By: Jeff Biggers
While restaurants in western North Carolina have long been in the forefront of the local foods "farm to table" movement, a unique collaboration between the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute (BRSI) and the Asheville Independent Restaurant (AIR) Association places North Carolina's popular mountain town into the front ranks of "America's Greenest Dining Destinations."
"The community spirit and commitment to collaboration among these restaurateurs is remarkable," noted Tim Ballard, BRSI's Green Restaurant project manager.
Going beyond light bulbs and good intentions on this year's upcoming Earth Day, April 22, an extraordinary array of restaurants has taken a huge step and signed on to a "comprehensive green restaurant certification program," dealing with larger issues of waste management, energy efficiency and chemical reductions to water. With a focus on sustainability, participants are also taking part in a "buddy system" on local suppliers, green ideas and clean energy developments.
"The Asheville restaurants understand going green is the right thing to do," said Randy Talley, co-owner of the Green Sage and founding Chair of the AIR Green Team. "It's good for the community, good for the planet, and good for our bottom line."
Using seed money from both the North Carolina Green Business Council Fund and the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the private/public initiative seeks to significantly shift operations toward clean energy sources and stands to reduce annual energy consumption by an estimated 3 billion BTUs.
Earlier this spring, in fact, local protests targeted a deadly coal-fired plant serving Asheville and western North Carolina, which has been singled out for toxic coal ash issues and reliance on coal stripmined from mountaintop removal operations.
"We know that it takes a community working together to create positive change," said Erika Schneider, Outreach Coordinator for the solar installer Sundance Power Systems. "The green restaurant project is the perfect example."
As part of a "true collaboration" across the region, according to nationally acclaimed Asheville filmmaker Adams Wood, the restaurants "opened their doors and roof hatches for our cameras and shared their passion." Along with fellow award-winning filmmaker Rod Murphy, their Industrious Productions company put this together "Dine Green, Asheville" video sampler. Murphy noted: "We were struck by the energy and enthusiasm of BRSI and AIR. We realized that there was a genuine sense of community empowerment -- we wanted to help them get that story out to a larger audience, mainly because we think it can serve as a model for other communities."