Food and NCC: Oran Hesterman, Fair Food, and a Trip to Restoration Farm

22 Apr

(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.

Dr. Hesterman and students (and me, bottom left)

Dr. Hesterman and students (and me, bottom left)

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)

Dr. Oran Hesterman, his book, and my students

Dr. Oran Hesterman, his book, and my students

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,

The book, Fair Food – Click on the image to learn more and purchase!

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.

You can't see him, but Soni is underneath working on the tractor

You can’t see him, but Soni is underneath working on the tractor

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).

Muhammad gets into it!

Muhammad gets into it!

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.

The LINCC crew!

The LINCC crew!


16 Responses to “Food and NCC: Oran Hesterman, Fair Food, and a Trip to Restoration Farm”

  1. Karen April 25, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    It sounds like a terrific day for you and your students.

  2. Bluejellybeans April 24, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    ¡Qué experiencia tan fantástica, Natalia! Esta iniciativa con los food stamp recipients es genial. Y tus alumnos deben adorarte 😉
    Un beso

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy April 24, 2013 at 7:02 am #

      Lo importante es que los estudiantes pasen el exámen final!!!! por más bien que lo pasemos, al fin y al cabo, tienen que progresar. Dios quiera que les ayude…

  3. Ashley April 23, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    This was a wonderful event and the students loved Dr. Hesterman. Glad he got to visit our amazing LINCC classes!

  4. Oran Hesterman April 23, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    It was great to visit with your class. One of the highlights of my Spring; although as I remember, it was snowing that day! I especially enjoyed how engaged your students were. Thanks for inviting me to your class and for the great shoutout for my book.

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy April 23, 2013 at 6:51 am #

      Thanks so much for coming to our class and the college. We learned so much and many of the students were inspired to pursue a career in food!

  5. Tammy April 23, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    I’m definitely interested in the book that you shared. Thanks so much for inspiring others!

  6. Mad Dog April 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Cool – that looks like you’ve been having a good time. The idea of Double Up Food Bucks sounds excellent 😉

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy April 22, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

      Really good work they are doing. It needs to be repeated in cities all over America!

      • Mad Dog April 22, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

        It did make me think. I don’t know what people are entitled to in America, but I know that here, food handouts are generally tinned and long life foods. If I were in the position of needing help, I would be so grateful for real vegetables, especially good ones.
        …and you know I like local and buying from farmers 🙂

      • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy April 22, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

        One thing I asked Dr. Hesterman during his visit was: Is knowing what to do with the vegetables an issue for these folks? Many people in the US today are a couple of generations out from seeing homecooking. He said it wasn’t an issue for his population at all; they know just what to do with the vegetables. I was really surprised.

      • Mad Dog April 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

        I think that would definitely be true for some people. Not everyone knows how to cook and not everyone is interested, but having an option of real vegetables is excellent.
        From articles I’ve read in the UK, what one would get here is tea bags, sugar, long life milk, sliced white bread and tinned food. I’d be happy with the tea but challenged by a lot of the stuff. If you are interested I found a list on this page:
        To be honest, in spite of my preference for raw veggies, it’s a good list of food – they do an amazing job!

      • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy April 22, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

        Will definitely look into it! Thanks!

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