Dr. Shiva Talks


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Lots of good ideas

We’ve seen a lot and shared a lot of good ideas and observations over the past few months. I think the work everybody has done is of wide interest, so I’m taking the liberty of posting PDFs of the final papers I have at this point. They cover lots of issues people care about, including collective models of farming, hidden costs of unhealthy food for kids, the organization of food systems, the origins and implications of the food pyramid and what it teaches us,  the difficult question of food waste, and the challenges of small-scale, local beef processing. These are issues we’ve discussed through the semester, to one degree or another, and I’ve learned a lot reading this work.

Thanks to everybody who made this semester so enjoyable.

Mary Ann


Wrapping Up

I write this post from my bedroom at my home in Pennsylvania. The semester is over for me and the rest of my housemates. Some are still in Poughkeepsie while others have made their way to other parts of the country or the world. This time of year is one for family. I feel that our house has become a family, a singular unit. We all have our quirks and our wrinkles, and it keeps things interesting. We are looking forward to inviting two new housemates into the family for next semester but are also saddened to see one of our brood open up her wings and fly as she goes into the real world to spend a semester in the City of Light where we are sure she will shine.

Our final week of classes concluded with a debriefing of the program and input for next year’s MLLC over lunch. Thoughts were exchanged on what worked best with the program and what could be improved. We all felt that we had done a big thing, accomplished a lot, and astonished that it was over already.

Things were pretty quiet our last week. We were hurrying to finish final projects, especially those of us who were heading home earlier than others. We finally found someone to take care of the chicken coop over winter break (a point of anxiety for the past few weeks) and were able to relax with a gingerbread coop-decorating event. We also did a gift exchange to celebrate the season of giving.

The next semester will be new again, with experiences different, yet the same. I’m sure it will take some time to get back into a rhythm when we get back with everyone’s schedules  misaligned. But I look forward to hearing about different classes and unshared experiences. I wish my housemates the warmest of holiday seasons and a Happy New Year. See you next year!


A Day to Remember at the Vassar College Center: Expo on Beekeeping and Honey

Monday, the nineteenth of November is a day that was marked on all of the Coop (MLLC) members and faculty calendars since the beginning of the semester. This day would mark the culmination and celebration of the collective and individual efforts each student contributed to the process of studying Beekeeping and the Honey Queen Program (sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation).

It all began with one of the first days of our Anthropology class, when our professor, Candice Lowe-Swift briefly mentioned a project that we would be working on with Honey Queens and Princesses, something about a Wikipedia article, and interviews. Most of this was sounded foreign to me, while equally exciting.

As the semester progressed, everything began to fall into place and slowly but surely I began making sense of it all. We dedicated a portion of class time and readings to learning about the interviewing process: we learnt about appropriate techniques, tips concerning what to do and not to do while conducting an interview, and even simulated a live interview in class! We learnt about what types of questions to ask, how to phrase them, and when to ask them. We learnt about what to do in a situation where the person being interviewed is not coming forth with information, such as probing them.  We were also assigned to read a book entitled “The Beekeeper’s Lament’ by Hannah Nordhaus. This was a personal account about the life of a beekeeper, and provide much insight, such as the dire need for an increased awareness about the decline in the number of bees and the lack of sustainability in pollenating our crops at the rate in which we are consuming food.

Who were we interviewing? Well, that is where the components of the project converge. Each of the eight of us was assigned two individuals to contact and interview. These contacts were either past Honey Queens or Princesses, administrators, or were otherwise involved in the founding of the prestigious Honey Queen Program. The Honey Queen Program is facilitated by the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), and annually selects two young women to become the spokespeople for beekeeping and honey production in United States through a comprehensive competition. To learn more about the Honey Queens and Princesses, visit the Wikipedia page that WE the MLLC students put together! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_Queen_Program).

This brings me to the next portion of the project, once we finished conducting all of our interviews and compiling our findings, we had to get to work. First, to write an expose about the discussions that we held with these women. These were published in a seperate blog (http://pages.vassar.edu/honeyqueens/). In addition to the blog site, we pooled out efforts to create a Wikipedia entry about the Honey Queen Program. We split into pairs and were each assigned a separate section of the article to work on, using all of the compiled interviews to draw upon for information.

