PSYC 123: The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
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The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
PSYC 123 - Lecture 22 - Sustainability and Health Food Access (Guest Lecture by Melina Shannon-DiPietro and Jennifer McTiernan)
Chapter 1. Introduction to Melina Shannon-DiPietro and Jennifer McTiernan [00:00:00]
Professor Kelly Brownell: Good morning everybody. I can imagine you’re all bleary-eyed and exhausted from staying up late to work on your projects. You’re probably feeling relieved and tired and have all those sort of things woven into the same thing. It turns out that this is one of the nicest days of the whole class for us, because we get to see the product of all your creativity, and just judging what I’ve seen so far, and what I’m sure we’ll see when people turn in things after the class, it’ll be an amazing array of projects on a variety of things.
I know at least one person’s doing a painting and others are doing various things. It’ll be very interesting. If we’re able to get through some of them I might be able to actually talk about some of them on the last day of class. Thank you for expressing your creativity and ingenuity, and that’s exactly what we need in this world of food crises of one sort of another: as many people thinking in the most creative ways they can about how to solve the problems.
Speaking of solving problems, I’m delighted to have two guests today here who are doing things in the local community that I’m sure will impress you given all the work — all the discussion we’ve had about issues of sustainability, world hunger problems, world obesity problems, the problems with getting access to — for the poor, for healthy foods.
All these sorts of issues are things that we’ve talked about so far in the class in terms of big picture. What are the problems that are out there? What are some of the public policy solutions people have proposed? Now we’re getting ready to talk about what happens on the ground. What are people doing in their local communities to really make a difference?
It so happens, New Haven is a place where a lot is going on, and some of the most creative programs anywhere in the country are happening here. Two of the people who run such programs are going to be joining us today. Each person who is going to be speaking today — and there are two who I’ll now introduce — will be speaking for about twenty-five minutes and then we’ll have time at the end for questions and I’m you’ll have some good ones.
Our is Melina Shannon-DiPietro. She is the Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and has been so since the projects beginning in 2003. She has overseen the transition of this project from a very small enterprise to something that’s having considerable impact on the Yale campus and in the New Haven community. She has been responsible for the creation of the Yale farm, and I know a number of you have taken part in working there in one way or another, and the development of educational and developmental program, academic programming related to food agriculture and the environment.
Before coming to Yale, she graduated from Harvard College with very high honors. She spent some time farming in Sicily and in Maine, taught history in the Maine Coast semester and did a variety of other teaching and academic enterprises connected to agriculture and farming before coming to Yale.
As you may or may not know, the Yale Sustainable Food Program has national notoriety and it’s become a model for sustainable food programs on campuses around the country. The Yale Sustainable Food Program. I urge you to visit their website if you’d like to learn more — has been featured in articles in The New York Times and other major publications around the country.
Melina serves as a consultant to foundations and organizations and advised in the development of model gardens at The 2008 Venice Biannual and the 2005 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, which I took part in myself and was very impressed with what Melina was able to accomplish there.
Our second guest, and I’m also delighted to welcome her, is Jennifer McTiernan. She is the founding executive director of an organization called CitySeed, which is a community based non-profit organization with a mission to do two things: increase access to local healthy food and promote farm viability. Now here’s an individual, like Melina, who’s had enormous impact on the community. The food landscape in New Haven has been transformed because of the work that these two individuals have done through the Yale Sustainable Food Project and CitySeed.
With CitySeed in particular, there has been a real effort to get healthy food into the hands of people in underserved neighborhoods. The CitySeed program has been recognized nationally in USA Today and in government regulatory bodies. Jen has been recognized for her work in a variety of places, and in fact, was named in 2006 by The New Haven Register as The Person of the Year in New Haven, so really a very impressive honor for her.
She is a graduate of Yale College, Calhoun, Class of 1999 and so we have two very bright, young, energetic people who have made a difference, so this is an opportunity for us to learn how you take theory, how you take world issues and turn them into action that can help people on the local level. Let’s please welcome Melina-Shannon-DiPietro and Jen McTiernan.
Chapter 2. The Yale Sustainable Food Project: On Campus and Beyond [00:05:04]
Melina-Shannon-DiPietro: Kelly, thank you for the kind introduction, I feel really lucky to be here. Both Jen and Kelly have been mentors and friends, and collaborators in this movement, and that’s been incredibly valuable to me. I think as you embark on a career, you discover that part of what’s satisfying in the work you do is doing the work. The other really big part is that you want collaborators, and mentors, and friends in the field that make your everyday work feel really satisfying, and people who push you to think in new and different ways. Both Kelly and Jennifer have done that for me, so it’s fun to be here.
I’m going to talk a little bit about the Sustainable Food Project and what we do on Yale’s campus and beyond. Now Kelly’s had me in to talk to this class for three — sort of 2004, 2006, 2008, and it occurred to me this morning that this is the very first time when it’s actually wiser for a Yale graduate to go be a farmer than it is for a Yale graduate to go be an investment banker or a consultant. So we’re at a really unique time historically, and I think we should take note of that.
I also wanted to note for all you — I turned thirty this year, and when I was twenty-two that seemed very far away. I had this vague sense that I wanted to do something good in the world and I didn’t know what. At this point it looks like sort of logical, I direct the school program at Yale; but for a very long time it didn’t feel particularly logical.
I want you to know I started doing this because it was fun. I spent two years working as a consultant for Bayne & Co., and there was a moment — I can remember it very well — I was sitting a gray desk, in a gray chair, surrounded by a blurry computer and eating take-out sushi from an aluminum container and I thought, this cannot be what the world has for its best and brightest.
It was a moment where I thought there’s something — there’s all these amazing people I’m working with but I need some deeper connection with the world, and so it’s really like a desire for pleasure, a connection with my senses, and being driven by a beauty that started me on this path and has translated into a bigger commitment to environmental justice, as well as to a social movement that I think is changing the way we interact with the environment. That’s just to get us thinking.
The Sustainable Food Project, we’ve been going for about five years and in that time have — I think we can all think of the Sustainable Food Project as something that’s part of our everyday life here at Yale. It’s also served as the model to other programs, other colleges, the U.S. Capital Building, United Nations, and even that school up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard, has looked to Yale as the model in thinking about building their own sustainable food program.
