Archive for February 2012 | Monthly archive page

posted by | Comments Off on Sustainable Food Today – Discussing TEDx Manhattan’s Changing the Way We Eat 2012

Wrapup on the TEDx Manhattan’s Changing the Way we Eat 2012 event

By Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Before settling into a full day of TEDx Manhattan based webinar and local presentations, our local viewing party began with a different kind of meet and greet activity—human Google-like mapping. Participants moved around Bethesda Green’s spacious lobby in different spatial configurations 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 Slow Food 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 much homemade fare-responding to our local, seasonal potluck challenge.  Participants cited 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, and neurogastronomy, Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve’s land and labor link. The inspiring and varied TEDx Manhattan presentations, sponsored by the Glynwood Institute are posted online here. Our local program offered exciting entrepreneurial and new initiatives 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, Montgomery Countryside Alliance described, Land Link and Labor Link, two new programs launched this year to facilitate linking farmers with farmland and labor. MCA is proud to announce the first match between land owner and farmer in 2011 that 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 Claire Cummings, council coordinator 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. The many direct farm to consumer sites include:Local Harvest – they tell you where to find farmer’s markets; Real Time Farms – a crowd-source online, nationwide food guide that tells you sources farmer’s markets and eateries; 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 a need for to make wholesale food distribution more efficient and competitively-priced as an alternative to the top 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 and be able to pinpoint sources. Also, small farmers don’t have the budgets to effectively market their products. Dick Stoner, of Maryland Small Farmer’s Cooperative 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 tell their story about their growing practices and unique products”.

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. Sue Kirk, executive director 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 their 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. 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, deepen my commitment to buy local, compost more aggressively, join a CSA, garden more at home.

 

*Upcoming events: A new six-week discussion circle will begin this spring 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.

 

Event Co-hosts

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.

posted by | Comments Off on Seaside Saturdays: Book Review – Four Fish

In keeping with our Seaside Saturday theme from last week, this week we’ll discuss a great book for anyone looking to learn more about the cultural traditions and conservation implications of four iconic fish species that have come to dominate our global taste for seafood.

In his recent book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, Paul Greenberg presents readers with an enriching history of our dynamic and oftentimes odd relationships to the fish we domesticate.  I was pleasantly surprised that Four Fish does not mirror a typically dry historic tale nor does it in any way feel like an “environmental” book, as the title would suggest.  By weaving carefully connected stories, Greenberg gives readers an intriguing (and at times humorous) understanding of the intentional choices and accidental moments that have brought specific seafood to our plates.  Similar to our dependence on four primary ungulate and poultry animals, Greenberg traces the technological achievements from Canada to Greece that led to an increasingly presumptuous domestication of riverine salmon, coastal sea bass, offshore cod, and finally transnational tuna and eventually argues that humans should strive to master the complexities of wild fish rather than serving up a sea of genetic modifications in a sterile tank system.

One interesting theme throughout the stories was how both global politics and fish biology guided which fish came to international prominence.  Salmon were the first farmed fish not only due to population declines, but because their large eggs allowed for curious entrepreneurs and early geneticists to decode their spawning secrets decades ago in Norway, one of the birthplaces of aquaculture.  Similarly, the Australian barramundi have become popular not due to their tasty flesh, but because they are naturally docile, fertile, and disease-resistant.  (In fact, many of the fish aquaculturists are trying to promote around the world gain traction because they taste like nothing rather than tasting “fishy”).  Another example of this is Vietnamese tra, which can withstand low oxygen conditions because it breathes air.

If modern salmon were born in Norway, Greenberg argues that farmed sea bass got their start in Israel, of all places.  However, once Israel lost access to its coastline, they lost their competitive edge to the Greeks.  Interestingly, the African tilapia (grown all over the world and now considered an pesky invasive species) was a convenient front for Columbian drug lords shipping their products around the world.  As can be seen, it is not always cultural traditions that make something popular or lead to exploitation (Japanese only acquired a taste for fatty Bluefin tuna after the Americans did!), but a strange alignment of odd circumstances that lead to one fish (often farmed) replacing a wild fish in global markets.

