Newsletter

Fairfax County Public Schools children will continue to get free meals amid uncertainty with the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended schools’ abilities to provide the food — traditionally for low-income families through free and reduced meal programs — by giving them special exemptions last year when schools were shut down due to COVID-19.

For FCPS, it means all students, regardless of their families’ incomes, can get free breakfast and lunch through June 2022.

“Pivot was the key word of success to the FCPS response to the pandemic and meals,” FCPS Food and Nutrition Services Director Maria Perrone said in a statement. “On March 13, 2020 — the day that schools closed — our FNS team opened 5 meal distribution sites” and continue to open more.

She says that by the close of this past school year, FCPS had 75 locations and over 400 bus stops distributing meals to students.

“By March of 2021 — one year after the start of the pandemic — the FNS team had served over 15 million meals,” Perrone noted.

The extension is funded by federal relief money from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that Congress first passed in March 2020 and extended in September, according to the USDA. The USDA has provided waivers to school districts to allow them to operate programs outside their normal parameters.

Buses with food drove through neighborhoods across Fairfax County yesterday (Wednesday) as part of a meal kit distribution effort, where children 18 and younger can get a week’s worth of food for free. FCPS will also provide meal kits at several schools through Aug. 16 as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

A mother who teaches in FCPS picked up food for her kids and remarked how she wished more people would have been there.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the continued outreach comes as officials recognize the uncertainty that the pandemic has created for families.

After remote learning filled much of 2020, FCPS gradually shifted students back into classrooms throughout the school year, finally moving to four days a week in April. The district will return to five days a week for almost all students when it starts the school year on Aug. 23.

FCPS announced on July 28 that masks will be required in school buildings when students are present, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

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McLean Cares volunteers load food into a truck for SHARE to distribute (courtesy McLean Cares/Facebook)

With many restaurants struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of McLean residents created a group called McLean Cares to try to help keep their local eateries afloat.

Inspired by a similar Herndon organization, McLean Cares collects donations to buys meals from restaurants that they then give to residents with food insecurity.

Members of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Temple Rodef Shalom, McLean Baptist, and Lewinsville Presbyterian started the group in July 2020. They collected donations from their congregations, solicited local businesses, and applied for community grants to raise funds.

As of June 2021, they have raised $64,563, every penny of which was spent buying 5,600 meals for those who needed them.

“Our goal was simple: to support locally-owned restaurants by purchasing meals once a month and then distributing those meals to Fairfax County residents experiencing food insecurity,” said Immanuel Presbyterian member Leslie Regan, who is part of the planning team for McLean Cares.

On top of helping those who need food assistance, McLean Cares asks the restaurants to provide meals that cost no more than $10 to make. The organization then pays $11.50 per meal and asks that the extra $1.50 goes to the restaurant staff.

“The restaurants were so wonderful and the meals were incredible that they put out. We’re just so grateful to have them work with us,” Regan said. “They just jumped right in and said yes…We are so proud of how everything worked out. Several restaurant owners have told us they could not have survived without our business. And the food recipients were always so wonderfully grateful!”

While donations were coming in bundles for a while, incoming funds started to slow down as restaurants began to reopen. However, with the new Delta variant causing a new uptick in COVID-19 cases, organizers say restaurants are once again in need of some help.

McLean Cares is seeking new donations so it can purchase more meals. Interested donors can send a check with the memo line “McLean Cares” to Mary Ann Vaughan (Business Administrator) at Immanuel Presbyterian Church (1125 Savile Lane).

Donations can also be sent online through SignUp Genius to designate how many meals you would like to provide at $11.50 per meal.

The restaurants and catering companies involved include:

All of the meals have and will continue to go to local shelters, low-income housing complexes, SHARE of McLean, and local elementary schools and their families.

McLean Cares has a Facebook page to keep the community informed on their work.

“We don’t know the future and donating would be great,” Regan said. “Supporting our local restaurants by picking up [is important too]. We’re not out of the woods yet so support your local restaurants.”