Now, what we’re really trying to do here is change people’s connection with food. We’re trying to change the way the nation and the world eats. The way I think about doing that is that we are creating a generation of leaders here at Yale, and we want sustainability to be part of their everyday practice. You all will go out into the world and you will have jobs, you will be parents, you will have families, you will live in communities. Those things, the way we act in everyday life, how we purchase food; how we think about heating our homes; those are the decisions that really reflect our values and those are the decisions that are actually the most critical, most crucial in how we interact with the world in the larger community.
We have three pieces to the program. There’s the dining program, the Yale farm, and then academic work on campus. The dining program is really about changing the landscape in New England. We’re doing that along — in very much the same way CitySeed is by providing a market. Institutions purchase a lot of food every single year. Yale’s grocery bill is about $8 million dollars. If you can imagine turning that grocery bill into a force for landscape preservation for economic justice and for sustainability, that’s what we’re trying to do.
Right now, if you visited the residential college dining halls, you would discover about 40% of the menu is local, seasonal, and sustainable. When we talk about sustainable here, we’re thinking about practices that really nourish the health of the land and the people working the land.
As we have developed this program, our guiding principles have been that it should be really, really good. Anything that you eat in the dining halls that has that little wheel barrel next to it? We want it to taste good. We’ve gotten lots of input from staff and students since we’ve been doing it and we started really small. We started in one dining hall; this is the Berkeley dining hall, because — anyone here — was anyone here in 2003? A few hands — in 2003 we had a single dining hall that was dedicated entirely to sustainable food.
It was at this dining hall, at this checker station where people were bribing Annette to get in to eat at Berkeley College. They were often counterfeiting IDs to get in the door, and we knew then we had something that was good: if it was as desirable as beer, for example, we had done something good in the dining hall. That led to an expansion of The Sustainable Food Project as students asked for more and more change on campus.
You can see here each time students advocated for an increase in sustainable food. In 2002 it was — there was no sustainable food in the dining halls. In 2004 it was 10% and 2005 it moved up to 20%. Each time students advocated for more sustainable food in the dining hall, the administration responded by increasing that percentage up until 2006, and you can see that the survey results show that students are happy. In terms of impact on students, this principle of making sure it tastes good, was one thing that drove us and we were successful with.
In the dining halls working with — actually let me just jump to local economy. You can see here some of the local businesses that we’ve partnered with to build The Sustainable Food Project. Huge value; you have Yale’s grocery bill being channeled into the local economy, and therefore, building the local economy in a very positive way.
One of the untold benefits of The Sustainable Food Project I think has been the interaction with staff. There’s nothing like working with fresh raw ingredients to really make a cook happy. Before this moved to fresh, raw ingredients, most of the food in the dining halls was actually coming in canned or pre-chopped, and this was a shift. While we haven’t been able to track this with data, I think we could actually demonstrate the staff’s satisfaction at work has increased since the start of The Sustainable Food Project.
I’ve got to say this has been the most important piece to me. After a week of training with our cooks in the dining halls, there was one cook who is morbidly obese who came in on the fourth day of training, and he turned to me and he said, I talked to my son last night. We decided we’re not going out for fast food anymore, we’re boycotting McDonald’s, we’re staying out of Subway, we’re going to cook at home. That’s the type of personal change that means a lot to me, and is why I do this work.
It’s also a reminder that food is universal. We all connect through food and it’s a medium that helps us understand the world, it’s what we connect to our families with, and it’s a mechanism for change.
Outside of the dining halls, we’ve got the Yale farm and I invite you all to come up. It is actually a fifteen minute walk from exactly where you are sitting up to Edwards Street. We grow four — we grow through four seasons. It’s just an acre, but it’s immensely productive. There are about three hundred different varieties of crops there. You can participate through volunteer workdays, through a summer internship, an academic year internship. We’re at CitySeed’s Farmer’s Market every Saturday, so if you go Wooster’s Square you can see us there, and the farm is open for community members, both adult audiences and New Haven Public Schools to have tours and classes in the space. About three hundred New Haven public school students visit every year, and in the spring we’re moving to expand that program, so if you’re interested in teaching and you’re interested in food and agriculture, this is the place to do it.
You might ask why Yale has a farm. I think there’s a really important, crucial reason. If you look at the literature about why people become environmental leaders, like if you look at who’s in charge of the NRDC? Who’s in charge of the EPA? It turns out all of those people had a connection with the land when they were young, so at a formative age. I think the Yale Farm gives a really firsthand experience, firsthand connection.
So you can come out and you can harvest carrots. If you come out this afternoon, harvest carrots, harvest parsnips, but you can also in the space you’re reminded of some of the principles that drive our work: that eating locally reduces fossil fuel consumption, and that by eating locally we also address global warming.
The other thing that’s just important, is we spend a lot of time up in our heads here at Yale, and that’s important. It’s what we’re here for: a really rigorous intellectual education; and at the same time, we need to clear our heads on occasion. We need to go do work, see the evidence of that work, and then return to our books.
Many, many students say to me, there’s one in particular Anya Kaplan Seeme, she graduated in 2008. She explained this work as a compliment and a counterpoint to her book learning at Yale. It was a place that allowed her to integrate learning better, it was a place that allowed her to return to her senses, and I hope for it to play that role for all students.
This is some of our winter growing. These are carrots harvested during the first snow a few years back. Carrots get incredibly sweet if you let them grow through the winter, in fact. They’re a biannual; the starch is in the roots, change to sugar if they get cold and if you are working with a local farmer, you can actually experience that change in the sugar content and taste it; there’s evidence of it. The carrots you find in the grocery store, you’ll never taste that, they’re harvested on a schedule, they’re kept in the refrigerator, so you won’t get that seasonal local variation that you can get when you’re working with a local farm. These are unheated hoop houses.
The farm is really a model. One of the ways it’s a model is demonstrating that you can grow throughout the winter in New England. This is mosh that we harvested in January, February, and March. We also go to Farmer’s Market and here, I think our goal is really to get to people’s senses and help them understand both that food can be beautiful and that we can change communities by the way we eat.
