Two local organizations have teamed up with volunteers from SUNY Cortland to promote wellness, sustainability, local business and community identity — one mouthful at a time.
The resulting movement, called Students for Local Foods, is sponsoring a series of sustainable lunches and promotional workshops, created to give SUNY Cortland students a taste of regionally produced foods and educate them about the importance of eating local.
The events began in early February and will continue through the end of April.
Today, many people who live and work in Cortland County often overlook the wonderful opportunities that lay within its perimeter, according to Gary Smith, director of Moving in Congregations, Acting in Hope (MICAH), and Sara Watrous, program coordinator of Sustainable Cortland.
Smith and Watrous, whose groups are organizing the events, understand how supporting local and regional food industries reduces pollution, improves the local economy and helps foster a deeper sense of community among residents.
“In the late 1970s and into the early ’80s, the area lost many industries such as Smith Corona, Rubbermaid, various corset companies, and the notable Wickwire Brother’s wire mill,” Smith said. “It was the departure of these massive corporations, leaving so many out of work, that caused the area to lose a sense of community.”
By supporting local food growers, restaurants, and health food stores involved in the industry, active members are able to feel the community come together once again, he said.
Representatives of MICAH and Sustainable Cortland anticipate that through these events, both students and the community will become active participants in the local and regional food industry.
Throughout the spring semester, Students for Local Foods will feature Sustainable Lunches: an assortment of workshops with cooking demonstrations and food tastings featuring regionally produced edibles.
The first Lunch, held in Neubig Hall on Feb. 7, highlighted beef from Moravia, N.Y., dairy products from Upstate Farms in Rochester, N.Y., baked goods from Auburn, N.Y., and Dryden, N.Y., and more.
The next event from Students for Local Foods will be from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, at The Blue Burrito, 11 Groton Ave., in Cortland.
The remaining sustainable food events will be March 4 at Neubig, March 26 at Brix Pubaria, April 12 at Neubig and April 22 at the Blue Frog Café. Interested eaters can register through the Sustainable Cortland website.
By eating locally, consumers are able to learn where the food on their plates came from and what conditions it was produced under, according to Smith and Watrous. Eating local lessens concern about unknowing exposure to harmful pesticides, reduces the cost of transportation services, and scales back the amount of pollution emitted from the vehicles that transport produce from all over the world.
The organizers provided one example of a local, sustainable food operation. Main Street Farms in Homer, N.Y., is not the typical run-of-the-mill “farm,” but rather, a flood and drain system called an aquaponic or hydroponic farm. Co-owned by Bob “Bobcat” Cat and Allen Gandelman, the greenhouse-style aquaponic farm uses a living filter made of fresh water and live fish in a tank on the bottom. The water is siphoned up by a tube to the top, where lettuce seeds are planted in expanding clay pellets that promote bacteria growth.
The bacteria convert the water into a nitrogen-based fertilizer so that the flourishing plants are constantly receiving nutrient-filled water. The partners practice a complex, yet effective way to naturally grow vegetation.
An old technology, aquaponics is scarcely used today.
There are only about four people in New York who practice this form of agriculture, mainly because there is a large capital investment in starting up an aquaponics farm, Cat said. But the benefits are certainly reaped.
The regional food industry has many other successful businesses that either produce or support local foods. They include: Syracuse Real Food Group in Syracuse, N.Y.; LoFo in Armory Square of Syracuse, N.Y.; Cortland Produce Cash and Carry; Brix Pubaria; Central City Bar and Grill and The Blue Burrito in Cortland, N.Y.; and Oh My Goodness Health Food and Dasher’s Corner Pub in Homer, N.Y.
Aside from dining out, Watrous spoke of another way to get students involved in the industry that can be done in their own kitchens. Community Supported Agriculture — better known as CSAs — have recently been offered to the Cortland community and surrounding areas.
After paying a set price, participants are able to pick up a new box per week of locally grown, in-season vegetables.
Sustainable Cortland is looking to work with the suppliers of Central New York CSAs to offer lower-priced and smaller sized boxes for Cortland students, Watrous said. Workshops will be available to teach those students how to cook with what they have received.
Obtaining foods locally does away with the packaging of foods, which in and of itself contributes to health issues, according to Smith.
By supporting the local food industry, people are able to help one another in today’s working class, and to lead a healthy lifestyle, he said.
For more information on Students for Local Foods, visit the Sustainable Cortland website and click on the link to Students for Local Foods.