Farmer Annie Farrell runs Millstone Farm in Wilton, Connecticut.© Analiese Paik
Betsy Fink, president of the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation and the owner of Millstone Farm, spoke about the global significance of sustainable agriculture. U.S. farm subsidies to the "Big Five" crops of corn, soy, cotton wheat and rice were keeping those products artificially cheap. These crops then became the basis of the majority of our processed food (minus the cotton, of course), making that, in turn, some of the cheapest food around. "Nowhere in that list are there vegetables," Fink told the Greenwich audience.
What’s more, local, sustainable food production could help keep climate change impacts at bay—from conserving water to maintaining soil health and preserving biodiversity by rotating crops and planting heirloom plants. Health Counselor Amy Kalafa, best known as one of the "Two Angry Moms" behind a documentary on transforming school lunches, has seen firsthand how those subsidized, highly processed food items—the Doritos and chicken nuggets and French fries—are being offered at school cafeterias across the country, undermining parents" attempts to keep their kid’s meals healthy, and suggesting, by virtue of their being in schools, that these processed foods are a nutritious choice.
The initial impetus to put food in schools was a good one, says environmental advocate Jayni Chase, another speaker at the event. School lunches were a way to prevent malnourishment in the mid-1940s. But now, it’s obesity, not malnourishment, that is the country’s major food-related concern; driven in part by the fact that we "feed kids grease, fat and over-processed food" at school, Chase says. She founded the Center for Environmental Education in 1988 to help teach K-12 schools how to create environmental leadership among kids through the curriculum, the lunch room and energy-saving, healthy building initiatives.
Fresh Ideas for those in Need
It’s not easy to infiltrate school systems; and those in the neediest urban districts are the ones that can least afford expensive changes and where families have the least easy access to healthy alternatives. That’s where organizations like Wholesome Wave can make an impact. The nonprofit supports farmers and farmers" markets in cities across the country, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Atlanta, Georgia, to nine different locations in Chicago. Besides providing fresh, local food to areas where the closest market is often a convenience store, the nonprofit makes that food more affordable through its Double Value Coupon Program, which doubles the value of food stamps when they’re used at a participating farmers" market (right now, there are more than 60 such markets in 12 states).
"The demand [for fresh, local food] is there," said Betsy Fink. "We have to figure out how to get in there and make it affordable."
CONTACT: Center for Environmental Education; Millstone Farm; Wholesome Wave.
BRITA BELLI is editor of E.