Archive by Author

Food for Thought: Alumnae and Food!

13 May

As an almost-alum, I am often worrying (no thanks to CDO emails and phone calls with my mother) about post-grad plans. While there are a plethora of opportunities to explore and tons of places to go, loans, a limited budget, and lack of experience in the world of work are definitely limiting factors when it comes to finding a job. While many of my fellow Smith grads are off to take jobs in the city, living out their Fulbright dreams, traveling abroad, or interning at the company of their dreams, I find myself less sure of what I want my future to look like.

Growing up on Cape Cod, I usually spent my summers sailing, swimming, and, along with most of my peers, working in a restaurant. Because the majority of my hometown’s economy depends on the revenue generated by tourism (the population triples—from 33,000 to about 100,000—in the summertime), there is no shortage of seasonal restaurants, ice cream shops, and cafes. Working in the food industry, for me, has always been almost second nature. Yet, as overfishing continues and many restaurants (usually for financial reasons) continue to buy produce from big food service companies who aren’t necessarily concerned with the sustainability and origins of their products, the prospect of spending my summer shucking clams and doling out lobster rolls becomes less appealing every day. So, to help quell my own uneasiness about life after graduation, I chatted with a few alums who have found fulfilling and rewarding work in the food industry.

Maggie Kraus, Class of 2012

Maggie is perhaps better known to Smithies (and her ever-widening fan base) as half of the folk duo Hannah & Maggie, which performs regularly in and around New York City, and has spent much of the last two summers touring the country. She graduated last May with a Comparative Literature major, a Spanish minor, and an Archives Concentration, and promptly hopped in the car and drove across the U.S. to promote her newly released CD. She returned home to New Jersey in September with no job and no plans. Her first priority was, she says, “to find some sort of income”.

What she ended up doing turned out to be very different than her life on stage. Maggie usually wakes up around 6 or 7 and walks a few minutes into town to The Able Baker, where she works the register, serves coffee, cleans, washes dishes, and occasionally bakes.

“I was walking my dog the first time I spotted a small bakery nestled in the corner of town. I knew it couldn’t have been there long (it certainly wasn’t there the last time I lived at home) but it was bustling with people: happy people! Even the customers, standing in a considerable line for coffee, were smiling.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity, she called them when she got home to ask if they were hiring—which they were. She’s been a full-time employee now for eight months, and, she’ll tell you without hesitation, it’s the best job she’s ever had.

“It’s so refreshing to wake up (early!) and help other people start their day on a good note. Working at the bakery has definitely transformed the way I look at “sweets”. If they’re made right (with real, simple, and fresh ingredients) there’s a lot less to feel guilty about. The best part about my job is that I actually believe in the food we’re making. I love telling people that the milk and eggs are delivered from local farms, and that our insanely delicious banana bread is gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free.” The owners and staff have also been a big part of her positive experience at the bakery. “They’ve treated me like family since the first time I put on an apron. I could never have predicted finding this job but I’m so, so happy I did!”

While Maggie is not quite sure of where her life (and music) will take her, she’s enjoying her time at the Able Baker. For the immediate future, she plans to take a trip to Ireland with her mother before heading off across the country to tour with Hannah in July. If it’s in the cards, she’ll most likely return to the Able Baker in September, continuing her foray in the food service industry. Yet if she doesn’t, it is clear that Maggie sees her time at the bakery as more of an opportunity than a financial obligation, which is perhaps a sign that sometimes not making plans can lead you to find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Image Pies being made from scratch at the Able Baker.

Yoanna Torres, Class of 2010

During her time at Smith, Yoanna’s studies  focused on Sociology and the Study of Women and Gender. When she graduated, Yoanna worked briefly for the census in Easthampton—a job she would not highly recommend. “People were so mean. They would just slam the door in my face. One man crumpled it up and threw it at me. It was terrible.” When the census was over, she started working at Goberry for a bit before heading off to spend some time in Peru. She then returned to Northampton, and to Goberry, where she continues to work now.

Like everyone else who works there, Yoanna started by working hourly. From there (if you seem responsible), employees are given the opportunity to become a shift supervisor. Usually, this is as far “up” as one can go, but now Yoanna is also the General Manager for both the Northampton and Amherst stores.  “I developed a personal relationship with Molly and Alex, the two owners. We work really well together and they needed someone to run the store so that they didn’t have to worry about the day-to-day stuff, and that’s where I came in.”

Yoanna, for now, plans to stay at Goberry until at least next summer. The pay is good and she really enjoys the people she works with, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t making any future plans. “I think I want to go back to school. I’ve also been thinking that maybe I want to start my own business—but that requires an idea, which I don’t really have yet.” As for working in the food industry, Yoanna describes it as “a mixed bag”.

“I love food, and I love interacting with people. Sometimes food service brings out the worst in people, and people can be so demanding to the extent that they’re rude. I like the part of my job that makes other people happy—food makes people happy for the most part. I hate the parts that make people unhappy, especially because often times they have nothing to do with me or my product or my job.”

However, the “downsides” don’t seem to ruining her hopes of starting her own business sometime down the line, and Yoanna feels confident that she will probably continue to work with and around food. Her experience in the industry has led her to see that a possible career path would definitely be “do-able”, as well as something she would enjoy. However, embarking down this path doesn’t mean she’ll be compromising her personal beliefs in the process. “I feel strongly about making connections with local farmers and having it be a community establishment, as opposed to just a business. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing, but I just don’t think that would fulfill me.”

