Thursday, August 31, 2017

Upstate girls


Known as “Collar City” because of its roots in textile production, the City of Troy in Rensselaer County has a storied history as one of the most prosperous cities in American history. Through much of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century the city was home to thriving shirt factories and steel mills. Its position along the Hudson River made Troy a key point for meat and vegetable shipments from Vermont to New York City. A significant source of the city’s wealth came from the steel industry. Ore and coal were shipped from the Midwest on the Erie Canal to Troy, where the materials were processed before making their way down the Hudson to New York City. Today, early examples of the nation’s first steel structural supports and iron storefronts can be found in the city’s architecture. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of the best engineering schools in the country, was founded there in 1824.

Photographer Brenda Kenneally’s exhibit Upstate Girls: Unravelling Collar City tells a much different story. The city that was once a shining start of the Industrial Revolution has been hit hard by industrial decline. By 2013, the City’s poverty rate had reached 28% and unemployment hit 8.3%. The Troy residents pictured in Upstate Girls are young women from families who have been left behind by another kind of revolution.


During an artist talk on August 26 at Hudson Hall in Hudson, Kenneally introduced the audience to her project that documents a group of teenagers in poverty-stricken Troy as they move in and out of apartments, serve prison sentences, have babies, and live through addiction, broken families, and failing relationships. In her short film “Blood and Jelly” she shows families celebrating births, eating food, and living lives in their homes. The babies are being born to teenage girls, the food is almost entirely highly processed, and the apartments are filthy and disorganized. Children are unclothed and adults wear pajamas all day. Kenneally talked about the prevalence of sugary and salty foods and how their addictive nature keeps people like her subjects placated.


Also present was writer Linda Tirado who, along with Kenneally, recounted her experience living in poverty and how addiction contributes to the overwhelming prevalence of chemically manufactured food in the diets of poor people.  “The addiction manifests itself even when you don’t realize it,” said Tirado.

Kenneally and Tirado responded to the common why-do-poor-people-eat-so-much-junk-food reaction to their work with the fact that poor people, especially those living in food deserts, and must choose between terrible and worse. The two women recounted a shared experience of the social backlash to their work. Their willingness to share the stories of the poor opened their subjects, and themselves, to vile reactions and judgement from viewers. They talked about how we demoralize lower classes for how they comfort themselves and how at the same time they’re not able to defend themselves. Part of the problem is that there exists insufficient language to help us talk about how little people exist on. Tirado explained these two tracks of society were as firmly in place in the past as they are today, and she doubted that people could have an honest discussion in the current political climate when people are consumed with fighting about what’s fake news and what is not.


Kenneally’s work was displayed as part of the LightField festival of “lens-based art” spotlighting social issues and generating discussion about the role of visual storytelling, as well as including diverse participation from the community of gentrifying community of Hudson. The Hudson Hall displays were part of the JUST THE FACTS exhibit investigating marginalized people left behind by technology and globalization

Kenneally’s photos, of survival and resilience, will be released in a 300-page book in 2018. She established A Little Creative Class, Inc., a nonprofit, to benefit people like those pictured in her work. The mentorship program targets youths ages 18-21 who live outside of New York City, offering them opportunities to explore art and help them reach their full potential and find economic self-sufficiency in an increasingly idea-based economy. The program removes youths, whose capacity was diminished from the beginning, from the daily drama, scarcity and violence of their neighborhoods to expose them to a drama-free environment where they can explore art and science. The organization’s website outlines the science behind child development and creativity:  
Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to “place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,” the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.


Some of the Little Creative Class participants were present at the artist talk and spoke about their experience. Participants who return to their communities are encouraged to act as mentors, bringing knowledge, connections, and tools to new faces.

Brenda Kenneally: www.brendakenneally.com
A Little Creative Class, Inc.: www.alittlecreativeclass.org
LightField Festival of Photography & Multimedia Art: www.lightfield.vu

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Water sources


What’s in your water? Maybe medicine that was flushed down the toilet, chemicals seeping from a landfill, pesticides or fuel. The path of contaminants from their source to our drinking water was the issue at the center of the Newburgh Clean Water Project’s recent meeting.

Almost everyone who lives in or near Newburgh is familiar with the water supply’s contamination with PFOS. Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid is a key ingredient in firefighting foam and when it was identified in Newburgh’s water supply from Washington Lake, the NYS DEC took action to identify Stewart Air National Guard base as a source. The focus of the meeting of the Newburgh Clean Water Project was to educate the public about the situation. Besides offering a platform for discussion, the local action group gave a presentation on local water contamination and prepped attendees with materials for letter writing.

