Posts Tagged ‘Cheryl Kollin’

posted by | on , , | Comments Off on A Day with Farm to Freezer

The following post is written by Ecowomen Cheryl Kollin of Full Plate Ventures and Katie Thatcher, Intern. 

Every Saturday Farm to Freezer’s volunteers meet at the Spiral Path Farm stand at the Bethesda’s Fresh Farm Market and with help from the residents of Montgomery County’s Pre-Release Center, collect, weigh, record, and distribute generously-donated produce. The unsold produce is collected, weighed, and redistributed to three locations: salad greens and other vegetables used fresh goes to Bethesda Cares’ cook, other produce is loaded into our cars for prep, and any remaining food we don’t have capacity to prepare goes to MANNA Food Center for needy families.

Within the hour we arrive at our prep kitchen in one of three donated church kitchens where we meet and greet ten volunteers and hit the ground running! After a quick orientation, we wash up, don aprons, name buttons, and gloves and start chopping. With the incredible culinary efforts of our volunteers, the entire stovetop is soon filled with pots of simmering tomato sauce and apple sauce, pots of brightly blanched sweet peppers and zucchini, while eggplant roasts in the oven. The mixed aromas waft throughout the church and attract curious visitors wanting to know what’s cookin’.

Farm to Freezer Fills a Need

Bethesda Cares serves 20,000 meals per year to the homeless population in the community through a dedicated and caring network of church and community organizations, businesses, Foundations, and government agencies. Bethesda Cares is the official ‘gleaner’ of the Bethesda Fresh Farm Market. Farmers, including Spiral Path Farm, donate fresh produce not sold at the Saturday market, donating an average of 300 lbs. of local produce per week—including bushels of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and zucchini. When crops are at peak harvest, Bethesda Cares receives more fresh food than it can use before the food spoils.

To address this problem of spoiled food, Bethesda Cares and Full Plate Ventures launched Farm to Freezer this summer with support from a diverse network of volunteers, Churches’ donated kitchen space, and businesses. Bethesda Cares’ meals manager who cooks a hot lunch for 40-70 each day uses the frozen food in preparing healthier meals for its clients.

Back to the Kitchen

After everything is chopped and sauce is cooling we take a well-deserved break, munching on Cheryl’s homemade hummus, sliced veggies, and donated Honest Tea and Atwater bakery bread while discussing food issues –hunger and homelessness, local farms, food banks, wasted food, and community service.

We all head back to the kitchen to package our product with a vacuum sealer and in Ziploc bags. After all is sealed, weighed, recorded, and cleaned up, we thank our wonderful volunteers, and transport our food to Bethesda Cares’ freezer for the cook’s future use in casseroles, stews, and soups. The food peelings are composted, equipment stored, and aprons washed for the following week. Prep days involve hours spent meeting new friends, sharing a love of cooking and bonding over a common goal: to serve through the preparation of healthy meals for hungry members of our community.

Our First Season

Farm to Freezer is proud of its accomplishments this first season! In its first five months, Farm to Freezer has:

  • Engaged more than 150 volunteers from diverse backgrounds and experiences
  • Redistributed over 5,000 pounds of organic vegetables generously donated from Spiral Path Farm
  • Prepared more than 1,500 pounds of food for the freezer to serve 2,500 homeless people through Bethesda Cares’ meals program throughout the year.

Farm to Freezer Benefits the Whole Community

1). Provides healthier unadulterated food for Bethesda Cares’ client meals that can be used through the winter when fresh local vegetables are unavailable.
2). Supports farmers through tax-deductible donations
3). Reduces the amount of waste from Farmer’s Markets’ surplus
4). Provides community-wide volunteer opportunities
5) Raises local awareness about homelessness, nutrition, and locally-grown food

Join us for Food Day—October 24th to celebrate our first season’s accomplishments. Free, with complimentary appetizers by My Thyme Catering.  Sign up on Bethesda Cares Meet Up: click on Oct. 24th event.

For more information, visit: Follow us on Facebook www.facebook/farm2freezer for stories about who’s engaged and how we’re helping our community.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Local Economy Centers: Places for Change

By Cheryl Kollin, Livability Project

By day, the Share Exchange in Sonoma County, California is a marketplace where people can purchase locally-produced goods such as clothing, food, books and more.  “At 6 o’clock, we close up business and transform the space for public gatherings—seminars, film screenings, and art shows”, describes Kelley Rajala, founder of Share Exchange. “It’s a wonderful, flexible space to incubate and showcase local solutions for more sustainable living”. On the east coast, in Bethesda, Maryland, residents, businesses, and local government staff gather at Bethesda Green to “educate, incubate and initiate” sustainable living practices and businesses. Even in Fairfield, Iowa in the nation’s heartland, the Bonnell Building Project’s space is designed to be configured and reconfigured by community members based on their passions and interests.

