezer, to market, back to compost—benefiting our whole community along the way.

To volunteer, sign up on: Bethesda Cares MEET UP

To read more about this program and who it benefits, visit: Farm to Freezer website

To see our events as they unfold: Follow us on Facebook

by Kiera Zitelman, UMD Environmental Economics student

From trails between downtown monuments to bike lanes on Woodmont Avenue, the DC metropolitan area is brimming with bicyclists in these summer months. The success of Capital Bikeshare (affectionately known as CaBi), which has added 874 new docks in the last eight months, has introduced a new community of casual bicyclist-commuters around the city. Users pay an annual, monthly, or daily fee to rent one of over 1,500  bikes from over 100 stations around the metro area. CaBi plans to expand into College Park with a $375,000 state grant this fall.  Future plans look to Rockville, Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and other suburbs.  A recent survey of CaBi’s 18,000 users showed annual transportation savings of over $800 a year and avoided 5 million collective miles of driving.

While bikesharing programs grow around the country, Bethesda enjoys some excellent bike trails. The Capital Crescent Trail and C&O Canal Towpath put Georgetown within an hour’s ride of downtown Bethesda. DC’s high gas prices and rising Metro fares make biking an excellent alternative to driving or public transportation. And biking is a great form of exercise, too – an hour of moderate speed burns close to 500 calories.

Getting on a bike has never been a better idea. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association offers educational events for adults and children. Annual Bikeshare memberships are just $75, and new or used bikes can be easily found at area bike shops and online. Try replacing one commute a week with a bike ride instead, or plan a family trip on the weekend. Happy riding!

by Nick McGreivy, Bethesda Green intern

When he agreed to coach the Bethesda Green sponsored basketball team, Connor Garrity thought he was signing up as an assistant coach. Head coach David Breslaw was returning for another season, and Connor would be his assistant for the summer. But for Connor Garrity and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School basketball summer league team, very little went as planned.

Days before the first game, former B-CC Head Coach Breslaw called up each of players to inform them that he would be leaving to coach at his alma mater, Richard Montgomery High School. While the move was not entirely unexpected, it still came as a shock to the players and to Coach Garrity, who was thrust into a new role as head coach.

Facing tough circumstances, Connor Garrity impressed. “He did a great job motivating us,” one of the players said. “He did everything we could have asked of him, considering it was his first head coaching gig. When Coach Breslaw left, we weren’t sure what kind of coach we would have, but now all of us are thankful to have had Connor as our coach.” With Garrity as head coach, he guided the Barons to a 3-6 record. Named the “Bethesda Green,” the team is composed of 13 players entering either their junior or senior years at B-CC high school. Some of the key players included seniors Matthew Lawrence, Eric Tschiderer, Nick McGreivy and Riley Markham.

Bethesda Green and Federal Realty Investment Trust sponsored the B-CC summer league team. A special thanks from the players to Bethesda Green and Federal Realty for their support of the team and of B-CC.

Feature on Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes, a Bethesda Green Business Incubator company

Several years ago, if you had told friends and neighbors Connie Griffith and Debbie Kaufmann that they would be manufacturing and selling barbeque sauces, they would have looked at you and laughed.  Back in 2006, Connie was an established administrator in the medical field, and sat on numerous boards, planning fundraising events and participating in board activities.  Debbie was directing corporate communications for Japanese company Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Ltd.’s three U.S. pharmaceutical subsidiaries, happily ensconced in her busy corporate existence.  Both were also busy with their daily social agendas and traveling for both work and pleasure – who would even think about making sauces?

The one person who did think about making sauces – all the time – was Connie’s husband, Ron.  A professional salesman in telecommunications, in his spare time Ron loved to cook and was a fabulous grill master who created and perfected numerous sauces and mixes for meats, poultry, seafood, and other foods, along with recipes for healthy preparation for all of his sauces and mixes.  Ron was a colleague of and close friends with Debbie’s husband, Steve, and the two spoiled Connie and Debbie with delicious dinners as they arrived home from work – grilled wings, barbequed chicken, ribs, shrimp scampi, crab cakes and other favorites.  And the Bloody Mary’s were always a hit – all of Ron’s creations were requested by family and friends alike for parties, tailgating (tailgatoring, as Connie and Debbie now call it), easy, healthy dinners at home, and of course, grilling and barbeques.

