The Foodie’s Guide to Earth Day

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If you know me at all, you know that Earth Day is my jam. My locally sourced, homemade organic jam.

That’s why this year, I came up with this guide to help fellow foodies (and non-foodies – I don’t discriminate!) find a greener way to indulge in their favorite thing: food!

The guide starts off simple and gets incrementally more hardcore as we go. But don’t worry, it’s nothing you can’t handle. We’re talking about eating, after all!

1) Drink green beer (or cider) (or wine)

If you just want to get your feet wet (and your belly sloshy), start your quest for green eating with some beer from an eco-friendly brewery! Today, City Tap House is pouring five beers from three Vermont breweries that are leaders in the realm of in sustainable brewing. Their practices range from things like sourcing local, organic and non-GMO ingredients to recycling water at the plant through steam condensing. You can read more about Long Trail Brewing Company, Otter Creek Brewing Company and Wolaver’s Fine Organic Ales in this post I wrote about the event! Or, you can also support your local breweries/cideries/wineries and reduce your beverage’s commute. A few of my local favorites are Devil’s Backbone in Lexington, DC Brau in DC, Bold Rock Hard Cider in Nellysford and Early Mountain Vineyards in Charlottesville. Cheers!

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2) Visit a truly farm-to-table restaurant

Farm-to-table has become a serious buzz word in the food industry. It’s now a way for restaurants to charge more for their food, while claiming to have a “sustainable” menu. Heck, even Silver Diner and McDonald’s have adopted the term! But before you go flocking to any old spot that has a feel-good wheat/pitchfork logo, find out what that distinction really means to that restaurant. Unlike organic or non-GMO, there is no “certification” for farm-to-table, so the consumer has to be the investigator and lie-detector. Look online at a restaurant’s menu or website and find out exactly where they source their ingredients. Scan the list for farm names you recognize and trust, or google unfamiliar ones. If you don’t find anything online, call or visit the restaurant to learn more.

When I do my research, I’m ideally looking for farms that are within 200 miles of the restaurant with sustainable growing practices (to include: no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, hormones or antibiotics, cover crop usage, healthy soil management, grass- or pasture-fed animals, etc.). For me personally, I will still support a farm that’s not certified organic, as long as the practices they use are eco-, animal- and human-friendly. Decide what you’re looking for in a farm, and choose restaurants that purchase from farms like that. To learn more about why some farms choose not to certify organic, read this and this.

Here are a few of the restaurants whose farm-to-table distinctions I trust. Keep in mind, most places don’t have exclusively local ingredients, but these do a pretty good job: Copperwood Tavern in Shirlington, Water and Wall in Arlington, The Chop House in Harrisonburg, Equinox in DC, and of course, the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group (which includes Farmers, Fishers, Bakers). Check out these places, or go find your own favorite farm-to-table watering holes!

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Logo for the organic food company, “Farm to Table Foods, Inc.”

3) Dine at the spot where the seed of Earth Day was planted

Be a green hipster and visit the place where Earth Day began. In 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson first introduced his idea for Earth Day to a group of students at a conference at the Airlie Center in Warrenton, VA. He came up with the idea after seeing the damage from a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. He then decided to galvanize the public to fight against air and water pollution and make environmental protection a major priority on our national agenda. On the first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million Americans demonstrated in massive coast-to-coast rallies to demand a healthy, sustainable environment. This rally achieved a rare political alignment, bringing together people from different ethnic, cultural, political and financial backgrounds to fight for one thing: protecting our planet. It led to the creation of the EPA and the passage of three important acts: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. As the movement grew into a global phenomenon, former-President Bill Clinton awarded Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 for his role as Earth Day founder.

Sustainably grown food is one of the best ways to help protect our planet’s soil, water and air, which is why I like to celebrate this momentous occasion by celebrating food. This Earth Month, enjoy a delicious meal at the place where it all started – Airlie now has an organic community garden and a garden bistro where they serve dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Find out more about the community garden in this post I wrote about my last visit!

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4) Join a CSA or purchase from a buyer’s club

There are plenty of places to eat sustainably grown, local food, but what could be better than your own kitchen? Become a true locavore and chef extraordinaire by signing up for a local food delivery service.

Many people are familiar with the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model: subscribe to a farm and receive a weekly box of assorted local produce. It’s a great way to learn to cook with new and interesting ingredients that you wouldn’t normally go for at the farmer’s market. Since CSA’s are usually veggie-centric, this is also the perfect way to introduce more vegetarian meals into your diet. Find out why eating less meat is better for the planet by reading this.

To find a CSA that suits your needs, check out the Washington Post’s 2014 Roundup.

A buyer’s club is similar to a CSA, but with less of a commitment. (It’s the one-night-stand for the farm consumer.) You simply place an order online and then pick it up at a designated location. You can buy as often as you like – and you don’t have to worry about a rotting box of veggies if you go on vacation. A buyer’s club is often more convenient than a farmer’s market for both the consumer and the farmer – consumers can order online and get exactly what they need in one convenient pick-up, and a farmer has a guaranteed sale instead of wondering what they will sell at market each week.

I highly recommend these buyers clubs that deliver to the metro area: Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton, Heritage Hollow Farms in Sperryville, and Polyface Farms in Swoope. Look out for full features on each of these farms when my buyer’s club series comes out in Shenandoah Living Magazine later this year!

Both CSAs and buyer’s club are ideal for consumers who want to know exactly who is producing their food – and how. Signing up with one source eliminates the need to vet every vendor at a farmer’s market, and it guarantees quality (if you’ve done your research in the first place). As an added bonus, most of these programs use reusable or recycled boxes or bags, eliminating packaging waste! (Of course, you can eliminate waste at the market by bringing your own reusable bags!)

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5) Grow your own food

Finally, for the most hardcore foodies, you can have the ultimate local diet by growing your own food! This option is trickier in suburban and urban areas, but it’s not impossible! (Read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for a comprehensive guide to growing and eating local food.)

If you REALLY don’t have any space, check out my last post on how to grow micro-greens indoors!

If you have a little space, start an outdoor potted herb garden! Seeds and starter plants are extremely affordable at local gardening supply stores. In this case, look for USDA certified organic labels whenever possible!

If you have a lot of ideal growing space, I’m really jealous and we probably can’t be friends unless you share your bumper crops of tomatoes and zucchini. Just kidding. But seriously, get out there, get dirty and have fun! Your gazpachos and pestos will be the talk of the neighborhood.

If you want to grow more than micro-greens and herbs, but you don’t have any space, don’t worry! There’s one more option for you: a community garden or a garden plot! There are many programs throughout the DC area that allow residents to plant their own crops in a shared space (usually for a small seasonal fee). I’m still on the wait list at many of these places, which is a bummer, but it’s also exciting that so many people are interested in growing their own food! Check out this list of community gardens in the DMV and these garden plot programs in Fairfax County (Green Spring Gardens and Fairfax City’s Community Garden) to get started!

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“Eating with the fullest pleasure — pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance — is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” Wendell Berry (Author, Environmental Activist & Farmer)

Happy Earth Day!

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