Signs of Sustainability

We have a long way to go, but we're making progress. Here are some signs that we are moving towards sustainability.

July 21, 2014

Tompkins Food Web Launches Online

Tompkins Weekly 7-21-14

By Alison Fromme

A bowl of juicy red strawberries sat on my kitchen table. I plucked one from the pile but stopped short before popping it into my mouth. Worm holes marred it, and I held it up for my husband to see. “Share and share alike,” he said.

That was about 10 years ago. I had just started buying food directly from an organic farmer, and bug-eaten strawberries were a new experience for me. So were slugs in my salad and worms in my corncobs.

The occasional critters made me cringe, but I usually didn’t mind. I had already jumped on the local food bandwagon. I was convinced that food was the thing that could make people care about the environment. I had a hunch that local food was good for the local economy. It was fun to eat weird veggies like kohlrabi.

And yet, some uncomfortable observations started bugging me in a whole different way. I wanted to buy organic pastured eggs at the farmers market, but winced at the price. In my kitchen, I struggled with the extra work of processing and cooking food from scratch. I volunteered as a “Big Sister” and saw my “Little Sister’s” family puzzle over food aid that came in odd forms, like a five-gallon bag of pizza sauce and a 50-pound bag of popcorn. I learned that some farmers themselves need food assistance.

Here in Tompkins County, our farmers produce an amazing abundance of food: $60.1 million in milk, dairy, grains, beans, meat, and vegetables are produced on 100,000 acres of our land every year. We have farmers markets almost every day of the week. And yet not everyone here has access to this abundance. Thirty percent of children receive free or reduced school lunches. Twenty five percent of adults here are obese

Improving our food system in terms of health, sustainability, and justice, requires that we pay attention to the successes and struggles within our community. Last year, the nonprofit GreenStar Community Projects began hosting in-person networking events to do just that: bring diverse voices together to start identifying critical needs in our community. Communication within the food system quickly emerged as a critical need by the many people who participated in the events.

To help unite the conversations among foodies, farmers, food justice activists, policymakers, and others, I’m joining forces with GreenStar Community Projects to create an online county-wide news and networking site, tentatively called “Tompkins Food Web.” The website we envision will be more than just a website – it will facilitate conversations, bridge the gap between online and offline efforts, and serve as an open access archive of successes and struggles in our food system. It will also feature the needs of underserved and underrepresented people, offer a variety of voices, perspectives, and opinions, and support transparency and truthfulness in the food system by following a journalistic code of ethics.

Storytelling, “news you can use,” and conversations are the heart of this online effort. The site has the potential to build and reinforce real-life relationships and foster a deep understanding of what’s wrong with our current food system – and what it takes to make it just and sustainable.

I did end up eating the imperfect-but-tasty strawberry that I held in my hands almost a decade ago. Today, that strawberry reminds me of all the uncomfortable observations and stark contrasts in our food system that continue to nag me. I don’t know all the steps required to create an equitable, sustainable, and healthy food system, but I’m going to start by paying attention. I hope you’ll join me.

If you’d like to support the creation of Tompkins Food Web, submit content, or learn more, please contact Alison Fromme at alisonfromme@nasw.org.

 

July 14, 2014

Village Responds to Need for Fresh Food

Tompkins Weekly 7-14-14

By Sara L. Knobel

Did you know that Groton is a food desert but not for long – efforts are underway to make this a thing of the past! Mitigating the food desert in Groton is truly a community effort.

The Groton Public Library and the Groton Central School District with support from the Village of Groton are working together to make fresh food available to everyone in the Groton community. This is in addition to the local food pantry that is only available every other Saturday and one Tuesday a month and cannot keep up with the need in the community and due to storage does not handle fresh food often.

Because of this need for fresh food – the library in collaboration with Buried Treasure, an organic CSA farm in Groton, started Healthy Tuesdays. This program runs every Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the library. Buried Treasure stops after the Ithaca Farmers Market and drops off fresh produce to give away for free. In addition the library is a Neighborhood Food Hub through the Friendship Donation Network (FDN). Have extra produce in your garden or CSA, donate it to a food hub – there are eight hubs throughout Tompkins County including one in Groton. The library also receives food donations each Tuesday from FDN for our Healthy Tuesdays. This past winter we had potatoes and apples every week to give away. So stop down to the library on a Tuesday and pick up some fresh produce – this program is free and open to all.

The next step in our progression was the formation of the Growing Groton committee. This committee oversees the community/communal garden, where we all work together on the garden and we will all reap the benefits. The garden has been planted and is growing. The produce from this garden will benefit the Groton community – we plan to share the produce with the senior center, the food pantry, the school, and Healthy Tuesdays at the library. Stop and take a look at all the veggies just starting to sprout up. The garden is located across from the high school, right next to the Tennis courts. Find us on Facebook – look for Growing Groton. And the library was recently awarded two grants specifically for the community/communal garden. The first grant is the Whole Community Project – Food Dignity Mini-grant of $2,370 to purchase materials for the garden. The second grant received is a Sustainable Tompkins Mini-grant in the amount of $500 to purchase lumber and compost for the raised beds. The garden is open to all – you do not need to be a gardener to help – all ages and experience are welcome. In the near future we plan to have a family area right next to the garden with informal get togethers – good food – good people!

