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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by Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Food Hub in Charlottesville, VA offers small scale food aggregation.

In response to people’s growing awareness and demand for more fresh and local food, we’ve seen a plethora of farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) spring up in the last decade where farmers get to sell direct to consumers. The next step in scaling up this “good food” movement is to develop the wholesale market for bulk buyers such as restaurants, hospitals and schools, so that more people have access to local, sustainable, and fresh food. Recently big players such as Walmart, national grocery chains and distributors such as Sysco initiated local food buying programs. But for small and mid-size food producers—including local farmers and specialty food producers, as well as small and mid-size food distributors, there are still many barriers in connecting sellers and buyers efficiently, fairly, and profitably.

For small and mid-size food sellers, we don’t yet have an efficient infrastructure to get local food to wholesale bulk buyers. On the growers’ side, many new and small farmers don’t have enough continuous supply for the volume needed. Yamas Mediterranean Grill owner Tony Alexis builds his menus on healthy Mediterranean cuisine. He wants to support local farmers but can’t find a steady supply of ingredients he uses every day. Shannon Varley, Bella Terra Family Farm, a small scale farmer in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve, is so busy between growing food, raising a young family, and finding land for new farmers that she has little time to find new buyers for her meats, vegetables, eggs, and flowers.

Whitmore Farm, a small scale farm, employs sustainable farming.

Kash Rehman knows firsthand about gaps and inefficiencies in food distribution from both seller and buyer perspectives; he worked for a local food distributor in Laurel, MD and owned a restaurant in College Park, MD. As a food distributor, Kash saw inefficiencies in bulk food ordering, which is still mostly taken on paper or is phoned in. “Chefs often work late hours and leave their orders on voice mail. Orders get garbled, delivery mistakes made and redeliveries are inefficient,” explains Kash. Chef Tony Marciante, the chef proprietor of Chef Tony’s Restaurant in Bethesda builds his menus on fresh, seasonal and local foods. There are 561 farms in Montgomery County, but as a small business, he laments, “I don’t have the time or staff to place many individual orders or pick up from many local farms for that night’s menu.” Kash’s experience also points to the current food business where large national food distributors capture a disproportionate share of the food sales market.

These barriers and gaps led to Kash’s brain-child to shake up business as usual. Last November he launched Foodem.com, an on-line ordering market place where bulk food buyers, such as hotels, restaurants or caterers, could compare prices from multiple food sellers and place orders electronically. “Foodem is the only business to business (B2B) online wholesale food marketplace that connects food distributors, specialty food manufacturers and farms with wholesale food buyers,” Kash explains.

While his impetus for Foodem was built on efficiency and profit, he’s created the digital infrastructure needed to better connect local food producers with local businesses. Aggregating smaller sellers into one, easily accessible online location, could attract more buyers and at the same time, aggregating orders within a compact geographic location could drive prices down—sometimes a formable barrier for small business’s green purchasing. For example, if several restaurants within downtown Bethesda purchased compostable “to-go” containers, volume discounts would make sustainable packaging more affordable. On-line price comparison across multiple sellers also builds transparency into the system. Sellers can’t favor one client to secure their business only to raise pricing on another client.

Chef Tony’s Restaurant in Bethesda, MD.

As part of DC Tech Week, join us to learn more about our region’s local, sustainable food movement and Foodem’s efforts to build a local food marketplace. Chef Tony will be serving up fabulous seasonal appetizers. Cocktails and appetizers will be available at a discounted price; part of the proceeds will be donated to Montgomery Countryside Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to Montgomery County’s 93,000 acre Agricultural Reserve, the most successful farmland protection effort in the country.

Please RSVP by Nov. 6, click here

Sponsors and Speakers:

Cheryl Kollin, Principal, Full Plate Ventures, will discuss the local, sustainable food movement in our region and the barriers small-producers face in getting their products to market.

Kash Rehman, Founder and CEO, Foodem.com, will discuss how this on-line market disrupts conventional supply chain and fills the gap between wholesale food buyers and sellers.

Tony Marciante, Chef and Owner, Chef Tony’s Restaurant, will discuss buying local and choosing the freshest ingredients as the basis of his daily menu and how he uses Foodem to buy more local food while streamlining his business.