At the Yale farm you can do a number of things you cannot do anywhere else on campus. You can learn to use a flame weeder, you can learn to use a machete, you can also learn — I mean I don’t think there’s anyplace else on campus you can do these things — you can also learn to use our wood burning pizza oven. This wood burning pizza oven is something we fire up every Friday afternoon, and it is a moment of community building. People have harvested from the Yale farm, they’re bringing ingredients up to the oven and cooking there.
It’s also a moment of learning. It’s been used by Yale classes with Maria Trumpler’s class on food and culture, studied the Babylonian texts in the Sterling Library, and these are the first recorded recipes, and then they came out to the Yale farm last spring and they recreated those recipes right at the farm.
On the other hand, if you’re a New Haven public school group of first graders, you’re going to come out here and make pizza, have a blast, but also go away having learned some about nutrition, and being more willing to eat spinach. It turns out children are more willing and more likely to eat their vegetables when they’ve been involved in growing or preparing the food, so keep that in mind going forward. This is some of the work at the farm and some of the school groups that visit the farm.
Another piece of the work we do is the Harvest Program, and I know — are there harvest leaders or participants in the audience? Awesome, so you guys are part of a very special group, 6% of the freshman class this year elected to spend their very first week at Yale on local farms. That’s a leadership program, it’s also a moment for getting acquainted with your peers, and for getting acquainted with the New England landscape.
Overall, I think this sort of demonstrates a trend that’s happening in the nation right now. People are interested in food and agriculture. When Jennifer and I finished school, there weren’t really jobs in this area. It wasn’t the fastest growing sector of the food economy, it also wasn’t the thing that was mentioned most often in the press. But right now we’re finding we have ninety applicants for twenty-two positions in our internship; students want to dedicate spring break and their summers to this work; and they’re doing it in a whole variety of ways. Some of them are saying, I’m going to go work for the best chef in New York; others are saying I want to study regional cheese production in Southern Spain; still others are going to Kenya to think about food systems there; or to Rwanda to build gardens for patients with Aids who are nutritionally deprived; so there’s a whole variety of ways that people are dedicating their lives to this work. You can also just try it out.
The other thing that I think is exciting here is that courses related to food and agriculture are really growing. Kelly’s class of course is a big part of that, as you can see here. Yale is becoming known around the nation as the place where interdisciplinary study of food and agriculture is happening. We’re not a land grant institution, we’re not figuring out how to increase wheat productivity, but what we are doing between this class, agrarian studies, environmental studies, is changing the way the nation thinks about food. That’s going to become incredibly important as the 2012 Farm Bill comes up and as we think about how to structure our communities and our workplaces.
I’m going to take a minute to talk about this international movement. This is spiraling out away from Yale, but it’s really I think something that undergrads are interested in and that as I’ve watched, has inspired me a great deal. Last year in 2007 with Boston University and with a group called The Food Project, we held something called The Real Food Challenge here. It was 150 different student leaders from 50 different universities in the Northeast.
This past summer in — over Labor Day weekend in Dolores Park, there was a huge eat-in. You can check out the website if you Google eat-in, check it out online, there’s a national movement of eat-ins starting. An eat in has clear references to the civil rights movement, when people were doing sit-ins, but this was a picnic of 200 people who brought a potluck lunch to Dolores Park, and in that very simple act of cooking together and eating together, we’re saying we want to actually be part of our food system and we want to change the way the current food system is set up.
This has also grown with slow food, delegation of Yale students about nine, six graduate students, three undergraduate students just visited the biggest conference on food and agriculture in the world. While they were they helped create recommendations for the UN’s Youth and Food Policy. This is a broad movement and it’s growing. Finally, there’s a young farmer’s conference that’s coming up in December.
Now, I think it’s easy to look around campus and think the sustainable food movement, it’s doing great, it’s going to keep growing, but there’s actually a couple of key challenges that the sustainable food movement is facing, and I think it’s going to need people like you to help figure them out.
One is we need to find a way to make sure that sustainable food is actually available to everyone. I know you’ve talked about this a lot in class, but the huge question is access. How do we make food that’s good, clean, fair, really a universal right, and not something we think of as a luxury good? That’s a question I’ve heard students ask a lot over the last five years, and we’re getting to a spot where I think there are better answers. Jen and CitySeed are providing some of those answers right here in New Haven.
Then I think another set of those answers is going to be built through national policy, but we really have to get away from a spot where we think of sustainable food as something sort of nice to have and something that we sometimes feel guilty about having, because when we are in a privileged position and can afford this, it can sort of feel like this is a luxury and I’m not sure how to approach it. We need to advocate for a bigger movement I think and I think school lunch programs, as well as the next Farm Bill, and farmer’s markets will help provide some of the solutions to that.
Then there’s a real paradox of sustainable food and I think it’s easy, even in this movement to forget about farmers, but what I see happening in the agricultural world is there are two ways you can make money as an organic farmer. One is you can sell fancy pants sort of anything; our seasonal goat cheeses, heritage breeds, and you sell them to a niche market. You go to Union Square, sell them in New York at the farmer’s market, and you actually can make a great living. That’s a really good thing because we need people to farm, and we need our farmer’s to be able to make a living.
Or you can choose to serve underserved populations in our urban cities, and in rural areas. It turns out when farmers choose to make their food accessible to everyone, they can’t make a living. So to serve the poor our farmers have to take a vow of poverty. Somewhere in between here I think there’s a food system that actually could feed the nation, give people access to food, and make sure that farming is a dignified, respectable way of life. That’s what I hope will shape over the next dozen years or so.
One thing that’s really exciting that’s happening right now is President-Elect Obama is talking about food and its relationship to greenhouse gases and climate change. It’s not that exciting really if I talk about that, or Kelly talks about that, or Jennifer talks about that, we’re converted, but when the President is standing up and saying, I’ve got to check out this food thing — food it turns out, 35% of our greenhouse gases are driven by food production, that actually means there’s a great moment available for change in the nation and that’s worth — that type of window doesn’t come up very often.
