DC Vegfest: Bigger, Better, and More Delicious Than Ever

DCVF_Sharegraphic9 (1)Are you vegan, vegetarian, or just curious about eating a more plant-based diet? Then this year’s DC VegFest on September 20th is not to be missed. Held at beautiful Yards Park on the DC waterfront, DC VegFest is a free day-long celebration that includes speakers, cooking demos, more than 100 exhibitors and vendors, a “Barking Lot” where four-legged furry friends can romp, music, and much more.

This year’s keynote speaker is Robin Quivers–also known as Howard Stern’s sidekick–and author of The Vegucation of RobinWashington Post writer and author Joe Yonan along with Doron Petersan of Sticky Fingers Eats and Treats are on tap to do cooking demos featuring easy-to-make vegan dishes the whole family will enjoy.

More than 25 restaurants will be showcasing their healthy eats at the festival, ranging from kombucha from Craft Kombucha and freshly pressed juice from South Block Juice Co. to vegan Chinese food from Vegetable Garden and vegan pizza from Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza. Those looking for refreshments a little harder than juice can even take advantage of the beer and wine garden, sponsored by Bread & Brew.

Other exhibitors not to be missed will include all-natural skin-care lines, yummy baked goods, organic dog treats, and even a local culinary arts school specializing in healthy, plant-based diets.

Nine authors and chefs, including event MC and The Cheesy Vegan author John Schlimm and 73-year-old ultra-marathon runner Dr. Betty Smith will speak throughout the daylong festival. Other speakers include:

  • Lesley Parker-Rollins — Vegan mom and host of Ask a Vegan Family
  • Bryant Terry – Eco-chef and author of The Inspired Vegan and Afro-Vegan
  • Dr. Neal Barnard – President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
  • Alexis Fox and Micah Risk of Lighter Nutrition Coaching and Community

DC VegFest highlights the many benefits and flavors of vegetarian eating and shows how easy and delicious it is to choose healthier, more sustainable, and kinder foods. Attendees will enjoy free food samples from So Delicious, Tofurky, Larabar, Way Better Snacks, and more as well as tasty vegan cuisine from nearly two dozen food vendors.

Attendees will also have the chance to peruse exhibitor booths from such animal-friendly organizations and companies as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, the Humane Society of the United States, Conscious Corner, A Well-Fed World, Animal Rescue Bar, Washington Humane Society and many more.

In addition to this event being free and open to everyone, the first 1,000 attendees will also get a free 2014 commemorative DC VegFest tote bag loaded with veg-friendly products, coupons and more!

The DC VegFest was originally founded by the Vegetarian Society of DC and has been organized by Compassion Over Killing since 2009.

One Bar, One Meal, One Child

Going Green DC chatted with Veneka Chagwedera from Nouri Bars to learn a little about what inspired this local startup, how Nouri bars are helping fight hunger around the world, and what kinds of environmentally friendly business practices Team Nouri employs at the office.

A Nouri Bar
1. Tell us a little about how you got started with Nouri Bars. What was the inspiration behind the company?

The inspiration for the bars straight from our kitchen. Jared and I were experimenting with raw food and healthy ways to make great tasting snacks to carry with us on hikes. We created the bars and found they were not only healthy but delicious and super satisfying. In fact, the Creamy Cashew bar we sell is still based on that original recipe!

It’s a common belief that the best tasting food isn’t healthy for us, and that healthy food doesn’t taste good. Nouri solves this problem by bringing you a delicious snack bar that is both nourishing and delicious – no added chemicals or preservatives. Just good, wholesome, farm-grown ingredients like nuts, dates, cinnamon, cacao and love.

The inspiration for the social mission comes from our own stories. I grew up in Zimbabwe and witnessed the poverty and education challenges of children in developing countries. As two recent college graduates, we felt that we could make a difference. Nouri’s social mission enables us to become changemakers — empowering children around the world to pursue education and escape the cycle of poverty.

