I have many questions and thoughts about the hospital we visited this week. Both outdoors spaces we visited were similar in that they both embodied many RPM concepts, but the buildings that they were attached to or surrounded couldn’t be more different. The first house we visited was a house meant to provide those undergoing oncological treatments with a place to get support and advice; as well as giving them a place to feel at home and recover/relax after their treatments. It also had a great garden outback that was as good an example of the RPM model as any other garden I’ve seen. However, the hospital was the opposite of the recovery house. It wasn’t a horrible place, but preventative medicine is what most hospitals preach as it helps avoid future complications, and the rooms that we saw in the hospital made me depressed as we walked by. The hospital itself appeared to be relatively modern and clean, but as we passed by rooms on various floors, I got a glimpse inside of them.

They were all dark rooms, even though they had windows, and also had a minimal amount of anything on the walls. It was very weird; the hospital itself was surrounded by gardens and green spaces and paths lined with herbs and flowers, but the inside was a pretty awful, depressing place. The garden at the cancer patient house had a small backyard, but walking through it, you would never know it. It’s paths had high, dense rows and clumps of different vegetation of all different colors and sizes, and the path through the backyard leading to a small open patch concealed everything beyond the bend with foliage, but was also orderly and visually appealing. It was the definition of the RPM model. The house also had plants dotted throughout it, and had a large glass cupola that allowed people who are afraid of nature to be outside. The garden was beautiful, and I can only imagine how restorative it would have been in the summer (Pics should be attached to this post).

Outside of the hospital, we found several small pools with running water and a variety of plants. One garden, with an arbor right behind the hospital, was particularly well designed with winding paths and vegetation everywhere. And the last garden we saw (on the way out) had within about 200 square feet not just goldfish in it’s pond, but a turtle, multiple frogs and insects, as well as a praying mantis that was moving through the flowers. How come a hospital that appeared so vibrant on the outside was so dark on the inside? It could be for hygienic reasons as well as convenience, but the contrast between the inside and outside was striking. I’m sure that they have their reasons, but couldn’t the hospital have had a little more areas of soft fascination? It surely had mystery, as we wound our way through several anonymous corridors, and had no idea what lay beyond each corner, but I couldn’t find anything truly restorative about it.

 

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From The Ground Up- Nicci Cagan, Food Warrior

I was first introduced to the idea of Nicci Cagan by my former Bard sculpture professor Julianne Swartz who knew of my interest in the Farm to School movement. In fact, my senior project thesis focuses on the history and politics behind the development and constant reform of the Nation School Lunch Program in America. I contacted Nicci via email and immediately felt her extreme commitment to and energy for the food movement. In response to my asking her to put her “mission” into words Nicci responded: “I am not sure I have my mission defined.Good Food For All?”

Good Food For All. A seemingly grand ambition. And yet, Nicci has taken steps to realize her goal locally in an effort to contribute to what she sees as a National and Global solution. She is the director of From The Ground up (a school gardening program), sits on the steering committee for Slow Food Hudson, is a board member for The Chefs Consortium and is the Farm to School lead for the Round Out Valley school district. I talked to Nicci about her perception of the importance of food and food education as a social, political, economic and cultural touchstone.

During my 90 minute interview with Nicci she touched on such diverse and yet fundamentally related topics as our global economy, the need for more integral experiential learning in classrooms, the depletion of career farmers via aging out, flavor making and taste acquisition, the alleged elitism  of organics, and the benefits and sense of responsibility intrinsic to farming.

Garden of Feedin’- The Garden and Tello’s Green Farm

 

