Tag Archives: farm to school

Making a Locavore Community, One College Student at a Time

17 Sep

Editor’s Note: I asked Madeline Smith to write from her personal experience about the great way she decided take action on behalf of local organic food and farming, which fit too perfectly into this week’s blogging theme.  Maddy’s work has a primary impact on the ground in Geneseo, but secondary potential to inspire each reader to consider ways and means they each have to boost the farm-to-table connections in their communities.  Thanks, Maddy, for sharing your project’s top objectives and inspiring us to think about how we can make an impact beyond our kitchens and backyards!

As a second-year NOFA-NY intern I, Maddy Smith, learned most things I know about local organic lifestyles and food just from being at this place, working with the Locavore Challenge and field days.  My lunchtime peanut butter and banana sandwich, eaten alongside avid gardeners and CSA members at lunch, would be a prime example of where I started with locavorism (editor’s note: nobody on NOFA-NY staff is judgmental toward others’ lunches, though we try to encourage each other to embrace local and organic eating.  Maddy’s sandwich choice may have remained constant over the years, but I have it on good authority she’s sourcing local bread and locally-produced nut butters).  In June 2012, I was under the assumption that organic was good and local was Wegmans.  To no one’s surprise – not even my own – I was wrong.  Those boxes of organic cereal, pita chips, and organic mixed greens that I piously bought weren’t homegrown (well, not near my home), though their manufacturers successfully marketed them to appear as such. Sure, they were somewhat tasty, but not in the multi-faceted way that homemade bread, granola, and dirt-covered beets are; the supermarket organic packaged foods were an attempt to bring the feel-good feeling of local, from 3,000 miles away.

And that’s the mindset that I’m trying to debunk and expose, right here in upstate New York at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo, my future alma mater, and current home. The college rewarded me with a hefty grant, or ambassadorship, to bring a local foods program to the community. With the help of a newly formed Local Food Council comprised of students, faculty, and community members, I’ll have much help, and can ensure that the program lasts after I (hopefully) graduate in May.

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An overhead shot of SUNY Geneseo in the heart of the Genesee Valley

The project is called Think Local Geneseo, and it involves three parts:

  1. Increasing student and community participation in direct-market agriculture like the Geneseo Farmers Market and facilitating a partnership between Geneseo’s Campus Auxiliary Services and a Rochester food subscription/delivery group called the Good Food Collective to provide shares for students, faculty and community members
  2. Encouraging a large percentage of local foods in the college’s dining services, which will be further promoted through the Local Food Council’s participation in Food Day, part of the national Real Food Challenge
  3. Organizing events in Geneseo, including college-community cooking classes, a Locavore dinner, and local food speakers. Oh yes – and tabling for the Locavore Challenge, of course547097_715530565130453_1210342970_n

I know – it sounds like a lot! Put another way, we are interested in getting people to eat local organic food, to understand and appreciate where their food originated, and building relationships between the community and its surrounding farmland. At Geneseo, we have everything we need for a local foods program to thrive: curious students, like myself; the lush agriculture of New York State, especially in the Rochester region; knowledgeable and supportive faculty; and a vibrant community already playing host to a weekly farmers market. What we don’t have is someone, something, tying all of these components together.

That’s where I come in. Consider me the “ambassador” of local foods in Geneseo, NY. You see, Through my small and hopefully high-impact creation, I aim to increase local consumption in the town of Geneseo and show people the benefit of supporting local and/or organic farmers, while also transcending the boundary that exists between the college and the community. It’s through places like the farmers market, produce share drop-off days, and local food cooking classes and dinners that this can happen. College students can embrace the town that plays host to them for eight months, and the community can appreciate the students as they loosen their grip on the stereotype of college students that pinpoints them as junk-food eaters, night crawlers and mailbox destroyers.

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A summer shot of a Thursday at the Geneseo Farmers market

It’s a project that involves a lot of planning, coordination, and self-motivation, as this is a completely self-directed pursuit. It takes confidence to implement a completely new program for a whole town, without having a single clue as to how it will pan out; while hoping for the best, I do have some self-doubt sometimes. When that happens, I reach out to others for support, like key students and professors who will provide apt feedback, along with community members who can lend many hands. Fortunately, as this is a food-based project, I can also turn to Geneseo’s dining services for help.  Dining services’ Executive Director is the force behind the grant, not to mention the brains behind the cooking classes and dinners. With support from New York State organic producers like Once Again Nut Butter, and donations from small businesses in Geneseo, I have high hopes for the fall and the 2013 Locavore Challenge, and what it promises for Geneseo and small farmers alike.

