Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.
Goodbye Poughkeepsie life, green acres we are there!
Despite the dreary start to the weekend (a grey and muddy Friday morning and afternoon), the Coop, accompanied by our super Prof team, journeyed to lovely Cold Springs, NY to visit Glynwood Institute for the weekend. The Institute’s mission is “to help communities in the Northeast save farming” by working with, understanding, and empowering communities, farmers, and landowners. Furthermore, Glynwood’s vision focuses on shifting the U.S. food supply to a regional system based on environmentally sustainable agriculture- thereby revitalizing farm and farm communities while providing access to fresh healthy food to consumers.
After our respective half-days at field work, we quickly tore off our rain and mud-soiled farmwear, packed last minute essentials (or some packed entirely at that moment!), and put our rainboots BACK on for the watery ride. We diverged from the Town Houses in two cars (Emma riding in style with Jojo, Nikki, and Alicia in her car while Mary Ann Emily, Yael, and I took off in a VC Security van). Mary Ann’s car made a pit stop at Poughkeepsie Day School to pick up our little Maddie in her yellow raincoat, waiting patiently in the schoolyard amidst children and yellow buses (just kidding, she does not still attend middle school, she had just finished field work!)
After a car-full of fun and good conversation, we arrived around 3:30pm Friday afternoon- completely in awe as we made our way along the windy path through the beautiful grounds, full of young fall foilage just waiting to burst in autumnal colors. We made our way to the Main House to unload our bags and meet the other conference guests. But first, we could not resist a brief tour of our accommodations- a quaint country cottage-style house with rambling halls that led to darling rooms with fancy, customized door signs, antique quilted beds and fluffy white terry cloth robes. Some of us explored a bit of the land around the house while snacking on local apples- discovering cows and horses grazing in a stone-fenced lawn; gardens, forests, and a fountain straight from the pages of The Secret Garden; and taking in more of the gorgeous landscape- lush green rolling farmland dotted with rustic crimson barns and white farmhouses.
We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the storybook scenery, venturing back inside for the 5:00 reception in the Main House Library where we mingled and chatted over cheese and root beer with students and faculty from Williams College of Williamstown MA, Smith College of Northhampton MA, and the Culinary Institute of America in our nearby Hyde Park, NY. Shortly after, we convened in the Living Room for our official welcome from our dear Glynwood hosts including President Kathleen Frith and made our formal introductions- students, professors, and staff each went around the room to say our name, school, major/class year or field of expertise, as well as any food related field work, project, experiences, and/or role in the weekend’s activities.
Our bellies grumbling from a days worth of rain-speckled field work, vehicular treks, picturesque pastures, and hors d’oeuvres it was finally time for dinner! We feasted on a local spread of roasted chicken, potatoes, salad, seitan, and a decadent apple crumble dessert! Suddenly, Virginia, Glynwood’s Director of Community Based Programs surprised us all with a hat full of strips of paper which she instructed us to dive into one by one, choosing the name of the character we would be impersonating in a mock community forum to be held Sunday afternoon.
Stuffed full with delicious cuisine and conversation, but piqued with curiosity, we rolled ourselves back into the Living Room to learn more about the weekend ahead. Burt and Virginia equally convinced us that we were in for an exciting- albeit mysterious- bout of days and nights ahead. Our characters, we were told, were based off of real people in the community- farmers, council members, townspeople- that would likely be involved in a mythical discussion about the creation of a ‘local food hub.’
Food hubs are distribution centers that provide a logistical and marketing interface between farmers and regional buyers- making it easier for local and regional farmers to compete with the mainstream, consolidated food production and distribution system.
We received small yellow envelopes adorned with our characters names as well as red folders full of itineraries, speaker bios, and reading material about Glynwood and food hubs. The setting was all too reminiscent of Clue: a dark stormy night spent in the library, living room, kitchen, meeting strangers and preparing our alternate identities- I went to bed that night praying we all woke up for breakfast…
Luckily, we all arose the next morning, bright and early, to an 8am breakfast- another one of many feasts- of egg and pepper frittata, warm oatmeal, fresh granola and yogurt, honeydew, concord grapes, tea and coffee. Fueled for the day ahead, we got ready for a personal tour ofthe Glynwood grounds where we saw all the quintessential farmyard wonders- chickens, pigs, goats, cows, horses, compost heaps, barns, hay, and vegetables.
After our taste of farm labor, it was time for mouth labor- LUNCH. A hearty spread of sandwiches, salad, and butternut squash soup warmed our soggy bones for our next activity- a plenary session entitled, The Regional Food System: Who Makes it Work. We all hunkered down in the living room, our hands juggling notebooks, coffee, and tea but our minds anxiously awaiting the words of food system experts. We heard from:
- Paul Wigsten, a farmer on Wigsten Farm commented that he has seen improvements within the Hudson Valley food system over the last 20 years. In the past 5 years, he has expanded his market and relationships with wholesale retailers but admits that he cannot afford to drive to and solicit customers in the city. Heres where distributors like Red Barn Produce of New Paltz come in, with a truck to pull away his organic vegetables, leaving Paul more precious time to concentrate on and do what he does best- growing and farming. Paul also divulged that he works closely with a seed saver exchange in the Midwest to preserve heirloom varieties of tomatoes and melons. Wigsten remarked that the regional food system in the Hudson Valley is ‘alive and well’ in his perspective.
