(Update from Natalia: please see comments for a response from Dr. Hesterman!)
Spring has sprung upon me with flurry of all good things. Reunions, gardening, visits from family, coursework, channeling my inner drama queen for my film student cousin’s movies (!), learning opportunities, parties…It has been a terrific few weeks. However, it has left my blog community rather neglected! I have missed you too.
Mind you, I have been cooking, but some of it has been experimentation that hasn’t quite worked out yet (falafel comes to mind). Other stuff has been tried and true recipes that you have read about before. And well, yes, I have been out to eat, ordered in, skipped meals, eaten a lot of salad (in anticipation of the shorts and T-shirt season), fed my son pizza (even for breakfast! oh, the shame…) and scavenged from my parent’s leftovers. So I don’t have as much as usual to report on the actual making-of-food front.
I do, however, want to share a few tidbits with you and happily, they involve a unification of my food world and my teaching world! (But if my students tell you I made them shovel shit, it is simply not true! Well, not entirely. Read on for details)
My class this semester happens to be full of students who are very interested in agriculture. They come from India, Turkey, Pakistan, El Salvador, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Libya, Korea, and China, and most of them either grew up in agricultural communities or have strong memories of their grandparents’ farms. They all miss the fresh flavors of their home countries. It is a sad irony of our very modern country, that most immigrants from developing nations report that the food back home was healthier, fresher and better-tasting than the supermarket offerings in New York.
As you might imagine, our common concerns about food give us loads to talk about. Nassau Community College, where I teach, recently hosted Dr. Oran Hesterman, of the Fair Food Network, to speak to the campus at large. Dr. Hesterman (whose book Fair Food I am now enjoying — a signed copy, of course!) is doing amazing things, particularly in Detroit, by putting together local farmers and folks on government nutritional assistance (food stamps) so local farmers have more customers and folks in food deserts with fewer resources get more bang for their buck. The book talks about the broken food system and the inspiring stories of people who are trying to change it in very innovative ways,
We jumped all over that and were able to have Dr. Hesterman visit our classroom for a more intimate conversation with the students before his appearance before the wider campus community. A gentle man with a lifelong commitment to better food (he learned ranching from his dad and started his first business as an organic farmer producing sprouts) he worked with the Kellogg Foundation for many years on improving our food supply. Now through Fair Food Network, he is helping the urban poor get better access to fresh produce with programs like Double Up Bucks, which gives food stamp recipients an incentive to buy local at their farmer’s market. For each dollar they spend on local farm produce, they get a a dollar token, redeemable for more produce! It has resulted in huge increases in fresh food purchases by consumers — better for their health and better for the local farmers!
We followed up the visit with a farm trip (optional for students) and several came along to do some volunteering.
Soni, from India, Muhammad from Pakistan, and Busra from Turkey spent a chilly morning with me and Leandro and the growers and volunteers at Restoration Farm – the C.S.A. that my family belongs to. And as for the aforementioned shit shoveling…there were indeed shovels, but it was not really shit. It was manure and it was aged and not stinky (and since my son and his buddy spent the morning rolling in piles of it, I am supremely qualified to make that statement).
We had a glorious time…I don’t think I’ve ever seen those students smile so much, and I pride myself on having a fun class with a lot of laughter. “I am in India, Miss,” said a smiling Soni, as he rolled a wheelbarrow full of manure (not shit) past me on the way to the blackberry beds. Agriculture is a universal language.