Thanks a lot to Maggie and Yoanna for taking the time to chat with me, and good luck to you both in the future, wherever it may lead you!

-Eva McNamara, ’13

Food for Thought: Food and the Smith Culture

9 May

Food is a huge part of Smith College culture—lectures, club meetings, concerts, and celebrations are advertised with treats, offering ice cream, pizza, cookies and more. Dining services takes student’s dietary needs and requests seriously (you can read more about that here!), and tea & snacks are served weekly in Smith houses. Looking at the college today, it is hard to imagine that at one time it was against the rules for students to have food outside the dining rooms. Food history at Smith, and other women’s colleges, is complicated—diet trends, health concerns, and external pressure have all played a role in deciding what the women at these institutions were consuming, especially in the late 1800s, when women were finally being given greater access to higher education.

Despite the opening of many women’s colleges during this time (Mount Holyoke was given its collegiate charter in 1888, Wellesley opened in 1870, and Smith in 1875) many did not believe that college was a place for women. In 1867, Dr. Edward H. Clarke of Harvard insisted that the colligate environment was not fit for females, saying that the “educational methods of our schools and colleges for girls are, to a large extent, the cause of ‘the thousand ills’ that beset American woman”. He claimed that these institutions caused “irrational cooking”, “indigestible diet”, and “unassailable abominations”. In order to “protect a woman’s future”, he asserted that you must control her food, as this was the basis for “safeguarding her crucial contributions to both family and society”(Brewer).

Although institutions of higher education for women persisted, at least early on, the health of the students remained a top concern of college officials. In 1877, for example, officials at Wellesley College decided that, because of “the prevailing delicacy of health in American girls”, dietary restrictions would be put in place. Students were not allowed to buy or receive any food other than that which was served by the college, and ultimately, eating was not allowed between meals. Women who broke these rules faced suspension, and, in some cases, expulsion. Similar restrictions were not uncommon at other women’s colleges—although the strictness of the rules around food varied from place to place.

As one might expect, the students at Wellesley had mixed responses to the new rules. Some followed them strictly so as to avoid the possible consequences. Student Louise Edwards wrote home to say that “so much has been said on the subject of eating between meals that most of the girls would as soon almost take poison”. Students hid packages from home, some so afraid of being caught that they kept them wrapped and hidden until the end of the year. But there were also those who bent the rules and those who disregarded them altogether. Clara Capron, a first year at Wellesley, complained to the college physician, claiming headaches and requesting to be allowed to eat fruit between meals. Francis Robinson, a sophomore, had a bit more disdain for the regulations. She told her mother, “Mr. Durant said that if a girl ate any fruit in her room they would expel her. I have some grapes, peaches and pears in my room and what is more I’m going to eat them.” Other stories echo this sentiment—girls having fudge sent to them from home wrapped carefully under clothes, or hiding cakes in the attic to avoid being caught red (velvet)-handed.

Image “A Memorial of exams, essays, metrical travilations [sic] and the like.”
Tea party with Bertha Allen and Helen Lambert, 12 March 1892.
Smith College Archives

By the 1880’s, especially at places like Vassar where consequences were less harsh, “Chafing dish clubs” appeared—late night meetings at which students would gather “with blinds shut and curtains drawn, and a gossamer water-proof draped carefully over the transom”. These “spreads” became almost gluttonous for some—oysters on silver platters and fudge parties drew crowds of friends. Dorthy Firman wrote home in 1906 from Wellesley to say that “a girl might as well not come to college if she hasn’t a good digestion. She can’t have any fun.” 

As spreads became more popular, students began to disregard the rules with abandon, publicizing their consumption-based gatherings. Spreads were used to celebrate—sometimes specific events like engagements and birthdays—and also used simply as a way to gather together with one’s friends. As the secret gatherings spread, faculty became more lenient about enforcing the rules, often purposely ignoring the “telltale aroma of fudge or hot chocolate” which could betray a party. Eventually, students felt so comfortable with their spreads that they were reported to have begun stealing ingredients (like milk) from the school kitchens. Judging from my Smith experience, late night kitchen raids are still common—hence locks being placed on the fridges in the dining halls during my first year.

By the turn of the century, colleges had begun to sanction the spreads, although many still questioned their “dangers”, especially as they became more extravagant. In 1901, Wellesley president Caroline Hazard voiced her concerns about spreads distracting students from their studies, and noted that perhaps the time spent entertaining (and cleaning up) was causing the women to “hurry to [their] necessary duties”. And she was not alone. Mount Holyoke student Amy Roberts wrote home in 1898 to tell her mother of the time constraints she and her roommate faced. “Carrie and I are beginning to think that our social duties are quite oppressive…We could get along quite nicely if it wasn’t for our studies.”

Today, women’s colleges are far different from what they were in the past, yet students still engage in joyous, celebratory eating, especially at Smith. Northampton is home to many wonderful cafés in which Smithies often do their work and socialize. Alumna Julia Child is remembered with a feast of sorts in the fall, and the college never falls short on providing cheese and desserts for weekly tea. It seems safe to say that if it were not for the determination of the alumnae who refused to follow the dietary guidelines forced upon them, Smith, and the other seven sisters, would not have become the schools they are today.