- Allie Comet, a young farmer, is in her fourth year of farming, having worked on diversified farms in California and Maine before arriving at Glynwood. Allie spoke about the route most young farmers take from apprenticeship to management, highlighting the challenges from training (both in the field as well as practical business and marketing skills), to access to land and capital. Allie also represents a subset of farmers who are not born into an agricultural family, having grown up in Brooklyn NY. She noted that this sometimes is difficult in that its not always clear where to go for help; but on the other hand, her steady salary is definitely a unique plus. Allie finally spoke about the cultural place of agriculture, inquiring whether agriculture has become culturally important, and wondering how we position farms in our community.
- Matthew Flusser born and raised New Yorker as well, is the Operations Manager for Farm to Table Co-Packers in New Paltz. A big advocate of buying local foods and for sustainability and lowering carbon footprint, Matthew acknowledges that everybody wants local food but can always afford to buy from multiple farms. At the same time, farmers can’t afford to leave their land and livestock. Amidst all of this, Matt and his Co-packers are running rampant, sometimes working 23 hours a day trying to maintain a consistent flow of washing, chopping, pouring, and regulating produce all the while trying to solve issues of space, organization, and waste.
- Michael Abbate works as the Chief Operating Officer for Common Capital, Inc., a non-profit economic and community development organization that serves Western Massachusetts. Michael oversees program development, manages the organization’s Healthy Food Financing program, in addition to all other financial management and marketing functions. Abbate commented that he and his organization must take the role of developer, helping people with great ideas find the assistance they need. Michael noted that the Pioneer Valley of MA is in need of more infrastructure and has the potential to be the model for other parts of the U.S., by shaping the regional food system through social transformation.
- Don Lewis, founder, baker, and miller at Wild Hive Farm Community Grain Project in Clinton Corners, NY began his farming life as a commercial beekeeper and went on to become a founding member of the Union Square Greenmarket. In the past 3-5 years Wild Hive Farm and the Wild Hive Community Grain Project have almost tripled in size and activity; developing a strong following among chefs, commercial bakers, and home bakers. Don plans to expand the offerings of the Wild Hive Community Grain Project and develop the Farm’s facilities as a means of teaching agriculture. Don noted that education is the most important part of transforming the food system, that we need to make people more aware of why buying ‘local’ and ‘organic’ is important. Don also commented that with the increasing demand from customers and a wealth of growers, we need to be able to rely on neighbors in the region.
- Michael Sweeton is the Supervisor for the Town of Warwick (the largest town geographically in Orange County NY!) and a strong advocate for agriculture, having worked with the Town Board to revamp the town’s zoning code to include farm friendly provisions that support farmers, farms, and farming. Michael notes that the role of a municipal leader is to provide of course leadership, understanding of the importance of agriculture, and to promote farms! Michael also considers himself, as well as other members of municipality, a buffer between higher federal agencies and the community.
Michael was kind enough to provide us all with a wonderfully informative packet entitled, “The Road to Smart Growth and Agricultural Friendly Zoning.” Enclosed were general facts about Warwick and farming in the town (agriculture is their largest industry- generating over $35 million!); planning tools for farmland and open space preservation; and agriculture friendly options including ADD (Agricultural Advancement District).
- Joel Russell has been a community planning consultant and land use attorney for 34 years; he has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement in planning, open space preservation, and urban design, nationally and in both New York’s Hudson Valley and Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley. Joel, like Michael Sweeton, commented that his role as planner is to be a catalyst, trying to bridge the gap between points of view of both parties, all the while satisfying each’s interest.
Dizzy with engaging insight on all things food system-y, it was time for a break, 2:30pm- and as Virginia perfectly anticipated- the perfect time for brownies, cookies, and tea. Did I mention it was perfect?
Sugared up for some “character groups” breakout sessions, we went our separate ways to our respective locations to pick the brains of experts. Farmers put up their feet (not really) in the living room with Paul, Allie, Jesse, Sophie, and Valerie. The Public Sector (community leaders and planners) convened in the Study with Michael Sweeton and Joel Russell. The Finance/Business Development people met with Michael Abbate and Don Lewis. Institutional Purchasing moseyed on over to the work room with Matthew Flusser and Melissa Adams. And finally. the two boisterous citizen activists schemed with Fran Volkman in the Main House sitting room. Now that we had some one-on-one time with the pros, we were able to strategize talking points and concerns our characters might wish to bring up at Sunday’s mock meeting.