The Village also has the Groton Farmers Market located right by the senior housing. The market runs on Tuesdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. starting on July 1 and running until September 16. And starting on July 15, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) will offer a Cooking Matters for Teens series from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and ending on August 19. To sign up for this class, email Lindsay at lsimpso1@ithaca.edu.

For the first time in Groton, we have subsidized CSA (community support agriculture) shares. This program is supported by CCE’s Health Food for All (HFA). A qualifying low income family can purchase a share from Buried Treasure (or other participating farm) and only has to pay half the cost of the share – this amounts to under $15 a week for a huge box of fresh picked produce – a remarkable deal. We have three families taking advantage of this fabulous deal – one participant has been amazed at how healthy they are now eating and trying out new food such as kohlrabi.

On July 22 @ 6:30, we continue our monthly food awareness series with the award winning documentary “MORE THAN HONEY” which looks at the fascinating world of bees – “If bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would only have four years left to live,” Albert Einstein. This is a film on the relationship between mankind and honeybees, about nature and about our future.

For more information on any of the programs mentioned – email Sara at director@grotonpubliclibrary.org or call 607-898-5055. Find us on Facebook too.

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”
― Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

 Sara L. Knobel is library manager at the Groton Public Library

July 7, 2014

Consumers Encouraged to Join Meat Project

Tompkins Weekly 7-7-14

By Susannah Spero

The Finger Lakes Meat Project (FLMP) is a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension and currently serves seven counties: Chemung, Cortland, Broome, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Tompkins. The FLMP expands local meat sales by connecting local meat buyers with area livestock farmers. Our research shows that bulk purchasing is more affordable for consumers and more profitable for farmers, as it allows consumers to pay a lower price per pound while saving farmers’ valuable time. Consumers tell us that they would like to buy local meat in bulk, but that they face several barriers; namely, a lack of home freezer space and difficulties finding a farm that suits their needs and preferences. In order to combat these obstacles and create new local meat buyers, we offer several innovative services to the public. We are proud to promote food affordability while preserving small farm viability!

Our online directory of regional livestock farms, www.MeatSuite.com, provides consumers with profiles and contact information for over 40 livestock farms that sell in bulk. Through this user-friendly interface, consumers can read about a farm’s products and growing practices, and can easily contact farms. Posting a profile is free for farms in our seven-county area. The website also offers information on breeds, feeds, pricing, and yields. We are hoping to expand the Meat Suite to additional New York counties in the near future.

The Ithaca Meat Locker offers consumers rentable space in a walk-in freezer, thus eliminating the need to buy an extra chest freezer. Before consumers owned home refrigerators and purchased their meat by the cut at the grocery store, towns had communal Meat Lockers for bulk meat storage. Ithaca hosted a locker called “Mother Zero!” We are reviving this old-fashioned idea to solve modern problems. As one happy Meat Locker member told us, “it’s like the public transportation of freezers!” For $3 to $5 per month, consumers can rent bins large enough to hold bulk orders of meat, such as a whole lamb, half hog, or quarter of beef. Meat Locker members purchase meat independently, contact us to rent a bin, schedule a drop-off appointment, and access their bin during scheduled hours, sort of like a CSA pick-up. Soon, we will match our regular pick-up hours to Full Plate Farm Collective’s CSA distribution at our location. One of our customers saved $200 by purchasing in bulk and using the Meat Locker—and her farmer was thrilled to reduce his labor costs by selling a whole lamb in one shot. To reserve a spot in the Meat Locker, please visit FingerLakesMeatProject.com. We are located in Pressbay Alley at 116 West Green Street. A second Meat Locker is opening in downtown Corning in the coming months.

The FLMP also offers consumer education programs designed to familiarize folks with the wealth of local meat options available in our region. Our programs explore diverse topics such as identifying the right farm for you, the prices, yields, and terminology used in bulk meat buying, understanding labels, and cooking unusual cuts. Please stay tuned for future Local Meat Workshops, butchering demonstrations, and tastings! Our next Meat Fair is scheduled for October 25th, 2014. We’ll have lots of meat samples, farm tables, and information on finding, storing, and using local meat. We’re hoping to see you there!

We are eager to assist you in transitioning to buying locally-raised meat in bulk. Please visit us at www.fingerlakesmeatproject.com for additional information. You can also find us on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/MeatLockerPilotProject or call Susannah or Matt at (607) 272-2292. The FLMP is funded by the USDA Farmer’s Market Promotion Program, as well as by generous local donors.

Susannah Spero is project coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.