Cultivating Place Here in the Finger Lakes

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Tompkins Weekly October 10, 2011

by Nick Vaczek

The world’s first vineyard classification system was introduced in northeastern Hungary’s Tokaj region in 1730. France’s Roquefort cheese, from the Midi-Pyrenees region, was the first cheese to be granted “Apellation d’Origine Controllee” status in 1925. Bonding hereabouts to our winescapes and foodsheds is easy as we access the latest 2011 array of maps that will guide us to an increasingly diverse array of tastily created wine, beer and cheese within less than 30 miles. And that is just for the Cayuga Lake neck of the woods. Did the homegrown wine trails of the Finger Lakes Region start something that will last for at least 250 years? After a half-century of fermenting along, the region’s inhabitants and visitors can clearly sense that things are really starting to get up to speed.

Generally it might seem more ‘natural’ to claim citizenship at the very local, county or state levels. It is not the norm for a region to have a “civic” status or representation. But our regional agriculture is proceeding in the direction of greater civic awareness and feeling. We see the entire upstate foodscape entering a new phase of vigor with a dynamic mix of innovative people and places achieving significant quality and revitalization. Sharing economic reward at various scales, communities and enterprises are now venturing beyond early learning curves and incubation. New avenues of communication are helping to shift information environments and educational contexts.

A new awareness about cuisine, health and diet has set in motion a culinary evolution. There is a new food economy – here and close at hand. Its products and practices have emerged in parallel to large-scale production and distribution. Both traditional and newly hatched recipes are part of this movable feast. From testing in diverse, obscure hearths, gardens and farms have grown internationally known products, restaurants and marketing approaches. Most of us now know growers and processors, distributors and purveyors, and salute what they are up to and down with.

This is all truly exciting. Food policies and farming models can enliven the body politic. Value-added and artisanal approaches provoke and enhance communities and market forces. Building rural entrepreneurial capacity in the perennial mode of a grapevine involves sensitivity to our ‘ecological infrastructure.’  When we support greater attunement to our resource capacities in times of change we thus ensure greater vitality and well-being for our region.

Finger Lakes Bioneers invokes regionality both as an under-appreciated attribute and as a goal. As the wine trails of the Finger Lakes have proven, cohesiveness can be mapped via ‘collaborative’ competition and cooperation. From the ground up, via sharing of tastes and flavors, cohesion can be honed over long – but also not-so-long periods of time within geographically self-aware dimensions. Curiosity and celebration grow hand-in-hand these days around the nooks and crannies of our region– especially in this harvest season.

As mentioned in an earlier SOS article, Finger Lakes Bioneers is continuing to explore our region this year too. We look to augment awareness about local, regional, and larger realms of concern through sharing in programming with partners and venues in Auburn, Cortland, Elmira and Watkins Glen. We began this interweaving just last weekend with several screenings of The Economics of Happiness with the Auburn Public Theater.  On Monday, October 10 at 7:30 pm, we will be bringing the new documentary Freedom and its eco-friendly tour bus to Corey Union on the SUNY Cortland campus in partnership with Sustainable Cortland.

We also want to report an important update regarding the national Bioneers activities. This year’s three-day plenary speakers will be live webcast from Marin County in California on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – October 14, 15, and 16. Please see this link to arrange viewing: .  The list of great presenters includes: Friday- Roxanne Brown (United Steelworkers) and Gloria Steinem; Saturday- Amory Lovins, Anim Steele (The Food Project) and Paul Stamets; Sunday-Phillipe Cousteau, Dayna Baumeister (Biomimicry Institute), Melissa Nelson (Cultural Conservancy) and Mary Evelyn Tucker (Forum on Religion and Ecology). A fantastic mix indeed.

Please feel free to get in touch with us and catch the latest news about our scheduling at

Nick Vaczek is the film series coordinator for Finger Lakes Bioneers, and has consulted on food and wine in New York and Hungary.

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