In the final chapter, Greenberg brings readers back into the early 20th century to draw a comparison between tuna’s plight and that of another long-lived sea creature: whales.  Whale populations owe their recovery not to the moratorium that was signed in the early 1980s (so recent!), but more to the development of cheap whale oil substitutes and the anti-whaling sentiments that stirred the world throughout the 1960s and 70s.  Greenberg argues that the moral evolution that changed whales from being food to being wildlife is entirely lacking for tuna.  Tuna is fish is food.  While there is nothing amoral about this logic, but when people fail to recognize that the planet’s wild-life that we cherish is also the same wild-life that we eat, there is little support for conservation and management in the face of short-term economic gains.

Aside from pointing toward the need for a greater appreciation of wildness within our fishing industry, Greenberg does note the importance of fish for feeding the growing global population.  He simply wants us to make smart aquaculture choices (rather than farming tuna at a 20:1 feed ratio or using surrogate fish moms – imagine!).  One challenge he admits is that all of the good science and political will can’t change the fact that consumers aren’t familiar with fish such as tra, barramundi, or the more recent kona kampachi of Hawaii.  So, in the meantime, Greenberg encourages the global fishing community to master the subtleties of fisheries science for wild predators and leave the fish farming to the vegetarian species that can have a smaller impact on surrounding ecosystems.  Overall, I highly recommend this book for a very engaging and thought-provoking read.

posted by | Comments Off on Seaside Saturdays: Seafood Safety

It’s Saturday again and you know what that means – our Seaside series continues with a bit of information from the fishy side of things.  This topic concerns us all because whether or not you’re a diehard seafood lover, it’s important to know the truth about what gets onto the dinner table and into your favorite restaurants!

Over the last several decades, seafood safety has been called into question throughout ugly controversies that have tainted some of the best edibles that nature has to offer.  Fish can no longer be mentioned without conjuring mental images and sound bytes of mercury poisoning and FDA warnings.  Despite the debates, it is now commonly accepted that pregnant women should avoid these types of fish entirely, just based on how much heavy metal contamination accumulates at the top of the food web. As consumers are becoming more aware of these problems, sellers have had to show greater accountability for how and where their fish are caught and processed (Trader Joe’s being the most famous for suffering bad press in 2009).  So, what can we eat and where can we buy it?

As always, the simple answer is that it depends.  For salmon, wild caught is the best, with aquaculture farms receiving high doses of pollution in near-shore waters, among other recent concerns such as the salmon anemia virus.  According to the EPA, consumers should be mindful about their consumption of shellfish as well: as living biofilters, these bivalves are the first ones to see the pollution!  Additionally, lingering seafood concerns surround products caught in the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill, but NOAA and the EPA insist that we should grab a fork, because we’d all have to consume over 80 pounds of seafood per day for a few years before approaching levels of concern!

And of course, when it comes to seafood, quality concerns must be paired with environmental woes about damaging fishing practices.  While Trader Joe’s is an example of a company that prides itself on providing organic, high-quality products, that is a tall order for seafood.  What is “high-quality” and how do we measure it?  The Greenpeace studyCarting Away the Ocean, relied largely on a company’s response to their surveys, and when no response was recorded, that was an automatic failing score.  While transparency is important in any business, everyone deserves a chance to get on the sustainability bandwagon.  After the controversy, Trader Joe’s has joined other companies such as Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and Walmart in their efforts to green their supply chain.

No company, certification, or consumer can make perfect policies or choices.  So, what can you do?  Ask questions.  Ask your lifeguards, ask seafood providers, ask workers at the grocery store, and even better – check out DC’s local seafood market to get your dose of healthy omega-3s from the nearest catch of the day!

posted by | Comments Off on Seaside Saturdays: The Ocean and Public Health

Welcome back to DC EcoWomen’s Seaside Saturdays blog post series.  This week, we’re taking a close look at just a few of the fascinating links between the ocean and public health.