Photo via McLean Cares/Facebook

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Bowls of fruit (via Melissa Belanger/Unsplash)

Two Fairfax County organizations have been awarded grants from a national nonprofit aimed at increasing access for food service programs for children and their families.

The Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center and Cornerstones in Reston both received grants from No Kid Hungry, a campaign from the national nonprofit Save Our Strength, whose mission is to end hunger and poverty.

No Kid Hungry announced on July 26 that it has distributed $1.16 million in grants to more than 30 Virginia school districts and organizations to combat food insecurity and provide more access to food to children and families.

The Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center received $25,000, and Cornerstones was granted $30,000.

“We are thrilled to get the grant and happy to help families in ways we couldn’t otherwise,” Renee Boyle, development director at the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, said.

Located at 7230 Idylwood Road, the children’s center provides early childhood education, along with an after-school child care program specifically for students at nearby Lemon Road Elementary School in Falls Church.

Boyle says the center will share money from the grant with the Seven Corners Children’s Center, a preschool in Falls Church.

$15,000 will go towards providing low-income families at both centers with grocery cards that can be used at their discretion. That way, children and their families, including parents and older siblings, can have easier access to food even outside of the schools’ walls, Boyle says.

“Oftentimes, it can be difficult getting to school to get food, or [the kids] don’t attend pre-school,” she said. “This allows [families] to purchase fruits, veggies, and meats of their choice and reflects their ethnic preferences.”

The other $10,000 will go towards contracting Good Food Company out of Arlington to provide high-quality lunches at the center. They provide meals full of fresh vegetables, proteins, and wholesome dishes, Boyle says.

“The menu varies everyday and they’re higher quality meals than county public schools,” she said.

Cornerstones — a nonprofit that provides assistance with food, shelter, child care, and other basic needs — is using its grant to rent an outdoor storage unit to expand its pantry program, pay off-site storage facility costs, and purchase a new cargo van to deliver fresh food to households in need, CEO Kerrie Wilson says.

Food insecurity remains a huge challenge in the D.C. region. About 1% of residents in several pockets of Reston, Vienna, Tysons, and Herndon were food-insecure in 2020, according to Capital Area Food Bank research.

One in eight children under 18 in Virginia live in a household where they may not be getting enough to eat, according to No Kid Hungry.

“If it weren’t for the free meals being offered by schools and community organizations, that number would be much higher,” No Kid Hungry Virginia Associate Director Sarah Steely said.

Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center Executive Director Lucy Pelletier says existing food access challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic due in large part to employment uncertainty.

“We are seeing that our families are in widely varied states of employment recovery,” Pelletier said in a statement. “Our parents who are restaurant servers are exhausted from all their overtime hours because restaurants can’t hire enough employees. Parents in other direct service jobs such as house cleaning are either working less than pre-pandemic levels due to clients’ fears of covid, or they are traveling further to fill their schedule with families willing to accept cleaners into their homes.”

Rising food prices also means that paychecks are not going as far as they used too, she added.

Food insecurity also disportionately impacts communities of color and immigrants. Cornerstones says about 70% of the people it serves are people of color and 40% are children, half of whom identify as a member of a minority or immigrant community.

The nonprofit surveyed some of the residents it works with and found that food stability remains a huge, immediate concern.

“Food stability is a continued top priority and source of stress for themselves and their families,” Wilson said. “The concerns about access to healthy and adequate food and nutrition was significantly higher in respondents who identified as people of color and immigrants.”

Community organizations like the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center and Cornerstones are critical to ensuring children have enough healthy food to eat, because they can provide access outside of schools, especially during summer and winter breaks.

“These meal programs work together with nutrition programs like Pandemic EBT and SNAP to ensure kids have enough to eat,” Steely said by email. “We know that summer can be the hungriest time of the year for children and families across the Commonwealth and beyond.”

Photo via Melissa Belanger/Unsplash

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The third Wednesday of July has arrived, and that means it is officially National Hot Dog Day.

