Alumnae/i Food Conference

Lee Zalben ’95

The Peanut Butter Guy: founder of Peanut Butter & Co. Mr. Zalben came prepared with a presentation he called “The Origins of the New Foodie Movement”. It was a talk about where he saw the “foodie” term and mentalities come from. He was preceeded by people telling personal stories how they got started in the business, history of what they had done in the field, and who gave some advice to current students. He got a laugh out of the crowd when he said that he felt like the student who came to class realizing that he didn’t understand the assignment. Even though Mr. Zalben’s talk was different than the rest, it was still entertaining and comical. At the end, everyone present received a jar of peanut butter and a fashionable “Dark Chocolate Dreams” tote.

Patrick Martins ’94

Mr. Martins was probably the most entertaining speaker. He was very animated and had a distinct speech pattern that was pleasing to my ear. Mr. Martins founded Slow Food USA after working in Italy with the founder of Slow Food International. Mr. Martins was president of Slow Food USA for several years before he moved to his current position at Heritage Foods USA. Heritage Foods USA works with farmers who grow heritage breeds of meats and sells them to chefs and consumers across the country. Heritage Foods also runs a radio station out of Brooklyn with lots of listeners. Mr. Martins brought up some interesting ideas such as the cost of good food. He defended the high prices of the products he sells because of their high quality. He also spoke of how local was never in the equation of Slow Food. An esteemed product from the other side of the country (or even world) is more highly valued than a local product of mediocre quality. Another idea that was brought up was the idea of a break-even business. Martins sees a beauty in this, in not being wealthy, and in struggling, but enjoying life.

Helen Nicholas ’71

Ms. Nicholas, along with her husband, started Royal Coffee in 1978. Royal Coffee imports “green” (eco-friendly) coffee and sells it to roasters. Ms. Nicholas had much to tell us about the entrepreneurial spirit, sticktoitiveness, and hard work. Ms. Nicholas came from humble beginnings and was able to attend Vassar on a scholarship. She was a literature major and truly enjoyed the community of people at school. After graduating from Vassar, she and her husband started their business and bought their first bag of coffee with a credit card. They grew their business one bag of coffee at a time. They were conscious of money management and would invest in the company at every opportunity. Her advice to us was “pay the bills before you pay yourself”. She sees people who run businesses instead use their business as an ATM and just take money out of the till. By investing money back into her business, Ms. Nicholas now imports one percent of coffee in the world and has new roasters calling her every day.

Maura Schorr Beaufait ’06

Ms. Schorr is the Healthy Food Access Coordinator for Food in the ‘Hood in the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Boston. She had previously worked with the Cornell Cooperative Extension through the Green Teen Beacon community garden program. There, the students learned to see food as part of a nutritious and healthy lifestyle and as a potential mechanism for social change. She also worked at the Tufts-Friedman School of Nutritional Science where she coordinated environmental programs.

Carrie Blackburn ’08

Ms. Blackburn worked at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and an organic farm in Costa Rica before working with Just Food. Just Food “connects communities and local farms with the resources and support they need to make fresh, locally grown food accessible to all New Yorkers. Just Food provides regional farmers and food producers, CSA organizers and everyday eaters with the resources and support they need to establish and experience healthy food systems—in every neighborhood.”

Robin Burger ’06

Hot Bread Kitchen is a place where foreign-born and low-income women and men can learn skills to become bakers. Ms. Burger works here and shared a bit about the organization, along with a lovely slideshow. The people who come into Hot Bread Kitchen are able to leave and start their own bakery or work in the culinary industry. Hot Bread Kitchen also offers English classes during the day. Still, the bakers are able to make the breads of their homelands, preserving their culture and introducing it to New York City.

Valerie Linet ’98

At Vassar, Ms. Linet studied English and creative writing. She spent time working at Phillies Bridge before going to graduate school to become a trauma therapist. After spending some time working in Poughkeepsie, she went to spend two years at a Zen Buddhist monastery. She spoke of silence and sitting in silence. Everyone was given a job at the monastery and her job was to take care of the garden. This garden had an aspect of self-efficiency because there were times during the summer when everyone in the monastery would be sitting in silence for the majority of the day and wouldn’t be able to tend to the plants. She saw a different aspect of gardening here, where farming was seen as a spiritual practice or spiritual training or a place for healing instead of a place of food production.

Abby Kinchy ’96

Ms. Kinchy, author of the book Seeds, Science, and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops spoke about agriculture, genetic engineering, and social justice. She is a sociologist who did graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. She talked about the green revolution and different political struggles around the world, surrounded by things like Roundup Ready® crops.

Lynn Mordas ’77

Ms. Mordas, who runs Dashing Star Farm, gave a short talk about business, the economy, finance, and human interactions. Dashing Star Farm is a family-run sheep farm that sells lambs, wool, sheepskins, and value-added wool products.

Erika Rumbley ’07

Ms. Rumbley was and environmental studies major at Vassar. Her final project for the department was the Poughkeepsie Community Feast. Many people all ate local food together at a long string of tables in a green space in town. She wanted to build pride and value in the Poughkeepsie food system. She now works with community gardens in Boston. She shared some of the strategies that were implemented to maintain the community garden there.