The last big question facing The Sustainable Food Movement — I really learned this when I was in San Francisco at this eat-in — is there are a lot of people who are choosing to become young farmers, and guess what, it turns out they went to institutions like Yale and they’re saying I’m going back to the land. They need access to land.
One of the big challenges in the Northeast for sure, but all over the nation, is how you give young farmers access to land. They tend not to have a lot of capital, they tend — they can’t purchase the land themselves, but they want to farm it. So we need smart programs, and both training programs and investment programs that will connect to those two groups.
Those are I think the big questions that The Sustainable Food Movement is going to need energy and attention on, and is going to need really your spirits and your hearts on. I would just close by saying, I’ve been reading a lot lately the speeches of Martin Luther King. They’re something that have impacted me deeply and helped me think about why I work on food issues. King imagines this world as a world — he talks about it through the lens of food where he sees injustice, he talks about it as rotten meat or stale bread, and when he talks about the vision of the world he imagines, he actually — he says — he refers to a biblical image. He says everyone will have their own fig tree and everyone will have their own grapevine.
In this very, very simple fundamental way, food is connected to community and connected to this vision that King has for a much better world. He imagines a nation where no one needs to go hungry to feed their children, and where we can all sit down to dinner. I think this in its course we’re trying to create the intellectual framework to get to that world and make positive change. I’ll leave it at that.
Chapter 3. CitySeed: The Power of Individuals, Systems Thinking and Feeding the Population [00:27:08]
Jennifer McTiernan: Good morning. Kelly, thank you for that kind introduction and thank you for having me here this morning. I do remember what it was like to be an undergraduate and turn in paper in a class, so I thank you all for staying. I am going to start my presentation in an unlikely place with this guy right here. Now, I most of you were born in the eighties and maybe even in the early nineties, but I hope that someone can identify who he is. Any guesses? Bon Jovi, that’s right. Okay.
I also have to begin with a confession. I come from a culinary disadvantaged background, which happens to be the hometown of Jon Bon Jovi: Sayreville, New Jersey. Part of the story here is that if I can go from relishing macaroni and cheese — and by that I mean Cheez Whiz — to savoring local food like kale, brussel sprouts, and sun gold tomatoes, then anyone can. That’s definitely part of this story.
There are three things that I would like you to keep in mind as I talk about CitySeed’s beginnings and evolution. The first, which I hope will be self-evident by the time my presentation is finished, is the power of individuals and communities to make change. The second is the usefulness of taking a systems-thinking approach and addressing food issues and food policy. To give you a quote according to Daniel Aronson,
“Systems thinking works by expanding its view to take into account larger and larger numbers of interactions as an issue is being studied. It is extremely effective on problems involving complex issues, those that depend a great deal on the past or on the actions of others, and those stemming from ineffective coordination among those involved.”
I hope that after your course with Kelly that that might — that kind of framework might seem to make sense in addressing these issues.
The third idea is one that no matter what kind of agricultural system a society utilizes, that you can’t escape having 50% to 60% of that population engaged in work related to feeding the population. This fact is explained by Vandana Shiva who is trained as a physicist and works for Farmer’s Rights in her native India.
“The analyses we have done show that no matter what, whether the system is highly technological or much more simple, about 50% to 60% of a population has to be involved in the work of feeding that population.”
“Most of us who have moved off of farms are still working in the industry of creating food and bringing it to consumers as cashiers, truck drivers, even oil rig workers. Those jobs are all necessary to a travel-dependent, highly mechanized food system, and many of those jobs are menial life-taking work instead of the life-giving work of farming on the land.”
Barbara Kingsolver noted author and locavore, in talking to Vandana Shiva, expands on this and she says that the notion that we can leave behind the labor and culture of food is impossible. We only transform the tasks, and not necessarily for the better.
The local food movement, as it’s taken shape in New Haven and across the country, is about changing the culture of food community by community. It’s a story that’s as much about community development, as sustainable agriculture. I would argue that those two are inherently intertwined, which brings me to these tomatoes.
CitySeed began in early 2004 when four neighbors came together in Wooster Square. We all live around the square where the Farmer’s Market is, people will often ask why is the Farmer’s Market — why is the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Wooster Square? I say because that’s where I live. There are literally four neighbors who came together and identified a need in that neighborhood. You could get world class pizza and pasta, and all kinds of food, Italian food with tomatoes in them; but good luck finding a fresh tomato, never mind one grown locally. Grown right out of that community, four neighbors came together and we started with a Farmer’s Market.
We opened in July 2004 and on that very first day I had to twist two arms and make one deal with the devil to get the initial seven farms to the market, and we opened at 10:00 and by noon we had farms that were sold out and were sending runners back to their farms to harvest more produce. Right from the start, the community really embraced this idea, this idea they could connect directly to a farm; that the line from field to plate would be straight and short.
During that year we actually had — that very first season within the first couple of months we had three other neighborhoods come to us and say, we would like a Farmer’s Market in our neighborhood too, and we said yes, yes, and yes — for some reason. By 2005 we were running a network of four Farmer’s Markets.
Now a couple of things that were very important to us from the beginning: one is that the markets, from day one, the market was producer-only. This means that we want farmers who are selling what they themselves grow or produce, so that there is that direct connection between consumer and farmer.
Also, we wanted the markets to be accessible to everyone in the community, so from the beginning we accepted WIC coupons which are for nutritionally at risk women, infants, children and seniors. In 2005 we piloted with the help of The Connecticut Food Policy Council, Department of Ag, Department of Social Services, the acceptance of EBT, which is electronic food stamps. Food stamps used to be food stamps. You could in fact bring them to a Farmer’s Market, hand them to a farmer, and walk away with your bag of fresh produce, but once they went onto a credit card, this EBT card, farmers couldn’t do anything about it — until about 2005.
We have this hand held terminal that we use at the market, it’s a credit card machine, and folks can come and use food stamps, and it’s worked out really well. Accessibility is a key — that was sort of founding principle of CitySeed and the markets. Part of that was also locating four markets in four different neighborhoods, on four different days of the week, at four different times of the day.
It’s the idea that wherever you live in New Haven, that there ideally is a Farmer’s Market that’s within striking distance of you that you can walk too. All of them are on bus lines, you can take a bus to them. We really wanted to make local healthy food accessible in all the neighborhoods in New Haven.
