Education putting victory back into gardens

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2014 12:30 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Thu Sep 18, 2014.
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


Alice Waters is coming to our table in the Hudson Valley to inspire us all to have one collective conscious conversation about sustainability, the future of food, farming and its beginnings — all rooted in an edible education.


A conference in Hudson, a festival in Copake and a book signing in Rhinebeck remind us all to eat today, and thank a farmer.


As an American chef, restaurateur, activist, author and pioneer, Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, a restaurant famous for its organic, locally-grown ingredients. She’s been called the “mother of American food”, she founded the Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996, and created the Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley and New York City. Waters serves as a public policy advocate on the national level for school lunch reform and universal access to healthy, organic foods, and the impact of her organic and healthy food revolution is typified by Michelle Obama’s White House organic vegetable garden. We are honored and humbled to welcome you, Alice Waters, to our agricultural community in the Hudson Valley!


TEDx is also migrating north to Columbia County to open the proverbial barn door about the crossroads we all stand at every day making choices about what we eat, where it comes from, how it is made and our vital connection to agriculture and nutrition. What an incredible weekend to travel north on the Taconic Parkway!


Over the last 50 years we have “naturally” embraced convenience and fast food we now regret as an era of the food coma. We have, as a nation, sacrificed nutrition, land stewardship, sustainable practices and violated our food system for cheap food that is cheating our health, our environment and rendered us overfed and starving to death. We are obese, sick and unaware that our food choices drive production with the food dollars we spend and that our health, and the health of our children is our most valuable asset.


Farmers are ingenious and will grow what we demand, but they need a clear directive from we the people — not the corporations projecting our consumption with goals to feed the masses and poison us for profits with petro chemicals and lazy lifestyles promoting fast food with empty calories.


Waters is trying to figure out an important answer, “What is the criteria for the buying of food? We want to lift the farm workers up with our purchasing.”


It’s a complicated conversation but on Sept. 27, Columbia County will be buzzing with “ideas worth spreading” with TEDx . It’s a sold-out event at the 160-year-old Hudson Opera House, the city’s historical gathering place at the heart of Hudson. TEDxHudson’s theme of “Crossroads” is bringing together the city’s people and their diverse interests for a think tank with national leaders and local thinkers, acclaimed artists, leading healthcare providers, educators, renowned historians and writers, alongside regional farmers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, long-time residents all coming to the country for a meaningful chat.


The hope that what Waters shares is contagious. “There’s a harmonic convergence in the Hudson Valley now,” she told me. “To have the resources like there are and to have proximity to New York with the most sophisticated farmers and institutions, like Bard, there is a useful surge, if you will, of people that really understand the big picture of edible education.”


And education is key — so join us at the farm!


Since we all can’t contribute to the TEDx conversation next Saturday, there is another option for the whole family to attend and experience food direct from the farm and what that means … good eats, fresh air and fun!


The 4th annual Friends of the Farmer Hudson Valley Food Lovers Festival ( kicks off from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 27 and invites all of us to meet your farmer and connect to what you eat with activities for all ages. With a mission to inspire school children so vital to the shift in our food ways, all children attend the festival for free!


Featuring live music and the magic of Disney, local vendors and TasteNY, 5-mile farm fresh grill, milk taste test challenge, local libations and endless activations for kids with a hay maze, ponies, planting, petting zoo and pumpkins producing pure joy — not to mention economic development that bridges the gap in our rural to urban market place for big impact and change — all for a good cause.


You are invited — there will be plenty to eat, to talk about and learn as the new FarmOn! at Empire Farm opens and benefits the FarmOn! Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit and public charity which funds youth education programs in public schools to keep farmers farming and preserve small scale family farms in America.


We are more alike than different, and our missions align!


“The most important work for me right now is to bring an awareness that public education has possibility of supporting small farmers,” Waters said. “If we put a criteria for the buying of food in the public schools, feed every child for free and we pay farmers the real price of food, we just have to get the farmers and the ranchers prepared for what’s inevitably going to happen; we are going to have to feed our children, and we are going to have to feed them for free. AND we are going to have to engage with the small farmers and figure out a way to make farm to school really happen for everybody, so everybody benefits from the relationship. So, I hope, that in the future of public education, schools support farms, it’s not just farms supporting schools.”


It’s time to get involved. Let’s make farm to school happen for everyone! Join all of us in Columbia County for fall foliage and a harvest celebration on the farm Sept. 27 in Copake. A ribbon cutting starts at 4:30 p.m. with Waters announcing the region’s first Victory Garden followed by a 5 p.m. Meet your Farmer Mixer, all to celebrate the opening of the FarmOn! at Empire Farm — a 400-year-old horse farm originally owned by Henry Astor, then the Ackley family — to cultivate a movement that changes the way you eat, reinvigorates your connection to seed and soil and re-connects our children to food ways bringing us all back to good health and securing the future of farming sustainably.


“It’s a delicious revolution for everyone,” Waters reminded me. And she would know! She continues to inspire us all to FarmOn!


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