Image Zoe Sperber ’13, making snacks for the Smith College Vibes

You can read more about chafing dish clubs in Pricilla Brewer’s essay, The Chafing Dish and the College Girl that is included in Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias, edited by Madden and Finch. Looking Good, by Margaret A. Lowe, also offers an in-depth look at diet culture in the early 20th century. Interestingly, Ms. Lowe used a lot of material from the Smith College Archives in doing her research. But, if you would rather see actual pictures, read letters, and delve into alumna’s thoughts and lives, check out the Smith College Archives (located in the Alumnae Gym) yourself!

-Eva McNamara, ’13

Food for Thought: Concentrator Nichole Calero!

3 May

Nichole Calero, an Ada Comstock Scholar in her last semester at Smith, hails from Great Barrington, MA. Always ahead of the curve, Nichole was planning to study food at Smith through the structure of an American Studies degree very early on. When Smith added the Sustainable Food Concentration, she applied immediately.

“I took Landscape Studies my first semester here, and that really inspired me, because it gave me a whole new toolset to look at things with.” Nichole has enriched her course selection at Smith (other favorites included Writing About Food, Economic Botany, and ENX 300, the concentration capstone) with practical experiences, the first of which was her time spent interning at Berkshire Grown, an organization in Berkshire County that promotes local food and farms. “Essentially they called me the outreach intern. My job was to understand what Berkshire Grown was about, and visit members who may not have had much contact with the organization, but were producers in the area.”  This means that Nichole visited farmers, and gave them the opportunity to ask any questions, bring up any concerns, give feedback, and offer suggestions. This one on one time with farmers eventually led to Nichole creating individual bios for each farm that were put on the website. For her second required practical experience Nichole worked on a CSA farm (which she had previously been a member of) for a season—a different, yet equally important, learning experience in the world of food.

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When Nichole discusses her future plans, she looks broadly at the past, and, more specifically, at food trends. While she finds diet trends fascinating from a personal standpoint, she also finds them troubling, particularly in terms of the inherently classist nature of food tendencies, especially the new sustainable food movement. “When you look at social patterns and how they work, you see over and over again that the upper class finds something “trendy” that the lower class is doing for survival and then they promote it.  So [in the case of sustainable food] now you have people growing their own food and it’s “the thing to do.” Just like supporting small farms is “the thing to do”, instead of just a thing to do. But that inevitably excludes a lot of people, and some people can’t afford a CSA share (although I’m noticing that more and more farmers markets and CSA farms are accepting food stamps, and that’s great). When I first started my education I really wanted to understand marketing, so that I could help promote the local food movement. Now I think that’s the wrong angle, so I’m more interested in working with an organization that seeks to bring food access to the people who aren’t currently able to have it.”

As for the Sustainable Food Concentration, Nichole is excited that it’s finally here, despite it taking years for these ideas to become mainstream enough to merit collegiate acknowledgement.  “These ideas are really important for the survival of the environment, and for the survival of the human species—all species actually. I think that it’s great that Smith has taken a step to create the MacLeish field station, but it’s very removed from campus. I realize that iconically it’s important for the Smith campus to be beautiful and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, but I think that it would be beneficial for Smith to take another initiative and go ahead and let us have more than a single community garden that’s tucked away behind buildings. The Smith Community Garden is great, but it would be beneficial for the college to make something that’s inclusive for more than just the students who are interested in this line of thinking.”

Anything else?

“I’m really proud to be one of the first graduates from the Sustainable Food Concentration, because I think it’s a sign that Smith is really acknowledging that this is a really important aspect of our future.”

Thank you to Nichole for chatting with me—I can’t wait to see where your passions take you!

-Eva McNamara, ’13

Food for Thought: Sustainable Food Concentrator Gayelan Ulrich, ‘13

22 Apr

Gayelan Tietje-Ulrich, a senior who hails from Bennington, Vermont, is a familiar face around campus. Gayelan has appeared in many productions put on by the Smith College theater department, has a vocal range like Beyoncé (you can see her perform with the Smith College Vibes!), and an unforgettable, charismatic smile. She is a theater major with a Landscape Studies minor—in addition, this May Gayelan will also be one of the first graduates to complete the Environmental Concentration in Sustainable Food. I sat down with Gayelan to chat about her studies, interests, future plans, and what it means to study food.

Gayelan has been gardening since her senior year of high school, when she became interested in local, organic growing practices because her aunt worked at a nearby farm. Once she arrived at Smith she knew that she wanted to pursue Landscape Studies, but, unlike the many courses available at UMASS, there were no specifically agricultural classes available  to take here.  Lucky enough for her, the Sustainable Food Concentration was introduced her junior year—and, since she had decided that she wasn’t as interested in horticulture, it was exciting to be able to study food, something that she is passionate about.

Requirements for the concentration include taking either ENV 100 or LSS 100 as a gateway course, four food-related courses (which can be anything from Writing About Food to Plant Soil Sciences), a capstone course, and completing two practical experiences. Gayelan’s first practicum took place last summer in Ireland where she participated in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (WWOOF). “I worked on a goat farm for two months, and we were selling cheese, milk, and ice cream products to visitors and tourists to the islands.”