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I’m slowly realizing that I have a bundle of local food and farming information and resources that will be valuable to others who are eager to learn, and to those who already know: NOFA-NY folks, farmers, and leaders of the sustainable food movement included, who will all reap the benefits of each fresh Locavore to add to the growing list. Follow along with Think Local Geneseo, and share the Locavore Love!

For more examples of college-level farm-to-school initiatives, check out: Winter Sun Farms connects to area colleges, Skidmore College local foods initiative, Cornell Dining defines local and regional food items, Emory University’s sustainable food initiative, Local Food to Local Institutions pamphlet (free download)

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Like Food? Be an Advocate! Here’s why and how!

15 Sep

Hello Locavores!  We’ll dive right in, as this is truly a long read.

What has Sarah been up to this week with her kids?  After being sick last week, she and her kids went out for some fresh air, and discovered a pick-your-own orchard not far from her house!  Check out this Locavore-positive experience she tells us about.  “We drove down a rocky dirt road following the U-Pick signs. My kids always enjoy a bumpy ride, and I know it usually leads to a place I want to be, so we already knew the day was on the right track.  I knew the hustle and bustle of the street was not very far behind us, but distance hid it from our view.  We were surrounded by water, trees, pasture and some scattered farm equipment. The sky looked so big, I remembered our activities are often at its mercy.  We had no company other than the insects.  I handed my kids their bright orange Locavore bags and started walking. We saw the apples hanging from trees on our right, but we could smell the peaches to our left.  My kids waited for the okay to start picking, almost like they couldn’t believe something so fun was mom approved. With a smile and a gentle “go on” from me, they ran down a row of peach trees. Watching them, I could see they were struggling to make the decision whether to hoard the peaches for later or taste every one they saw.  Later, when seeing the peaches on our dinner plates, they were visibly proud of their achievement.  While we don’t often roll up our sleeves and grow or harvest our food ourselves within my family, we should.  After all, I want my kids to understand that ‘doing’ is a part of eating. I know that if I continue to let my kids interact with food at its source, they will respect and advocate for our environment’s health, amongst other thing as they grow.”

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Sarah’s final thought is a perfect segue into this week’s upcoming blog theme: Take Action!  We’ve all been testing our abilities to use lots of local and organic foods, engaging with others, encouraging friends and acquaintances to do the same, and we’ve had an introduction as to why that’s going to help our communities in the long run.  This week, let’s get into it more deeply.  Each of us can find an initiative to support, or even one to start!  Food activism starts in your shopping bag, on your cutting board, in your kitchen, and at your table (read this for an interesting take on anti-GMO culinary protest).  This is a real and good and important part of changing the accessibility of organically-grown locally-farmed foods (simply by creating more demand and thus allowing farmers to be in business).  Good job to you for being a part of it!

Let’s go beyond the plate.  If Sarah’s children, both under 5 years old, are getting involved by appreciating their food, then there’s no reason the rest of us shouldn’t ensure they will be able to do this in the future!  NOFA-NY spends a lot of time working behind the scenes to advocate for organic farming and food-access policies.  There are the more public issues, such as GMO labeling, that affect farmers and consumers.  But there are other questions and policies that need your support.  Beyond policy, local food just needs liaisons and catalysts.  Later this week, you’ll hear from a member of the 18-25 year old demographic who’s having a huge impact in her college’s community in New York.  You’ll learn what motivates NOFA-NY staff to continue to read policy briefs and why calling your government representatives is so important.

The on-farm situation, and what farmers have to put up with because agricultural policies don’t favor small-scale, diverse farms, needs work.  Beyond the fields, there are blockages to distribution.  It remains a huge challenge for smaller-scale farmers to provide food to their communities outside of the farmers’ market and CSA methods of distribution.  Often the issue of scale means a farmer can’t guarantee a certain crop at a certain time; while organic farmers work hard to prevent crop failure, they don’t have the safety of spraying something to kill whatever is eating their crop.  It’s a riskier way to farm, and that risk means that it’s also harder to market food to certain channels that demand consistency and a low wholesale price.  Supplying to restaurants and local grocers is becoming more common, and we want to lift up the chefs and farmers who are making that happen.  (That’s a fun way to be a food activist–dine at a restaurant that supports local farms, and then write an online restaurant review, or Tweet or post something on Facebook praising them for doing this and including key words like “farm to table” or “local produce”).  Policy change needs to happen on many levels–local, state and federal–if more farms are to have hope of supplying food to their own kids’ schools, to hospitals, to nursing homes, and to programs that allow for low-income households to eat as healthily as higher-income households.