2.      What kind of impact has your program had so far on helping to feed the hungry?

We work with Stepping Stones International (SSI) located in Gaborone, Botswana. We have helped to provide over 15,000 meals thus far. By the end of 2014, we plan to expand our school feeding program to reach children in Guatemala, Haiti, India and the US.

3.      Do you only work abroad or are you involved in helping to feed hungry children in the U.S?nouri2

Hunger and malnourishment is not just a foreign issue, and it happens all too often in our own backyard. We are working to expand our partnerships to schools here in the U.S.  We plan to roll out our domestic U.S. partnerships by early 2014, but in the meantime our team members have been having an impact in their local communities by serving in local food pantry’s and soup kitchens. Our bars aren’t the only thing about Nouri that’s helping feed the hungry; our team members are too. And that’s something we’re proud of.

4.      What flavors do you offer, which are your favorite and which are most popular?

We have three delicious flavors: Creamy Chocolate Cashew, Cinnamon Apple Spice and Peanut Butter and Cherry. My favorite is the creamy cashew. Jared’s favorite is the peanut butter and wild cherry, because it reminds him of his childhood favorite of PB&J, but with a twist. Our most popular bar is definitely the creamy cashew tied with the peanut butter and wild cherry.

5.      Can you tell me a little about what’s in the bars and their nutritional information? Are any ingredients sourced locally?

The bars are made from simple and wholesome ingredients such as  organic fruit, chocolate, nuts, and seeds, and all the ingredients are sourced from farmers in the U.S.

6.      Would you consider Nouri a sustainable business?

Absolutely! We firmly believe in the Kaizen philosophy which states that little changes and improvement over time lead to a much stronger and sustainable change which is what we are trying to do with Nouri. We are trying to fundamentally change the way that people interact with their food by changing their perceptions on what healthy food can taste like as well as how their food purchases may affect others. It is this philosophy which is ingrained into each bar such that it is driven by sales rather than an afterthought.

7.      What kinds of environmentally friendly business practices to do you employ?

We are big fans of recycling and run an almost paper-less office. We work with stores to send our invoices and materials electronically. We also work with suppliers who use environmentally friendly wrappers and packages for our products.

8.      How can schools get involved with your program?

Schools in the USA can get involved in three key ways:

  • Teaching children about the issue of hunger in developing countries is an excellent way to raise their global awareness and also helps them appreciate the everyday things they enjoy  – like food!
  • Get involved  in selling Nouri bars in school cafeterias and use the funds raised by the school to give to another school in a developing community.
  • Schools can let us know if they would like us to come and give a talk or spend a day with their students. We love working with children and are happy to make the trips to their area to help raise awareness about the importance of community service and giving back.

9.      How can individuals help or get involved in helping to feed the hungry?

Our short term goals are to bring delicious bars to communities around the U.S. We are always looking for new stores, coffee shops, offices, and yoga studios to carry our bars.  However, it is important to note that hunger is not just an international issue, but happens in our own country as well. It is important for individuals to work within their communities to help those who are less fortunate; volunteer at a homeless shelter, donate cans of food to a food bank or just spend a little bit of your time helping out at your local soup kitchen. Little improvements make a big difference.

10.   Is there anything else you would like to add? Please feel free to share additional information or details about the company and your mission.

Looking back after five years we hope to have provided meals in school, and by extension an education, to over 10 million of the poorest children worldwide. There is no telling how far these millions of kids will change through the power of overcoming hunger and gaining an education. Through Nouri, we hope to leave a legacy that will be a social movement among a generation and fundamentally transform how we interact with our food purchases as well as our concept of good tasting healthy food.

Gardens, Gleaning, and Feeding the Hungry

Guest blog post by Jason Silverman

A Plot Against Hunger gardenWalk past the corner of Barton and 10th Street in Arlington, VA and you’ll see an assortment of vegetables growing just outside the fence of a sprawling community garden. These vegetables are part of an area-wide program called Plot Against Hunger, which gathers fresh produce from area farmers, farmer’s markets, and private and community gardens to help feed the area’s hungry.