So what was so important about November 19th, you might ask? As I mentioned, it would mark the celebration of our efforts to gain all of this useful and interesting bee-related knowledge. The ‘celebration’ came in the form of an Expo, a ‘Beekeeping and Honey’ Expo to be exact. The event was held in the College Center in Main Building (here at Vassar College) which served as the perfect venue. We once again split into pairs (different ones this time) and presented 3 posters, each focusing on a different discipline represented in the MLLC program. The first poster was made by Emma and Ali, and was from an Anthropological perspective, and highlighted the differences between honey and sugar, symbolism and cultural significance of honey. Next was the Geography poster by Alicia and Maddie which was very visually appealing, presenting several maps representing patterns in honey production across the United States. Lastly, a biology poster was put together by myself and Jonathan to represent honey making, bee pollination, fertilization, and seed dispersal.

Still there was more! We were extremely fortunate to have the company and expertise of a local beekeeper named James who works at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, NY. He brought some equipment, honey from his bees, and a whole load of helpful and interesting facts about beekeeping and honey, giving presentations about how bees make honey, and how we use bees to make honey.

Lastly, but certainly most importantly were our two honored guests, Alyssa Fine from Pennsylvania and Danielle Dale from Wisconsin. These were the 2012 Honey Queen and Princess, respectively! Fitting in a special visit to our own Vassar Campus into their unbelievably hectic schedules! The two were an invaluable resource to have at the Expo, providing much insight and knowledge about beekeeping, the climate of the beekeeping industry, and other honey facts and recipes. My personal favorite was the Haggen-Dazs sponsored video about beekeeping, check it out: http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/#tv.

2012 American Honey Queen Alyssa Fine, from Pennsylvannia (left) and 2012 American Honey Princess Danielle Dale, from Wisconsin (right).

The event was a huge success! Many students stopped by during their surely busy days to  stop and taste some honey products, raw honeys, and ask questions of the Queen and Princess and the beekeeper!

We were lucky enough to be able to host Alyssa and Danielle for dinner at our TH. This was particularly enjoyable because it allowed us to interact with these wonderful women in a different context, sans crowns and sashes. We were able to kick back and talk about many day-to-day things. They shared the enormous stresses of the very hectic schedules, having to mapquest the location of their upcoming event on the way out of another. They shared the stress of being constantly on the road, not seeing family, and the difficulties in maintaining relationships and friendships. They claimed that they are ‘in a relationship’ with the Honey Queen Program. This gave me some valuable insight into the intensities of intricacies of being involved in such a demanding and professional program.

I am extremely grateful to the the Honey Queen and Princesses, the beekeeper, the rest of the MLLC program, Baynard and Cristian, and Candice Lowe-Swift for helping put together this successful and fun event!

For more photos, go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/baynardbailey/8222125682/


Professors, Pathogens and a Coop Thanksgiving

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the beginning of December; final projects and papers have breached the horizon and loom nearer and nearer every day. The not-so-distant close of the 2012 MLLC program prompts the nine of us to think more and more deeply about what we have learned and accomplished, and what this program has meant to us.

Less than three weeks before the end of the semester, we (the stellar members of the Coop) spent the week hosting and participating in numerous events as per usual.

Dining With Carol Christensen

On Wednesday evening we entertained Professor Carol Christensen from the Psychology department (or rather, she entertained us). Like the other professors we have cooked for this semester, Carol brought to us her own unique perspective on food. We began by discussing the importance of proper nutrition as a component of a healthy lifestyle and how it translates into a healthy brain. As busy, often overstretched students we can neglect or fail to prioritize the most important parts of everyday life: good food, exercise, sleep and at least one method of stress reduction.

Professor Christensen posed two questions to us that night: first, she asked whether we felt it was true that it is impossible to go through a semester without being sleep deprived for at least some of it (a statement on of her psychology classes had agreed was accurate). Some of us felt that it was not impossible but certainly a great feat, while others nodded solemnly around the table.

