Sunday, October 25, 2009

Farm Fresh Food: East and West

Before traveling to New York, my experience of the local and sustainable food scene largely consisted of trips to my local farmers market in West Seattle- one of the best in the area in terms of year round produce from local area farms. My other sources for local and seasonal produce in the city has come from visits to trendy grocers like Whole Foods or PCC. Pike Place Market is also on my rotation. However, I have come to discover that the local and seasonal food scene, as vibrant as it is in the Pacific Northwest, still has a ways to go in terms of making farm fresh and artisan foods widely accessible and affordable to everyone, not just the trendy and well to do. During my recent visit to the Capital Region of New York, I experienced a more fundamental and grass roots effort in making local and seasonal foods available to a diverse group of people, those with the means to participate and those in the community who are struggling to make ends meet. Walking the streets of Albany and Troy was a gentle reminder that the affluence of the Puget Sound, and of the communities I've grown up in, is not typical of everywhere across America.
I visited the east coast to see my Sister. She is currently working in an AmeriCorps position, helping eliminate poverty in these communities. As part of her service she receives a modest stipend. In addition to grocery stores, a local food coop and a farmer's market allow her to use food stamps, making farm fresh food a reality for someone on a limited income. Many organizations also serve the area in providing a thriving local food system. The organization she works for, Grand Street Community Arts, in addition to its many art programs, also has a program called Yo! which engages youth in the community to create a just, local, and sustainable food system where everyone has access to safe, healthy foods regardless of income, where farmers receive a fair price for the food they produce, and the land and the people are once again in relationship. Another area nonprofit that works to improve communities through gardening is Capital District Community Gardens. Capital District Community Gardens manages 46 cooperative neighborhood food gardens in Albany and the surrounding area as well as the Veggie Mobile- a mobile produce market that makes fresh produce more affordable and accessible for low income, inner city residents. Many local farms also provide produce to low income people through community supported agriculture (CSA's) shares. The Hunger Action Network profiled four New York State CSA's to showcase how locally grown food can be grown for everybody.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, I am reminding myself that food is a celebration. It is something we gather around and we go through great lengths to grow and prepare, from our farms to the food on our tables. In our celebration at each meal, let us also remind ourselves that food is one of our most basic necessities. That everyone, regardless of age or income, should have access to healthy, fresh, and nutritious food. To truly build and find community in our lives there is a very clear path. We have to share. I remember being taught that but somehow, even in my generosity, I've forgotten how fundamental and essential sharing is to building a strong community. New York has embedded this philosophy into it's local food economy and it has motivated me, along with the inspiring work of individuals in AmeriCorps across America, to not only celebrate in the bounty of the Pacific Northwest but to reach out and offer something back to the world.

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