Tompkins Food Web Launches Online

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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


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