The chemical was first identified in 2014 and since then the Stewart Air National Guard Base as a Superfund site which requires it be cleaned up by the Department of Defense. The City offers blood testing for residents, but PFOS testing is different than the lead testing the general public is more familiar with. Not only are there fewer labs that offer the service, but the tests require a doctor’s prescription. Organizers proposed one solution: a public meeting at St. Luke’s hospital with a doctor onsite to write prescriptions. Another interesting practice that was discussed was the Department of Health’s tracking of test results. Though the agency tracks cancer diagnoses and clusters, they don’t track non-cancer health effects such as neurological and kidney issues caused by our environments. These are studied by the Center for Disease Control.


It was fascinating to learn that the City of Newburgh’s water system was designed in the 19th century when the lands were natural and pristine. Since then, the advent of the automobile and construction of the Interstate highway system moved the transportation hub from the Hudson River westward toward the intersection of I-84 and I-87.

Presenters referred to another case of contaminated water in the village of Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County. In 2015 community members contacted the government with concerns after their own testing revealed contaminants, Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Trichloroethylene (TCE), in the water. This led to the village’s Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, its largest employer, to be placed on the EPA’s superfund site list. A Superfund site is land identified as containing hazardous waste and has been identified by the EPA as being a risk to human health and/or the environment. The sites are put on a list and remediation is made a top priority.


The group’s presentation included observances made during a recent walking tour of the affected areas. Aerial maps showed how the City’s water supply is sourced from outside its boundaries, limiting the City’s ability to legislate for its own safety. It was fascinating to see an unlined capped landfill in New Windsor that I didn’t know existed. Organizers explained the strategic designation of wetlands in the heart of the region we were examining. Wetlands are important for water purification, shoreline stabilization, ground water recharge, and they act as protection from floods. The map indicated, in green color, a region of wetlands sitting downhill from Stewart ANG base. The small splotches of green indicated regions that measured 12 acres or less, which are classified as insignificant wetlands. If the divisions caused by man-made roadways were combined, the wetlands region would total 50-70 acres. The map showed the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline project which would cut straight through the region.

The group distributed materials to help attendees draft and mail letters to politicians and the Department of Defense, and stressed the importance of asking smart and informed questions to politicians who are already overwhelmed. They stressed that our local water safety issue is at the same time an international issue. Urban planners, businesses, and environmental activists worldwide have this same discussion. It is possible to simultaneously have our businesses and clean water, and it’s important to not hastily blame unethical decisions for the contaminants in our water, but be mindful that they are perhaps simply the result of poor planning. The group’s mission comes from a place of a long-term solution: not fighting lots of small fires or having to renew the same fight again in five or so years for yet another chemical.

Newburgh Clean Water Project: www.facebook.com/newburghcleanwaterproject

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Obtainable objects


One of my favorite places in Newburgh is the Ann Street Gallery. This award winning space on Ann Street features contemporary art exhibits and I was excited to experience Bon Marche on its very last day. Translated from French as ‘cheap’ or ‘a good deal,’ the exhibit featured lower priced works, mostly prints, of incredible variety: beetles, cityscapes, cupcakes, cats, and postage stamps were just a few. A massive concrete block covered with the image of a horse lay on the floor and 3D paper collages were displayed in the center of the entrance.  


Though the gallery is small, the works displayed gave a comprehensive look at the art of printmaking. As indicated on their website:

With over 200 distinctive pieces by 48 artists from across the country and abroad, the show presents a fluid exchange of ideas and explores the endless possibilities open to contemporary printmakers. Every form of the printmaking technique is covered, including calligraphy, etching, monotype, metal relief, dry point, silkscreen, polyp late, screen-printing, lithography, woodcut, collage, and digital. Viewers of the exhibition can also expect to see some original prints that break new ground in the use of the medium.


Up next at the gallery is the Interaction of Colour, a group exhibit about the visual element of color and how it shapes how we feel.

Ann Street Gallery: www.annstreetgallery.org

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Refugee experience


What is it like to pack for a destination unknown? To leave a war torn home, unsure if you’ll ever return? These are the questions faced by the protagonist in Marina Antropow Cramer’s novel Roads. The author read excerpts from her novel and answered questions at the Fullerton Center for Culture & History in Newburgh on Saturday June 24. 

Set in Yalta and Germany during the World War II, the story follows Filip, a young Russian man whose life is put on hold by the war. Filip dreams of going to university to make his mark in the world as an architect, but is stopped by the war which robs him of the some of the most formative years of his life and now he and his family can only try to stay alive.


