New Paltz hosts food conference - Bonnie Langston, Daily Freeman (Kingston) 2.14.10

While studying in Ecuador last year, a SUNY New Paltz senior witnessed food shortages and related challenges that moved her to initiate a conference that focuses on the global food crisis.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Cait Van Damm, lead coordinator for the event that also addresses local sustainable agriculture and “food insecurity.”

“I was shocked.”

The day-long event, starting at 10 a.m. March 6 in the Lecture Center on campus, is sponsored by Students for Sustainable Agriculture.

Featured speakers are Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of Food First Institute for Development and Policy and Molly Anderson, director of Food Systems Integrity.

“We’re lucky to have them,” Van Damm said. “They’re kind of big guns in the world of food and food-justice.”

In addition, the day will include noted area farmers such as Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners and Billiam Van Roestenberg of Liberty View Farm in Clintondale.

Workshops that emphasize fun and basic methods of increasing the food supply while reducing waste will be the highlight of the afternoon. Topics will include lacto-fermentation, an introduction to permaculture and eating locally. Open forums about “green” towns also will be part of the day.

The event will end with a screening of “Fresh,” a critically acclaimed documentary that chronicles the national food industry and the response of sustainable agriculture.

Van Roestenberg, an apple-grower who yearly leases some of his trees, said he has seen positive steps locally toward understanding and welcoming of sustainable agriculture.

“The last few years there’s been this paradigm-shift,” he said. “I’m on the board of Eat Local Food, and I’ve noticed this huge change, radical change within two years — especially the past year — of how people now know how important buying local is on every level.”

Lewis, who agreed, also noted a great increase in numbers of Community Supported Agriculture organizations, which feature locally grown produce typically sold through member shares.

“I know for a fact that in Ulster County, just within a short distance from New Paltz,” he said, “there are at least seven or eight CSA farms. Most are sold-out, and all within about 15 miles from each other.”

In fact, Lewis has started a grain-based CSA.

“I think it may be the first in the country,” he said.

Members are commercial processors in the Hudson Valley as well as community members who may purchase anything from bread and grains to meat and vegetables, all from local sources.

Van Roestenberg said his newsletter “Cultivating Community and Farmers,” which talks about sustainability and other issues, has a readership of 13,800, an additional indication of interest in local food, he said.

Van Damm said the conference at SUNY New Paltz is part of a continuum for Students for Sustainable Agriculture. The organization has been working on several projects, including bringing local and organic food into campus dining areas, continuing a farmer’s market it established on campus more than a year ago and hosting video and lecture series that focus on agriculture, community and sustainability. The group also has organized food-waste collection and composting efforts on campus, where it also is pushing for implementation of a composting system.

Another project is this coming season’s garden, a victory garden of sorts, because it was a victory to gain approval for a campus site. Members plan to introduce seedling into a greenhouse within a few weeks.

“That’s our biggest project right now,” Van Damm said. “We also fought tooth-and-nail to make that happen.”

Meanwhile, preparation is underway for the Global Food Crisis Conference.

“It’s going to be a neat day,” she said, “where people are going to learn a lot and get excited about food.”

Admission to the conference is $10.50, and $5.50 for students.. Registration is available online at npgfcc.weebly.com or at the door.

Will work for Food Causes - Bonnie Langston, Daily Freeman (Kingston) 2.14.10

Media attention to the world food crisis has faded since the summer of 2008 when the country of Haiti exploded with riots that forced its leader out of office. Nevertheless, global hunger remains an issue, one that will be presented March 6 at the Global Food Crisis Conference at SUNY New Paltz.

Prominent leaders working to educate and assist in the effort to bring “food sovereignty” to the world, Eric Holt-Gimenez of Food First Institute for Food and Development Policy and Molly Anderson of Food Systems Integrity, will be featured speakers.

In addition to other offerings of the day, a panel that includes local farmers will be moderated by Anderson. The conference is sponsored by the college’s Students for Sustainable Agriculture Club.

Just as last month’s earthquake brought attention to the extreme poverty Haitians have long endured, the food riots in their country two years ago shed light on a tragic result of that poverty: hunger and starvation.

“The crisis was already there,” said Holt-Gimenez in a telephone interview from his office in Oakland, Calif. “It had been building for quite some time, and it’s continued to build, even after it’s dropped from the headlines.”

Haiti is not alone. Hunger spans the globe, most prominently in poor countries, including those in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, according to Holt-Gimenez, author of “Food Rebellions!” the crisis is “much worse” that is was in 2008.

The most recent hunger figure, worldwide, is 1 billion, he and Anderson said. The cause of the crisis, he said, is a global food system that is “highly-vulnerable” to both economic and environmental shock.

“These kind of shocks end up providing plenty of business opportunities and investment opportunities for the industrial agri-foods complex and for Wall Street and Chicago,” Holt-Gimenez said, “but that doesn’t do anything to lessen the impact of those shocks, and it doesn’t do anything to stabilize what is a very unstable global food system.”

Part of the answer to this problem internationally, Anderson said, is “agro-ecology,” including organic farming and other technologies that improve the soil and environment. Something as simple as planting nitrogen-fixing legumes and adding carbon to the earth is beneficial.