One of the most influential and provocative documentaries I have ever watched is The Garden. The Garden which premiered in 2008 focuses on telling the story of the community which rose to defend the 14 acre urban farm and garden it had cultivated and fostered for years against a money grubbing, power mad landlord. The film tracks the stories of several of the garden’s most influential and devoted members. Tezo or Tezozomac was one such garden member, wholeheartedly devoted to keeping the Garden afloat Tezo felt an especial connection to the land since his father was a founding member and de facto leader of the garden when it had been created following the LA riots in 1992. Tezo felt an almost religious affiliation with the garden calling it’s possible demolition akin to someone “coming to your city and tearing down your church or temple”. The garden was indeed depicted as temple-like by film maker Scott Hamilton Kennedy. A quiet and beautiful oasis in the middle of evident urban decay and neglect in one of Los Angeles’ most impoverished neighborhoods, the garden stood as a reminder of what pride, hard work, and a love of the earth could accomplish. Yet, the garden was more than a place of great verdant beauty it was also a primary source of supplemental nourishment for neighborhood members and participants who grew a wide variety of edible crops both local and exotic on the land. All of the gardeners were community members who had lived through poverty all of their lives, many were either Mexican immigrants, second generation Mexican Americans or African Americas…all historically disenfranchised members of American society. These people had banded together to gift themselves with food and foundation when the system would not. Utilizing their rich agrarian past the farmers sowed, tended and harvested the fruits of their labor not for others in far flung locations as many migrant workers are forced to do but for themselves. However, the land’s owner Horowitz a developer who had discreetly purchased the city land years before suddenly decided to evict the farmers in a bid to build warehouses on the acreage. The farmers banded together with celebrity supporters like Danny Glover and Darryl Hannah and lawyers to save their little piece of paradise from the greedy developer but did not triumph resulting in the farm’s subsequent demolition. Maddeningly, the land remained razed and undeveloped even years after it’s initial demolition; making it an even more apparent affront to the pointlessness of the eviction.

The lessons and heartache I gleaned from watching The Garden earlier this year found a poignant connection in the final project my group worked on this year. For our project we (Aviva, Dan and I) filmed an interview and visit with local restauranteur and farmer Ernesto Tello. Ernesto Tello owns and operates Tello’s Green Farm Latin Restaurant in Red Hook which serves classic Mexican cuisine. He also supplies his restaurant with produce and fresh eggs raised on his farm in Coxsackie, New York just 30 miles north of it. Tello’s Farm to Table structure is almost as local as it gets. In our interview and farm visit with Mr. Tello we gleaned many compelling facts and opinions about his journey from veterinarian in Colombia to Farmer and Restauranteur in upstate New York. Tello cited his growing up in the city of Cali in Colombia and frequent summer vacations to the rural village of his mother’s relatives as the foundation of his interest and talents for food and farming. When Tello immigrated to America from Colombia 20 years ago he missed the land and felt incredibly lucky when someone told him about a program designed to help immigrants with an interest and past in agriculture re-cultivate such abilities here on land that they themselves would own and operate. In an article from The Villager- a local newspaper- Tello notes the presumed rarity  of non-white independent farmers saying, “People are taught to think that the business belongs to a white man. But when they realize that you are the owner, they are pleased. It’s nice, because some buy because they like the product, others because they want to support us,The two things go hand in hand.” Tello further expounded on the tenets on which he runs his farm and restaurant businesses; a strong belief in integrity, equality and biodynamics motivates Tello to deliver the best quality goods to his clientele whether they be customers at his restaurant or his green market stand at Farmer’s Markets in New York City. Talking about competition on the Farmer’s Market front Tello gave the example of having to take a hiatus from one of his usual markets in the city and coming back to another Farmer’s attempt to undercut his egg sales by offering eggs for $3.50 instead of Tello’s $5 base price. Tello said that he was unmoved by the display instead choosing to stick by his price of $5 which to him was not only fair but justified for the quality, effort and flavor he was offering. To Tello the product speaks for itself. He relies on word of mouth and a strong and satisfied base of loyal customers to keep his business going. He also refuses to spike prices based on the income margins of the communities he sells in, wanting to keep the prices level in all of the locations he sells in. Tello also raises his chickens hormone and chemical free allowing them to forage in mobile chicken coops which he and his two workers move around the farm to allow the land to recoup accordingly. The importance of ownership and pride of product deeply resonated in me; though I am also very interested in cooperative community owned farms and gardens.

 

“Hunger is Not a Place” by Frances Moore Lappe’

In a January 2006 article published in political and cultural magazine The Nation, author Frances Moore Lappe’ argues that the existing world economic structure is to blame for the perpetuation of world hunger. In “Hunger is Not a Place” Lappe’ cites the fact that many in “developed” countries decry hunger in places like sub-saharan Africa without being cognizant of the fact that hunger is a pervasive problem found even in the most seemingly economically sound places like America and the newly booming industrialized countries of Asia. Lappe’ identifies the true culprits for Hunger as the massive umbrella corporations that control the assets of international food trade commodities. These companies like Nestle’ and Philip Morris drain local economies of their worth by bullying and buying out small farmers and distributors via consolidation and the exploitation of political and legislative loopholes.  Lappe’ claims that the only solution for this problem is enacting what she terms a “living democracy.”