Once again, Vienna Inn will celebrate the occasion by offering a slight discount on its signature hot dogs. Starting at 10 a.m. today, customers can buy a hot dog for $2, and chili dogs are also available at an additional cost.

The typical price of a hot dog from the longstanding Vienna restaurant ranges from $2.45 to $2.75, depending on whether it’s served with cheese, chili, onions, and other toppings.

“We have customers stop in from all over the country to try one of our dogs,” Vienna Inn owner Marty Volk said in a press release that says the restaurant still serves more than 10,000 hot dogs a month even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Hot Dog Day is an annual event cooked up by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, a trade organization established by the American Meat Institute, but the promotion carries a bit more weight this year for small businesses like Vienna Inn that could use the boost after over a year of navigating the pandemic.

At this time last year, Vienna Inn was only able to provide a limited amount of indoor seating, relying instead on contact-free curbside pickups and outdoor dining under a newly installed tent in its parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue E.

Dubbed the Outside Inn, the tent accommodates over 60 diners and has been outfitted with large-screen televisions to replicate the sports bar experience that’s as much a part of the establishment’s appeal as its chili dogs and wood-paneled furnishings.

Volk says the addition of the outdoor tent has been critical for getting Vienna Inn through the past year.

The tent was made possible by an emergency ordinance that the Town of Vienna has had in place since June 2020, allowing commercial activities on sidewalks and in parking lots due to COVID-19 health concerns. The ordinance has been extended five times, most recently on June 7, and is now scheduled to expire on Dec. 7.

“The last year was a challenge,” Volk said by email. “Without the addition of the Outside Inn (our tent which allowed for outdoor dining) and the loyalty of our customers who raised money to buy meals for first responders and hospital workers and found any excuse to order take-out, we may not be here today.”

Earlier this year, Vienna Inn commemorated its 61st anniversary with celebrity guest hot dog tenders and a challenge to customers to purchase 1,960 meals for first responders and other front-line workers by the end of February. The restaurant exceeded its goal by selling 2,176 meals that month, according to its website.

Vienna Inn says it has seen “a large increase” in dine-in customers since Virginia lifted all capacity and social distancing restrictions on May 28.

The restaurant is now preparing for an influx of new faces with the Virginia State Little League Majors Little League Tournament rolling into town tomorrow (Thursday).

“It’s been nice getting back to somewhat normal,” Volk said. “Seeing familiar faces, sports teams and families back in the restaurant has been a great feeling.”

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Morning Notes

New I-66 Ramp to West Falls Church Metro Opens — A new ramp designed to provide direct access from Interstate 66 to the West Falls Church Metro station is expected to open around midday today (Thursday). Work on the ramp, which connects two existing I-66 East/Route 7 ramps, began in May 2020 and is part of the I-66 Inside the Beltway widening project. [VDOT]

Partial Closure of Tysons Boulevard Begins — Fairfax County held a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday (Wednesday) to mark the launch of a program to give pedestrians and bicyclists access to a half-mile of Tysons Boulevard. This is the second year that the county has experimented with a partial closure of the road near Tysons Galleria. [Dalia Palchik/Twitter]

McLean Family Starts Persian Ice Cream Delivery — The owners of Amoo’s Restaurant in McLean has spun off one of their most lauded dishes into a delivery service. Kinrose Creamery launched last week, producing ice cream that can be picked up at Amoo’s and delivery sites in Vienna, Sterling, and Manassas. [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Wolf Trap Hotel Project Returns to Vienna Board — The Town of Vienna Board of Architectural Review will discuss the latest revisions to plans for a four-story, mixed-use development at 444 Maple Avenue W. when it meets tonight. After being slowed down by the pandemic and public opposition to proposed development on Maple, the developer told Tysons Reporter in June that they hope to start construction this fall. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Behind the Architecture of Capital One Hall — “HGA worked with the client, presenting alternatives [to marble] such as Italian travertine, silvery Alabaman limestone, or Brazilian swirling granite to avoid joining the high number of noteworthy marble failures in the past sixty years. For Barry Mark, vice president of design and construction at Capital One, none of these had the distinctive beauty and character for the vision he had of the project.” [The Architect’s Newspaper]

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Istanbul Kitchen owners Feride Ozkan and Arzu Ozen (courtesy Istanbul Kitchen)

Tysons Corner Center welcomed its latest restaurant last week with the opening of Istanbul Kitchen.