Did you get your flu shot this year?  If only promoting the health and wellness of our oceans was as easy as being inoculated against the flu virus.  We often forget how strongly public health issues are tied to the environment.  Our mental well-being, for one thing, is always improved after a day at the beach or an afternoon hiking through the forest.  But, the issues run much deeper than that.  From recreational safety to hygienic products and cancer, we rely heavily on the oceans for production of goods and ecosystem services that are essential to maintaining healthy communities and lifestyles.

Health-related concerns stemming from poor water quality include PCBs in fish and wildlife, the spread of infectious diseases, harmful algal blooms, and the interconnectedness of contaminants and immune functioning.  Dr. Gulland, head veterinary doctor at The Marine Mammal Center in California, has dedicated much of her life’s work to studying the impacts of pollutants on seals, sea lions, and whales on the U.S. west coast and around the world.  Recently, her team has been investigating the apparent connection between genetics, pollutants, and an epithelial cancer diagnosed in a staggering 17% of stranded California sea lions.  They have learned that these animals have lower genetic diversity and are exposed to PCB pollutants in utero, meaning pups are born with it already in their tissues.  In addition to cancer and pollutant exposure, these animals are all infected with a type of herpesvirus that is similar to the virus that leads to Kaposi’s sarcoma in humans.

Putting the pieces of this puzzle together, researchers are studying how these genetically predisposed animals whose immune system is compromised by pollutants are being infected by a virus and developing cancer.  Phew, what a diagnosis!  One of the most fascinating, and at the same time terrifying, aspects of this research is how informative it can be for human health.  They are mammals just as we are, living at the interface of water and land, so what affects them can also affect us.  After a strong storm when all of our pollution rushes to the ocean, disoriented animals wash ashore just as avid surfers can contract bacterial infections or stomach viruses.  As we often gaze out across a beautiful ocean, it is important to remember that we cannot see what goes on beneath the surface.  It is difficult to know how close we are to worrisome thresholds that lead to irreversible changes in the future.  Wonder how your local waterways are doing?  Check out Surfrider here in DC to find out what you can do!

Check back next Saturday for more from the Seaside series on public and ocean health…

posted by | Comments Off on Oil and Gas Development: Mysteries and Misconceptions

Ever wonder why you see oil rigs off in the distance in certain areas but not others?  Those odd platforms sit unassumingly by day and eerily light up the horizon by night, reminding us that energy production never sleeps.  As much as we’d all love to use efficient light bulbs and drive hybrids, it is important to recognize that traditional energy sources, such as oil and gas, are still an integral aspect of our lives.  So, rather than bemoaning and demonizing it, I wanted to learn a little more about the industry in hopes of forming more educated and refined opinions rather than presumptive disdain.  For my efforts, I was rewarded with discovering a reassuring example of scientific data being used to directly inform management and development.

Starting with the basics, it’s important to remember that the new and improved Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) regulates and manages all aspects of traditional and renewable energy production in the marine environment.  As we know, creating energy from natural resources is no easy feat, giving BOEM enormous responsibility throughout the planning, exploration, development, and production phases.  Main concerns include safety, feasibility (profitability), and environmental stewardship, which are important factors that determine the outcome of where, when, and how energy is developed around the country, starting with the lease sale.

Companies purchase areas of the ocean (seafloor) just as they would purchase the rights to develop on land.  In this case, Shell, for example, buys 5-year rights to sail around in specific areas of the arctic looking for features that might indicate plentiful oil deposits.  Once this scoping is finished, they can choose if and where to develop.  What I found interesting though, was the environmental sensitivity analysis that was conducted to improve stewardship and planning in the 2012-2017 lease sale process.  In this tedious document, they show how each lease sale area was numerically scored for sensitivity (to spills and acoustic or physical disturbance) in three categories: marine habitat, productivity, and marine fauna.

By attaching a number value to the type of seafloor, how much plant life exists, or even how many endangered species live in the area, they managed to systematically group each area according to environmental impacts.  (Interestingly, sensitivity to climate change is only qualitatively assessed).  After reading the report, I still had questions about how this information is used.  Do areas deemed as being more sensitive cost more to lease?  Do stricter monitoring and research requirements make it less desirable?  While economics and profitability largely motivate this industry, how might the valuation of these areas change if the public was more aware of this scaled sensitivity scoring?