Antropow Cramer talked about the political climate of the region during Nazi descent into Filip’s homeland and how families had few options. An excerpt illustrated the family considering what to take when they realized abandoning home was imminent. They questioned what would happen to the items they left behind. Even if refugees were given the chance to return home they found it much different than before they left.  

The author talked about how most books explore a question or seek to help people better understand something. Her book’s theme centers around the plight of refugees. Antropow Cramer was born into a family of refugees from the Soviet Union

She had heard stories and as she would explain her ancestry, realized she didn’t know the material well. ”When you don’t know much, it shows when you try to explain it to someone else,” she said.


The book is not about her family, but is set around the experience shared by her ancestors. Armed with the knowledge that stories can be nostalgic and romanticized when passed down through the oral tradition, she first made sure the historical framework of dates and events was accurate. Antropow Cramer visited the area, but not Yalta itself, and she encouraged us to question if that fact is an advantage or not. Would actually being there help the author tell the story? The Yalta of today is much different than the Yalta of the 1940s.

The title “Roads” stems from a 1945 song dealing with war, brotherhood, and losing and leaving people. Song, food and stories are a common thread of the refugee tapestry. Does the story have a happy ending? The author says that’s a matter of interpretation.

Marina Antropow Cramer: www.marinaantropowcramer.com

Fullerton Center for Culture & History: www.fullertonculturalcenter.wordpress.com

Monday, June 26, 2017

Omelas & suffering


There’s one piece of literature from middle school (or high school, I don’t remember) that stays with me. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is a 1973 short story by Ursula Le Guin, a descriptive tale with no timeline. A joyous festival takes place in a Utopian paradise: horses with braided manes being readied for a race by children with mud-stained feet, dancing in the street, music, grand parks and moss-grown gardens, a child playing a wooden flute. There exists no king, no swords, no slaves, no clergy.  

The perfection of Omelas and the indulgences enjoyed by its residents is contingent upon a horrendous situation in the basement of one of its magnificent buildings. The situation is not a secret. Everyone is aware, and it is explained to children when they are about 8 or 12. Though all are shocked and sickened and wonder what they can do to help, they turn around and retreat to Omelas’ magnificent architecture and abundant harvests. 

But some react differently.

"At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates."


We’ve all seen the hidden camera clips of chicks being stomped to death by the dozens at factory farms, or dogs suffering horrendous effects while subject to medical experiments. It’s suffering that most of us turn away from because it’s hard to think about, justifying our complicit support by reasoning that the ends justify the means.


My friend Susan and I recently did a volunteer day at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls. The sanctuary regularly rescues farmed animals from horrific circumstances and its residents represent a tiny sliver of the most exploited animals in the world.  The 150-acre site houses over 340 animals including chickens, cows, goats, sheep, and others. Volunteers can sign up in advance to help muck pens and clean enclosures, while visitors are welcome to tour the sanctuary as well. We spend our time shoveling the turkey barns, and then doing the same for the goats area. The center’s website has great resources about their history, animal exploitation, volunteer and visitor resources, and an online store.

The sanctuary advocates veganism as a path we can take to reduce suffering. It’s important to remember who suffers for our first world luxuries and making sure our choices align with our values is key to becoming a conscious consumer.


Woodstock Farm Sanctuary: www.woodstocksanctuary.org
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: www.utilitarianism.com/nu/omelas.pdf

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stay in


Lately I’ve been thinking about sugar, particularly of the added variety. Donuts, cookies, sugary drink- so common, but just nutritionally void. When I was in middle school, every day for lunch I would eatc a lemon Snapple and a chipwich ice cream sandwich. Studies reveal again and again that sugar causes obesity, diabetes, etc—but we continue to eat something stuff that gives us nothing physically. The worst is when junk foods take the place of healthy choices, like the lunch I ate every day in school.

Last month my friend Susan and I stayed at Arbor Bed & Breakfast in High Falls. I know “charming” is an overused description, but it fits. I’m definitely a breakfast person and have been my whole life, so I was excited to see our host served cereal, and it was a sugar-free variety.


High Falls is a rural artsy village and the Arbor is a short walk from the village center. The B&B’s proprietor, Nancy, was familiar with guests, like us, who stay with her as part of volunteer service at the nearby Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. Nancy’s home is large and offers multiple spaces, each named a different color, for guests to choose from. Outside are a porch and garden, and indoors near the kitchen is a reading room filled with art books and info on local cultural interests and attractions. Nancy can accommodate small weddings and dinner parties.


