Correction to This Article
Previous editions of this article in print and on the Web misidentified a co-owner of Green Alchemy Herb & Mercantile Co. She is Sarah L. Roussos. This version has been corrected.

A Shorter Link Between the Farm And Dinner Plate

By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

American Flatbread in Ashburn sits a few turns off the Dulles Greenway on the cusp of burgeoning suburbia. Parked in a strip shopping center behind a McDonald's and sharing a wall with a Glory Days Grill, this is an unlikely place to find a food movement.

Customers at the new pizzeria dine on weekly specials that include poultry and pork raised free-range and greens that are freshly picked. Much of the food is organic. But the real emphasis is local.

The wood-fired oven is made from red Virginia clay. The beer is brewed nearby. The leaves of the iced tea are grown and packaged on a local herb farm. And a hand-painted map of Loudoun County is emblazoned on the restaurant's back wall, delineating the farms and dairies the restaurant pairs with to produce its menu.

American Flatbread's owners say purchasing close to home is more a calling than a business.

"It's a trust issue," said Janice Vasko, who opened the restaurant in June with her husband, Scott. "When you buy local, you know what you are getting."

The eat local movement places emphasis on consuming fruits, vegetables, meats and other products grown miles, rather than days, away. It has gained ground nationally and throughout the Washington area in recent years, particularly in Loudoun County.

Restaurants and grocers are striking partnerships with the county's small farmers, driven in part by food safety concerns, environmental sensitivities and just plain marketing savvy.

Wegmans and Whole Foods are busy cutting deals with local producers. Restaurants herald their fresh-from-Loudoun menus, and the county government is pushing these farm-to-fork partnerships in hopes of preserving its dwindling agricultural industry.

The push for local agriculture has existed since at least the 1970s. Poet Wendell Berry of Kentucky championed organic farming and community ties. Italian Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Movement -- which espouses a philosophy of rejecting fast food and respecting local sources -- after organizing a 1986 protest against a planned McDonald's in Rome.

It has gained currency more recently with the publication of such books as journalist Michael Pollan's 2006 "Omnivore's Dilemma," which asked readers to consider the origins of what they eat. This awareness sparked discussion of environmental factors such as food miles -- that there is a cost to the environment when food travels long distances.

Grocers have long recognized the appeal of local produce, promoting products from neighboring and regional farmers in their stores.

Yet local food sometimes comes at a premium and is subject to availability. Businesses still rely heavily on the global agricultural industry for the preponderance of their goods.


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