“Those are methods that are available to even the poorest farmers if they have just a little bit of technical assistance,” she said, in a telephone interview in the Boston vicinity. “They don’t have to pay the cost of hybrid seeds or genetically engineered seeds. And they don’t become dependent on heavy input that most genetically engineered crops require in order to perform well.”

Anderson participated in large study called “International Agricultural Assessment,” published in the spring of 2008. More than 400 scientists from around the world offered their thoughts about needed agricultural investments.

“These scientists said over and over that it’s not genetic engineering that’s going to solve poverty and hunger,” she said. “It’s eco-agriculture, agro-ecological methods.”

On the domestic level, Anderson said linking farmers with customers is a crucial step toward sustainability. The idea — which is important internationally as well, she said — goes against conventional economic philosophy that pushes farmers to sell cash crops to the international market.

“Farmers are losing their shirts doing that,” she said.

Indeed, owners of small and medium farms continue to struggle in general.

“Farmers worldwide are getting the short end of the stick,” Anderson said. “The prices that farmers receive are frequently not even enough to meet their operating expenses, and you folks in New York saw that pretty tragically with the farmer who shot his cows then shot himself,” he said referring to Dean E. Pearson, the dairy farmer in the Columbia County town of Copake who shot and killed 51 cows on his barn and then committed suicide. Police have said Pearson was having “personal issues.”

Consumers are getting short-shrift as well. Anderson said they continue to pay high prices while the middlemen have been profiting from prices that have lowered for corn, wheat and rice since the summer of 2008.

“It’s been documented,” Anderson said. “It’s important, because the retailers will say, ‘Well, our profit margin is so tiny, we’re barely squeaking by as it is. Don’t look at us,’ but in fact, they did skim off more than they should have because of the food crisis.”

“A lot of the big agri-businesses were making record profits at the same time that this was going on. Companies like Cargill and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) were just making phenomenal amounts of money.”

To change the situation, the rules also must be changed, Holt-Gimenez said. That means a strong food movement that includes gardens at home, in the community and in the schools as well as farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture and similar initiatives.

He is heartened to find food-policy councils springing up across the United States, including New York. Those efforts keep food dollars in the community instead of being siphoned off by corporate retailers, Holt-Gimenez said.

“These are expressions of popular will breaking through the asphalt of the reified and corrupt global food system,” he said. “I think that these are very healthy indicators that people are pushing back and taking back their right to food.”

Such food sovereignty — the democratization of food systems — also is happening in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America Holtz-Gimenez said. Nevertheless, Anderson sees more of what she calls “food stress” upon the horizon. She hopes, however, that people will come to understand everyone has a right to food and that measures will be taken internationally to end hunger.

If for no other reason, she said, this goal should be accomplished through “enlightened self-interest.”

“If people are hungry, it means the world is going to become more insecure for all of us,” she said, “more receptive to people who are trying to recruit terrorists, people who are trying to start wars over resources.”

“We can’t have a world at peace unless everyone is meeting their basic needs. And part of the core of those basic needs is food.”

Can’t wait for your first CSA share? SUNY New Paltz Club Announces Major Forum on Food.

Press Release: January 30, 2010

NEW PALTZ, NY: At the peak of the Hudson Valley’s food scene hibernation, the Students for Sustainable Agriculture Club of SUNY New Paltz announces the Global Food Crisis Conference, a full day event to take place on Saturday, March 6. The conference, held at SUNY’s Lecture Center, will be focused on educating students and community members about international food politics and will also feature interactive workshops and discussions. At the forefront of this event are two major leaders in the field of food justice; Eric Holt-Gimenez of FoodFirst Institute for Food and Development Policy and Molly Anderson of Food Systems Integrity.

 “This is a really exciting opportunity to learn about what we eat and its global implications,” said Cait Van Damm, lead coordinator of the conference. “Not only will we be discussing what’s happening internationally, but we’ll also be brainstorming about how to improve the situation – right here in the Hudson Valley! It’s going to be a lot of fun and incredibly informative.”

 The day will kickoff at 10 a.m. with a keynote speech from Mr. Holt-Gimenez, who will discuss the causes and effects of the global food crisis. Following the speech, a response panel moderated by Ms. Anderson will add some local voices to the mix; among them are Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm, Andrea Aldana of the Brooklyn Food Coalition, and Billiam von Roestenberg of Liberty View Farm. “The panel will give participants an opportunity to field questions about how to address food security in our community,” said Van Damm. Participants who register online are encouraged to submit questions or ideas that will be discussed on the panel.

 Workshops that emphasize fun and basic methods of increasing food supply and reducing waste will be the highlight of the afternoon, with a selection that includes lactofermentation, an intro to permaculture, and a guerilla guide on how to eat locally. Open forums will also be held on green towns.

 Topping off the day’s festivities will be a screening of “Fresh”, the critically acclaimed documentary that chronicles the food industry on a national scale and sustainable agriculture’s positive response.

 Mr. Holt-Gimenez’s latest publication on the food crisis, entitled Food Rebellions! is currently in stock at Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz. To find out more or to register online, please visit the GFCC website at www.npgfcc.weebly.com or feel free to contact newpaltz.food.conference@gmail.com