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Gayelan befriends some young goats and their mothers last fall at Glynwood Farm in New York.

Gayelan’s other practicum has been less physical and more involved in the non-profit sector of the local food movement. She is currently interning at Grow Food Northampton (GFN), just up the road in Florence, MA. GFN already has close ties with Smith’s Sustainable Food Concentration. During the capstone course this fall, students in the class worked closely with the organization to research and write up a report to help them determine the feasibility of starting an Incubator Farm Program, a program in which new and/or inexperienced farmers could strengthen and develop agricultural and business skills in a low-risk environment. Currently, Gayelan helps out at GFN with, well, anything and everything! “I’ve been working specifically with the Florence Organic Garden, whether it was doing volunteer work, putting together seed donations, putting together projects for musical parodies about water conservation, working on publicity, working on education—basically anything they need.” Gayelan has also been working to map the Florence Community Garden which, now in its second year, has grown to host over 250 community gardeners. (If you’d like to intern, volunteer, or learn more about Grow Food Northampton, you can contact them here).

So what would Gayelan like to see for the future of food studies at Smith?

“Just in terms of the classes here at Smith, for those who want to be involved in food production and farming, I would love to see Smith offer some sort of business course, and for so many different areas—not just food!” Gayelan would also love to see more hands on courses, like those offered at Hampshire and UMASS.

And her future plans?

“I’ll be working up at a goat dairy in Maine for a year after graduation and essentially a goal of mine is to own a cooperative farm with a few other people. It would be integrated livestock and veggies, and maybe some bees. I would love to own something, but really be a part of a team though, that owns it together. I think it is a very romantic idea to own a farm and be a part of this “local trend”, but I’ve seen so many other farmers who are totally stressed out by age 45—whether it’s [that] physically their back is out, or their mental state is just completely exhausted. I think it would be so much better with multiple owners, you know, people working together.”

Thank you so much to Gayelan for taking time to chat—and good luck to both you and the goats!

-Eva McNamara ’13

Food for Thought: Local Food!

8 Apr

Living in the Pioneer Valley it is almost impossible to ignore the numerous groups and non-profits that are looking to promote the sourcing of local food. Bumper stickers urge one to “Buy Local!” and that “Farms = Food”. But why does it matter where our food is coming from? And is it possible to source all of our favorite foods locally? And, what does “local” actually mean?

As it turns out, there is not a universally accepted definition for a “Local (or Regional) Food System”.  According to a USDA Economic Report from 2010 (you can read the whole report here), definitions vary from food sourced up to 400 miles from where it is produced, to food produced in one’s state (I’ve also heard people claim anywhere from 100 to 500 miles is “local”). These varying definitions obviously leave a lot of room for interpretation, especially because states differ drastically in size, but, at the very least, they serve as a jumping off point for the less geographical characteristics that make up a Local Food System. According to this same report, people also associate local food with small farms and with the values those farms embody in their farming practices (organic, solar power, sustainability, etc).  For many, local food also means investing in the local economy—and the USDA does note that job creation seems to be increasing in areas that support community agriculture, since more agricultural production can mean more available jobs in processing, transporting, packaging, and retailing. When consumers have relationships with local farmers, it encourages them to demand more locally produced food in places that are often controlled by bigger companies, and as the movement grows, more and more of these local products are making their way into supermarkets, restaurants, schools, and convenience stores.

Challenges (both financially and logistically) concerning local production have emerged as consumer demand for local food has increased. Seasonal produce, limited resources, inaccessible prices (depending on the product/farmer/location) and slaughterhouse zoning are just a few variables that those who are determined to create sustainable regional food systems have to juggle.

However, those who are resolute have had no shortage of creative solutions. A few examples include: year-long crop production in greenhouses, more and more farmers markets being able to accept SNAP benefits (formerly called Food Stamps), and innovative solutions like mobile slaughterhouses, which can really alleviate transportation hassles and costs that livestock farmers face in areas in which zoning prevents slaughterhouses construction. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are also spreading—last fall my roommates, neighbors, and I shared a weekly CSA from Hampshire College, which was affordable and plentiful (we also got to pick our own flowers, and were given carving pumpkins in October). However, if this option doesn’t fit your needs, there are plenty of other CSAs in the Pioneer Valley, and these include vegetable shares, meat shares, egg shares, etc! A shout out is also due to Professor Paul Wetzel, who for the last few years has run a neighborhood CSA, which neighbor Eleanor Cook (’13) described as “a wonderful way to build community on Petticoat Hill Road”. Another place to find local products is at River Valley Market—they have a wide variety of foods as well as weekly tastings, events, and rewards for bringing your own bags and/or biking to the store.

But why should you care about eating local? Humans used to eat locally, but that was mostly out of necessity, and we have now developed an international food system that is extensive, incredibly varied, and, in a lot of places, terribly exploited. For me, my forays into food studies began when I took a semester off from school and had the opportunity to live in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Most people I met while I was in Burkina ate millet (or sorghum) ground up and cooked into a pasty substance called  (the consistency reminded me a bit of tapioca pudding). Meat and fish are expensive and thus rarely consumed, and sauces made of cabbage, tomatoes, or onions usually complimented the . When we ate at restaurants we usually ate rice or couscous—but the rice served there was all imported from China or India. Burkinabe farmers are growing rice (incredibly, as much of the country’s natural resources have been exploited and much of the soil has been completely depleted of nutrients), but they are having trouble selling it, as they are unable to compete with how cheap the price of the imported rice is.