Renewable energy technologies are moving forward, but progress is slow.  In the meantime, one thing to do is acknowledge the wealth of information that these oil companies are required to provide in exchange for their activities. These ships collect data ranging from whale abundance to bathymetric mapping that we would not otherwise have.  As oil and gas activities are ramping up in the face of Deep Water Horizon amnesia and growing temptation in the arctic, it is important that we stay informed to support improvements rather than whining about corrupt offshore drilling.  In truth, media dramatization and public outcry shouldn’t eclipse the fact that these activities are (largely) monitored and regulated with equal attention and precision as any other necessary resource extraction.

This only scratches the surface of this topic – what do you know about oil and gas exploration?

posted by | Comments Off on 5 Rules for Eco-Friendly Organization

By Alison Alford

Marin Rose, from Functional &  Fashionable, joined DC Eco-Women February 1 for a presentation on how to get organized in a green and eco-friendly way.

Marin opened up the event to a large crowd with a few inspiring remarks, “Don’t own anything you don’t love,  that you don’t need… or both.”  Marin stressed that streamlining your life can be an eco-friendly process, and when you are organized, your life is ascetically, spatially, and emotionally streamlined—without the need for clutter.  Marin reminded us that useless clutter is emotionally draining, and gives us a false sense of security.

Marin’s 5 Rules for Organizing Your Life:

1.  Know what you have and what you need.  By knowing exactly how many wearable dress shirts you own, or how many boxes of cereal your household consumes in a timeframe, you stop overbuying items that you already have. Marin asked how us, “How many times have you bought an item at a sale, and then discovered at home that you already own a similar item?”  When you know what’s already in your closet, in your pantry, or in storage, you don’t run the risk of wasting money and time purchasing items that you already own.  Marin said that this also applies to perishable goods; when you figure out how many heads of lettuce you can consume in a week, you stop over purchasing groceries and no longer throw perfectly good food (and money) out in the garbage.

Once you figure out how many dress shirts you have in your closet, how do you figure out how many shirts you’ll need?  Marin suggests that you look at how many times you wear or use that item in a week, multiply by 4 to get the number you would wear in a month, and then adjust up or down based on the instance. For example, I usually wear a button up dress shirt to work every day.  I would multiple my 5 shirts a week by 4 weeks to give me the 20 dress shirts that I would wear in a month.  I would then subtract 3 shirts or so, because I can wash and rewear a white dress shirt numerous times a month.  If I have 30 dress shirts in my closet, I now know that I can donate 10 – 12 of my older or outdated shirts without needing to purchase any more shirts.

2.  Donate items frequently!  Once you know exactly what you have in your house, you will find that you have a pile of items that you no longer need.  There are many organizations that will gladly accept your out-of-fashion pantsuit or your ancient pair of tennis shoes mildewing in the closet.   By donating items that you no longer use, you remove clutter from your home and give that item a new life with a deserving recipient.  Marin suggested Soles for SoulsGoodwillMartha’s TableBooks for America, or Dress for Success as a few organizations that will happily accept your donated clothes, household goods, and food.  You can even write many donations off on your taxes.

3.  Keep a Calendar.  Want to write a book? Run a marathon?  Repaint your living room? Schedule it on your calendar!  It’s easy to commit to a goal, no matter how large or small, if you schedule it on your calendar.  The trick is to keep your appointment with yourself.  Marin says, “If you respect other people enough to keep appointments with them, respect yourself and keep your own appointments with yourself!”  You’ll find that the goal of organizing your bedroom closet “one day” will happen as if by magic when you write in 1 hour a day of cleaning and organizing into your daily planner.

4.  Do the Work Before You Purchase the Solution.  Many times you find that you already own the perfect container for your out-of-season clothes, you just need to organize the clothes.  By committing to doing the work first, you will easily find a solution at hand for many of the problems you face.  Marin suggested re-purposing old shoe boxes to use as storage spaces for scarves and hats, used gift bags for your make-up, and using luggage to store out-of-season clothes.