Inspiration for the idea came to Lisa Crye when she saw the approach a church in California took to feeding the hungry: sell produce from members’ gardens and donate the proceeds to a local food pantry.  At around the same time, the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) was looking for a way to offer more fresh vegetables to the approximately 1,400 needy families it serves in the County.  So in a brainstorming session in 2007, Crye and Puwen Lee, AFAC’s volunteer service coordinator, hatched a plan that would grow into AFAC’s Plot Against Hunger program.

Plot Against Hunger now provides AFAC with fresh produce from area farmers, farmer’s markets, and private and community gardens.  In its first year, it contributed 10,000 pounds of fresh produce to AFAC’s warehouses.  Since then, the number has grown dramatically, with Crye estimating that all the sources combined have yielded 200,000 pounds of produce each year.

The program’s largest source of produce comes from harvesting excess vegetables from commercial farms in the area, a practice called “gleaning.”  Plot Against Hunger coordinates gleaning events through the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network (MAGNET), which has relationships with area farms. The organization also gleans excess produce from the USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland.

Its second-largest source is unsold produce donated by vendors after the weekly Crystal City, Courthouse, and Columbia Pike farmer’s markets that otherwise might go to waste.

Plot Against Hunger also receives donations of vegetables grown in gardens across Arlington. Many county community gardens, such as the one at Barton and North 10th St. have plots dedicated to AFAC, as do gardens at faith-based institutions, schools, and private residences.

Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability

But Plot Against Hunger does more than provide fresh produce to AFAC and, in turn, to the tables of its clients. It also educates Arlington residents on how they can grow their own vegetables.  The food-producing garden at Arlington Central Library, for example, employs techniques that can be used to grow food in a wide range of conditions, such as raised beds, square-foot gardening (using small, densely-planted plots), and roof gardening. The garden at Clarendon Presbyterian Church employs straw-bale gardening, and alone yielded 125 pounds of produce for AFAC last year.

Plot Against Hunger also has a school program.  Several area elementary schools have gardens that contribute to AFAC while also giving students a hands-on learning experience in gardening.  In Crye’s experience, kids who have been exposed to gardening and seen vegetables being grown are more likely to, well, eat their vegetables.  Crye reported an anecdote of a child with a long history of broccoli-hating being mesmerized by an actual broccoli plant.

AFAC and Plot Against Hunger don’t get to choose what vegetables are gleaned or donated. But AFAC operates on a “choice model” – its clients can select the food they wish to receive.  Foods grown through local gardens or commercial farms don’t always line up completely with the food preferences of AFAC’s clients, who hail from a wide variety of backgrounds.  So what to do when trying to place Swiss Chard, or blue hubbard squash – a massive, grayish relative of the pumpkin – with families who have no idea what to do with them? AFAC teaches its clients about these vegetables and how they can be prepared.  Twice a week, AFAC holds cooking demonstrations and offers samples to clients.

Want to get involved? AFAC and Plot Against Hunger are always looking for more volunteers, so whether you’re interested in gleaning, growing, cooking, or just donating produce, you can learn more here.

DC’s Independent Food Scene: A Work in Progress

Freshly baked artisan bread Mark Furstenberg caused quite a stir this week in his Washington Post article “What’s missing from D.C.’s food scene? A lot.” He writes: “I do not believe that we have the elements of a really wonderful food culture.” He paints DC as a hapless wannabe nipping at the heels of established foodie meccas like New Orleans and San Francisco. The results of an “unscientific survey of Washington Post readers” (whatever that means) support his assertion, with 64% saying that “no,” DC is not a great food city.

I agree with Furstenberg that we never really developed a food identity. We don’t have the vibrant food traditions of Chicago’s Greektown or LA’s Koreatown, nor do we have the long-standing local food movement of San Francisco, the BBQ of Kansas City, or the crab cakes of Baltimore.