With a good chunk of time until dinner, we spent our time wisely- some helped with dinner preparations, some went for another outdoor expedition around the lake house and through the woods, while others caught up on some z’s…
Again, we feasted. The CIA students/chefs/food extraordinaires whipped together a bountiful, gourmet supper of homemade pizzas (including a gluten-free pie!) topped with our freshly-harvested-from-the-fields butternut squash ‘sauce’, mushrooms, and assorted veggies, tangy tufts of goat cheese, as well as a ‘meat lovers’ choice for those who crave their carne. Fresh salad, sauteed rainbow chard, broccoli and the elusive chicken mushroom a.k.a. sulphur shelf a.k.a. chicken of the woods a.k.a. tasty substance spotted by Smith’s own Nichole rounded out the spread! For dessert, the CIA masters continued to tickle our taste buds with a baked apple/apple compote/apple reduction- basically an APPLE EXTRAVAGANZA combo of warm, sweet, tart, gooey (plus a hint of lavender!) goodness!!
After that wonderfully gluttonous dinner, we were invited into the Work Room for some fireside fun! Here we all gathered around the glowing fireplace, sipping coffee, tea, and cider while snacking (YES, more food!) on apple cider doughnuts and leftover pizza. Some of us carved pumpkins with Michael Abbate’s darling children, while others chatted before turning in for the night.
We got to sleep in- kind of! Breakfast was served at 9am this morning but something was different this time. A strange, ‘twilight zone‘ feeling was tangible in the air- a transformation had occurred overnight and today we weren’t ourselves…
We were our characters! Everyone arose that morning in good spirits and with an eagerness to take on the roles we had chosen Friday evening, to finally release the artistic personalities we worked so hard preparing, shaping, and honing throughout the weekend.
The Community Meeting to Identify issues Relating to the Establishment of a Local Food Hub began in the dining room. First, we were welcomed by Burt, our genial mediator, who then handed the floor over to our Mayor Joe Bolatto (Meghan from CIA) to welcome and thank everyone for attending. We then went around the room introducing ourselves (our alter-egos that is!) It was a hoot seeing everyone in their prime acting personas!
The mock community stakeholder meeting continued in the living room. Burt helped us get the ball rolling by prompting us to list both what is working and not working in the current regional food system. We came up with:
customer demand (regionally & families)
- easy to get food one needs
- producing a diverse spectrum (produce & livestock)
- farmers markets, etc.
- growing awareness (fresh, local, organic are important)
- we have farms!
- variety of financing mechanisms to support local farms
- NYC market
- local population density can support system
- engaged community
- community ties, relationships to local farmers
- large land conservation
- large open spaces = desirable aesthetic
- smaller farms plateaued in terms of growth
- not enough collateral; difficult to get financing
- can’t get quality, service, supple
- between wholesale and farmer
- within market area
- don’t have equipment to distribute
- labor limited
- no slaughtering facility locally
- agriculture not working in general
- no tax
- local economy not stimulated by current regional food ystem
- supply not consistent
- regional system cannot support local population
- cannot support demand for fresh local food
- local crops subject to variable weather/climate
- management expertise
- space (access to)
- financing to expand markets
- seasonal deman difficult to handle (need processing)
- mechanisms for: partnership, education, relationships, and resources
- increasing development encroaches on farming, disruptive
- satisfying demand for diverse populations i.e. low-income families don’t have access
- price point- living wage locally/ what customers can afford
- is demand authentic?
- connect to resources for new farmers
- aggregation of local farms to one source
- enhance economic resources for agriculture
- centralizes distribution and collection
- contributing local food system
- we are “ready” to embrace it
- marketing resource- communicating/reaching
- value added goods- diversity products
- equipment sharing
- extends season
- provides labor resources
- provide facilities that individuals cant provide
- year-round slaughtering capacity
- expands to broaden farmers spectrum; rising viability
- keeps kind in agriculture
- creative ways to expand local economy (farm business incubator)
- could provide insurance for consistent quality (pooling risk)
- more variety
- cost to run?
- who pays for it?
- how distribution coordinated?
- how to deal with waste?
- use of energy?
- environmental impact?
- discourages development
- would we lose identity and distinction of where products sourced from?
- keep our products consistent?
- licensing fee?
- decision process for participation? standards?
- differentiation of quality and price
- effect on “competition” could go either way
- effect of slaughterhouse on local environment
- slaughterhouse not zoned
- timeliness/seasonality (storage, freezer space, etc.)
- maintain values of local farming? type of organization?
- local law suits
- how will define “local”?
- whats too big/small for a farm to be involved?
- can “we” afford it?
Therefore, we came up with some general topics of issue/concern we all seemed to agree on…
zoning regulations- dont let them keep us from changing!
food security, quality, safety
who will actually get this off the ground?
consistent quality control
- economic risk: middleman good or bad?
- recirculating funds
What have you learned?
What has changed since you arrived here?
How do you get your generation involved?
Who doesn’t care? Who isn’t taking your courses/isn’t in your program?
How do we take our passion and get others in our generation involved and passionate?
Implement courses? field placements? through institutions?
How can Glynwood (vassar and other institutions) help?
We finished by filling out contact forms in order to keep in touch with Glynwood as well as the other conference attendees. Feeling utterly empowered, we were revved to utilize all of the potential this newfound network holds. Exchanging cell numbers and farewells, it was time to depart our temporary think-tank and forever friends (but not without a few last minute group pics!)