In 2005 we began to track the impact of these markets and we have some very exciting data. I’ll give you this season’s — which actually we’re still accumulating the impact of this season — but right now the city Farmer’s Market, the network of four Farmer’s Markets have — they’ve contributed over $1.75 million dollars to job creation and the local economy. Now this is not only sales to farmers, this also captures the fact that Fuel Coffee, which is down the street from the Wooster Square Market hires, an extra person every Saturday, so area businesses benefit from the activity of a Farmer’s Market.
Also this season we’ve redeemed already over $78,500 in the WIC coupons and food stamps. Since 2005 this network of markets has contributed over $5.65 million dollars to local economy and redeemed over $235,000 in WIC coupons and food stamps.
I point out these numbers because it’s often surprising that an open air Farmer’s Market could be such an engine of economic activity. I mean I am talking tables, tents, and farmers here, but it’s amazing all of the wonderful things that can happen when you create a market. You can support farms, you can increase access to local healthy food, you can encourage neighborhood revitalization, and the viability of nearby businesses. It’s quite remarkable.
I don’t want to however, by using dollar signs, diminish the community and human dimension of this. Instead of dollar amounts these numbers could be translated into acres of farmland preserved, pounds and pounds — tens of thousands of pounds — of fruits and vegetables eaten, number of healthy meals shared at the table, decreases in rates of diet related illnesses, so there are some compelling stories behind these numbers that I’d also like you to consider.
Here’s where sort of the idea of systems thinking comes in. From four neighbors starting one Farmer’s Market in New Haven, we now have a non-profit organization that works in New Haven, also statewide. I can’t say that that was our plan when we started, but once you kind of get your hands dirty in food system work, you inevitably run up against the reality that you can’t just do something like set up a Farmer’s Market in a neighborhood, and expect some of these issues to be resolved.
You need to take the systems approach, you need to think about all of the ways that these actors interact to create the current conditions that lead to inaccessibility of local healthy food. And you have to kind of think about how you’re going to approach them, and that’s exactly what CitySeed has done over the last couple of years.
This map demonstrates how we don’t only work in New Haven, but we also work statewide. This map shows where our vendors are. We’ve helped promote Farmer’s Markets throughout the state, we’ve also helped promote the use of food stamps and WIC food assistance benefits at Farmer’s Markets throughout the state. You kind of need to take that more global approach when you’re contending with these issues.
I’m going to kind of break down CitySeed’s work in four areas. First, I want to define a food system. I’ve been using that term; let me give you a definition. It is the combination of industries that bring food products from farms to your table. That includes the production processing, distribution, sales, purchasing, and consumption of food products. If you think about Vandana Shiva’s quote, you have 50% to 60% of the population engaged in that food system.
To build an equitable sustainable community food system, which is definitely the main objective of CitySeed, you also are often looking at community food security which is a condition, it’s an ideal condition, in which all community members have access to nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food from non-emergency sources at all times.
When you’re talking about a community food system and you’re talking about building an equitable local food system, which is part of our mission statement, you’re looking at all of the aspects of this food system and trying to translate them into what they mean for the community members. Does everyone have the right kind of foods to eat and nutritious culturally appropriate and affordable? Is there a system in place that insures that fresh, healthy food is coming into a place like New Haven? That means you have to think about how farmers are doing, and you have to think about how community members in New Haven are doing.
With that in mind, let me kind of talk through how CitySeed has thought about its work and the kinds of programs we’ve undertaken. At base level, with the Farmer’s Markets, we started with this idea that we wanted to increase access to local healthy food. We’ve been fortunate that our work with the Farmer’s Markets, especially in accepting food stamps and piloting that program in Connecticut, has been nationally recognized by USA Today and USDA. We are excited that we can make such a strong case for the economic impact of those markets. They in a sense are the groundwork that we laid, and we have now built these programs on top of them.
One of them is the Community Supported Market. My guess is you’re probably familiar with CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, maybe you are? Where you buy a share of a farm and you’re basically — you pay that up front, the farmer gets that initial investment and then you pick up your share or it gets delivered to your throughout the season. It’s a pretty good arrangement for a farmer.
Well, we’ve been running a market in Fair Haven which actually redeems for us the most amount of WIC coupons since 2005. It’s very important for us to be in that neighborhood. We are a couple of blocks away from the WICS office at the Fair Haven Community Health Clinic, and we are bringing local healthy food to a neighborhood that really needs it.
The problem with this equation, this goes to Melina’s earlier point, is that you have a situation where the farmers aren’t quite doing as well as they might be doing if they were at another market, because there’s kind of a ceiling on how much they can — how much income they’re going to generate each week. If you pull out your WIC coupon booklet of $15 and you spend it, chances are you’re not going to pull out another — you don’t have another coupon booklet so you’re going to pull out another five or another ten, and so the farmers were starting to feel this in 2005. We were looking at the prospect of farmers dropping out of this market, which means less customers are going to come, which means the whole market — we’re not going to be able to sustain a market there.
We scratched our heads and necessity is the mother of invention, and we came up with the CSM, a variation of a CSA, where we have shareholders buy shares of the Fair Haven market. I’ll tell you actually that The Rudd Center is one of our workplace sites, and so since 2006 we have been supporting the viability of a market in a low income neighborhood by selling full price shares and delivering them to workplaces in New Haven.
This year we actually added an interesting — we actually sort of furthered our mission through grant funding by delivering subsidized shares to seniors in New Haven and food stamp recipients who live in neighborhoods that don’t have Farmer’s Markets. So this year in addition to selling the full price shares, we also were able to deliver over 1,000 shares to food stamp and WICS recipients who wouldn’t be able to access the food at the market and so we delivered over 2,000 shares a season, which is very exciting. It’s a way for us to get more of this local food to more people, to support the farmers, and to insure that the Fair Haven market continues to be vibrant and viable.