But the problem with the piece is that it’s all about what we don’t have, rather than what we do. It’s a glass half empty critique of a city that is still finding its food identity. I’ve also been here many years–and I’m excited about where we are going.

Ten years ago, you couldn’t find a good slice of pizza in this town except maybe from Vace. Now there’s Pete’s Apizza, Two Amy’s, District of Pi and countless others.

Great bread? In the past, I’d have said forget about it. Now we have Leonora Bakery and Lyon Bakery.  Beer?  Three independent breweries have recently opened in DC alone, as has Port City in Alexandria.  Every day, I learn about another local food venture that is making the culinary landscape here more interesting. From Union Market to smaller restaurants like the Green Pig and the Red Hen, the movement here is taking shape.

Yes, the ubiquity of chains like Au Bon Pain and Chipotle is depressing, though hardly unique to D.C.  We need to do more as a city to support small markets and independent cafes and restaurants. But the way to do this isn’t by bashing DC, as so many have done in the past. We may never be able to compare to New York, LA, Chicago or San Francisco. We are a fraction of their size and will first and foremost be a government town.

But we can grow into a place with a proud local food community—one that supports independent purveyors like Smucker FarmsGordy’s Pickle Jar, MOM’s Organic Market, and Souper Girl. I do believe we have the elements of a wonderful food culture; we certainly have the appetite. Just take a stroll around Logan Circle, Clarendon, Del Ray, Columbia Heights or Silver Spring. The only question now is whether developers, landlords, and investors are willing to work together with independent businesses to make it flourish.

Editor’s Note: Shortly after writing this piece, we came across an article by City Paper’s Jessica Sidman, which is a terrific read in support of DC’s food scene

Pitango Gelato Goes Solar

Pitango Gelato has been committed to eco-friendly practices since the company opened its doors in 2007. Now, in addition to the measures Pitango already takes to reduce energy and minimize waste, the company’s dairy facility in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has converted to solar power.

The dairy is located on Spring Wood Organic Farm, where a single herd of grass-fed cows supplies all of the milk and cream used in Pitango’s organic gelato. The farm’s new solar panels  are generating enough electricity to operate the farm and the dairy.

Aside from long-term economic incentives, Spring Wood owner Roman Stoltzfoos decided to go solar to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint. “It is a substantial investment for us, but it is clearly the right thing to do to make the farm and the dairy greener,” he says. “We’ll be using much less fossil fuel for what we have to do.”

The farm even uses a solar panel on its high-tech “Egg-Mobile,” which houses free-range hens that provide the daily supply of freshly laid eggs used in some of Pitango’s recipes. The hen house on wheels with solar-powered feeders, lights, egg laying boxes, and doors “delivers all of the modern bells and whistles,” says Stoltzfoos, “with minimal environmental impact.”

“It’s not always easy being green,” says Pitango Gelato founder and CEO Noah Dan. “A large component of our product is energy, so naturally we think about it all the time. For us, being green is being smart, and finding a path to improve our product and its sustainability is our ultimate goal.”

The shift toward solar on the farm is only one example of Pitango’s energy-efficient practices. Pitango’s custom-made bancone (gelato cases) used in each shop are liquid-cooled by glycol–an energy-retaining liquid derived from corn. Once the glycol is adequately cooled, it requires very little energy to maintain a temperature that is optimal for storing the gelato at the perfect consistency, with each flavor in its own sealed compartment. Dan estimates that Pitango’s bancone consume as little as one-tenth of the electricity of comparable air-cooled display cases. Pitango also uses biodegradable serving cups, coffee cups and gelato spoons.

Pitango matches its eco-friendly practices with a commitment to create a healthier product. The company’s artisanal gelato contains less fat than premium ice cream, while its sorbets contain no dairy products and are vegan and fat-free.

Made with ingredients, from fresh local fruit to organic chocolate, Pitango’s products contain no flavorings, colorings, or chemicals of any kind.