ImageUncle Sam’s face was everywhere—although most of the rice bags I saw were no longer holding their products, but instead being used as schoolbags. 

The U.S. is in a very different situation than Burkina, (especially in terms of food and water access) but our food choices—because of our far reaching economy, monetary resources, and taste for variety—have an impact on the lives of others around the world.  If we can’t eat locally here in the Connecticut River Valley, an area full of incredible farmland, then we will only continue to become more dependent on imported crops—many of which are cultivated with environmentally harmful methods and cheap, unregulated labor. We have to change the system, for our own sake and for the sake of people in places with less opportunity, money, and resources. By eating locally we ensure that our neighbors are supported—and the stronger, and more sustainable, our community becomes, the more we will be able to help others who have not been so fortunate.

And it’s not as difficult as you’d think! If you (like me), frequent any of the restaurants and cafés in downtown Northampton, it’s hard to miss the “Local Hero” signs and stickers that many businesses display. They’re in Serio’s Market and State Street, as well as at GoBerrySylvester’s, and Woodstar (these are just a few of my favorites—to see a full list of businesses that buy locally, click here!). But where do these labels come from, and what exactly do they mean? Well, the organization behind these yellow stickers is Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), a non-profit that operates out of South Deerfield. To learn more about CISA and the Local Hero program, I talked with Margaret Christie, who was serving as CISA’s executive director from 1997-1999 when the Local Hero program first started. She is now the Director of Special Projects.

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Eva: Why (and when) was CISA founded? What are CISA’s main goals?

Margaret: CISA was founded in 1993 by a group of people who wanted to involve the larger community in addressing some of the challenges facing agriculture in the Pioneer Valley. Our focus continues to be on sustaining agriculture in our region by connecting farmers and the community. We care a lot about farm viability and about making local food a larger part of the diet of all of the residents of the Pioneer Valley, regardless of where they live and eat.

Eva: Who does CISA work with? How big is its reach?

Margaret: As a link between farmers and the larger community, we work with lots of farm businesses and with their customers—individual consumers, retailers, restaurants, dining services, specialty foods producers. We also work with partner organizations that are concerned with health and wellness, local economic development, and related activities like youth leadership, farm to school, or farm business incubation. We work primarily in the 3 counties of the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts, but also work statewide in some cases—for example with the other Buy Local organizations in Massachusetts and the statewide Food Policy Council and Food Policy Alliance.

Eva: Why was the Local Hero program started? How does one become a Local Hero? What are the requirements? The benefits?

Margaret: When we started the Local Hero program we realized that many farmers in Massachusetts had taken significant steps to benefit consumers—we had a strong Integrated Pest Management program at UMass, an organic certification program, a model farmland preservation program—but farmers often did not see the benefits of these actions in the marketplace. We wanted to raise the profile of local agriculture and help consumers understand that they could play a role in sustaining local agriculture and the benefits that come with it—a strong local economy, connection to how food is grown, reduced transportation impacts, and beautiful rural vistas.

There is a lot of specific information about Local Hero membership and benefits on our website (and see business-type-specific information at each tab on the right).  Members pay to join the program, and those payments partly cover the costs of running the program. Specific membership requirements vary based on membership type—restaurants, for example, need to provide receipts from several different local-food-vendors or farmers. Specialty foods producers have two tiers of membership depending on how much they use local ingredients. For the most part, however, growing local or using local ingredients is the primary requirement—there is not, for example, a requirement related to growing practices.

Eva: What are some of CISA’s long-term goals?

Margaret: We would like to see local (and regional) food and farm products become a larger portion of the diets and household use of Pioneer Valley residents. We’ve just announced a goal of reaching a quarter of our food purchases in the next 20 years.

Eva: Are there opportunities for students to become involved (volunteer, intern, etc.) with CISA?

Margaret: Yes, we have lots of interns, and we regularly have them from Smith. Kamillah Weeks is working with us now.

Eva: What other programs does CISA run or is CISA involved with?

Margaret: Senior FarmShare—pays farmers to supply a share of the harvest to low-income seniors

Technical Assistance—we provide a lot of consulting, mentoring, and workshops to farm and food businesses.  Our current calendar is here.

Food system development and education—currently we are researching options for meat cutting and processing.  We also provide information and referral services for many start-up farm and food businesses, and provide information about how to scale up the local food system for a lay audience.

 Emergency Farm Fund—a zero-interest revolving loan fund for farms that have experienced a weather-related disaster.

 PVGrows*—CISA provides staffing for this collaborative network focused on the food system in the Pioneer Valley.  CISA staff are also actively engaged on the PVGrows Steering Committee and the PVGrows Loan Fund.

Eva: What (in your opinion) has been the most exciting accomplishment thus far for CISA?

Margaret: The Pioneer Valley has a culture of commitment to local food and farms, and I think CISA has played a critical role in creating that culture. Farmers choose to farm here because of this enthusiasm and active support, and people who live here count it as a huge benefit. Local foods businesses can count on that support, and that allows them to do new, hard, and creative things that bring a lot of benefits to residents here.

