Urban Gardening and Help for Hungry People/Food Deserts

A Hood College grant program was celebrated recently for tackling the problem of hunger — also called “food insecurity” — in Frederick County. The program, in its first year and housed under the Center for Coastal & Watershed Studies — seeks to link sponsors and volunteers who help plant and harvest urban gardens with the areas of the county that need them.

Connie Ray, who has coordinated the program, spoke to a recent dinner celebration of the program.

Connie Ray, Food Security Network

Facts Noted at the event:

In Frederick, even though the median income is $90,000, 8% of residents live in poverty and 40% of residents who are not in poverty struggle to provide child care, put food on the table, and pay rent (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed-ALICE).

Emmitsburg, Libertytown, Thurmont, Brunswick and certain areas of Frederick City also fall into the ALICE category.

460 households in the City of Frederick are in what is called a food desert, a geographic area where it is difficult to find quality, fresh food.

This year, they grew 1,500 lbs. of produce that served 400 families in Frederick through their garden partners and volunteer network.

Information about Community Gardens where they are working: click here.

Frederick News Post Article on the program: click here.

A bountiful harvest in areas of Frederick County hungry for fresh produce is a goal of the Food Security Network.

The Christmas Tree Shopping dilemma

The Christmas Tree Shopping dilemma

Every year at this time we scope out whats being said about real vs. artificial Christmas trees, and while Green Frederick leans towards buying a re-plantable LOCAL real Christmas tree, there are considerations.

Take a look at Earth 911’s assessment here, with some key excerpts below:

Artificial Tree Pros:

  • Reuseability
  • Cost effectiveness

Artificial Tree Cons:

Artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. In addition, many older varieties may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process.

Despite their PVC contents, artificial trees are nonrecyclable and nonbiodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for

An artificial tree from the authors living room.

centuries after disposal. An artificial tree will last on average five to seven years, meaning you’ll eventually have to dispose of it, and many secondhand stores will not accept them. There’s also no guarantee the LED lights will last the whole time you own it, and they can’t be removed and replaced like with a real tree.

Decorating a tree from Dreamland Christmas Tree farm, Jefferson, MD

Furthermore, approximately 85 percent of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are imported from  China, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), adding to their overall environmental footprint.

Approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in North America each year, according to the U.S. EPA. Luckily, about 93 percent of those trees are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs.

Real Christmas Tree Cons:

  • Cost: Spending $40-$70 every year is not a cheap alternative.
  • Landfilling/incineration: if not recycled into mulch/compost, real trees add to our global disposal burden.

Other considerations from Earth911:

Real Christmas trees, they are farmed as agricultural products, meaning repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers may be used throughout their lifetime.

Farm to Table? Not So Easy! Help To Work for More Local Food in Schools and Hungry Bellies

I’ll bet you may not have known:

*That more of our farm production in Frederick County goes to commodity crops than produce and local restaurants and consumers?

*That 90% of the food consumed in our county comes from outside Frederick County?

*That Frederick County Public Schools nutritionists must plan menus weeks in advance due to complicated federal nutritional guidelines, making it really hard to react to local crop and growing conditions for local produce?

*That kids just won’t eat sweet potatoes if they aren’t used to getting them at home? (which most don’t these days!)

These are just some of the challenges Frederick County’s first Food  Council is tackling.

The group has  been meeting since spring, and is looking at:

*How to get more produce from “local” sources (which may need to be redefined more broadly than just Frederick County due to the low quantity of fruits and vegetables  grown here now);

*How to connect need for food (outside of local food banks, which have been the source until now) with food that is being thrown away

*How to connect local farmers and large buyers to make it economically attractive for Frederick County’s farmers to grow fruits and vegetables

The first big project of the Food Policy Council, under the banner of Community F.A.R.E. (Food Access Resources & Education), a local non-profit dedicated to promote local food to ensure biodiversity, farmland preservation and a connection to local food sources for local consumers.

The groups first project is a Farm to School grant from the US Department of Agriculture. It pairs Community FARE and the Frederick County Public Schools to bring local fresh food to five Title I elementary schools in Frederick—Lincoln, Waverley, Monocacy, Hillcrest and North Frederick.  It will focus on connecting farmers as potential suppliers; aligning nutritious habits in already existing curriculum; and encouraging school gardens. “Kids don’t understand where our food is coming from; when they grow it, they will eat it,” said Alysia Feurer, the grant manager..

