Healthy Food For All’s Harvest Dinners: Growing a Sustainable Food System through Culinary Celebrations

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Tompkins Weekly — July 23, 2012
by Liz Karabinakis

Summer is in full swing, which means fresh produce is rolling in from local farms all around Ithaca. Sweet juicy fruits are bursting off the vine and succulent veggies are bountiful. Despite our agricultural assets, many community members struggle to access healthy food. The face of hunger is changing as more people slip into food insecurity due to an increase of unemployment/underemployment and rising costs of basic living expenses. As a result, consumers who are trying to stretch their dollars to put enough food on the table are finding that candy is cheaper than carrots and soda cheaper than milk. Convenience stores that offer a slim selection of unprocessed foods are often the only source of groceries within distance of a growing population with limited transportation.

While diet-related illnesses are on the rise and demonstrate the grave toll the current food system is taking on our personal health, our culture and environment are also under attack. Traditional styles of cooking and heirloom varieties of produce, passed down from generations, are being obliterated and replaced with a handful of commodity crops turned into fast “cheap” food. Profit-driven food companies and corporate-owned industrial farms are depleting resources faster than nature can regenerate them and using harmful chemicals that poison our soil and water.

While these problems span the globe, they are also found close to home, prompting a group of local farmers to band together and fight for food justice.

Healthy Food For All (HFFA) is a farmer-driven initiative to make fresh, locally grown produce affordable to everyone, regardless of income. HFFA provides subsidies for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares: a bountiful weekly assortment of a nearby farm’s harvest. Cooking classes, food preservation workshops and other educational resources are also available to support healthy lifestyle choices. Participants not only benefit from the bounty of our region, they are given a meaningful opportunity to engage in their community’s local food movement.

Equally important, HFFA supports small family-owned farms, many struggling to make ends meet themselves, by paying a fair price for their food to sustain their ecologically and socially responsible farm operations. Now in its sixth year, HFFA directly benefits over 400 low-income community members and seven farms, and has gained regional recognition as one of the most successful community-driven food security initiatives.

The price difference between what consumers can afford to pay and what farmers need is made up through grants and community fundraisers. Healthy Food For All’s harvest dinners have soared in popularity, providing guests with a unique culinary experience while raising funds to grow the program, to feed more people and help more farms thrive each year.  For every four tickets sold a family will have access to fresh food from June through November.

These fine dining benefit galas are hosted in the stunningly beautiful fields of local farms with an exquisite menu crafted by renowned chefs featuring food harvested from just steps away paired with award winning local wines, specialty brews and cider. Guests enjoy a reception with live music, hors d’oeuvres and an optional farm tour to connect with the land and people growing their food followed by a sit-down gourmet dinner amongst the farmers, winemakers and artisan food producers.

Healthy Food For All’s harvest dinners begin in late July and run through early November. The first event will be Thursday, July 26th, hosted at Sweet Land Farm in Trumansburg featuring chefs from Hazelnut Kitchen, cider from Red Byrd Orchard and wines from Sheldrake Point Vineyards.  Subsequent dinners include August 12th hosted at Stick and Stone Farm with Red Newt Cellars and Bistro, September (date TBA) at Early Morning Farm with Bet the Farm, October 14th at Remembrance Farm with Stonecat Café and Damiani Wine Cellars and November 4th at West Haven Farm with Just a Taste Restaurant, Bandwagon Brewpub and Bloomer Creek Vineyards.

Tickets, menus and more information are available at or by calling 607-342-8845. Dinners sell out fast so don’t miss out and sign-up for the mailing list to receive monthly invitations.

Healthy Food For All is a partnership of local farms with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and is made possible from grants from The Park Foundation, United Way of Tompkins County and Share Our Strength’s Ithaca Taste of the Nation.  For more information contact Liz Karabinakis, Director, at or 607-272-2292.

Liz Karabinakis is the Director, Healthy Food For All

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