The food movement against Big Ag is always bolstered by bringing together a wide spectrum of people believing in the sustainability power of local food. The Bedford2020 Food Forum last Saturday (March 4, 2017) at Fox Lane High School in Bedford saw a large community advocating for area farmers, their food and local entrepreneurs. The numerous and diverse range of workshops, lectures and demonstrations was all encompassing. Overwhelming support was seen for Hudson Valley farmers with opportunities to join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or buying regularly at farmers’ markets. Discussions focused on growing your own garden, planting organic seeds from local seed libraries, reducing food waste, backyard beekeeping, cooking seasonally on a budget, and the historical significance local food has played here in the Hudson Valley.
Outside the scope of “local” was the overarching message: how to maintain and increase food sustainability under the growing shadow of climate change. As the climate changes, so too are weather patterns and we are seeing more floods, heat waves, droughts, all impacting what foods be grown and when. Growing seasons are shorter, hotter and more difficult to gauge. Ultimately climate change impacts how much food can be produced worldwide. Food produced by the agricultural industrial complex generates vast quantities of greenhouse gases (by a plethora of farm machinery that runs on fossil fuels, and transporting food thousands of miles) forces us to seriously consider how we can grow food differently in a way that will withstand the impacts of continued climate change. This was the focus of “Planet and Plate: Factory Farming’s Impact on the Climate,” a talk by Eric Weltman, Senior Organizer, Food and Water Watch, which looked at how climate change impacts agriculture and how global warming reduces food production.
In his keynote address, New York Times best-selling author Mark Bittman expanded on the undeniable connection between factory farming and climate change. Throughout the day groups gathered in classrooms to discuss variations on how to be a local food advocate, buying local, growing your own food, why buying and planting local seeds matter, bee-keeping, raising chickens. Of particular interest was the “Farmer-side Chat with the Westchester Growers Alliance with participants Mimi Edelman, from the I & Me Farm, Deb Taft, the Mobius Fields Food Growing Program Coordinator, and Doug DeCandia, Food Growing Manager, Food Bank for Westchester. Having a chance to meet and talk to our farmers is rare; their 20-hour days usually prevent them from connecting to the rest of the world. From these three we learned how difficult it is for the independent farmer to keep and work their land, how many farmers here in the Hudson Valley and perhaps all over the U.S. are always engaged in an ongoing battle against the sprawl of development while trying to keep their farms economically viable. Edelman, Taft and DeCandia talked about working together to form a farm hub, an idea similar to the Hudson Valley Farm Hub in Kingston, but would be a community of farmers who would co-own expensive equipment and have a central location to deliver and sell their produce. This kind of forward thinking undeniably gives us hope.
A workshop on “The Farm Bill: What is it and Why Should I care?” was led by U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney who explained how the bill is geared towards feeding the nation, supporting New York farmers, the overall impacts of local food systems and that shapes our community.
The some 75 booths at the Food Expo extended from the school’s main hallways to both gyms. Some featured cooking demonstrations, gardening and composting demonstrations; there was a pop-up book store, CSA sign-ups, health experts, food policy leaders, local farmers and food justice organizations and educators. On hand was Thomas McQuillan, Director of Food Service Sales and Sustainability at Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc. McQuillan started a cost-effective way to repurpose the large amount of food byproduct created by Baldor’s Fresh Cuts. Baldor is one of the largest produce distributors in the northeast with a 100,000 square foot facility at Hunt’s Point. McQuillan, who spearheaded the company’s sustainability initiative program, “SparCs” (scraps spelled backwards), told us the company saves 120,000 pounds of food waste from landfills every month.
The Bedford2020 Food Forum successfully brought together expert farmers and spokespersons who promote growing, buying, sharing and eating locally produced food, all effective ways to spurn the deleterious effects of Big Ag. The message was strong: invest and engage in local, sustainably sourced food now and for the future, especially while the impacts of climate change will continue to affect our food sources.