I am always excited to attend the Just Food Conference and learn about the new food justice projects and activism is going on around the city. However, this year brought the added bonus of having Rise and Root Farm as the conference’s keynote speakers. The six women who run this farm came into our restaurant a year ago and told me they were starting a farm in the Black Dirt region of Sullivan Country and did we want them to grow any speciality produce for them. It was only later that I learned that they were much more than a farm selling great heirloom produce and that all of them are also heavily involved in various areas of food activism in both LGBT rights and racial equality. You can read in detail about their work and see images from our visit to their new farm in our Autumn Farm Trip post. Their collective keynote was an emotional and inspiring narrative, which expressed each of their individual struggles and how they came together to achieve their dream of land ownership, farming, and advocating for food justice. (You can see the positive energy on the stage, as they got the entire audience to ‘move and shake it’). We in the PRINT. kitchen are proud to support such inspirational women and farming collaboration that has such a powerful impact on the future of food.
Here are highlights and insights from the workshops I attended:
Edible Wild Plants: 10 Local Weeds for Food & Medicine
Dawn Petter, a professional herbalist, created this workshop to teach participants about the “food under your foot” and the benefits of local plant-based medicine. We discussed the correct part of the plant to use, when and where to harvest, simple recipes, and the medicinal uses and benefits of each wild edible. She opened with the concept that wild foods tend to be heartier and stronger than their cultivated counterparts and thus have strong nutritional and medicinal properties for the body. We learned for instance that lamb’s quarters have 6 times as much vitamin A as spinach. Purslane has the highest omega-3 content of any plant. Stinging nettles are one of the few greens that contain protein and high amounts of iron. An easy way to reap the benefits from these plants even after they are not forageable is to steep them in vinegar for several weeks and then remove the leaves, and you can use that for months and get all the nutrients from the plant. She also gave some great recipes for Pea Purslane dip, Hawthorne Berry Ketchup, and Japanese Knotweed Fruit Leather which I will share here on the blog as these wild edibles come into season. Overall, I felt like I learned more about the intense nutrient content of these plants but also the various medicinal qualities they possess as well. As spring approaches, foraging for these incredibly powerful plants helps connect us with nature. The consumption of them gives us the cleansing and strengthening properties we need for the active spring season and the year ahead.
Fresh Food for All: Getting Local Produce to Emergency Food Providers
We heard from various panelists about efforts to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into food pantries and soup kitchens. Cathy Chambers of Greenmarket/Grow NYC discussed their program which links all of their 55 Greenmarkets with a nearby food pantry, and at the end of day farmers donate produce that they have leftover. Just Food also operates a similar program that purchases produce from farmers and delivers to various pantries. Patrick O’Neill introduced a nationwide mobile platform called Amp Your Good, which allows the donor to shop online and click on items that have been requested by a local pantry. The user pays retail price and the company uses the profit on the products they purchase wholesale to operate the site and cover delivery costs. Lucia Russett discussed their transition at Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service to obtaining and preparing more fresh produce using Just Food’s Farm-to-Pantry program. For most pantry locations this transition from less canned goods to fresh or frozen product has created a need for new infrastructure in these kitchens, mostly increased space for refrigeration and freezing and also increased labor in preparation. However, once those structural changes have occurred the fresh product has been well-received by the pantry patrons. Overall, each of these groups is trying to bring dignity and nutritious food to communities most in need. Their work and dedication inspired me to take action and get involved via donations and volunteering at the local pantry in my neighborhood.