All posts by twhitenack

Cooking Class at Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory

Last Thursday evening, I attended a cooking class at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory is located in downtown Poughkeepsie, about a 5 minute bus ride from Vassar. The space has been renovated by Hudson River Housing and now serves as a combination of affordable housing, open art studios, and the open kitchen space, which is home to North River Roasters and Earth, Wind, and Fuego.

Building community is central to the vision of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, and they host various events like the cooking class that I went to. I definitely felt that the class was a community event, with a range of participants, from a local high school student to a Vassar employee. The class was led by Chef Key, who also works with the education program at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. The title of the class was  “A Week in Meals” and the goal was to learn basic skills and prepping techniques for efficient and manageable eating throughout a busy week.

Our little feast 🙂

After some brief introductions, Chef Key discussed her cooking philosophy with us. She recognized the reality that cooking can feel like a chore, but encouraged everyone to find ways to feel comfortable and creative about making food. She also touched on concepts like seasonal eating, local eating, and cultural food heritage. Everything she said really resonated with my personal beliefs and experiences with food.

On the menu for the night were three relatively simple, healthy dishes: sweet potato frittata, spring vegetable stir-fry with tofu, and lentil sheperd’s pie. Chef Key went over the basic techniques for cutting different types of vegetables –julienned onions and peppers, bias cut scallions, diced celery. She stressed that vegetable chopping is probably the most labor intensive aspect of cooking, and that taking an hour or two each week to prep all your vegetables for the week, then storing them in containers in the refrigerator, can make weeknight cooking much easier and faster. One new tip I found especially useful was her suggestion to prep and store diced potatoes in water, which can last for 3-4 days. Due to the starch they produce, I always thought you had to prep potatoes right before cooking, so this was a real eye opener!

After her knife-skill demonstrations, Chef Key made sure everybody got a chance to sharpen their own knife skills, and we collectively prepped all the vegetables we would need for our meal. The cooking was pretty simple, which illustrated her point that prep is the bulk of the work. Chef Key also offered a few tips about prepping other ingredients, such as marinating tofu or meat, soaking beans, and roasting vegetables beforehand. At the end of the class, we all got to taste the food we had made, and I think everybody agreed it was delicious!

While not directly related to local agriculture, I think this cooking class highlights a key, yet often overlooked aspect of food systems. The ability to eat locally and support sustainable agriculture is dependent on the ability to properly prepare the food sold by local farms. Cooking is the final piece of the food system-how do we prepare food after we’ve purchased it–and lack of cooking knowledge or skills can serve as a barrier to healthy, local eating. A sustainable agriculture system depends on consumers who can actually use local farm products. I felt that this cooking class directly addressed the issue of cooking as a barrier or agent of accessibility to better eating, and I think work on this end of the food system is important to supporting sustainable local agriculture and making it a feasible option for all. This also relates to food insecurity in Poughkeepsie, and issue that I learned more about when helping with the Poughkeepsie food security a couple of weeks ago. There are definitely a variety of factors contributing to the 25% food insecurity rate in Poughkeepsie, but I think efforts such as the cooking class at Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory can contribute addressing food insecurity.

Rise & Root Farm

By Aidan Zola and Tamika Whitenack

We arrived at Rise & Root Farm, located in Chester, New York, on a sunny Friday afternoon. Rise & Root Farm was founded in 2014 by four women–Karen Washington, Lorrie Clevenger, Jane Hodge, and Michaela Hayes–who all had a vision. On their three acres of leased land, they grow a huge range of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, most of which go to farmer’s markets in lower-income parts of New York City as part of their food justice and sustainability mission. They farm side-by-side with three other farms, all of them pledged to grow organically, in the rich black soil that Chester is known for.

When we first stepped out of the van, we were greeted at the farm by Michaela. She gave us a very brief introduction to the farm before Karen Washington emerged from the storage barn, welcoming us to the farm and inviting us inside. Ms. Washington served as our guide for the farm, and throughout our visit we gained an insight into her vision and mission through her charismatic personality and conversation.

We began our visit in the storage barn, where Ms. Washington explained that this space and land is actually shared between Rise & Root and three other farms. The land is actually owned by investors, which was helpful in Rise & Root’s initial establishment on the land. As Ms. Washington explained, getting land is one of the most difficult aspects of starting to farm, and being able to lease land from the investors assists in this challenge. Rise & Root and the three other farms on the land cooperatively share the storage space, farm fields, and greenhouses on the land. Although they are each independent farms, Ms. Washington highlighted that they share many of the same values and have an understanding about acceptable farming practices and land use.

After showing us some seedlings in the storage barn, we ventured out into one of the high tunnels. Ms. Washington explained the way in which high tunnels allow farmers to extend the growing season by allowing plants to grow protected from the outside elements and weather conditions. The abundance of growth in the high tunnel showcased the fertile properties of Chester’s black soil, and we even got to taste some of the edible flowers flourishing in the corner. Most of us were pleasantly surprised, the taste was similar to raw broccoli.

Ms. Washington then brought us into a second high tunnel where she talked about her experience as a food justice advocate and social justice activist. A resident of the Bronx for more than 25 years, Ms. Washington discussed her first-hand experience with low-income communities and disparities with access to affordable, healthy foods. She lamented the lack of whole produce that is made available to these types of communities, and shared her vision for the future. Ms. Washington also runs an urban farm in New York City–Garden of Happiness–and has kickstarted a local farmer’s market that is located in the Bronx. She concluded our tour with some words of encouragement and wisdom: always chase after your dreams and don’t let anyone stop you.

Goat Love

My name is Tamika and I am from El Cerrito, CA (in the San Francisco Bay Area). I’m excited for this class because visiting local farms every week is very much my cup of tea 🙂

Tamika and a Goat!
Fulfilling my childhood dreams to be Heidi