Our Editors’ Local Heroes

This Friday, October 24 is Food Day: the annual event dedicated to inspiring Americans “to change our diets and our food policies.” The event may only be a few years old, but it has grown to over 8,000 events in all 50 states including over 130 in the New York City metro area (GrowNYC’s Big Apple Crunch is one you may have heard of).

We want to take the opportunity to draw attention to the local food heroes who commit to the Food Day creed 24/7. Who would you add to this list? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Caroline LangeJust Food
It’s hard to whittle it down to one person I admire doing work to strengthen food systems, but I am so appreciative of the work that Just Food does. Between the work they do with farmers to provide CSA training and organization, to the connections they make in communities to strengthen food systems and decrease food deserts, they’re all food heroes to me. They also encourage thoughtful and critical conversations about food and food systems in classrooms, with children, with community leaders, with home cooks, with food academics, with nutritionists, with sociologists, with political figures, with environmentalists. For me, they do an incredible job highlighting the intersections that food makes with other issues and aspects of our daily lives, which, in effect, emphasizes how important it is to think, talk and write about, and, for that matter consume food with an awareness of its greater context.

Ariel Lauren Wilson: Nadia Johnson, Just Food’s Food Justice and City Farms Market Network Coordinator
I first learned about Nadia’s important work with Just Food during their annual conference last spring. Amiable and astute, she spoke on a NYC food policy panel (her interview starts at 4:20) in turn with city council member Ben Kallos and Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer. For her day job with Just Food, Nadia organizes local trainings around food justice workshops (think work that bolsters food pantries, community gardens, farmers markets etc.) and recently led a successful campaign to legalize beekeeping in New York City. She also helped to organize the city’s first food forum directed at mayoral candidates to learn more about their opinions on food issues ranging from food production to food waste. This meeting spurred the formation of the NYC Food Forum: an ongoing collaboration more than 90 food-active organizations that are joining forces to realize and promote their common agenda items. She has an amazing track record and I’m excited to see how it will grow under the de Blasio administration.

Eleonore Buschinger: Green Guerillas
The first time I heard about Green Guerillas was a few years ago. I was just back from Accra, Ghana. While I was in Ghana, I was introduced to urban agriculture and realized that the best way to help the urban dwellers is to promote urban farming. Since cities seem destined to become the cradle of tomorrow’s civilization, they need to become its breadbasket as well. In Accra the lack of division between rural and urban was obvious but unwanted. In New York, instead, I saw that the division between rural and urban seemed straightforward but questioned. In 1973, Liz Christy started the first community garden in New York at the intersection of the Bowery and Houston streets. She then founded Green Guerillas, this urban community garden group that now provides targeted services to 200 community garden groups across New York City. Green Guerillas distributes plants and seeds to gardeners, helps them facing organizational challenges, and runs youth programs. In doing so, Green Guerillas actively contributes to promote urban agriculture and strengthen our community.

Carrington Morris: EcoStation: NY
This Bushwick-based organization gets my vote for their ground and sky ops, which include urban agriculture education, farmers markets and a recently launched “Farm in the Sky” that provides produce for area elderly. Partnering with local high schools, Just Food’s Farm School and GrowNYC among others, EcoStation’s farms provide a “living campus” citywide. Educational programming extends off the field and into the kitchen and classroom for community cooking and nutrition classes, then reaches further afield into the markets, streets and even City Hall with a food and social justice component. This grassroots group works unstoppably for the greater good, ensuring that the food movement crosses class lines, making good food accessible to all.

Gabrielle Langholtz: Joan Gussow
I’ve met a lot of food-system heroes through my work but the one I’m most likely to get a tattoo of is the nearly ninety Joan Gussow. For decades she’s been chair of Columbia University Teacher’s College’s Nutrition Department and in that time she waged war, as our Brian Halweil put it, against the industrialization of the American food system. Long before mad cow, avian flu, E. coli or the “diabesity” epidemic made headlines, Gussow foretold the impacts of the post-modern diet on public health and ecology. She laid the foundation for modern-day locavores, challenging nutritionists everywhere to look up from their microscopes to see the cafeteria, the factory farm and beyond.

Back when Gussow was first preaching the real food gospel, “the world of nutrition was merrily defined as everything that happens to food after the swallow,” says her colleague Toni Liquori. “You know, the Krebs cycle, calcium absorption, metabolic pathways. But growing, transporting, processing and cooking the food? “That’s policy and economics and farming. And that was what Joan was interested in.”

Gussow knew that, to understand human health, she must study soil, challenging nutritionists’ obsession with, well, nutrients. While peers thought in terms of milligrams, pills and powders, Gussow turned her attention not to calcium and potassium, but to cauliflower and potatoes. Today she tends a staggeringly impressive garden on the banks of the Hudson, which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

Marion Nestle, the prolific chair of NYU’s Food Studies program, who was an associate professor at UC Berkeley when she first heard Gussow lecture in 1980, recalls how it electrified the Berkeley nutrition department: “She was the first, she was the first, she was the first.”

Brian Halweil: JudiAnn Carmack-Fayyaz, teacher and school garden gamechanger
Several years ago, JudiAnn Carmack-Fayyaz, a Bridgehampton high school teacher, decided that students at her school needed a garden. [She raised funds and with the help of local parents and generosity of local carpenters, garden centers and volunteers, installed raised beds and later a greenhouse. Students took to it immediately and the edible school garden became a part of student life. And then the idea went viral.

Other nearby schools were inspired (aka, jealous) and wanted gardens of their own. So, JudiAnn formed the Edible School Gardens of the East End, a network of teachers, administrators, gardeners, farmers and chefs that meets monthly to share ideas, help plant new gardens and help expand existing ones. At last count, 16 schools on the East End counted gardens.

Most recently, JudiAnn lead a project to produce a FoodBook, part cookbook-part food literacy guide, packed with healthy dinner, dessert, and smoothie recipes, gardening tips, and information on things like healthy grains and how to prepare them so that children will like them. The book is being distributed for free to families in East End schools, and can be downloaded at edibleschoolgardens.org.

Photo credit: Lindsay Morris

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