In order to enact such a democracy, there needs to be a revolution. “It is a revolution in human dignity in which citizens are moving beyond protest to problem solving, risking their lives to remove the power of wealth from the political system and to infuse the power of democratic values into the economic system.” (Lappe’, 7) A revolution in human dignity realizes itself in community funded, led and used actions such as the founding of local credit unions which source capital from communities to provide micro-loans to people from within the self same neighborhoods. Lappe’ also gives the example of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, which gave many landless families land to farm and live on in order to create stabilized self sufficient local economies.Of course, in order to produce these results there first needs to be greater access to education, training, and legal action. In Lappe’s eyes the question of World Hunger should not be, “Who will feed the hungry?” but rather, “How can the hungry fight to feed themselves?”. 

SNAP Challenge

The SNAP Challenge is a challenge much in the same way that living in poverty for a week can be seen as a dare.

Does subsisting for a week on the shoe string budget allotted to most food stamp users nationwide actually serve to replicate the real life scarcity and food insecurity endured by so many for months, years or even a lifetime? No. It does however provide what is hopefully an eye opening experiment for those who thankfully do not have to live under such conditions and maybe even motivates such participants to participate in the greater efforts of trying to remediate America’s broken food system. As a kid growing up my family was indeed poor. My mother “chose” to opt out of applying for food stamps  as much out of pride as an inability to jump through and over the time consuming hoops and hurdles of eligibility applications and constant reapplications. We lived off of staples. Huge portions of chili, pasta sauce, canned salmon casseroles, corn beef hash and vegetables and fruits bought in bulk and frozen when prices dipped low. My mother believed in healthy food and tried to provide us with it to the best of her ability. This of course made meals very repetitive but, sustaining. When I got older and applied to work as a City Year Corps member I remember the program’s administrators strongly suggesting that all corps members apply for food stamps since they’d be living on a modest stipend of under $15,000 for a full year. I recall many of my service peers being both excited and repulsed by the idea of receiving and using food stamps. Many of the program’s members had not grown up in poverty and felt guilty using aid that was supposed to be allotted to the truly impoverished or had grown up stigmatizing food stamps as being within the realm of “welfare queens.”  Those that were excited by the prospect saw food stamps as “free money”. The reality is that food stamps are a real necessity for many Americans, the majority of whom are counted amongst the “working poor.”

My sister currently lives in a couples housing shelter with her partner. For awhile they both were receiving unemployment and a monthly food stamps budget of about $100. Recently, my sister found a job at a supermarket and saw her food stamp allotment for her and her partner drop to about $60 a month. Sixty dollars…a month. For two people. The fact of the Food Stamp program is that most actual participants run out of their food stamps before the month is up. The fact of the food stamp program is that it forces many families and individuals to make the “wrong” food choices in a bid to keep themselves feeling full instead of actually being properly satiated. The fact of the food stamp program is that while it does provide a much needed filler in the gap between the poor and the wealthy in America it does not fill that gap nearly enough to be counted as optimally functional.

As has already been stated, the consequence of living on campus at a private college is having a built in meal plan. We are given 3-4 “swaps” or meals a day equalling about $18-24. In order to come in just shy of the $4o mark, I swapped just one meal a day for a weekly total of $42. For me that meant cereal (4 points) 2 bananas (4) and yogurt (4) for most days. On other days I would go for a veggie cup (4 points) 2 bananas (4) and yogurt (4). Naturally, after awhile I felt hunger. And that’s what this challenge is about. Feeling that hunger. And knowing that that is what so many children and adults in our country go through daily as they struggle to make ends meet. The other interesting missing component to the Food Stamp Program are Government Funded mandatory Nutrition and budgeting classes for program participants. I found it really cool that at the Queen’s Galley in Kingston the director actively provides classes to teach and expose her program’s participants to healthy nutritional facts and practices in an attempt to help them feed themselves and their families in ways that hopefully result in tasty, healthy and budget friendly meals.

SNAP Challenge- Sean

Not so surprisingly, I found it difficult to get through the SNAP challenge. Not so surprisingly, I found it difficult to stay under 40 dollars. The problem lied in my meal plan. Meals at Bard via Chartwells, depending on the location, cost 6-8 dollars (the standard 12 points is equivalent to 6 dollars, unless you swipe at Kline). Even while trying to use 40 dollars over the course of 5 days, 3 meals daily at 6 dollars each comes out to 90 dollars. Had I lived off campus, I would have been able to participate more actively. 