 If you want to learn more about CISA, you can visit their website. Thanks to Margaret for taking time out to answer my questions, and be sure to keep on the lookout for those Local Hero stickers!

*Smith students are invited (and encouraged!) to attend the bi-annual PVGrows forums. Last fall I (and a few other students & professors) travelled to Springfield and met with numerous business owners, educators, and community members to discuss a wide variety of food related issues and topics. I had the opportunity to sit next to Gary Schaefer, one of the owners of Bart’s Homemade Ice-Cream, and tell him about the four pints of his ice cream that were the main attraction of my apartment’s caramel pecan brownie sundae party, as well as hear about some of the challenges he faces as a small business owner. If you haven’t tried Bart’s, do yourself a favor and pick up a pint of the Mud Pie flavor—Bart’s is now available in the Campus Center!

Image(Zoe Travis, ’13 and the home-made brownies –anticipating the delicious locally made Bart’s ice cream that is softening on the counter)

And if you’d like to be informed about any food related events and opportunities (like the PVGrows forum), email Joanne Benkley—she’ll put you on the CEEDS email list.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Seniors (and those that are 21+)! Looking for a light, refreshing, bubbly drink to welcome in the warm weather? Try some Ginger Libation (and Local Libation), made by Green River Ambrosia. They boast a “Local Hero” sticker and, due to tremendous demand and stellar reviews, are available at State Street, River Valley Market, Provisions, Doyle’s, and Liquors 44. It’s perfect for graduation celebrations, and made right up the road in Greenfield! It’s important to remember that “local” isn’t just limited to food production—you can also get products like flowersalcohol, and pet food from a nearby producer!

P.P.S. Love Ted talks? Check out this one by Ron Finely—a guerilla gardener in South Central LA. His work is similar to Gardening the Community—an extraordinary project happening right up the road in Springfield, MA.

-Eva McNamara, ’13

Food for Thought: Exploring Smith Dining!

28 Feb

Smith Dining Services is responsible for distributing anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 meals per week. But, more than that, they are responsible for satisfying and pleasing demanding Smithies, who, as we all know, are serious about their food! But have you ever wondered where those veggies on your plate were grown? Or who roasted the coffee that helps you stay up to study at night?

Well, this week I sat down with Kathy Zieja, the director of Dining Services, and she filled me in about the lesser-known side of the Smith dining world—a world of paperwork, budgeting, maneuvering, and constant challenges. Here are some of the things that I found out!

My first question had to do with menus. Smithies are lucky enough to have a variety of options when it comes to mealtime (and have the ability to check what’s for dinner online!), but who writes these menus? According to Kathy, she sits down with some of our cooks, chefs, and (sometimes) a student representative from the SGA once or twice per year to develop a six-week cycle of menus. Meals are tweaked based on popular and unpopular items, seasonal foods, cost, and kitchen production. Factors like time of day (during lunch, for example, Smithies are more likely to stay in center campus than head off to the Quad), holidays, brunch times, special days (think Julia Child Day!), monotony breakers, and popular foods (quesadillas anyone?) are also taken into account, as they have an effect on the amount of demand a dining hall will have. But, as most Smithies know, food does run out because this is not an exact science, and it is quite difficult to know exactly what any given day will bring (especially when it gets cold in the winter)!

But let’s talk more about where exactly this food is coming from. Because Smith is a big consumer, a Prime Vendor bid is held every five years, meaning that various vendors will propose prices and products, respond to diet trends, and compete for Smith’s business. This Prime Vendor makes twelve stops twice a week—and supplies frozen food, canned food, fresh food, and meats. Smith’s prime vendor is currently Black River Produce (you’ve probably seen the trucks around campus), and they were chosen because they try to source most of their products from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—but obviously seasonal availability (and price) affect their supply chain, so that is not always possible.

However, Smith also works with Secondary Vendors, who are able to provide local (and sometimes organic) produce, if it’s available. One of these secondary vendors is Outlook Farm, run by Brad Morse, who provides products dependent on the season. Currently he is supplying us with local apples. He also works with other farmers in the area to connect them with Smith, and, about a decade ago, organized a workshop (held at Smith) for local producers and the respective five-college dining services, to help foster new business relationships between both groups.

But what has been the result of this outreach? Well, next time you eat carrots or parsnips, they could have been biked over from Winter Moon Roots in Hadley, where innovative techniques, that require minimal electricity and no refrigerants, are being used to store organic vegetables. (Winter Moon Roots aims to be completely carbon neutral by 2015—and, because of their hard work, are well on their way to achieving that goal.) Beef is sourced from Maine and slaughtered in New Jersey (as Massachusetts has only one slaughterhouse—a topic for another week!), before making its way to Smith. However, the amount of beef that Smithies are eating has been decreasing in recent years, while the amount of leafy greens and dark vegetables has increased! The coffee served in our dining halls is fair trade, certified organic, kosher, and roasted a few minutes away at Indigo Coffee, a woman-owned business in Florence. Dining Services has purchased produce from Smithies that run the community garden on campus for use in the CC Café, and, as of this January, Smith has transitioned over to using only cage-free eggs, a new standard that they are quite excited about. The cooks and chefs in the kitchens also make an effort to use very little butter and seasoning (mostly just canola oil is used), allowing Smithies to choose whether or not they want to add these ingredients to their meals later on.

