All posts by Leonard Nevarez

Race and the “good food movement”: a conversation with Sam Bloch

Sam Bloch is a reporter for the digital magazine The New Food Economy (and an ’09 graduate of Vassar College). He visited our class to talk about his reporting on agriculture big and small, the economic and agricultural sustainability of small farms, and the question of whether the larger “good food movement” that we’ve seen in the Hudson Valley  has a problem with race.

Digest of topics in this video:
0:00:00 what The New Food Economy (the digital magazine) covers
0:08:18 what the “new food economy” (the concept) encompasses
0:15:35 the Hudson Valley and other centers of the U.S. food movement
0:19:25 how sustainable is “small acreage” farming
0:26:04 Mark Bittman, race and the good food movement
0:35:52 the industrialization of “good food”
0:39:08 food trends in Vassar College dining

Sam co-wrote a widely shared article for the New Food Economy about the December 2017 Young Farmers Conference (held at Stone Barns in Westchester County), where prominent food writer Mark Bittman and and Ricardo Salvador (of the Union of Concerned Scientists) gave a keynote address calling for radical land redistribution for young farmers as a means to remedy, among other things, the agricultural land that government and white farmers have seized from farmers of color. In the Q&A that followed, controversy erupted when Bittman answered a question posed by chef/educator Nadine Nelson, “How do you hold yourself accountable to communities of color, and vulnerable communities?”, with what many felt was an inadequate and dismissive response.

For our readings and discussion, Sam pointed us to two further articles that elaborate on the challenge to Bittman and other prominent “good food” advocates who (it’s contended) are unreflective of the privilege they wield in this movement:

Zenobia Jeffries, “What White People Can Do for Food Justice,” Yes! Magazine, January 24, 2018.

Nathan Rosenberg and Clay H. East, “Sorry, pretty much everyone: young farmers are the least diverse – and smallest – group of farmers in the country,” New Food Economy, March 20, 2018.

Our engaging and wide-ranging class conversation ended with the students telling Sam about all the new dining trends at Vassar’s All Campus Dining Center, a.k.a. “The Deece.” After class, I took Sam to the Deece where he took note of how the college is adopting (perhaps superficially) many of the marketing and preparation practices associated with the good food movement. We await his critical follow-up to Malcolm Gladwell’s famous podcast about Vassar’s dining priorities.

The treasure in our backyard: Sprout Creek Farm

 The first fieldtrip in the Field Experiences in the Hudson Valley class was a near-by destination: Sprout Creek Farm, located in the eastern part of the Town of Poughkeepsie. Our visit began with a few words from Sister Margo Morris, who co-founded the farm in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1982, originally as an educational off-shoot of the Convent of the Sacred Heart school. Novice farmers, Margo and other teachers taught students how to farm while they were learning the ropes themselves, an experience that proved transformational for that first generation. Eventually the farm moved to its Poughkeepsie location, inheriting a dairy operation from the estate of Elise Kinkead, a landowner (and Vassar graduate, Margo says) who wanted her farm preserved as a non-profit educational institution.

Sister Margo Morris

Today Sprout Creek Farm is known for many distinctions. Its award-winning cheese and other products are found in finer grocery stores and on restaurant menus across the Hudson Valley. Children get their hands dirty on the farm through school field-trips, day-long activities, and summer camps. A number of young farmers apprentice their way through Sprout Creek Farm; one of them, educational director Katie Williams, was an eager guide for our class visit. Executive director Mark Fredette (a.k.a. Chef Mark) prepares farm-to-table menus at public and private events on the farm. An inviting farm store is the typical final stop for guests visiting the farm.

 This wide-ranging educational mission isn’t cheap. Although Sprout Creek’s cheese is sold commercially, it costs about $7/pound to produce when all educational expenses are considered, I recall Chef Mark saying somewhere (though I can’t remember the source, so don’t quote me). By 2017, Sprout Creek Farm was in serious financial trouble and undertook an ambitious fund-raising campaign. (I was a speaker at a fund-raising event last fall.) The story has a happy ending: in January, Marist College agreed to take control of the farm while letting Margo, Chef Mark, and the others in the nonprofit continue to manage it. Marist has undefined plans to incorporate Sprout Creek into its curriculum somehow, but Margo said everyone is very happy with the autonomy the college is giving the Sprout Creek crew.