Second, she asked us to share about how many nights a week we “did things” (attended meetings, clubs, regular activities; nights we didn’t spend relaxing, studying or socializing). Our responses varied between “two or three” and “five or six.”

So, we’re busy. How do we manage everything? Do we take time to unwind and de-stress? What can we do to reduce stress and maintain healthy, positive lifestyles?

From a physiological standpoint, one of the most important things to pay attention to in order to stay healthy is the food we put into our bodies. Our conversations touched on various diets from vegetarianism and veganism to the Paleo diet, the Furman diet (nine to ten servings of fruits and veggies a day to give you plenty of micronutrients, which Carol said, as she helped herself to another serving of salad, she tries to follow), to caloric restriction with adequate nutrition (eating the bare minimum of necessary calories to survive while still getting enough nutrients, a diet that studies have shown enhances lifestyle in all of the tried organisms), fasting, the antioxidant theory of aging, and how cancers and autoimmune diseases can be dealt with nutritionally.

Michael Starnbach’s Visit

Our featured visitor this week was Michael Starnbach from the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard University. A food enthusiast and esteemed biologist, Michael had a lot to teach us about food safety and public health.

Dr. Starnbach’s expertise lies in micro-organisms, and he dedicated our Thursday morning class to teaching us about the most common microbial pathogens in food and their mechanisms of infection and reproduction once they enter our bodies, including Salmonella euterica, norovirus (or the “stomach flu”), Camplobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes and other causes of food poisoning. We learned about how public health and food safety regulations work to eliminate, contain and control outbreaks through pasteurization, sanitization and other methods, and why babies shouldn’t be fed honey within the first few years after birth because of their immune systems’ vulnerability to soil bacterium spores that bees can pick up when they collect pollen.

We transitioned from the classroom to the lab with Michael and enjoyed a meal he had prepared for us using controlled temperature cooking (salmon, lamb, cauliflower, and a whole host of other delicious treats!) while he told us all about the chemistry of cooking meat and shared some of his own favorite cooking tricks, including the recipe for his favorite mixed drink (my lips are sealed).

Dr. Starnbach’s lecture that evening was well-attended and further demonstrated his very relatable manner of explaining complex ideas and jovial, easy-going personality. After an in-depth discussion of diseases, their mechanisms, their role in the world and how we have learned to deal with them, Starnbach left us with three take-homes:

  • Reduction of childhood morbidity and mortality from diarrheal diseases requires improvement in water delivery and sanitation,
  • Vaccines are the only permanent solution to fight many of these organisms, and
  • Universal compliance with vaccine programs is necessary for protection of communities and ultimate elimination of the pathogen.
Dr. Starnbach’s visit helped inform yet another perspective on food for us. And by the end of the week we were ready to cook up a storm. We’d been planning our house Thanksgiving since early November, and on Sunday we gathered for a truly cooperative-style family meal, a Coop Thanksgiving, sharing and feeling deeply thankful for each other and the opportunity to learn and grow together this year.


Seeking the Bt gene in food made from corn

The Search for Bt Click on the link to see our lab in action!

We extracted DNA from tortillias, fritos, gummy bears, chicken feed, popcorn,cheerios, polenta and jam.  We used PCR to amplify the corn invertase gene (to show we had corn) and the Bt toxin gene (to see if the food contained genetically modified corn).  We used agarose gel electrophoresis to see whether the corn invertase gene and the Bt gene had been amplified. We showed that corn DNA was indeed present in everything except gummy bears, jam, and cheerios; but we didn’t amplify the Bt gene. Apparently none of the corn in the foods we studied was genetically modified.



Slow Winemaking at Stoutridge Winery

In addition to studying slow food, we studied slow wine.

After we and the chickens had been hunkering down in the house for Hurricane Sandy, we enjoyed getting out of the house to go to Stoutridge Vineyard in Marlboro, NY for a tour and wine tasting.  We were greeted by the owner Steve Osborn, who became interested in wines and winemaking while studying biochemistry at Cornell.  There, he discovered that he could remember the flavor of a wine perfectly, which has been useful not only for his wines but also for his paintings which are the wine’s flavors.  In 2001, he and his wife bought the 14 acre property and began making wine five years later.  At ninety miles an hour, he described to us how his winery is different from all other winemakers’ in North America.