Community FARE is looking for parents and local citizens to serve on an advisory group for the grant. If you are interested, contact Alysia here.

There are other focus groups of the Food Council that have met a few times to discuss various polkcy issues, and are looking for more members and leaders: Agricultural EconomicsLocal Food Access and Food Education.


For more info click here.



Frederick Food Security Network Wins Chesapeake Bay Trust Grant


The Frederick Food Security Network has been selected as a recipient of the Green Street, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the EPA in the amount of $65,136. This grant will allow the expansion of our gardening network to include gardens at the Boys and Girls Club of Frederick and the Islamic Society of Frederick and to expand the existing garden jointly run by Hood & Frederick Memorial Hospital, in addition to other exciting growth. Construction will be under way soon! Stay tuned in the coming months to hear and see more details and look out for lots of upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Each of our partner sites have planted their gardens, and we have already had produce harvested and distributed! Peas were harvested from the Religious Coalition garden and radishes and spinach from the Hood/FMH garden. Produce has been distributed to Religious Coalition clients as well as to the Community Action Agency food pantry and Catoctin senior apartments. Additionally, more than 90 plants started in the Hood greenhouse by student volunteers were transplanted to our four partner gardens this month.

The Religious Coalition garden continues to grow and improve, this month adding a children’s garden bed, a compost container, and its official community open hours. Stop by the Religious Coalition garden during these open hours to help out, learn more about what’s happening there, and bring home produce (produce reserved for low-income Frederick residents).

Cucumber plants thriving at the Religious Coalition garden with the help of some organic fertilizer added by a RCEHN client and garden volunteer.
128 lbs of produce harvested from the Hood/FMH garden was distributed the first week of July.

Biochar: Builder of organic matter and super-charged compost

What is Biochar?

Biochar is an ancient human agricultural practice, largely forgotten until recent decades. Ancient biochar has been discovered in the Amazon basin, where it is known as “Terra Preta.” Fertile soil infused with biochar provided food for millions of Ancient South Americans in a region otherwise challenged by low soil fertility.

“Terra Preta” biochar soil remains rich and fertile to this day. Biochar is the carbon which remains after plant or animal matter is baked or “pyrolized” at low temperatures, in the absence of oxygen. It is a natural process that occurs during forest fires. Carbon is a natural component of healthy living soil. The ancients augmented this naturally occurring soil carbon by producing biochar in a process similar to charcoal-making. Modern biochar pyrolysis is an efficient, tightly engineered process which generates biochar and valuable by-products cleanly, with energy self-sufficiency, and is carbon negative.

How does Biochar work?

1. Production. Biochar, when property produced via pyrolysis, retains the microscopic cell structure of the plant or animal material from which it was made. A handful of biochar contains many square miles of surface area and billions of cellular cavities. Biochar comes out of the pyrolysis process sterile.

2. Inoculation. Sterile biochar is “inoculated” with beneficial biological life. The easiest method is by incorporating biochar into an existing compost operation. Beneficial microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria take up residence in the vast network of biochar cell cavities, where they flourish, reproduce, compete and generate plant-available nutrients. This can take 3-12 weeks.

3. Use as Soil Amendment. Inoculated Biochar compost is introduced into agricultural fields or lawn soil. There, it improves virtuous nutrient cycling, increases water retention, accelerates the building of soil organic matter, and filters out mineral fertilizers and toxins that would normally run off into streams.

Biochar Advantages

• Biochar helps build soil organic matter (SOM), soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil biological activity. Compost alone is a good method to sequester carbon into soil (thus removing it from the atmospheric stock of CO2.) However, compost oxidizes in a few years, returning its carbon into the atmosphere. Biochar is soil carbon which remains stable in soil for hundreds or thousands of years, while also benefiting soil fertility.

• Biochar enhances the rainwater infiltration capacity of soil. Less run-off means reduced nutrient management issues, increased drought tolerance and reduced stormwater management costs.

• Biochar acts as a large-scale “carbon filter,” absorbing surplus mineral fertilizers, pesticides and toxins prior to stormwater carrying them into waterways. • Biochar turns agricultural waste into a valuable farm product. Chicken litter, diseased trees, manure, invasive species biomass, municipal wood chips… All can be pyrolyzed into sterile biochar.