Run by Feride Ozkan and Arzu Ozen, who also own Ozfeka Catering, Istanbul Kitchen joins a number of other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eateries at the mall, from Cava Mezze Grill to The Halal Guys, but this is the only one to specialize specifically in Turkish cuisine.

“You can find all kinds of international food in the mall and we thought ours would be a great addition,” Ozkan said.

Ozkan says Istanbul Kitchen serves “homemade gourmet and healthy selections of Mediterranean cuisine,” including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options so there is something for all dietary preferences.

There is also a variety of desserts, including baklava, rice pudding, cookies, and Turkish coffees and teas.

“We are hoping to become one of the best restaurants in the mall with exceptional quality of foods and customer service,” Ozkan said.

Istanbul Kitchen is located on the first level between McDonald’s and Pokeworks.

“We are pleased to provide small and independent eateries like Istanbul Kitchen the opportunity to showcase their global cuisine with Tysons Corner Center as the backdrop,” said Matt Barry, the assistant vice president of property management for Tysons Corner Center.

https://twitter.com/ShopTysons/status/1413514040651878400

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) After a 20-year hiatus, The Italian Oven has returned to Old Dominion Drive in McLean.

The Italian restaurant officially opened on Monday (June 21) at 6852 Old Dominion Drive, moving back into a spot it had first occupied in 1985.

The Esposito family has been serving authentic Italian cuisine in Northern Virginia for over 40 years. Although the restaurant has operated under multiple names, the main attraction has been their wood-burning oven shipped from Italy, which reaches 800 degrees and cooks pizzas in about two and a half minutes.

Salvatore “Sal” Esposito, the former owner of the original Italian Oven, was a “pioneer of installing wood-burning ovens in Arlington, Fairfax, McLean, and Georgetown,” according to his son, Robert, who will own and manage the eatery’s latest incarnation.

A native of Naples, Italy, Sal Esposito was trained in the hospitality industry in Germany and England before coming to America.

His uncle, Franco, was a chef trained in Long Island, New York, and the first member of the Esposito family to open a restaurant in the U.S., starting with a small hole-in-the-wall in Arlington. They had lines out the door after the first few months of business.

Health complications led Sal to retire early in 2000, leaving the restaurant in the hands of five managers. Eventually, Moe Jebali became the sole owner and renamed the restaurant Pulcinella.

Now, Pulcinella is moving to a new location, and Robert Esposito has decided to buy his father’s old restaurant and refurbish it to reopen The Italian Oven.

A graduate of Langley High School, Robert is also deaf and has strong ties to the deaf community in McLean, according to his father. He is committed to making The Italian Oven a welcoming environment for members of the deaf community.

There are still remnants of the old Italian Oven. A mural depicting a scene from Italy is still intact in the lower dining room, and the original wood-burning oven is still cooking as well. Certain pictures and menu items remain the same too, all waiting for guests to come back and enjoy.

“The people of McLean have been coming through the door saying, ‘Welcome back. We love you and welcome back,'” Sal said.

Questions and concerns about the restaurant can be directed to 703-570-4975‬.

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Blend 111 has evolved since it first arrived on Church Street in Vienna two years ago.

With the Latin fusion restaurant approaching its second anniversary on Saturday (May 8), owner Michael Biddick reflected on the work that went into establishing Blend 111 and refining its menu and style to make it what it is today.

A 20-year resident of Vienna, Biddick started the restaurant in 2019 after selling a successful cybersecurity company that he founded.

