Housing Complex

First LEED-Certified D.C. Restaurant Under Attack in Washington Post


A little over a year ago, I wrote about Founding Farmers, a new downtown restaurant owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union.

The place billed itself as supporting local agriculture and using meat and seafood from producers that followed conscientious, sustainable practices.  Founding Farmers intrigued me because, at the time, it was striving to become the first LEED-certified restaurant. "We think it will arrive in one to two weeks,”  General Manager Christian Holmes told me at the time. “It was one of those things that was supposed to be here a month ago.”

According to this morning's Washington Post, Founding Farmers did eventually receive its official LEED certification. But its food is now in question. The Post's Jane Black points out that the "sustainable" salmon recently on the menu came from "one of the largest salmon farms in North America." Likewise, some of the restaurant's early meats were from the Harris Ranch of California, which drew the attention of no less than food writer Michael Pollan, who questioned the farm's concept of sustainability.

Black's article presents no challenge to the restaurant's green building practices, in fact her colleague, food critic Tom Sietsema, derided the place's cuisine, while praising its LEED certification in his review of Founding Farmers.

But all this controversy presents an interesting question: Maybe it's easier to "go green" in your building materials and waste removal practices than in your food production? Both seem challenging. But food procurement changes every day—whereas some of the LEED practices seem rather consistent, albeit annoyingly complicated.

As I wrote last year, here are some more ways the restaurant has worked toward LEED certification:

  • All raw food materials are separated into different bins, which are picked up by a composting company.
  • All cooking oils used in fryers are picked up by a local limo/taxi company that uses bioethenol fuel to power a couple of their limos.
  • Recovered floorboards and barnboards from various farmhouses and farms throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania.
  • High pressure hand dryers. No extra paper waste.

Image by adactio, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

  • Rob

    I don't think its really the fault of the restaurant so much as the vagaries of what constitutes sustainable/organic/fair-trade/free-range/open-range food, right?

    Its kinda the same question as the whole ethanol thing, what gets included in the green calculation.

    Part of the answer lies in whose doing the calculating, whose doing the inspection, and whose doing the review.

    As a side note I'm still waiting for the day that I have to take a receipt for leaving a bio-physical deposit during my meals.

  • former staffer

    Ate at founding farmers before the pixies concert. Was unimpressed...over priced beer, annoying waiter...

    sustainable or not, calling toast - flatbread wins over no one.

  • http://www.wearefoundingfarmers.com Dan Simons

    Dear Ruth, and Readers:

    The Post article misses the big picture, and states the salmon topic as if that's a permanent factual statement. And the Harris Ranch example is a year old, and I corrected that mistakes quickly upon learning about it. Ask about our milk, eggs, chickens, and ask our produce distributor about the 35,000 pounds of local produce we bought this summer, ask about our coffees, our teas, and lots of other aspects of the business. There's a Whole Story here, but Post article chose to take a few tidbits and try and make a different story. Please read my initial response here: http://www.wearefoundingfarmers.com/ and my full response here: http://blog.wearefoundingfarmers.com/2009/12/todays-washington-post-founding-farmers-response/

    I think this is a very important topic, and I'm glad it is a focus; I just want the focus to be fact-filled, and comprehensive, not based on a few exceptions that don't represent the whole story. I'm wide open for dialogue and feedback, and I'm proud of the work we're doing at this restaurant.

  • Anonymous

    Kudos to Founding Farmers for their efforts at sustainability. What they're doing is really admirable--and I agree with Rob that it's hard to cover the gamut when there are no agreed-upon standards.

    Haven't eaten there yet. A friend and I tried to do lunch a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and it was packed to the rafters at 1:30 with a long wait. We wound up across the street at Kinkead's, where I have had several bad experiences over the years (don't go on Friday eve), but it turned out to be very tasty.

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  • http://www.cleanedison.com/energy-audit.html Edison

    Congratulations to Founding Farmers! I read on the article the innovative ways the restaurant undertakes to be energy efficient. I am looking forward to my next visit to D.C., drop by the restaurant and have a taste of their sumptuous meal.

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