I hope my students appreciate the economic context and innovative solutions highlighted by this story, but I fully understand if the thing they took away most from their visit was the first-hand encounter with the animals and land at Sprout Creek Farm. Cows, goats, pigs, chickens, guinea fowl, farm cats, and a reclusive family of mice (am I missing anything?) aren’t things that college students — or most anyone else today, for that matter — interact with everyday! I assigned everyone to take a “goat selfie” for their first blog posts, and I suspect these pictures will burn up their social media feeds. (The farm of course recognizes how excited people are to get nuzzled and nibbled by goats; wisely, this has become another opportunity fund-raising and farm marketing.)

For more history of Sprout Creek Farm, this 2012 article on the Rural Intelligence blog is a really good source.

Thank you, Margo and Katie, for your hospitality!

conversation with Jessica Applestone and Don Lewis

Two advocates for building local food systems talked to our class: Jessica Applestone (co-founder of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats) and Don Lewis (baker/miller at Wild Hive Farm).

Some references in this conversation:
01:42 how Jessica Applestone and her husband Joshua started Fleisher’s
02:12 the state of the Hudson Valley’s food system 10 years ago
03:53 most chefs and butchers don’t know how to cut meat
04:45 the value of marketing and publicity in managing farm business
05:36 Tom Schneller of Culinary Institute of America and Schneller’s Meats (Kingston, NY)
05:48 Fleisher’s butcher school and apprentice system
07:28 influence of Michael Pollan’s “Power Steer” (2002)
08:29 why Fleisher’s located in Kingston, NY
10:15 why Fleisher’s got out of wholesale sales to restaurants
11:42 Flying Pig Farm (Shusah, NY)
12:00 influence of Union Square Greenmarket
13:02 starting up an organic slaughterhouse, Applestone Meat Company (Accord, NY)
15:37 charcuterie and value-added meat products
18:18 opening a 2nd Fleisher’s butcher shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn
20:05 how Don Lewis started Wild Hive Farm
21:03 Union Square Greenmarket’s influence on his baking business
22:03 Daniel Leader (Bread Alone) and rustic European baking
22:45 how Wild Hive began using Hudson Valley-grown grain
23:50 Hudson Valley’s history as “breadbasket” of United States
24:59 stone-milled flour vs. roller-milled flour
29:00 politics of accessibility of local foods in the food system
29:28 “put food by/up”
33:15 evolution of consumer interest in goods baked with local flour
36:03 selling to Eataly New York (Mario Batali, Lydia and Joe Bastianich, Oscar Farineti)
38:57 expanding acreage for Hudson Valley grains
40:22 local grain system “removed from commodity structure”
41:29 supplying Eataly Chicago
43:22 promoting regional grain-based food systems elsewhere
45:23 the operation at Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners
46:13 organizing growers down the food-system value chain
47:40 what is a steer? where does veal come from?
52:09 what gets valued (and what doesn’t) in the food system
53:33 how old are other meat animals when they’re slaughtered?
55:56 can organic food become less expensive?
59:59 heritage grains and regional grain variety
1:05:53 how the Hudson Valley contributes to their operations

conversation with Eric Steinman of Edible Hudson Valley

Eric Steinman, food writer and editor of Edible Hudson Valley, came to our class this week to talk about what he does and how he thinks about food and sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley.

Some references in this conversation:
6:03 – Milk Thistle Farm dairy
9:53 – rate of farm loss in New York
13:17 – culinary traditions of the Hudson Valley and New England
19:30 – Quilted Giraffe restaurant (New Paltz and NYC)
20:20 – Depuy Canal House (Hide Falls)
24:24 – Sprout Creek Farm cheese
29:21 – changing interest in “local food” among food publications
33:20 – farm-to-table movement
35:40 – agri-tourism
38:15 – farmers markets in NYC and the Hudson Valley
39:20 – selling directly to restaurants
39:47 – Paisley Farm (Tivoli)
42:48 – Coach Farm (Pine Plains)
43:50 – No Goat Left Behind
45:03 – Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park)
47:15 – influence of NYC on Hudson Valley agriculture
51:48 – Michael White (chef)/Marea restaurant (NYC)
56:41 – local movement to bring “added value” to agriculture
57:41 – Farm to Table Co-Packers (Kingston)
59:14 – Glynwood Center’s Apple Project (hard cider)
1:07:43 – New York state’s Farm Distillery Law
1:08:30 – Hillrock Estate Distillery (Ancram)