Steve explaining how he makes wine. Look, his paintings on the wall!

Beginning in the tasting room, Steve gave us a general overview of typical winemaking in America and how his philosophy differs from the norm.  Most wineries in the United States produce their wine with the intention to ship it and make it available to the greatest number of people.  That’s why we can easily buy California wines in the Hudson Valley.  But, as Steve explained, the wine goes through several processes such as fining and filtering by which all of the proteins and pectins (and polyphenyls in reds) are removed, as is the sediment.  The proteins and pectins are removed from processed wine because when it is heated during transport, they cause the wine to have less flavor. Thus, because Steve leaves these in his wines, the logistics required to transport his wine make it impractical for his wine to travel long distances.  Moreover, when restauranteurs have asked him to let them sell Stoutridge wine, he has told them not only that they have to buy it at full price but also warns them that if they keep it in a warm place (as many do), it will be undrinkable.

Stoutridge’s wines are never fined, filtered, or pumped.  He uses gravity, lifts and rails to move the wine and tanks.  But, as part of his philosophy, he only uses solar energy and furthermore, he usually makes enough energy to sell some back to the power company.  Finally, he doesn’t add any sulfites to his wine, which normally help preserve processed wine.  Sulfites stop the fermentation process of the wine but also prevent bacteria from entering the wine.  His wine, with the proteins and pectins and without the sulfites, can (and should) age many times longer than wines which are designed to be consumed after a few years, as is the case with most processed wines.

Grape Press

We had the opportunity to taste the difference between processed wine and Stoutridge’s “slow” wine.  Steve chose three types of wine for us to compare: Seyval Blanc, a “house red”, and a Merlot.  Immediately, we noticed the freshness of Stoutridge’s wines, as well as how they retained carbonation!  He explained that this is because they aren’t pumped and filtered, which removes it from processed wine, as we soon saw.  With the house red, the flavor of the processed wine was much less intense than that of Stoutridge’s.  The Merlot surprised us all by not being a heavy wine but rather having a full flavor.  Coincidentally, both of the Merlots we tasted came from the same grapes on Long Island so the tasting of those was as close as it could be to compare the flavor of the different processes.  We finished with a 2006 wince called Quimby’s Rosé, which was the first wine that Steve made at Stoutridge.  The grapes used are concord grapes (yes, as in the one used for grape jelly) from Howard Quimby whose father supplied grapes to the winery in the early twentieth century.  It tasted completely different from what we had sampled previously and many of us wished we could have taken some home, especially since it is the only winery in North America that sells unprocessed wine!

Wine tasting!

Aside from happy taste buds, what we took away from Stoutridge was a better understanding of the wine industry and why it operates that way, as well as an appreciation for a different way of making wine.  Also, the terroir associated with processed wine is completely different from that of a local, unprocessed wine (as in Quimby’s Rosé).  Finally, we saw an agricultural model which was based not on the idea of perpetual growth, but on pursuing a philosophy (and profitably).


Dining with Professor Miriam Rossi and Life as a Chicken

This was a relatively calm week in the life of the Coop. Besides sifting through sources for our final projects, tasting honey in Candice’s class, extracting DNA in Mark’s lab, and discussing dairy production with Mary Ann, the highlight of our week consisted of a dinner with chemistry professor Miriam Rossi. Before I share the learning and laughter from our dinner, I’d like to give a quick update on the lives of our bountiful ladies, Whiskey, Moonshine, Midnight, Henrietta Mary Ann, Aspen, and Vodka. The apples of our eyes, our gorgeous hens are a constant priority in our lives and as such deserve some blog space.

chickens on roost

Standing proud as they get ready for bed. Moonshine, Henrietta Mary Ann, and Aspen.

eggs in carton

Look at those BEAUTIFUL eggs!

