Silver Diner Offers Local Food, Claims Farm To Table

Silver Diner, a restaurant chain serving Virginia and Maryland, recently decided to offer “fresh and local” food. When I heard this I excitedly ventured out to our closest diner with a group of colleagues. We were ready for some good old fashioned home cooking and jukebox heroes (yes they do have them!). Trouble was not far away though…

The first thing one notices at the new Silver Diner are the advertisements all over the diner for the new local food. The host and server make sure to mention it. The menus is similarly plastered with the words local, fresh, farm. The marketing was a little over the top but at least it got the job done.

The next step was looking into the food. Are they really committing to this or just jumping on the local bandwagon (like Harris Teeter is doing). They appear to be doing both.

The food is local, fresh, and from the farm. They are buying local wine and coffee from a local roaster. These are amazing steps that contribute greatly to local business and can even spur these local industries to greater heights. I think it is important to recognize these steps and even say “thank you”.

Thank you Silver Diner for committing to local, fresh, and farm to table.

With that being said here are some points to improve upon. Transparency is sorely lacking. The menu is more marketing than information. I was forced to ask the server for more details (which she barely knew). Of the two farms listed both were in Pennsylvania, which seems not local at all since farms and cooperatives exist in Virginia and Maryland offering meat, eggs, and dairy. The farms they do mention have only basic websites and do not even list certifications like organic or certified naturally grown.

I was forced to google for information and found that one of them was linked to being a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). I didn’t want to believe that Silver Diner could have overlooked this huge problem but found that the farm in question lists on its website a herd of 2,000 cows in a gigantic indoor facility, a sort of half-CAFO. Without more information and more transparency, what am I to think of this?

Further, the main reason I would continue coming back is for the vegetables and fruits. The menu and the website only state “produce from local farms”. A method to fix this, since produce is perishable and seasonal, is to list the farms that you regularly buy from or an extra menu listing farm, season, and offerings (provided upon request).

Another issue is standards. Just what are you committing to? The local roaster, Arlington based Greenberry, does not seem to believe in Fair Trade, which is a way to ensure that coffee farmers are not being exploited as cheap labor. If you’re going to offer hormone free meat, then why no offer antibiotic free as well? Also, no mention is made of organic or certified naturally grown, or any other standard that covers pesticide use?

Overall I am impressed by the moves Silver Diner has made. They are good first steps and probably necessary to build local food relationships. It does takes time to establish the operations of delivery and scheduling in bulk quantities. If they can continue their new efforts and build on them I will definitely be a frequent customer.

Events from DC’s Field to Fork

This month’s DC Field to Fork newsletter just came in and there are plenty of fun urban gardener events to attend.

Events

Thurs, Jun 3 & Sat, Jun 5
Invasive Plant Lecture and Field Workshop: Learn to identify and combat invasive plants, free.

Sat, Jun 5
22nd Annual Clean The Chesapeake Bay, for 3 hours join volunteers all over the Chesapeake, free.

Mon, Jun 7
DC Green Drinks at 1905 Restaurant featuring Clean Currents, 630pm, free.

Sat, Jun 12
Nerd Nite at DC9: presentations on mad science, wall street gremlins, and sexy apes. All proceeds benefit the Washington Youth Garden, $10.

Sat – Sun, Jun 12 – 13
Food and Wine Festival at National Harbor. $60-70.

Fri, Jun 18
The Chesapeake Urban Farming Summit: One day summit featuring keynotes and breakout sessions. $75.

Sat, Jun 19
DC Crop Mob: Volunteer on a Farm with Friends. Free and their are carpool rides to Middleburg, VA.

Sat, Jun 26
Common Good’s Growing Herbs in Your Garden. Donation or free, register early!

America’s Favorite Farmers Market

Vote for your favorite market!

photo from the DC Field to Work Network website

Conservation Steward Program

The federal government has announced a program called the Conservation Stewardship Program. To illustrate why this is interesting let me share a story:

I was on a plane seared next to a man reading Log Cabin magazine. He began telling about his retirement plan dreams to get that log cabin. He was buying land to build that future and told me about a particular piece which the government pays him to own. Rather, he said, pays him to do nothing with.

Kerez, Afghanistan - Irrigation and Crop Rotation
Kerez, Afghanistan - Irrigation and Crop Rotation

I instantly began grilling him on this since he was beaming like a schoolgirl who knew a secret and wanted to share. I ended up learning all about it.

It’s a government program to be environmental by saving the tracts of land that are most important to the local ecosystem. The payments aren’t much but they required him to do nothing to the land.

Obviously, he loved this plan, do nothing, get paid.

Also, I suspected he was an Air Marshall since he kept looking around and said he had like three more flights.

That pretty much summarizes the old program with the same acronym. The name is slightly different though as it changes from security to stewardship.

Old CSP – Conservation Security Program
New CSP – Conservation Stewardship Program

It’s barely a name change but apparently signifies a major overhaul of the program by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The new bill seems to ask for a more active role in saving our land. Reports are saying over 70 conservation programs are available. Things like carbon sequestering, limiting GHG’s, helping well water, improving crop rotations, preventing soil erosion, and more.

It also states that it opens the program up to more land types. And, it’s being spearheaded by Kathleen Merrigan, a high ranking deputy at USDA who is a strong advocate of organic, local, and sustainable.

This is all confidence inspiring but I’m skeptical. Giving out money to do nothing was the old program. Now they seem to be asking for more active environmentalism. Im not expecting much change.

I hope they have a staff to inspect and ensure new practices are being adopted. I would also like to see a website that lists all locations recieving tax dollars and what active conservation program they are employing.

Transparency and Enforcement.

The program is open for applications from Aug 10 to Sep 30. The average payment is expected to be $18/acre with a max of $40,000 per farm.

For more info:

http://sustainableagriculture.net/take-action/