• Biochar production is energy self-sufficient and can generate excess energy for resale into the grid, to heat greenhouses or otherwise displace conventionally-produced energy. • Biochar production is clean, exceeding California emissions standards.

• Biochar production generates valuable by-products. Depending on the feedstock biomass that is being pyrolyzed into biochar, the process can yield valuable quantities of waste heat, syngas, wood vinegar and other high-value products.

• Biochar helps restore essential soil carbon levels and biological biomass levels, which have been depleted by intensive agriculture. Biochar is NOT a waste product, it is carbon mad from organic feedstocks, which augments a natural soil-building process that is millions of years old.

• Biochar is particularly effective in accelerating the conversion of “conventional” agricultural fields, domestic lawns and municipal greenways to organic practices.




Richard with biochar that is being blended with his compost.

Richard Jefferies operates Utica Bridge Farms, a chemical-free farmstead which grows 50+ varieties of heirloom vegetables, berries, fruits, nuts and grains, using practices which build healthy biologically-active soil, support biodiversity and produce nutrient-dense food. This work is taken from a presentation he made at a Future Harvest CASA conference. 

Microbes at FMH—the Good Ones—Are Tackling Tons of Food Waste

There’s a new player in town reducing the amount of food waste headed to the Frederick County landfill—actually a host of new players in the form of hungry microbes.

Frederick Memorial Hospital installed a BioHiTech EcoSafe digester,  an aerobic food waste disposal system.The digester began processing food waste from the kitchen and patient rooms in February 2018. So far, it’s reduced the hospital’s food waste being landfilled by nearly five tons a month. Overall figures for waste from the hospital were unavailable. Diverting the leftover food from the cafeteria, what’s known as “front of house”,  is a more complex feat and is not yet underway.


Emily Dyson checks out the EcoSafe digester in the FMH kitchen.

Emily Dyson, Director, Science Research and Development for BioHiTech, explained how the system works.
· Kitchen employees scrape the food waste during the dishwashing process into a 5-gallon bucket. When the bucket fills they dump the scraps into the digester.
· The system is housed in a steel container that resembles an industrial icemaker. The digester is maintained at between 105 and 115 degrees and has paddles to provide constant aeration which allows the microorganisms to reproduce at an optimum rate. The digester operates like a stomach and needs proper temperatures, oxygen, and bacteria to digester the food waste. BioHiTech uses a proprietary blend of microorganisms to facilitate digestion.


Hospital food scrap ready for aerobic microbial digestion!

· The digester can handle everything except bones, large amounts of meat, raw dough and rice, corn husks, cobs and pineapple tops. That’s because the outer surfaces are too hard for critters that break down. If you wouldn’t eat it neither will the critters!
· After the digestion process, the discharged liquid heads to a FMH grease trap where anything that is not digested is skimmed and the rest of the liquid heads to the Frederick City Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The digester so far has diverted 37,621 lbs since the system was installed fin February. That’s removed it from landfill disposal and changed it to effluent treated by the Frederick water treatment system. The microorganism blend contains no surfactants or man-made enzymes (what is added to dish detergent so that dishes get clean quickly). This is because surfactants only temporarily break down fats, oils, and greases which can recongeal in the treatment process into “fatbergs” that clog sewage treatment operations. The microorganisms used in the digesters continue to eat away at the fats, oils and greases as they continue down the sanitary sewer line.

The added value of the EcoSafe digester, BioHiTech says, is its smart technology. The hospital’s chef, nutritionists and operations team all can use the BioHiTech app on their phones connected to the microcomputer in the digester. It can tell them at any moment how much waste has been digested for any given time period, as well as other metrics such as the equivalent drop in trash truck trips; carbon footprint and water used.

The EcoSafe digester was downsized from its originally installed digester because the data provided the hospital food and nutrition team info that helped them to tweak what they buy and put on the menu so that organic waste was significantly reduced (a followup story on this coming in July!). This helped the hospital cut their food waste by 200 pounds weekly.

BioHiTech sees the system complementing other organic waste diversion practices coming on line in the states where composting and anaerobic digestion are being required through regulation. “The digester is one element of the solution for organic waste,” she said. “There is not one technology that is going to work to solve the organic waste issue in the US.”