The last month has been a bit rocky for our gaggling group of gals as they settle into their new surroundings and establish the pecking order. Our very innovative Coop members made an effective water dispenser out of a Tupperware and an old container, and we’ve established feeding, putting to bed, and wake up shifts for our peckish poultry. The ladies seem to be averaging about 4 eggs per day, but this past week brought some exciting anomalies to their egg laying patterns. First I found a giant egg that, when cracked into the pan, revealed two yokes! An exciting two-for-one breakfast special. A couple days later Meghan discovered our very first blue egg, courtesy of resident “queen hen” Aspen. She does things on her own time, including bullying the other hens for first dibs on the compost and dominating the roosting space. However, along with her recent decision to lay eggs, I’ve noticed Midnight is now allowed to sit on the bar at night with the other hens, so Aspen must be warming to her new surroundings.

double yokes

Twin Yokes!

blue egg

First blue; Maddie is proud of her chicken.


chickens in coop

The girls enjoying their new bedding

In order to ensure our girls’ absolute comfort, a few of our most daring Coop members ventured out in the middle of our first snow storm to empty the roost of its nutrient rich chicken poo and straw and put down new bedding. Not only that, but the chicks have been given new pecking grounds every couple weeks as we wheel our coop to different areas of the yard. Luckily, I’m able to speak chicken, so we know they’re thriving. In fact, our one concern is that our lovely ladies might get cocky with the amount of attention they get daily; we’ve seen students leading parents behind our house to see the new tourist attraction. Let’s hope the fame doesn’t go to their heads!

The family

Despite the coop cleaning in inclement weather, Emma and Yael managed to whip up a wintery feast of Spanish potato soup and a delicious salad. One thing I love about the Coop is the diverse backgrounds and eating styles that we bring to the table. At this particular meal, I shared a tradition I learned in Ecuador of putting fresh popcorn in your soup; it was a hit. Even better was our engaging conversation with Miriam Rossi, a source of abundant food knowledge, fun facts, and Italian recipes. Her experience teaching The Culture and Chemistry of Cuisine with biology professor Dave Jemiolo made her the perfect guest for a multidisciplinary group studying food. Our conversation ranged from daily food choices to the chemical compounds that make up our cuisine. I’ve outlined a few of these fascinating topics below.

picture of professor

Our charming dinner guest, Professor Miriam Rossi

  • Why do onions make you cry? Apparently when you cut open an onion you’re breaking cells which release a volatile sulfur gas that reacts with the moisture in your eyes to create sulfuric acid which burns and causes you to release tears. We discussed the likelihood of the enzyme that causes this having been bred out of commercial onions. We’ve all noticed how the onions from our fieldwork farms make us cry a lot more than the onions we buy at the store; Mariam said she wouldn’t be surprised if our hypothesis is correct!
  • Preventing cancer: We were all fascinated by Professor Rossi’s research project in Italy which she’ll be returning to work on in the spring. She and a team of scientists are extracting compounds from Curcumin (commonly known as turmeric), a member of the ginger family, that appear to be anti-carcinogenic. Apart from the olfactory pleasure of working with Curcumin, she celebrated its powers as an effective natural dye. This led to a conversation on our expectations of colored foods that are anything but natural such as green pistachio ice cream or colored cake batter. Curcumin is highly concentrated and effective so why don’t we use it instead of yellow dye 40? This multipurpose spice is certainly something worth our consumption!
  • The Ponderosa Pine: Have you ever smelled the bark of these magnificent trees? Sweet and surprising wafts of vanilla, cinnamon, or butterscotch will greet your nostrils.
  • Is Aspirin natural? Why yes, in fact it comes from the willow tree and is one of the compounds that although bitter to taste and therefore disagreeable to pests, is beneficial to humans. I was surprised to find out that many of our pharmaceutical drugs that I assume are synthetic actually come from the plants that surround me.
  • Does food lose nutrients when it’s cooked? Not usually. In fact, many foods release certain compounds only when they are heated and are only edible in this way, such as potatoes.
  • Lactose and gluten intolerances: With a few of these around our table, we were curious to hear Professor Rossi’s take on these growing intolerances. She reinforced the idea that more gluten and lactose intolerances exist in places that have less experience with these foods. An example is the frequency of lactose intolerance in China’s population since cows are a new addition to their farming system. When asked how one could survive in Italy with gluten intolerance she laughed and said they eat more than just pasta.