I talked a little bit about access to food stamp and WIC recipients and just this basic idea that food, as Melina pointed out too, it’s a place of many intersections. We all must eat. Typically we eat three meals a day so we all have to go somewhere to go — get our food. If you look — if you go to a Farmer’s Market, and I’d encourage you of course to go visit one in New Haven if you haven’t already — Farmer’s Markets often represent one of the last remaining places in a community or a public space that can bring together such a wide cross-section of the community consistently. In a way, you can kind of think of a Farmer’s Market as a form of community organizing. You’re kind of getting this whole group of people, this diverse group of people to the same place week after week, after week. The accessibility piece is critical to that idea.
Here’s a quote actually from one of the seniors who got a delivery of the CSM, and she outlined some of the issues that a food system in New Haven faces. She doesn’t have a car to get her groceries, she loves to cook with fruits and vegetables, and until we were delivering these shares to her, she had a hard time accessing them. This is the personal side of the kind of work that we’re doing and it’s — she was — every week when we showed up at Casa Otonal where you’re delivering these shares, she was there to get her share for the week. It just — it’s sort of the — you can kind of see the obstacles that this kind of program is designed to overcome.
I’ve talked a bit about the consumer side and what it looks like when you’re an urban resident, but obviously the key relationship on the other side of that equation is that of the farmer. So a big part of what we — CitySeed does as well is to promote farm viability. We do this in a couple of different ways.
We actually launched a website called BuyCTGrown, Buy Connecticut Grown, and it is designed to be the place to find local food and farm products in New Haven, and it is a work in progress, we are still adding content to it, but that is the goal. The idea is that if you live in Connecticut, or if you’re coming to visit Connecticut, and you want to find a local farm, you go to this website and it can help you if you want to find a farm stand or a Farmer’s Market, or tomatoes, or a turkey, or what have you, this is the place to go to do it. That is very clearly about bringing consumers, who in Connecticut, surveys have shown are hungry for local food and connections to their source of their food, delivering them to farms and farm stands and promote — thereby promoting the viability of those farms.
Farmers in Connecticut have a particular challenge, and it is that they are right in the middle of two metropolitan areas, so they have a big consumer base built right in, however, there are enormous development pressures on them. In fact, according to the last agricultural census Connecticut ranked first in percentage of farmland lost. Not acreage because Connecticut is a small state, but percentage. These kinds of programs are designed to promote farm viability.
The second is seed to table. We’ve been delivering from the downtown market fresh fruits and vegetables to restaurants in downtown. We’re also, as part of that project, looking to create the kind of infrastructure that the local food movement needs to bring this to the next level and to get even more food to more people. It’s one thing to set up a Farmer’s Market; it’s another thing and The Yale Sustainable Food Project has certainly figured some of this out, but it’s another thing to get that food in big quantities to colleges, and schools, and restaurants, and corner stores.
Building that infrastructure I would argue, is the next big challenge for the local food movement. These key infrastructural pieces would include a slaughterhouse, processing facilities, and a distribution system. So that’s something else that we are thinking about.
This is a quote from Stone Gardens. They are one of our farmers, they actually come to all four of the Farmer’s Markets — they’re the only farm that does that. They’ve been able to expand the acreage they cultivate, they’ve been able to build up the confidence to start a one hundred share CSA, they’re not actually expanding it to three hundred shares next season, and so they’ve been a real success story. They’re a family farm and they’ve been able to gain a real sort of foothold in terms of the viability of their farm through participating in the program that CitySeed offers.
Now I mentioned earlier, you can’t — if you start working with food it doesn’t take long before you bump against a couple of things, and policy is certainly one of them. We have worked to address that in a proactive way. In 2005 we worked to set up The New Haven Food Policy Council which is designed to bring better food into New Haven. Our most recent very exciting success, which Melina played a part in as well, is to have helped the school system transition from a contract service management company to self-operation, basically following Yale’s model.
Yale Sustainable Food Project made it happen here at Yale, The New Haven Public School saw that and it made the switch this July. They’ve hired someone to be the head of their school food service, he’s known as the local food dude, so that can only be good. He has already transformed some very key aspects of the school lunch program in New Haven and it’s been exciting to see this happen, and I just think it’s a story of a community that had a sterling example.
It’s a story of a board of education that showed leadership, community members who were engaged, The Rudd Center played a role in this as well, and it’s very exciting. What kids in New Haven are eating, this school year for lunch is very different from what they were eating last year. It’s sort of those kinds of — you can kind of — its — we’ve reached the tipping point and The New Haven Food Policy Council thinking about policy that way, and creating community consensus around the importance of prioritizing fresh healthy food really brought us to where we are.
We’ve also worked state — on issues at the state level, two of them in particular. We helped to get funding so that all seniors throughout the state who are eligible for those senior WIC coupons could receive them, because before there wasn’t enough funding for everyone to receive them.
Also we worked to define what a Farmer’s Market is, because actually there wasn’t a definition in the state statutes, which led to a little bit of confusion, regulatory confusion that we needed to iron out. These are the kinds of little tweaks in the system that need to be made to support the sustainable, equitable food system.
Last but not least, we engaged the community through outreach and education. I’m going to talk about that New Haven community cookbook in a minute. We’ve also distributed Farmer’s Market recipe cards, recipes from chefs throughout Connecticut and throughout — and we’ve distributed them at Farmer’s Markets throughout the state. We also have a preschool program that’s already engaged over 1,200 New Haven children and their families. They have a Farmer’s Market field trip, they get bilingual books about gardening and eating healthy food, and it’s been really wonderful.
I’ll end with the New Haven Community Cookbook, because in fact this afternoon from 12:00 to 1:00 at the downtown market, which is incredibly close to where we are sitting right now, there is going to be a press event around this. There’re going to be cooks from the New Haven Public Schools serving squabble crisp, probably not something you’ve had before, but it’s a squash crisp — some kind of creation, the local food dude’s creation, and we are going to be serving that and soliciting recipes for the New Haven Cookbook.
I’ll end with this example because I think the idea behind this cookbook is that we have the knowledge in this community to eat healthy food and to promote healthy eating, and the idea is to collect recipes and create a bilingual resource that people in this community can use. So we’re drawing on the community resources to address a challenge besetting the community, basically how to eat healthy, and we’re going to provide this information in a context where fresh healthy food is accessible. So again, it’s sort of that systems thinking. We hope that this cookbook is going to demonstrate the power of the community to both support an equitable, sustainable food system and to change the culture of food in New Haven.