These brick-and-mortar spaces are examples of Local Economy Centers, exemplifying emerging models of community building to tackle local issues and strengthen local economies. While many communities have success with local initiatives, government programs, and business partnerships, Kelley believes that these initiatives lack an essential piece. “What’s missing is a physical gathering place”, she explains. “A Local Economy Center allows people to engage in wherever they are in the process of localization and sustainability; it could be a place for people to see what’s going on in their community, incubate a new business, or take action.” She sees parallels to other movements sweeping the country such as Transition Towns, that focus on weaning our society away from fossil fuels and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) that focuses on local economic development.

While each Local Economic Center is unique to its community, they share common values, which are:

1. Community-oriented–acting in the interest of the greater good;

2. Locally-focused, with an eye for regional trade and cooperation;

3. Cooperative principles and sharing ethic;

4. Triple bottom line practices (social, environmental, and economic); and a

5. Whole Systems Approach (as practiced using the Natural Step, Permaculture, Biomimicry, and other practices).

Michael Shuman, local economies advocate and Director of Research and Public Policy at BALLE, has written extensively on why investing in local business rather than Wall Street makes good economic sense. In his latest book, Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Dollars from Wall Street to Main Street, he offers 12 ways to invest in our local communities that yield a two to four times multiplier effect over traditional investing. Among the strategies, he advocates investing in community-owned business and cooperatives—reinforcing Local Economy Centers as place-based catalysts for incubating new business while educating the public.

The variety of settings, business models and legal structures among these three Local Economy Centers demonstrate that no one-size fits all.

Bethesda Green is a non-profit organization located in a busy, urban downtown, just next door to our Nation’s Capital.  Its 4,000 sq. foot space was generously donated by Capital One Bank and resides on the second story of one of its bank branches.  Bethesda Green launched in 2008 with a $25,000 County grant and additional public private support.  It relies on local grants, corporate sponsors and in-kind donations. Its environmentally-designed space showcases ‘green’ products and services and offers a multitude of sustainability programming, such as solar and green home expos, green job fairs, local food panel discussions and local farm tours. “We don’t reinvent projects, we leverage good work in the community and accelerate it”, shares Dave Feldman, Executive Director of Bethesda Green. “With Bethesda Green’s community outreach and promotion to new audiences, the County’s electronics recycling program increased from 8,000 lbs. to 100,000 lbs.” Bethesda Green also offers one of the most successful green incubators on the east coast, supporting a dozen green entrepreneurs to create jobs and build wealth while supporting their environmentally-based missions.

In contrast, Share Exchange, based in Santa Rosa, California, caters to a small town (pop. 167,000) in the fertile wine country of northern California. It is organized as a California Cooperative and opened its doors in December 2010. Initial funding was boot-strapped (no outside funding) by the owners and this 1,800 square foot space is organized around four key programs:  a marketplace for local goods, a CoWork space and incubator, a public gathering place for events and education, and a Local Economy Institute to share resources and best practices. In its short life, ShareExchange has attracted 250+ local  entrepreneurs and 60 CoWork members, and has organized 200 events. Revenue comes from sales, membership, events, rent, sponsorship, and contracts.

The Bonnell Building Project, Inc. (BBP), the largest of the three Local Economy Centers, was launched in 2008 with the purchase of the Bonnell Building, a 12,000 square foot building near the town square in Fairfield, Iowa. The property was previously occupied by St. Mary’s Catholic Church and includes a five-bedroom home, a 15,000 square foot school building with a large commercial kitchen, and a 1500-square-foot workshop building on 1.7 acres of land.  This volunteer-based, non-profit organization is run by community members. BBP provides the space, but relies solely on its community to implement businesses and projects in the areas of social entrepreneurship, science and technology, business, and the arts. In this way, people are empowered to take ownership, responsibility, and action. Since its start, community members have launched dozens of projects, businesses, and organizations, including a performance venue, an electronics lab, a recording studio, an organizational development consulting practice, and an artists’ collective.

In addition to these, other Local Economy Centers are popping up around the country recently including Hannah Grimes Center in Keene, New Hampshire and Green Garage Detroit. While these Centers are quite enticing and vibrant places, Kelley and Dave offer starts ups some advice–both human qualities, as well as, business strategies needed to succeed. First and foremost, expect to practice patience, perseverance, flexibility, and adaptability—qualities that are required for any start-up! Dave offers his business strategies to entrepreneurs; they must engage the private sector, find creative financing/funding opportunities, and form strategic partnerships for strong leverage. Kelley suggests that start-up Centers do preliminary test marketing; get stakeholder buy-in; collaborate; and devise capitalization early on.

Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Local Economy Centers offer a new model—a tangible space for communities to come together, engage, and create a shared vision and actions toward building more vibrant, economically and environmentally sustainable communities. While the founders offer some sobering advice with their lessons learned, they are pioneers of this new model. Like all pioneers, with vision and persistence, they are creating these spaces for change to turn community opportunities into a reality.


Cheryl Kollin is the product developer at Livability Project, a consulting and education firm that helps community leaders build sustainable communities. Using the Livability Project FrameworkTM, the firm coaches and trains stakeholders across business, government, and civic sectors to identify and leverage their own community’s assets to fulfill their vision, expand economic opportunities and develop local, green initiatives. Livability Project is best known for its groundbreaking work with Bethesda Green in Montgomery County Maryland and Share Exchange in Sonoma County, California.

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By Cheryl Kollin, Livability Project

Defining sustainability

When I mention in casual conversation that I work with “sustainable” organizations, I typically get puzzled, deer-in-the-headlights responses. Sometimes I swap the “s” word with, “livable” or “green”, but still the response is generally the same — confusion. Some people, of course, use the same language to describe their latest ventures. My conversation companion might launch into a story about making a lot of money (a.k.a. “greenbacks”), or describe his or her latest landscaping (greening) project, or even their latest house remodel to make it more “livable”!

Buying local supports the local economy

But when I describe sustainability in tangible terms, like giving up a car and walking or biking more for health and environmental reasons, or shopping at local farmers’ markets to keep money in our community, or switching my utility company to support alternative energy like wind power—most people nod knowingly and share their own story about their lifestyle and business choices. Of course it’s easier to talk to people in Bethesda, a progressive community in the Washington DC Metro Area.

Livability Project defines a sustainable community as one that is economically viable, environmentally healthy and which reflects quality of life. Communities and cities reach this state only by bringing together the diverse stakeholders needed for unified, long-lasting change. The Partners for Livable Communities adds to that definition, “social stability and equity, educational opportunity, cultural, entertainment and recreation”. With these altruistic goals, why isn’t every community embracing sustainable initiatives? Why is it so hard to change?

Unifying fragmented initiatives

I recently interviewed some key players engaged in their own community’s sustainability efforts and heard a reoccurring theme—there was a lack of coordination between environmental, social and economic initiatives. One long-time activist in Baltimore was frustrated that even though “there are active green building, water conservation, and food initiatives [in our community] none of the groups are talking to one other—and no one is talking to the business community”.

Another interviewee believes that “there has to be a balance between improving the environment and earning a profit.” The terms—sustainability, livability, and greening, regardless of their subtle differences in meaning or emphasis all share a common understanding—that the environment, economy, and social well-being are all inextricably linked. The Institute for Sustainable Communities promotes that working toward solutions to community issues such as poverty, hunger, housing, transportation, jobs, pollution, public health, and crime etc., “requires an integrated approach rather than fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of the others”. The Institute also recognizes that “sustainability takes a long-term perspective”—instead of a quick fix or short lived initiatives that last only as long as a politician’s term in office.

Making the case for sustainability

One of my first assignments in my sustainable MBA program at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute was to present a convincing case for sustainability. Why should business, government, and citizen groups invest their time, money, and expertise in changing local policies, business practices, and lifestyle choices? If you are a public servant, business owner, or citizen activist who is ready to engage your community in sustainable thinking and approaches, here are a few ways to start the conversation:

1. Sustainability reduces your costs of operations. Everyone has a budget whether you are in business, government, or are a homemaker. Changing your internal operations can save money; improving your bottom line. For example, energy-efficiency improvements in facilities typically reduce energy consumption by 30%.[1]Organizations like The Trust for Public Lands’, Center for Park Excellence show the multiple returns on investment (ROIs)—including environmental, social, and economic net benefits of maintaining urban public parks.

2. Sustainability raises morale; raises productivity; attracts and retains quality employees. In a human resources study, 55% of the respondents reported that a commitment to sustainability improved employee morale; 38% said that sustainability increased employee loyalty.[2] Employees who stay at their jobs also reduce turnover and save on job training costs and become “ambassadors of good will” for the company.

3. Sustainability serves the greater good; by buying locally, we contribute to community economic development. Local businesses yield two to four times the multiplier benefit as compared to non-local businesses.”[3] Author Michael Shuman believes that reinvesting in our local communities is sound economics. In his latest book, Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Dollars from Wall Street to Main Street, Michael offers a compelling case for why we all should reinvest our money locally and gives us new strategies with which to do so.