Admittedly, policy reading doesn’t seem as interesting as recipe-browsing.  But if your education today sparks you to understand and react to the next challenge to farmers’ ability to grow organic food at a scale they enjoy and can manage, then that’s where the chain of activism takes off, and that’s what could secure your ability to have such great food to cook in years to come.

Local and organic food makes us smile.

Local and organic food makes Nancy, NOFA-NY’s Finance and Human Resources Manager, smile.  She lives in an area outside Rochester situated between many old farms, and she’ll keep smiling if more people get involved in protecting those great farms!

Challenge yourself to think of one local-food or organic-food question you’ve been wanting to learn more about, and spent the next 10 minutes researching it–even just bookmarking pages to read later.  Heck, we’ll even give you a free pass to eat some bananas and avocados (but keep them organic and fair trade, please) while you look up this stuff.  Be careful to find information that is grounded in research, facts and true events.  Watch out for claims and personal accounts that may not check out (because while they may support what you want to be true, the truth and facts are way more powerful).  Here are some suggestions:

Read about NOFA-NY’s official policy initiatives.  The information there should give you a taste of how we work and point you to many more reputable sources of information.  Note: becoming a NOFA-NY member gives you the freedom to vote on farm policy resolutions at our annual meeting in January.  Wondering how else, besides political action, NOFA-NY supports farmers from our office headquarters? For example, take a look at the list of organic farming programs and projects we are involved in.  Please do consider donating and joining as a member–your support is essential to help us continue to do our work effectively.

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) has a list of resources and media for you to get into.  Browse around all their site has to offer–they’re the real deal (disclosure: NOFA-NY and all the NOFA chapters in the Northeast hold membership with NOC).  Subscribe to their e-mail alerts for the latest on organic policy happenings (and action alerts to get involved–based on the zipcode you provide, they tell you who to call, and when, and what to say).

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is another group doing fantastic work to explain the laws, bills and policies that have such power (to do good or to harm) in our food system.  Keep up to date on the latest Farm Bill news on their blog, and browse their resources, too!

If mapping out local food systems and doing a local foods feasibility audit interest you, check out Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit  and Mapping School Food: A Policy Guide.  Don’t forget to read our blog post on Tuesday for a great example of youth stepping up to better the local food system.

Subscribe to the Northeast Food System e-mail listserve, devoted to the topic of food systems in the Northeastern states.

Worried as you watch land turn into big development lots for more houses, malls, and chain restaurants?  There’s some policy work you can read about, plus great organizations like American Farmland Trust (go to their website if only to watch the animated cow plod across the screen) and local land conservancies and trusts that can show you how you, while not a farmer, can help keep land in agriculture, can open up new land for new farmers who can’t pay the going rate versus rich developers, and more.

This is what we want in our communities...not more malls.

This is what we want in our communities…not more malls.

Wondering what challenges aspiring farmers face?  Look at this comprehensive national study  published in 2011 from National Young Farmers Coalition.  They can use your support, and are another trusted resource on farmer-forward policy, with a specific focus on how policies will impact the chances of new farmers.

Feel inspired already? Do you think you have the guts to start or get involved with food policy?  Mark Winne is a respected name in the food policy world, encouraging groups large and small to work for better food policy.  He says, “Broadly defined, food policy is a set of collective decisions made by governments at all levels, businesses, and organizations that affect how food gets from the farm to your table. A food policy can be as broad as a federal regulation on food labeling or as local and specific as a zoning law that lets city dwellers raise honeybees.”  You can download an entire Food Policy Council manual from Winne’s website that takes you through all the steps to starting a Food Policy Council to influence food policy like this, now that you know some of the issues and stakeholders!

The idea in giving you these resources is not to overwhelm or depress you.  It’s to show you that you can find some way to get involved off the plate.  Also, like our guest blogger Lea mentioned in her post on September 3rd, everyone gets involved somehow.  It’s not that some of us were born into a career of food and farm policy work (some of us find law easier to understand, sure).  Each of the organizations and initiatives mentioned here is run by regular people with a passion to help.  You don’t have to run an organization to help, but you should and can get involved and take action.  You can find something that means a lot to YOU, and devote yourself to learning about that.  Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes.  Where will your knowledge-power take you?  It’s so important that you, a local-food-eater, understand the challenges farmers face in starting and maintaining their organic farms, because you clearly know the reward is a better food system with tastier food!

This duck-egg-with-radish greens quiche made possible by a CSA share (and all the policy support allowing that farm to succeed), lovingly made by a food justice and food access crusader, NOFA-NY's own Nicky Dennis.

This duck-egg-with-radish greens quiche made possible by a CSA share (and all the policy support allowing that farm to succeed), lovingly made by a food justice and food access crusader, NOFA-NY’s own Nicky Dennis.

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