Student involvement has been huge in helping Smith Dining to expand and change. For example, during the 2004-2005 school year, changes (including the addition of the vegan/vegetarian dining hall, Asian dining hall, kosher dining hall, and grab & go) were implemented because of student input, and dining hours were also extended. Some of you will also remember when Chapin opened for the first time on Sunday afternoons; this was also requested by students. But what changes can we look for in the future? Well, the discussion about another vegan/vegetarian dining hall has definitely begun—so watch out for that in years to come!

And if you have questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions about dining at Smith, they’d love to hear them! Contact a dining manager, dining services (they will respond!), or, feel free to email Kathy directly. Dining services is working hard to balance demand with and numerous other factors (as you’ve read!), while also setting their sights on a 30% sustainability goal, which will hopefully grow in years to come. They are always open to, and excited about, student’s thoughts and ideas—so don’t hesitate to speak up!

But wait—what is the dining director’s favorite Smith meal?

“Tuna fish, ask anyone! And I’m always happy to see salmon on the menu.” She’s also a big fan of the salad bar, and, judging from the increasing amounts of salad fare they’ve been purchasing, so are you Smithies!

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Looking for a great way to use all those local root vegetables that are floating around the Valley? Try out this hearty, vegan root vegetable stew that kept my roommates and I warm during the snowstorm a few weeks ago!

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What you’ll need:

2 T Olive Oil

2 Onions

2 T Garlic (or more, if you’re a garlic lover like me!)

Sea Salt

1 Skinned Rutabaga (1),

2 Large Peeled Turnips

6 Carrots

6 Parsnips

6 Potatoes

4 cups vegetable stock (or water if you want!)

5 Tablespoons flour (this is just for thickening, and if you’re gluten intolerant, shredded or mashed potatoes works just as well!)

Optional:

1 T Dried Basil

2 Bay Leaves

Dash of Nutmeg

Dash of Cinnamon

Dash of Ginger

Chop up all of the vegetables into bite sized pieces. I found it was easiest to do this first so that everything was ready to go when I needed it. You can also peel the carrots, parsnips, & potatoes if you want, but it’s really not necessary and I think that the skins give it a bit more texture. Warm about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté them with about teaspoon of sea salt. Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped garlic. Sauté for two or three more minutes, and then add the vegetables in stages. Start with the hardest, densest vegetables, and work up to the softer ones. Each time you add vegetables to the pot, season them with a sprinkle of salt, and let them cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to stir the mixture so that the olive oil gets distributed evenly throughout. Repeat process until you’ve added all your vegetables.

Now it’s time to add your stock. Optional: if you want to add the dried basil, bay leaves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, do it right before you put your stock in. Bring the stew up to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Let it cook for at least 30 minutes, or until your vegetables are tender (stick your fork in to check!). Once the vegetables are tender, stir in the flour, adding one tablespoon at a time (or add the shredded potatoes, and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes). The broth will start to thicken with each additional tablespoon of flour. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately, or stick it in the freezer for an easy meal to warm up a frosty winter night. (Or, better yet, can it!) Enjoy!

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And thanks again to Kathy Zieja for taking time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me and chat!

Food For Thought!

19 Feb

Hello everyone!

My name is Eva McNamara, and I’m a senior here at Smith. I’m also a proud member of the new Sustainable Food Concentration, and this semester I am SO excited to be writing about all things food for CEEDS.

This week I thought I would start things off by discussing personal diet. It was only when I began to think about what I was putting into my body that I really realized how much of an effect my personal consumption has not only of my body, but also on my community, as well as the world as a whole. When I first arrived at Smith, I had never really thought much about limited diets (and by this I mean diets that exclude certain types of food—meat, dairy, gluten, etc), nor had any desire to explore them. In my mind, people became vegetarians because they had watched too many PETA videos, but oh my, was I mistaken! There are so many reasons for giving up different types of food, and so, as an apology for being so near sighted in my youth, this week I’m going to explore one of the most well-known of these diets, vegetarianism!

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Vegetarianism (And a brush of Veganism!):

Vegetarianism is the most mainstream of “alternative” diets—nowadays most restaurants offer vegetarian options, from veggie burgers to fried tofu. But why would someone choose to cut meat and other animal products out of their diet? Here are a few things I’ve discovered about this choice.

MoralityThe choice to not eat animals simply because one believes that they should not be consumed for our benefit (or pleasure), is quite a common one. This idea sometimes develops because of religious doctrine (many Buddhists, for example, do not consume meat, and many Jains are known to advocate for Veganism), or it is simply a personal belief. Vegans go even farther than this—strict vegans do not consume any products that come from animals (such as milk & eggs) or wear things made of animal products (such as leather). Farming practices that are intensive (meaning that animals are raised in close, crowded quarters) also deter people from eating meat, as some people believe these animals should not be treated as commodities, but rather as emotional creatures worthy of our respect.

Health: There are many conventional livestock practices, especially in the United States, in which animals are raised in tight quarters and are fed a mostly corn-based feed diet. Along with this, animals that are being intensively farmed, like chickens, are often given antibiotics to prevent and treat diseases. Some people who choose not to consume these animals do so because they are wary of introducing these drugs into their diet, and while it perhaps may not have an immediately recognizable effect on their health, they are suspicious of long-term consequences. Some vegetarians and vegans also claim higher energy levels, more clarity of mind, higher happiness levels, longer and leaner muscles, and weight loss—which they attribute directly to cutting meat and animal products out of their diets.