He had long been interested in wine but began to seriously learn about it while going through the Court of Masters Sommeliers training. Along the way, he also developed an interest in coffee.

“Through a lot of the traveling I did I had the opportunity to eat at a lot of different restaurants around the world,” Biddick said. “So, I thought it would be great to bring a different type of restaurant to Northern Virginia that focused a lot on international cuisine and [felt like] more of an urban and international city-like restaurant.”

Biddick is now the head sommelier at Blend 111 and a certified French Wine Scholar. He published the book “43 Wine Regions” in 2018 and has contributed to Somm Journal, Food and Travel, and Go World Travel magazines.

To commemorate its two-year anniversary, Biddick says the restaurant is bringing back a few of its more popular drinks, including a very popular spicy margarita, and Executive Chef Andrés-Julian Zuluaga will prepare some surprise dishes that will pop up on the menu come Saturday.

There will also be a special three-course all-day brunch menu for Mother’s Day on Sunday (May 9).

Blend 111 was built in an old furniture and card shop, right down the road from the Town of Vienna’s Town Hall. The name comes from their mission to seamlessly blend food, wine, and coffee from different Latin cultures, along with their address, 111 Church Street.

Although there is currently only one location, Biddick says they are actively looking for other locations to expand in the DMV area.

When designing Blend 111, Biddick made a conscious effort to buy as much local produce as possible and avoid the waste issues that typically plague restaurants.

“One of the things I wanted to do was to have a really minimal waste impact and as little environmental waste as possible,” Biddick said.

Blend 111 has developed relationships with local farms and now specifies what crops need to be grown for main courses, salads, and sides. In addition to supporting local providers, Biddick says cultivating these relationships helps the restaurant develop new flavors.

Blend 111 has a goal to produce only one bag of trash per day. Other leftover items are either recycled or composted through an organization called Compost Crew.

They also are conscious about using organic wine and coffee, and they try to offset anything brought in from outside the D.C. area by investing in renewable energy sources.

“You never reach a finish line with sustainability,” Biddick said. “It’s just something you always have to continually work at and try to improve upon.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit 10 months after it opened, Blend 111 briefly shut down before working to adapt to the new environment.

Putting his information technology background to use, Biddick designed a platform to facilitate carryout and delivery services without having to go through a third party. This helped keep the existing core staff employed and engaged and opened the door for more people to come on board, even as many other restaurants were letting people go.

“I really looked at it as an investment opportunity,” Biddick said. “We found that we were able to make it through the last year, and then, I think once things started to reopen slowly, we then saw business come back significantly.”

Blend 111 brought on a new culinary team in May 2020 that consisted of a new executive chef, a sous chef, and a pastry chef. Biddick says the new team “was able to take the menu up several notches above what we had at opening.”

Blend 111 also benefitted from relaxed zoning rules that enabled the restaurant to convert its parking lot into an outdoor patio space.

“Dealing with a pandemic is really challenging,” Biddick said. “A lot of it comes down to…the individual circumstances that you’re in, but I just try to look at how you can make the best of it and I think we just leveraged everything we could to pull out of that period.”

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It is farmers market season, and Fairfax County has a plethora of options for anyone looking to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables.

The county operates 10 markets under the Fairfax County Park Authority, but there are also many privately-owned markets, many of which are open year-round.

The county-run markets, however, are strictly seasonal. While they closed for a period of time last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, four of them eventually re-opened.