After years of receiving these requests, Ron recognized the interest and desire of so many people for his zesty sauces and mixes, and began to research manufacturing and selling them to food lovers everywhere.  This came to a screeching halt when, in September of 2007, Ron was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His number one priority became dealing with the care and treatment that he would require.  Connie immediately resigned her position on boards to spend every possible moment with her husband.  Two years after his diagnosis, Connie left her position in the medical field to become his full time caregiver.  Debbie’s position with Otsuka was relocated to New Jersey in 2009, and choosing not to move, she started a small communications consulting firm, which ultimately led to her working full time for one of her clients.

During the two years that Connie cared for Ron, he subtly encouraged her to take on his mission.  Knowing that Connie was not a cook, he would sit in his wheelchair in their kitchen and teach her exactly how to prepare each of his secret sauces and mixes.  He used the excuse that he wanted some of his creations for dinner; otherwise, he knew, without his request she would have ordered take out or delivery!  He told his mother he was sorry he’d been unable to start the company so that Connie would have something to fall back on.  He continually encouraged Connie to find something to do when he was gone that she would love and that would make her happy.  And shortly before his death, when Connie was making holiday gifts of Ron’s famous wing sauce and told him she was going to give their friends and relatives the recipes so she wouldn’t have to fulfill all of their requests, he whispered in her ear – barely able to speak at this point – and made her promise she would NEVER give out his recipes!

When Ron passed away in November 2011, Connie went away to reflect on her life and decide what her next step would be.  In the back of her head she heard Ron telling her to do something she loved, and what would be more appropriate – or make her happier – than to follow his dream.  She returned home at holiday time, gave their friends and family their gifts of sauce, which everyone received with joy because it came not just from Connie, but from Ron’s creation as well, and in January, she contacted Debbie and Steve to ask if they would help launch Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes.

The rest, as they say, is history-in-the-making!  Connie and Debbie are going to production July 11-13, and will take delivery of 9,000 bottles of Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes – Gator Ron’s Heavenly Barbeque Sauces (Original and Chipotle), Gator Ron’s Angel Wing Sauce (Original and Spicy), and Gator Ron’s Divine Bloody Mary Mix (Original and Chesapeake).   All products are made with all natural ingredients and free of gluten, and are accompanied by healthy recipes for preparation.  Future sauces will include Shrimp Scampi, Teriyaki, and Crab Cake mix and other favorites.  And a major goal is to manufacture through a dedicated gluten-free facility, using all organic ingredients in the near future.  Steve, a professional sales manager in telecommunications, will be directly involved with sales of Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes.

Connie and Debbie (now, the Sauce Ladies) will be selling the sauces via their website (www.gatorrons.com), at farmers markets, charity fundraising events, and in stores and local markets as they establish relationships with these retailers.

Ron’s father also died of ALS at the age of 59, and Steve’s father and aunt (Debbie’s father-in-law and aunt-in-law) were also victims of this terrible disease.  The three partners have a strong passion to see research for ALS progress to a point where treatments may be identified.  As such, a percentage of proceeds from all sales of Gator Ron’s products will be donated to ALS research to help find a treatment, and ultimately a cure, for ALS.

Sustainability in Clothes Washing

by Richard M. Goodman

A previous blog post addressed the relative hazards or toxicity of cleaning chemicals, emphasizing that minimal human toxicity and environmental impacts promote sustainability.  In addition to detergent selection, another aspect of the simple household chore of clothes washing is the energy utilized.  Depending on the size of your family and how frequently you wash clothes, the energy consumption can be significant.  The major consumer of energy in clothes washing is normally the heating of the water used.  In fact, if you normally do a wash load at say 130 degrees F, your energy consumption is actually 60% greater than if you used 85 degrees.  Further, with the availability of many cold water laundry detergents which use  environmentally green formulas, there is no need to ever use water above 85 degrees.

Another aspect of the home laundry energy usage is the nature of the hot water system in your home.  In one extreme is the typical old-fashion poorly insulated electric hot water tank.  In a climate like Bethesda, the energy consumption of such a tank can be up to 25% of total household energy usage.  Highly efficient modern, especially natural gas, hot water heaters can significantly cut down on energy usage versus the typical tank, perhaps 50% or more.  Of course, if you use 100% solar to heat your hot water your energy usage is virtually zero.

So, here again by paying attention to a routine household activity you can promote sustainability by dramatically reducing energy usage to perform the simple act of cleaning your clothes.  Saving energy for the same material outcome is the very definition of sustainability. And by optimizing the efficiency of your hot water tank and always washing clothes at 85 degrees or less you could potentially save about 5-10% of your total household energy costs even without the use of solar derived hot water.

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  The periodic column considers aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at www.chemconsult.org.