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Summer’s here and the time is right – for eating in the streets

July 20, 2011

Block parties ordinarily draw people with music, games, food, and of course, good old-fashioned community atmosphere. But Think Local First D.C.’s Farm-to-Street Party this past Saturday (July 16) in the U St. neighborhood had a special focus – highlighting providers and supporters of local, sustainable food.

Having biked 20 miles from Rockville into D.C., I unfortunately didn’t get there until 4 PM. As there was only an hour left, some of the vendors had already packed it in for the day. Nonetheless, there was still plenty to see.

For an admission fee of $10, I received two food tickets, which I used to get delicious pork sliders fresh off the spit, courtesy of restaurant/bar Local 16. (For those with good memories, they were also the host of the last DC Grey Market.) I’m anything but a big meat-eater, but topped with pickled red onions and a zucchini/yellow squash mix, they were fantastic. Everything was incredibly fresh, with the pork from High View Farm in Berryville, VA and the summer vegetables from biodynamic Whipple Farms in Rixeyville, VA. In addition, Local 16′s actual restaurant is less than a block away from the Street Party location, making this a true neighborhood affair.

Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to bike for pie. I announced my intention for the pie-eating contest after they already had four contestants. It’s probably for the best, considering the challenge was to eat an entire pie. Seeing the grimaces on the berry-smeared faces of the contestants, I realized I probably would have made myself sick!

Face first is the way to go.

Nonetheless, it was entertaining to watch. The two male and two female contestants went at the pie with the ferocity of wild animals.

This dog was just waiting for someone to drop some pie.

Never missing a chance for a networking event, I also spoke to a number of non-profit and small business representatives. Greenpeace in particular had a very cool educational tool – a truck with a huge solar array.

Talking to the vehicle’s mechanic/keeper, I found out that its huge bank of batteries stores not only enough power to move the vehicle, but even plug in accessories for events. The truck’s batteries, charged only by the sun, were actually powering the entire Street Party! When the vehicle’s battery pack runs down, it runs on 100% biodiesel, another renewable resource.

This truck is all about freedom from coal and oil - fossil fuel independence!

A different stand highlighted Love and Carrots, a business that works with landowners to design sustainable, food-producing gardens. Although I raise my own garden, I could definitely see the benefit of such a service for a busy person with little gardening experience.

If they guarantee results like these, perhaps I should give up and just hire them for my garden...

I also stopped by the D.C. State Fair booth, where I was able to fill my water bottle with a refreshing lemon/mint water mix. I’ll probably attend it during this year’s Columbia Heights Day, but being a Maryland resident, I won’t qualify. If my garden ever yields award-winning produce in the future (ha!), perhaps I’ll enter the Montgomery County Fair instead.

As for the Street Party, the one major change I would like to see is more choices for food, especially vegetarian options. Although I’m willing to eat meat (especially when it’s that good), many people in the local/sustainable food movement are vegetarians for health, ethical, and sustainability reasons. Acknowledging and catering to that is important, and they could have invited any of the quality vegan/vegetarian restaurants in D.C. In addition, the only dessert vendor I saw was an ice cream vendor with little to no sustainability aspect. Considering the vast number of bakeries I see at farmers’ markets and the Grey Market, I’m disappointed they didn’t reach out more on that front.

Even though I did miss part of it, D.C.’s Farm-to-Street Party seemed like a great way to celebrate community and local food. I’m sad I missed out on the rest of the events in Think Local First’s local foods week – especially the Back Roads foraging tour – but the Street Party was a worthy end. I just hope that next year it will be even bigger and better.

(Apologies to Martha and the Vandellas…)

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