With that, I will leave you with our mission statement and vision, and also point out that we have many opportunities to intern. There are programs through which one could obtain a paid summer fellowship or internship, and we are always excited to have students interested in these issues, engaged in our work.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning. Can I point out one more thing? We have our CitySeed brochure hot off the press; we’ve had it for about two weeks. It’s on your way out I’ve stacked it precariously on those square boards, so please grab one if you’d like to read a little more about us.
Professor Kelly Brownell: Thank you Jen. Thankfully Jen and Melina —
Chapter 4. Question and Answer [00:50:50]
We have time for questions for Jen and Melina but before we go to that — and then of course we’ll collect the remainder of the final projects from you guys after we finish up the question and answer period — just one observation I wanted to make when you hear from these guys.
As I think people who do this kind of work are — tend to be there’s a great deal of humility. But woven into those presentations that you just saw was enormous passion, creativity, dedication, a beautifully articulate case was just built for why these programs in local communities are so important. You couple that with the need for diplomacy, the need for persistence, the need to fight through objections, people not getting it, all those sorts of things are necessary in order to create the end products that you saw today.
Melina and Jen represent the best of what there is around the country in this field. People with the most passion, the most devotion, the most creativity, and the ability to get things done, and that’s a package of abilities that you don’t find in too many people, so thankfully some of the people who have those combination of abilities are dealing the food area. Thanks to those guys for sharing that with us.
Let’s open it up to questions. As you guys come on up and answer the questions you’ll have to hold both of the mics, or just hold this mic and then speak into the house mic so the camera will pick you up as well. I’d like to start off with a question myself, and you partly answered this, but one of the objections to doing these kind of programs in the communities in the supply and demand argument: that if people wanted these foods in those kind of communities they would be putting pressures on the local merchants to sell them, the local merchants would then stock them because then that’s how they made the money; so the fact that these communities are food impoverished is not so much a function of access, it’s just the real market at work, and people don’t really want those foods. I’m curious about how you guys would respond to that, so come on up.
Jennifer McTiernan: I would be surprised if any student after sitting through your class would agree with such an objection. I would say that what we found in New Haven, and we did kind of get some of this, do people really want this food? Who’s going to come to this Farmer’s Market? The preschool program, will kids really try a carrot or want to smell an herb, or even have any interest in spinach greens?
The answer is lots of people want this food, and they do feel like they do not have access to it. The preschool program in particular has been amazing. It’s involved a number — we partnered with The Connecticut Children’s Museum to design the curriculum and we’ve involved preschool teachers, parents, the children in these classrooms.
At every level we’ve had — the response has been so personal and meaningful. The preschool teachers are grateful that they get to think a little bit more — not only about how their preschoolers maybe think about food and how they should be eating healthier food, but also for themselves, that they themselves want to eat healthy food and that this kind of helps point them in a direction. We’ve had preschool teachers say, I didn’t even know there was a Farmer’s Market, and thank you for giving me this five-dollar coupon so I can go. It’s sort of these revelations, person, after person, after person that this is available, this is accessible, and this is how it should be.
I would also argue to the point that we have people walk by — we’ll have a big sign out at the Farmer’s Market that says we accept food stamps — and we’ve had people walk by, especially at the downtown market, we’re in a high traffic area and they’ll walk by and they look at the sign and they come back and they say, you accept food stamps? We say yes and they say, well here’s my card, I want to — give me some coins, I want to go shop at the market, and so I definitely think we’ve seen this sort of thirst for access and this desire for fresh food.
Professor Kelly Brownell: That’s great. I’m just going to attach the mic up here, then you guys don’t have to worry about holding it so much. Melina I’d like to ask you — because I remember you tell — you may not even remember this conversation, but I remember you telling these very poignant stories about New Haven school children coming to the market and how little experience they had had with real food, and that some of them didn’t know where food grows. I remember somebody saying that there was a child who had never really used a fork and things like that. I mean could you share some of that experience?
Melina-Shannon-DiPietro: Yeah I mean these are — I think sometimes we — you can pull any anecdote to prove a point, but I think this is like a set of stories and experiences we’re seeing happen around the nation, and increasingly around the world as we move to a more global food system.
At Yale, I think it’s incredibly common that you would know Picasso’s best works or Cezanne’s best works, and never have seen broccoli growing, or know what head lettuce looks like and that’s — that in itself is sort of a cultural loss for us as a nation. I think we sometimes like to pretend it’s not a cultural loss, but actually food is the most fundamental thing we engage in every single day.
When students come out to the Yale farm, I mean they will often start by saying, I don’t want to be here there are bugs and there is dirt, and there are both of those things because it’s a farm and at an organic farm, bugs are actually a good sign — at any farm bugs are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They’re a part of it, they’re doing important work there. When those students leave the farm, not only have they often made peace with the worms, but generally they’ve tried spinach, they’ve started competing to see who will eat the most spinach, or they’ve started telling us about how their mom uses cilantro at home. It’s this incredible moment of sharing experience and it’s the real hands-on engagement that helps that happen.
I think I have heard far too often people who are teachers, policy makers, friends of mine, community members say children don’t want this food, they’re not interested in it. We actually have to reorient our senses and our expectations of what children want. They’re far more adventurous then we know, and we need to give them the spaces to be adventurous.
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay sounds good, so questions from you guys?
Melina-Shannon-DiPietro: Great, so the question was how we can have an international sustainable food system. I think one: Jennifer’s work at CitySeed is the international model. What we need to have is a global movement of local communities; that’s really the type of change we’re looking at.
Two: I think we need a huge campaign to think about the numbers here. The big challenge in the world right now is the distribution problem. We have seen huge social unrest related to food this year: thirty different nations have had protests or strikes, and food prices are getting increasingly high. This is a year when families in New Haven, as well as around the world, will actually need to choose between food and fuel, and that’s an untenable situation.