 

I have, however, already participated in such a challenge. In high school, a few of my friends and I went on what my high school called Urban Challenge. We would leave Manhattan for Camden, New Jersey, and spend three days at a retreat house. Over the course of those three days, we broke up into groups of four. Our groups received 12 dollars a day to feed ourselves. My group managed to buy some basics including bread, ham, and potatoes. We even managed to buy spices (albeit one dollar packets of Goya seasoning, but seasoning nonetheless). However, I realize that our ability to feed ourselves decently was only for a few days. We even made very conscious efforts to buy filling and balanced meals for whatever money we had. That ability and those decisions came from a place of privilege. We had all managed to experience a variety of foods and educate ourselves on what constitutes a healthy meal. 

 

This summer and over the course of the next year, I will be attempting to spend as little as possible on food. I tend to eat very rich meals. I will, however, spend my time researching and tinkering with home and urban agriculture methods and ideas, hopefully providing some fresh produce. 

SNAP Challenge- Lia

Although I did not have the time to do the SNAP challenge, I calculated the cost of my groceries for a week.

If I were to strategically purchase the cheaper products on my grocery list (to not exceed $40/week) and survive off of that, I would choose these:

-tuna (protein) $1/can
-chicken (protein) $6
-pasta (carbs) $1/box
-beans (protein) $1/can
-broccoli (produce) $4/stock

Eating only these types of food would get really repetitive and unhealthy really fast. I would hate to constantly be restricted on the types of food I can eat. Being on such a tight budget would be extremely frustrating would take away from my food choice. Food is such an important aspect of my day that, even without having the taste that I want, I would still need to have a certain amount of calories to be not just functional but emotionally happy throughout my day. I am also on the tennis team and after reading Christian’s post about how he felt on his long run while doing the SNAP, I believe I would have the same problem-especially on a sunny day. And again, since I work twice a week at a restaurant I can get food from there but I don’t think that counts. Overall, I would be very unhappy throughout the week and unsatisfied with my meals.

Documenting my food- Lia

This semester I have not been on the meal plan since I have been living in a house off-campus. I live with my two roommates and we all have similar eating habits so when we go grocery shopping, we all agree on what types of food to purchase. As I’m shopping for ingredients for dinner/lunch, I categorize my food by protein, carbs, and vegetables. This is what my shopping list usually looks like:

Carbs:
-Pasta
-Rice
-bread

Protein:
-tofu
-chicken
-eggs
-beans

Veggies:
-kale
-broccoli
-carrots
-string beans
-spinach

Other: almond (or soy) milk, snacks (honey what pretzels, Cape Cod chips…hah), soy sauce & Siracha (absolute essentials!!!).

Since my parents were both very healthy with their meals, I’ve become accustomed to cooking dishes that are low in fat. Unfortunately, my roommates and I can’t shop from farmer’s markets to obtain organic, local food because of budget restraints; therefore, we shamelessly shop at Hannafords.

On Monday I cooked one of my favorite dishes that I learned while living in Boston- kale, eggs, tofu, and toast. Again, I try to balance out protein, carb, veggies for every meal. For breakfast, I had granola & yogurt. Also at night I always drink a cup of tea (family tradition).

On Tuesday I cooked a stir fry type of dish with pasta, broccoli, string beans, and chicken. For breakfast, I had granola and almond milk. Because I’m not a morning person, I usually just grab a yogurt cup, pour some granola over it, and run out the door as I eat spoonfuls of this concoction for sustenance. Again, I hate the mornings.

On Wednesday, because I didn’t have to be anywhere in the morning, I had time to make myself a substantial breakfast. I cooked an egg sunny side up and had it with some toast. For lunch, I had leftovers from the day before and for dinner, because I work at Santa Fe and get meals there, and I had a chicken quesadilla entree- rice & beans, salad…and a bit of chips and salsa. I realize it’s unhealthy but I don’t like cooking for myself…

Today, I’m going cook a lot of rice and beans to last me a few meals and I’ll call it a day because it’s finals week and I’d rather prioritize 35 pages of essays over healthy meals. You win some, you lose- am I right?

Superfood

I’ve spent some time thinking about what foods are best–for me and as sustainable crops. With my limited knowledge (and, in lieu of finals, time) of graphic work, I decided to make some basic food heroes

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The End is Nigh

All we should be looking forward to seeing, hearing and eating with each other on Friday.  Plan to be at the College Center by 11 and we will begin our programming from there.  Do let me know if you might need any help gathering or transporting food. 

Here is the list of what will be on the menu – 

Salad
Juice
Curried Potatoes
Cold Soup of some sort
Ramps with Eggs
Beets with Sweet Potatoes and Sausage
Quiche
Ramp/Lemon Pasta
Macaroons