Food for thought and Camp FarmOn!

Posted: Saturday, August 29, 2015 12:00 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


Put your money where your mouth is and change the way you look and feel with food. The third most important thing you do every day after breathing and sleeping (which I remind you are both free) is eat. So why wouldn’t you spend more generously on fresh, nutritious food than anything else you buy?


Every food dollar you spend tells someone something about your demand. If we give a clear picture to the Farmer about what we want to eat, they will grow it!


Beyond taste — which buyer beware has been masterminded chemically to provide pleasure by the big business of food based on profitability alone — what do your food dollars support? What are you buying to eat and provide essential nutrition to your body?


If you eat fresh, local, nutrient dense food, you have solid functioning and overall wellness with good energy, good sleep, good balance, good mood, good weight and a good mind. How important is that to you? Why not pay it forward with what you eat to prevent illness in any form? And why not buy direct from the people that make your food where you can indicate clear demand and they can grow for you eating preference?


Do your food dollars support family farming or Madison Avenue and the advertising business? Does the packaging cost more than the ingredients? Where is it from? Who made it? How many layers of ink, plastic and glue are near your food? How many times were the ingredients processed before you consume them? Do the corn chips contain corn? Does the blueberry muffin mix contain blueberries? Does the chocolate milk have high fructose corn syrup, recently renamed corn sugar to confuse you? How far, wide and deep was your carbon footprint to get that food to your plate versus shopping locally for your food? Do any of the ingredients come from any farmer you can visit and meet? If so, the farmer will always be proud to show you the work they do to produce the food they make.


It’s food for thought and easily actionable. We introduced these ideas in a curriculum to kids designed to excite and engage and let them decide at the recent summer camp we developed and fund.


At Camp FarmOn! kids worked on projects hyper focused on “garden-based learning” woven with “how to” experiences to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of youth in agriculture to inspire budding “entrepreneurs” to find pathways in food and farming this summer at Empire Farm.


In its fourth year, the Camp FarmOn! summer enrichment camp offered a unique opportunity thanks to a $10,000 donation from FarmOn! Foundation and a $1,000 grant from Farm Credit East. (If you didn’t participate, be sure you sign up your son or daughter now for next year. We work with Cornell Cooperative Extension to sign up youth for the annual summer day camp each August.)


Twenty teens, entering grades 8-11 this fall, were accepted on full scholarship to attend Camp FarmOn! Students visited eight local farms and food related businesses in the Hudson Valley Aug. 3-6. Visits each morning allowed students to ascertain production and profitability learning about the local food systems from entrepreneurs who make a living through agri-business ventures focused on farming.


Fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of youth in agriculture each afternoon, students at Camp FarmOn! learned through activities that engaged and taught critical 21st century business skills developing concepts based on themes such as taste/flavors through Farming Practices, marketing through Food Systems and Packaging (one youth developed an advertisement: Herbs with Attitude — Dill with It!), marketplaces and money through Production Beyond the Field and concept development by way of learning Impact, Scaling and Brands.


During the program students tried out their business thinking and confidence building skills collaborating in small teams to develop a value added business model to venture capitalists in a “Shark Tank” simulated event to inspire, educate and maybe even win an investment!


Each of the four teams of teens not only developed a business concept to support a local agri-business, but also pitched it to a panel of venture capitalists: investment banker Michael Rietbrock, MIT professor Chris Weaver, Rainbow Room Chef Jonathan Wright, R-NBA star Eric Williams, Columbia County Chamber of Commerce President David Colby and Emmy Award-winning producer Nanci Ross.


The campers presented their “pitch” by PowerPoint, website and social media tactics to the “Sharks,” who questioned each team about their concept for the most viability, innovation and/or financial potential to sustain profitability related to food, farming or a business they visited during Camp FarmOn! By pitching their business plans to a “shark tank” panel, kids learned skills by doing and confidence was achieved by presenting a business plan and pitch. Parents, supporters and friends watched in the audience and cheered on the kids.


To prep the students and empower them, each summer day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., kids learned about food by preparing and eating healthy snacks. They reviewed food advertisements and designed one of their own based on healthy sourcing and messages they then presented to practice the idea of “pitch” to an audience of their peers.


They also calculated food miles to understand a “Million Dollar” orange (from places as far as New Zealand) and read their favorite food product labels, trying to pronounce ingredients that seemed very far from the natural messages the packaging promised. This reminded us all: If you can’t read it, don’t eat it!


Changing kids’ lives through an experience based in an edible education focused entirely on applied cooperative learning, sustainability (in terms of holistic practice and profitability) and making an impact on their community by bridging the gap between agriculture and your table is vital. Everyone was educated, engaged and inspired!


You do have a choice. You can change your life. You do want to eat healthy local food — it just tastes better once you start. Get involved in the movement to change food and the lives of our youth with honest food buying habits. It starts with children who eat fresh healthy food — and it can start today because you provide them with that food to eat. And by the way, they love eating and they love the farm too. So will you! FarmOn!


To contact Tessa Edick, email tessa@ or follow her on Twitter/IG @FarmOnFarmOn.


About FarmOn! Foundation


FarmOn! Foundation is a nonprofit organization of professional farmers, educators, influencers, supporters, nutritionists, students and community leaders invested in the future of local agriculture and building local economies. FarmOn! creates and funds youth educational programming and is working to preserve family farming in America with an edible education. Some of FarmOn! Foundation partners include TasteNY, John Varvatos, Bronx Zoo, New York state Department of Agriculture & Markets, Local Economies Project, Hudson Valley Fresh, Maple Hill Creamery, Yelp, Whole Foods Market, Modern Farmer, Cornell University CALS, NBA, Disney and State University of New York.


In the first-ever partnership of its kind, students at SUNY Cobleskill, Morrisville State College and the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will be able to live and work at the Foundation’s working farm, FarmOn! at Empire Farm in Columbia County, gaining real life experiences in the food production field. Learning will range from seed and soil crop planning to growing food, harvesting it, producing and cooking food in a commercial teaching kitchen and extend all the way to custom growing for New York’s institutions, caterers, retailers and chefs. Learn more at


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