When we understand one, it’s primarily a problem of distribution, that should change how we think about approaching this system; and two, I think we need to dismantle some of the myths around organic agriculture. Every UN study, and we’re talking about the United Nations, demonstrates that if we begin growing organically, we could increase crop yields as much as 50%. So there really is a great option, an incredible opportunity to feed the world here. It’s like not that sexy a model, it involves compost, and it involves cow manure, and it doesn’t involve pesticides or fertilizers — chemical fertilizers — but it’s a really slick, elegant, economical system. It’s the type of system that makes you step back when you see it in action and say, oh ah ha! And that’s the way we need to feed the world.
Professor Kelly Brownell: All right, who else? I saw some other hands. Go ahead.
Jennifer McTiernan: How to distill down that question. Why should everyone overpay for fair trade bananas? I think maybe is — well I guess what is the argument for paying more money for food that was harvested fairly and perhaps grown — and I guess therefore grown sustainably?
Apparently there’s a graph that shows that as the — that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of money people spend on food and increases in diet related illnesses and obesity. I think this is — some things are culturally, we have to contend with is where our priorities are. I’ve already seen articles in The New York Times about because of the economic crisis, people aren’t going to go to Whole Foods and they’re cutting back on their organic food. I’m thinking are they cutting back on the gas they’re putting in their car? Maybe they are, but are they cutting back on, I don’t know, I could come up with five things that I would rather cut back on than the food I’m going to put in my body.
I think this is some — this is a bit about the priorities of our culture and our country, and I think we need to realize that the path we’ve sent ourselves down isn’t quite leading to the results that we want, in terms of public health, in terms of connection to food, in terms of viable farming system. Even if you look at it from a national security perspective, can we feed ourselves? We’re not doing well on that front either. So this question builds itself I think into these larger issues. Do you want to —
Melina-Shannon-DiPietro: Yeah, I would second Jennifer’s point I think about priorities. I like cute jeans, they don’t become part of me in the same way food becomes part of me, and so I think it’s worth thinking about how fundamental food is to us. I mean President Levin would think I were remiss if I didn’t point out simple economics here, and that is one of the failures of our current economic system is it doesn’t capture externalities. So the public health costs, the environmental health costs, those aren’t captured in the current price of food.
It is scary to say, because national policy since the Nixon Administration has been to provide as many calories as possible, as cheaply as possible. It’s scary to say that maybe the percent of our income we spend on food should rise. I’m not sure how much it should rise, but I think it should probably increase a little bit.
I think there are great policy options to actually make sure that everyone can still afford those fair trade bananas, but I think it’s this deep, moral responsibility we actually have to the world, to future generations. When I first started working here we sent out a letter to all the students in 2003 that explained we were starting The Sustainable Food Project in the dining halls. There was a sentence in it that said our meat is increasingly raised with antibiotics and hormones, and that it went onto say maybe this isn’t so good for us.
Because the project was brand new and because it’s Yale, everyone read this letter before it was actually shared with the students. I got a phone call from someone who worked in dining services who said, you can’t tell the students that their food has antibiotics and hormones in it. It’s going to make them very angry.
I thought, well, that’s exactly why we need to tell them. Our current food system and our current food prices are based on a type of ignorance, and we pay for that ignorance elsewhere. So I think we have to think both about education and about policy that can help us get over the economics of those bananas.
Jennifer McTiernan: Let me just add two things. One, which we haven’t talked about but we both brought this point up before which is that — I’m not sure it’s the case with the fair trade bananas — but with lots of things, local foods simply taste better, and that’s part of the story. Will children eat it? Yes, because a locally grown carrot tastes a whole lot better, and a locally grown tomato tastes a whole lot better than the cardboard one in the supermarket. I didn’t like tomatoes growing up, I didn’t like lots of — most of the things I now eat I never ate, and it has a lot to do with the quality of the product.
So this is a situation where what’s good for the community, what’s good for your health, what’s good for the food system, and for farmers and the land, also taste better. We have that working in our favor which makes this very powerful. I just want to give one example, there’s a new head of the school food program in Baltimore and — Tony Geraci and he has made the argument he’s actually preparing a bid to source all of the food for the Baltimore school system from local farms, and he is making the argument that it will cost him less. That’s just to throw that out there.
Professor Kelly Brownell: You’ve raised a really good question because you can see by the responses that there’s a lot captured in that question about the free trade bananas. Part of the issue here is how much do people care about these sorts of issues and do they care enough to pay more? Some people will care a lot about these issues, some people will care a lot less. My guess is that there’s a great variation within this room of people on how much people care about these issues, or whether they’d be able to pay more for food.
The two — the responses I’d have to the question you raise, one is that people — first the externalities things that these guys mentioned. There’s an economic term some of you are obviously familiar with, some of you may be less familiar with, but the idea is that the real cost — people may not be paying the real cost for a product when they buy it, and that creates negative impacts on the world. For example, if the government’s subsidizing corn and that makes it cheaper to buy a hamburger, you’re not paying the real cost of the hamburger. The government’s helping pay the real cost.
When things are being shipped around the world and this is being subsidized and world trade policies get affected, we’re not paying the real cost for the food, and that creates these external impacts on the world in terms of sustainability, negative consequences for sustainability that we talked about so much in the class.
If we did nothing other than pay for the real cost of food, then it would really change a lot the way people would look at food I believe, and probably bring people around to eating more locally and things like that, because they’d be charged more for doing otherwise. But now the economics of food are in a sort of distorted in such a weird way that we’re not paying those real costs.
The second thing is that it — for those of you who care about this as a movement, or believe that changing the food environment is a social good, it’s very important I think that we bring together people who care about this for different reasons. There’s a group of people who care about all these issues for environmental reasons. There’s global warming, it’s depleting the land, its fossil fuel use, and things like that. There’s another group of people who care about it for health reasons, and we’ve talked about those a lot in the class. Those two groups don’t very often connect with one another. There’s another group of people who care about it because of social justice, fairness, equity, and issues like that, and there are probably other people that care about it for other reasons. Each of these groups don’t come together as often as they might, and my feeling is that if they did come together and unite, they would have a much stronger voice and all rally around a single theme, which is better food for more people.
I want to give you guys time to turn in your final projects, but I wanted to thank Melina and Jen once again. Very inspired work they’re doing.
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