For the breakfast Nancy prepared for us, she accommodated my friend Susan’s vegan diet. She can prepare for guests a bag lunch, especially welcome for farm sanctuary volunteers.

Though our stay at the Arbor was short, we left a charming reminder of what it feels like to have someone make you breakfast. 


Arbor Bed & Breakfast: www.arborbb.com

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Habitat changes


It’s a funny thing when a transformation renders a once-popular nickname irrelevant. Strolling past clean, well-maintained homes on a certain section of East Parmenter Street in Newburgh, you’d never guess that until a few years ago this area was dubbed “crack alley”.

Earlier this month I took a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tour with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, a free public event similar to an open house and bus tour of their projects within the city. The event began at Habitat’s main office on Washington Street with a video about the agency. Staff elaborated on Habitat’s mission, we heard testimonials from homeowner families who escaped housing issues like overcrowding and deterioration, and volunteers talked about what inspired them to start working with the organization.


Executive Director Kathy Collins demonstrated the impact of Habitat and the needs it meets. The organization has served 101 families since its founding and is about to dedicate its 88th house next month. In addition to also constructing shelters for families in other countries, most recently in Mexico and Haiti, the organization does minor exterior repairs for agencies that serve the community. Collins explained the family selection process from home visits to the final decision made by the board of directors. Staff talked about situations that face families such as severe overcrowding, children seeping in closets, poorly-functioning bathrooms, fuseboxes located in a separate apartment, and apartments entirely without electricity. One family had a heater that shot fire into the center of the living quarters. The cabinets in one family’s kitchen were covered in aluminum foil to shield them from leaks from an upstairs apartment. Other examples were a toilet that spun around. Why do families stay in these situations? Many either don’t know their rights or they fear eviction. The families who qualify for assistance are hardworking and employed, but don’t have the means to walk away from a bad situation.


Staff answered common frequently asked questions and dispelled myths about how families are chosen. Staff examine a family’s income, their work history, and their ability to partner with the agency by providing 250-500 hours of “sweat equity” in their own home, that of another, or at the ReStore shop. Families must take classes on budgeting, credit, home repair, and how to be a good neighbor. Habitat is funded through individual gifts, volunteers, and some government funding usually for the purpose of lead and asbestos abatement.

Next was a tour of some of the organization’s projects. We began by walking next door to 123 Washington Street to explore a live/work project which combines living and commercial space. This style targets entrepreneurs and this particular home belonged to a photographer and his family. The Collins explained that Whirlpool donates stoves and fridges to each project, and that the bamboo flooring we stood upon was allergen-free and more sustainable than hardwoods.  


We boarded a small bus for the mobile part of our tour. The use of bus itself was donated and driven by Frank, the CFO is local Leprechaun Lines. Heading down Ann Street we saw a 3-family building being stabilized alongside a grassy lot that was to remain as green space. Next up was a Veterans Build project on Clark Street, 3 gut rehabs in different stages on South Miller Street. Some of these projects were partnership with the Newburgh Community Land Bank and RUPCO and are part of a plan to stabilize the whole block. One home featured lumber from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. As we viewed projects, staff passed around photos of buildings with boarded windows and charred roofs, to show us how they looked before renovations. 


On our drive down Chambers Street we learned this block had no sidewalks at the start. Habitat doesn’t use vinyl siding on buildings, but prefers a hardy cementitious version. Next we crossed Broadway and turned onto East Parmenter, formerly known as “crack alley”, which featured projects completed by Americorps volunteers and Faith Build. Other building groups include Women Build, Episcopal Build, Gap Industries, Veterans Build, Health build with Saint Luke’s Hospital, and Education Build. Around the corner stood a building used as transitional housing for families in dire circumstances until their homes are ready.

This regularly scheduled tour is a great way to learn and ask questions about how the organization is reshaping the footprint of the City of Newburgh as they work to eradicate poverty, bring the American dream to more people, better the health and wellbeing of children, generate city revitalization and environmental restoration, develop community, and expand the tax base.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh: www.habitatnewburgh.org

Saturday, May 6, 2017

City farming


Free seedlings. Gourmet sorbet. Compost. Chickens. The Newburgh Urban Farming Fair had something for everyone. Held on Saturday, April 29 on Grand Street in Newburgh, this annual celebration of the city’s focus on agriculture brought together local farms, community organizations, vendors, donors and the arts to and promote food production and environmental conservation within the City of Newburgh.