5.  Determine where to spend money and where to save money.  One pair of expensive, yet well-made dress shoes will last numerous seasons, while those three pairs of cheap “knock-offs” that you bought on sale will disintegrate after the second use.  You don’t need to live a life of austerity; you just need to be mindful of when you should spend a little more to purchase something that will last. Marin said, “If more of us have this mentality, there will be less waste overall.”

Marin concluded the event by introducing Andrea from Repax.com, an eco-friendly moving company that eliminates the cardboard box.  Repax offers predetermined room bundles of shipping containers and eco-friendly packaging supplies. They offer services in the DC metropolitan area, as well as Los Angeles and New York City.  Marin offers her services for organizing or redecorating your home or office, staging your home for a sale, or helping you pack for a move.  She often partners with Repax.com when she helps a client move.

posted by | Comments Off on Seaside Saturdays: A Tsunami of Questions

DC EcoWomen is going blue once a week to bring you the all-new Seaside Saturday blog series, where you can tune in to read about issues in marine science ranging from algae, corals, and fish to public health concerns and conservation challenges.  This week, our first post will focus on one of the ocean’s trickiest and hidden problems: marine debris.

Nine months ago, the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan raised countless immediate concerns about radiation, seafood, and human loss, but in case the tragedy had drifted to the back of your mind, the media has stirred up controversy and brought it back to the forefront of public concern.  This time, many worry that we will be reminded of the tragedy through the physical debris caused by the natural disaster.  NOAA’s Marine Debris Programis working hard to collaborate with ocean modelers to determine the facts of the situation and to appease public concerns.  This situation highlights the challenges of making high-profile predictions when so much remains unknown.

Shortly after the tsunami struck the coast, the wave of physical debris was visible from outer space.  Now, months later, the evidence of destroyed buildings, cars, schools, and farms has been dispersed by ocean currents or has sunk to the sea floor.  Current models predict that debris might begin washing ashore in Hawaii this winter and then hit the west coast of the U.S. in 2013.  Because the Pacific Ocean is a gyre (made famous by the ocean garbage patch), the debris would circle back to the Hawaiian Islands by 2015.  One of the biggest concerns is that larger items might cause damage to sensitive coral atolls or disrupt regional fishing activities.  Less known impacts include concerns over toxic chemicals accumulating in the food web, navigation hazards, or interference with coastal recreation.

NOAA is collaborating with international partners, industry and research institutions to ensure that misconceptions are kept to a minimum.  With concerns over radioactivity and questions of how many tons of debris were actually swept to sea, the communications team has their hands full.  As with most public health concerns, the media can often blow an issue out of proportion.  Head on over the the Marine Debris Program’s website to track the tsunami debris and for more information, podcasts, videos, and FAQs.  Make sure you’re a source of truthful facts when these issues come up at happy hour, or among friends, family, and colleagues!

Check back next Saturday for information about oceans and public health…

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Read below for a guest blog entry by Caroline Wick for a recap of our book club’s latest gathering:

On Sunday, January 27, EcoWomen gathered to discuss The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  The book tells the story of Kimball’s decision to ditch her city life for cows, long cold winters and, of course, dirt.  (You can get a feel for the book here with this audio slideshow from NPR).  

During the discussion, EcoWomen pondered Kimball’s decision and wondered whether they would make the same life-altering choice.  Everyone enjoyed the book not just for its content, but also for Kimball’s prose:  “I had never in my life been so dirty.  The work was always dirty, beyond what I’d previously defined as dirty, and it took too much energy to keep oneself out of it.”

Each participant shared not just her thoughts on the book, but also a snack.  One participant embraced the theme and brought green beans that she harvested and canned.  Another snack, the sticky, but delicious, homemade tahini-honey-chocolate squares disappeared quickly.  We’ll share recipes for other favorites – including coconut ginger muffins – on this site.

Bummed that you missed the fun?  There are more book clubs to come:

  • For those that can’t commit to finishing an entire book – join EcoWomen on February 15th to discuss a few pages from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and other short pieces on the theme of farming and love.
  • In March, we’ll discuss Letters from Yellowstone.  Join us fiction lovers!