This weekend, the first of those markets will put out its produce for the 2021 season:

  • Burke: VRE parking lot (5671 Roberts Parkway), Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon, starting April 1
  • McCutcheon/Mount Vernon: Sherwood Regional Library (2501 Sherwood Hall Lane), Wednesdays 8 a.m. to noon, starting April 21
  • Old Town Herndon (700 Lynn St.): Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., starting April 22
  • Reston: Lake Anne Village Center (1609-A Washington Plaza), Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, starting May 1
  • Oak Marr RECenter (3200 Jermantown Rd.): Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to noon, starting May 5
  • Wakefield Park (8100 Braddock Rd.): Wednesdays from 2-6 p.m., starting May 5
  • Annandale: Mason District Park (6621 Columbia Pike), Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon, starting May 6
  • McLean: Lewinsville Park (1659 Chain Bridge Road), Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon, starting May 7
  • Kingstowne Towne Center (5870 Kingstowne Towne Center): Fridays from 3-7 p.m., starting May 7

The county-run markets all run through at least late October, with several continuing into December.

What makes these markets unique is that they’re strictly producer-only, meaning vendors can only sell what they’ve raised, grown, or made on their own farms. All farmers and producers also come from within a 125-mile radius of Fairfax County.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the county has enacted strict safety protocols.

Visitors can browse markets in “pods” of up to four people, but only one customer can approach a stall at a time. Vendor sampling has been prohibited, and people are being asked not to “linger.” Online sales are strongly encouraged.

If 10 markets aren’t enough, there are plenty of privately-run farmers markets around the county.

FRESHFARM runs about 30 markets across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, including five in Fairfax County:

  • Oakton: Unity of Fairfax Church (2854 Hunter Mill Rd.), year-round on Saturdays from 9 a.m to 1 p.m.
  • Mosaic: The Mosaic District (2910 District Ave.), Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., started April 4
  • Reston: St. John Neumann Catholic Church (11900 Lawyers Rd.), Wednesdays from 3-7 p.m., started April 7
  • Springfield: Springfield Town Center (6699 Spring Mall Dr.), Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting May 1
  • The Boro: 8301 Greensboro Dr., Thursdays from 3-7 p.m., starting May 6

The NOVA Central Farm market in Vienna is also on Sundays and open year-round, though hours shifted slightly on April 1.

The Reston Farm Garden Market is also open year-round and daily on Baron Cameron Avenue. Its two “neighborhood markets” will open this month:

  • Springfield: Cardinal Forest Plaza (8316 Old Keene Mill Rd.), open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting April 15
  • Herndon: Fox Mill Center (2551 John Milton Dr.), open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting April 20

If you want to cross county lines, there is also a number of farmers markets in Arlington.

Be it sweet strawberries, appetizing apples, lucious lettuce that you may desire, there are plenty of options in Fairfax County for community members to get their fill of fresh food and support local farmers.

Photo via Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash

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Town of Vienna residents might soon be able to drop their compost off in the town instead of having to drive up to 10 miles to the nearest Fairfax County facility.

However, the town is still searching for a location and a vendor to pick up the compost, according to Christine Horner, a water quality engineer for Vienna who is spearheading the project.

The idea of a stand-alone composting drop-off site has been long mulled-over.

The Vienna Town Council approved funding for such a program on May 13, 2019 as part of the 2020 fiscal year budget, Horner says. Since then, the town has been looking for a place to set up a compost site.

“The project is in motion,” she said. “We are actively searching for an appropriate location.”

Once a location is set, Vienna will be ready “to get the facility installed and contract with a vendor for pick-up services,” Horner said.

Finding a location is top-of-mind for Councilmember Nisha Patel, who is campaigning to get reelected for a second term this May.

“We don’t have an area that is free of residents to compost,” Patel told Tysons Reporter. “It’s something we need to look out and see where we can encourage more composting.”

While Vienna staff look for an appropriate location in town, Patel encourages residents to use Fairfax County’s composting drop-off at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) in Fairfax and the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton. Those locations are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

“These programs provide a similar service but are separate initiatives,” Horner said in an email. “The Fairfax Composting Drop Off location is currently available for Vienna residents.”

The county sites accept a wide range of goods for composting, including food — meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits and grains — along with flowers, uncoated paper bags, towels and plates, compostable flatware, flowers, coffee grounds and tea bags. Scraps and paper goods can be collected in kitchen pails, secured in compostable bags, and tossed into the green bins.

Image via Fairfax County

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