Sustainability: By the National Corn Growers Association’s calculations, about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish. To put it more simply, this means that most of the corn grown in this country (about ten billion bushels annually, which is almost half of the world’s production!) is going to feed livestock. It is also common that cattle are unable to digest this corn-based feed, and this issue is combated with more antibiotics. About 400,000 farms in the US produce corn—using huge amounts of water and pesticides, while also depleting huge amounts nutrients (such as nitrogen), and destroying the soil quality. Because our world is not made of quickly  renewable resources, some believe that eating these animals and their products (while they may be tasty!) is perhaps unnecessary.

Environmental Concern: According to the EPA, ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, buffalo, and goats) account for about 28% of annual global methane emissions (that are attributed to human-related activities), which is about 80 million metric tons of methane! While these animals have digestive systems that allow them to break down tough plant materials, they produce methane (and also nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide) as a by-product. This fact alone is enough to turn many people away from these meats, especially beef! But dairy cows are also part of the problem (they contribute to about 23% of these emissions), which can lead people to avoid milk-based products as well. Another example for environmental concern is overfishing—the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that over 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. Bottom trawling nets, along with destroying coral reefs, often also catch unsuspecting, and unwanted, creatures. In the Gulf of Mexico, scientists estimate that for every pound of shrimp caught, between four and ten pounds of marine resources (think sea turtles!) are also trapped and die before they can be thrown back overboard. Huge amounts of fuel are also used to ship products nationally and internationally, which only contributes to our carbon emissions.

Product UncertaintyScandals which revolve around animal products (especially meat) are not uncommon, and just this week consumers in Europe were told that a product labeled “Beef Lasagna”, actually contained horsemeat (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21406778). Because our food can travel thousands of miles and pass through many hands across the globe before it gets to our plates, thorough inspection and monitoring of products is not always as common as we’d like to think it is.

It’s unnecessary:  Although many people have argued about this, and special circumstances sometimes occur, most humans today (and throughout our history) have the ability to sustain themselves on a meat-free and/or vegan diet. Vegetables contain huge amounts of vitamins, are versatile, tasty, and can be just as (if not more!) filling than a meat-based diet. Kale alone contains 2 grams of protein per cup, more calcium than milk per calorie, and more iron than beef per calorie. Vegetables are also (usually) cheaper, and until recent eras it was only those who were geographically unable to grow (or import) produce, or those with more financial resources who ate meat and animal products regularly.

So, given all this, why would anyone want to eat animal products—and should we be eating them?

Well, along with certain animal products being hard to avoid in a lot of places around the world, they are also a huge part of many traditions, cultures, economies and religions. But, in many cases, people have no idea where there food is coming from—nor any easy way of finding out! However, there are many farmers that do understand and care about the negative environmental and health impacts that raising livestock can have, and they are attempting to farm in more sustainable, and less destructive, ways. The Pioneer Valley especially is full of farms who raise their animals without the use of antibiotics and pesticides, and treat them humanely. Grass-fed beef (meaning beef from cattle who are not fed corn based feed) and free-range chicken (meaning chicken that comes from birds who are kept in spacious, less confined enclosures) is becoming more commonplace in the supermarket, as customer awareness and demand rises. Buying these foods locally also cuts down on the fuel used (as the farm to market distance is shorter!), and it’s definitely nice to be able to drive to the farm where your milk and meat is produced. However, in many cases (because of government subsidies and mass production), these local products are more expensive and less available than their conventional counter-parts. So, while many people would like to purchase them, sometimes it is just not financially viable. However, one must remember that consumers have the ability to change the systems with their purchases, and should be especially wary of the effects these foods could be having on their health. If the consumer does not demand a product, chances are it will never be provided! Supporting local farmers means supporting local economies, as well as decreasing environmental, and, in some cases, health risks. But that’s a topic for another week!

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Wondering where I got these numbers and facts? Here are my resources, and a few suggestions for further reading!

Biello, David. That Burger You’re Eating Is Mostly Corn: Scientific American. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=that-burger-youre-eating-is-mostly-corn&page=2>

Kaza, Stephanie. 2005. Western Buddhist Motivations for Vegetarianism, Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, 9(3): 385-411, 29 October 2012. http://www.shabkar.org/download/pdf/Western_Buddhist_Motivation_for_Vegetarianism.pdf

Nuttall, Nick. “Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity.” UN News Center. UN, n.d.Web. 13 Feb. 2013.  http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/06/story.asp?storyID=800

“Major Crops Grown in the United States.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/cropmajor.html

“Ruminant Livestock.” Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. http://www.epa.gov/ruminant.html/faq.html

Sapontzis, Steve F. Food for Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat. Amherst (N.Y.): Prometheus, 2004. N. pag. Print.

Stiles, Margot L., Julie Stockbridge, Michelle Lande, and Michael F. Hirshfield. “Impacts of Bottom Trawling on Fisheries, Tourism, and the Marine Environment.” Oceana, May 2010. Web. <http://oceana.org/sites/default/files/reports/Trawling_BZ_10may10_toAudrey.pdf&gt;