Monday, November 7, 6-8:30 pm

Chef Tony’s Restaurant
4926 St. Elmo Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814

Drinks, appetizers, discussion and networking

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.

By Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Neither Hurricane Irene and power outages, nor torrential rains, flooding and bridge destruction could cancel Fertile Ground — the second in our educational and delicious series, On the Farm, Around the Table: connecting food, farmers, and community in three meals. The rain stopped, the flooding subsided, and the sun shone brightly as 50 people gathered at Rocklands Farm in Poolesville on Saturday, September 10 to enjoy our local farm tour and lunch.

Picking berries at Homestead Farm.

The day started with a homemade lunch featuring Rocklands’ own grilled hamburgers, made from their grass-fed beef and artesian half-smoke sausages donated by MeatCrafters. Three side dishes celebrated summer’s bounty. Rocklands’ green salad accompanied homegrown and prepared pesto pasta with roasted red peppers, fruited grain salad with the season’s first Honeycrisp apples, and an adieu to summer with a peach and blackberry crisp for dessert. The blackberries were handpicked at their peak ripeness in July at Homestead Farm and frozen along with August’s basil and garlic harvest made into pesto. Both were in jeopardy of spoiling when Hurricane Irene knocked out power for several days and we scrambled to find a working freezer. Bethesda Green’s extra freezer saved the day.

As we finished our cobbler, Caroline Taylor, Executive Director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA) reminded us that Rocklands Farm is located within the County’s treasure, the 93,000 acre agricultural reserve that MCA works hard to protect. “In the midst of global environmental degradation, and our current economic woes close to home, we have reason to be hopeful as we support a new generation of farmers who are practicing sustainable agriculture. Today we celebrate our local farmers.”

Only in their second year of farming at Rocklands, owners Greg Glen and Shawn Eubank not only grow food close to home — Rocklands is only 35 minute drive from Bethesda — their wholistic farm practices actually improve the soil while raising their animals humanely. Greg talked about how important soil fertility and grass management is to the success of raising grass fed beef and pastured poultry. He works with the animals’ natural behavior and precise timing of rotational grazing to manage their production.

Starting the tour of Rocklands Farm.

Rocklands’ beef cattle graze on pasture within moveable fencing until they eat the grass only to the point of recovery. The cattle are moved on to the next patch of pasture while Greg brings in chickens several days later to do what chickens do best, scratch and search for grubs and insects. In doing so, they spread cow manure and feast on the fly larvae that hatch from the cow pies. The soil is fertilized, the grass recovers and it is ready to begin the cycle again. Meanwhile their flock of 150 the chickens lay eggs — about four per week per hen during light seasons of the year. Their coup is actually on wheels — this chicken mobile is moved in rotation behind the cows.

One attendee asked Greg if Rocklands was an organic farm. “Well we’ve had a lot of discussion about that,” Greg says with a sigh. “The paperwork is so daunting that we haven’t wanted to go through the process yet. We believe that when people can see the farm, talk with the farmer, and understand how food is produced, it isn’t so important to have a certification.”

Shawn leads us to Rocklands three acres of vegetable production. He shows the group how they simply maintain soil

Event organizers Cheryl Kollin, Bill Franz, Shawn Eubank, and Greg Glen.

fertility with compost — they are still perfecting on-site production, and by planting cover crops like nitrogen-fixing legumes and buckwheat, that return nutrients to the soil for the next crop cycle. They plant a large variety of vegetables, some so unusual that their customers don’t know what to do with them. “It’s a matter of introducing a new food to our customers. Once they taste something, we don’t need to do a hard sell,” explains Shawn. Rocklands has a new cold frame, called a hoop house that extends the growing season so that they can start their seeds in February.

After the tour, attendees were delighted to buy Rocklands eggs and meat as a delicious souvenir of their afternoon on the farm.

Don’t miss dinner! The On the Farm, Around the Table series concludes with Savor Local Flavor — Dinner with Chef Tony on Monday, September 19, at 7 pm. Tony will feature a menu around seafood, artisan cheeses, local wine and whatever is fresh from the farm that day. For details and registration visit, On the Farm, Around the Table.

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.

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.