The lovely meal came to an end with Professor Rossi’s enthusiastic suggestion to use our ladies’ eggs for desserts that require raw eggs because “you can’t trust those store bought eggs anymore.” We’ll have to plan another meal where she teaches us to cook the delicious Italian custard Zabaione. In the meantime we’ve all gained a deeper appreciation for the chemistry of our food and will doubtless eat with expanded awareness.

picture of italian custard

Zabaione: our next dessert undertaking


Dinner with Professor Yu Zhou, followed by a day with David Pimentel

It was safe to say that the first week back from October break found us all more refreshed and ready for the second half of the semester. For that Wednesday night family dinner, we had Professor Yu Zhou (from the Geography department, with a focus in economic geography) joining us for a hot meal consisting of stir fried veggies with tofu and rice, as well as stir fried venison, and a bed of fresh salad on the side. As a house, this was our first time cooking venison (thanks to Alicia’s lovely uncle for giving us some) stir-fried with fresh veggies – and it was a hit! Our dinner conversation was slight hearted as we chatted a little about each of our fieldwork sites.

The conversation slowly drifted towards how we thought the quality of food should be an important factor during consumption, but for some, such as the Danish, that was just not their priority. Yu Zhou then brought up her research she conducted in China in relation to food consumption, and she questioned us how are we to create a food production system without the problems we see in the U.S? Considering the rate at which GDP and consumption patterns are growing in China, the way in which China decides to move forward will have a profound effect on the rest of the world. It was interesting to learn from Yu Zhou that there had been a CSA started in Beijing in 2002, called ‘Little Donkey Farm’, which had been met with great success. Since their opening, there has been an increase in the number of CSAs in Beijing – something that she felt proud to say. Towards the end of dinner, Yu Zhou commended on the dishes that were cooked and wished us well for the second half of the semester!

Professor Yu Zhou

Professor Yu Zhou

The next day, we spent the good part of the day with David Pimentel, who is a professor of entomology at Cornell University. Over the years, he has published in a number of different scientific journals and was the very first person to publish an article on the ethanol industry. David Pimentel also chairs an advisory committee that looks at ethanol as a gasoline alternative for the US secretary of Energy. His vast knowledge on such issues has strengthened the committee’s main conclusion: ethanol requires more energy to produce than it delivers. During our morning classes, we spent a good amount of time talking to him about his thoughts on the ethanol industry as well as how he used a multi-disciplinary framework to draw from to tackle the issues surrounding the ethanol industry. David Pimentel actually started his own ‘MLLC’ in Cornell called the ‘National Academy Committee’ whereby students came together, and drew upon interdisciplinary frameworks to research issues surrounding energy and agriculture that were published in different scientific journals.

David Pimentel stressed that it was important to “read everything that is in the literature”, as that is where the wealth of information can be found and the “science does not lie”. Over the years, Pimentel has become and increasingly controversial figure, and has been the target of many critics. But is was refreshing to see that this man, who has come under heavy scrutiny and is the target of many unnecessary comments, can still sit there with a smile on his face, and continues to be passionate in publishing information to the public for our own benefit.

David Pimentel at Vassar College

David Pimentel at Vassar College

The pizza lunch that followed brought more of the Vassar community into conversation surrounding the production of ethanol from food crops. David Pimentel highlighted that according to the UN, 66% of the world population is malnourished, and thus the ethanol industry is contributing to world starvation as food is being redirected away from these people. We discussed the unhealthy consumption habits around the world that continues to grow, and David Pimentel also made clear that he thought our world population size was also just too big to be supported by one planet earth.

After lunch, we took a short break and the MLLC brought Pimentel for a breath of fresh air at Peach Hill – a beautiful public parkland in Poughkeepsie that is also the highest point in the Town of Poughkeepsie! Shortly after that, we all re-congregated in the CCMPR for David Pimentel’s lecture on biofuel production, followed by a short Q&A. The day seemed to have zipped by fast, and we soon found ourselves exchanging our thanks and goodbyes (but we managed to snap a quick group picture as he wished us well for the upcoming second half of fall semester)!

The MLLC with David Pimentel!

The MLLC with David Pimentel!


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.