The fair was part of Newburgh Last Saturdays, a monthly celebration of the arts, culture, and community in historic downtown Newburgh.


Attendees met chickens and goats, learned from Cornell Master Gardener’s “Ask a Gardener” service, experiment with composting and waste management, and meet gardeners from almost a dozen of Newburgh’s community gardens. Other activities included a bee demonstration as well as seed planting projects with local food educator Hudson Valley Seed and Michaels.

A highlight of the fair was a free performance of “Dirt; The Secret Life of Soil” by Arm-of-the-Sea Puppet and Mask Theater. The Malden-on-Hudson-based performance group combines art, ecology and social action to create works performed at cultural centers, festivals, community venues and schools around the U.S.


Food vendors included local granola, gourmet sorbet, sausage and cheese, and a baked goods. A farmers market offered vegetables, eggs, and info on CSAs.  

The Newburgh Urban Farming Fair’s mission is to “Nourish a healthy Newburgh through access to fresh food and urban gardening education.” The event is a collaboration of community organizations including Downing Park Urban Farm, NHS Center for Hope, and Hudson Valley Seed.

Newburgh Urban Farming Fair:  www.facebook.com/newburghurbanfarmingfair

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moral panic


Ostracizing people who don’t fit the public mold thing is nothing new. Though as a whole we get better and better about accepting our differences, history repeatedly reminds us that a slippery slope can make a panicking public turn exclusion into something totally horrendous.

At a recent gallery talk at Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh, artist Alisa Read talked about the inspiration behind her current installation. Read’s Victim or Target series is part of the gallery’s Mythology exhibit and she drew her story from the infamous trials of the Pendle witches in England.

According to gallery materials Read is a “contemporary artist whose present work focuses on the dominance of male hierarchies in religious, political and social culture and its connection with the persecution and sacrifice of women in 17th century England.”


For Victim or Target Read scortched sheets of cotton cloth and draped them to form ghostly figures, representing eight of the executed women. Because no photograhs of the women were available, Read incorporated images of her own face into each piece.

The women were forced to walk 51 miles between Barrowford and Lancaster, England to reach the destination where they were tried, hung and burned at the gallows. As part of her project Read actually carried her figures along the same path, now known as the Lancashire Witches Walk, which was opened to the public in 2012 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the trials. Read gave gallery’s audience a look at the book she created as a symbol of the 91 days the women spent in prison as well.

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, over 400 men and women were accused of witchcraft and executed in England. The group Read focused on lived in the rural cotton-manufacturing Pendle Hill region of Lancashire. What makes this particular trial unique is the thoroughness of documentation that exists thanks to proceedings recorded by clerk Thomas Potts.  


Cultural changes and religious superstitions contributed to the social climate that led to the executions. When King James I took the English throne in the early 1600s he brought with him an intense interest in Protestant theology. His book Daemonologie encouraged followers to denounce witchcraft and its followers.  In 1612 every Justice of the Peace in Lancashire was instructed to report people who refused to attend the English Church and take communion, known as recusants. The King James Bible actually has passages encouraging violence against witches:
  • Exodus 22:18 - Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
  • Leviticus 20:27 - A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood [shall be] upon them.

Read talked about other factors that contributed to moral panic and persecution. Doctors, usually male, were not fond of witches' roles in the emergence of herbal medicine and midwifery in rural communities. Most victims were poor and mundane women who were simply trying to help their isolated communities, but were turned into scapegoats for what was wrong with society.

Americans are familiar with our own society’s role in the witch trials in Salem, Massachussets. In G. Adams book The Specter of Salem: Remembering the Witch Trials in Nineteenth-Century America she described the narrative as a “vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.”

Witches have been pardoned by government in Sweden and the U.S. but England still has not done so for the women who inspired Read’s project.  



Read is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Huddersfield and focuses on the religious persecution of women in 17th Century England. She explained to her audience her current research on Pagan altars and her upcoming trip to Salem Massachussets to study the region’s witch trials.

Read’s research brought her to meet practicing witches who she described as normal people, one about 35 years old and living as an average member of the community in a normal home with children. Read’s objective with Victim or Target is to give a face to the persecuted and she encouraged us to imagine witches outside of popular “Disneyfied” evil characters with black hats and broomsticks.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Power of the public plate


Did you know school lunch system was developed as a measure of national security? The standards were signed into law after military recruits, who had spent their early years in the Great Depression, were identified as malnourished and unfit for military service. Generals pressured Congress to enact the National School Lunch Act in 1946 as a way to ensure well-fed children developed into effective troops.  

That was just one of the neat facts I learned at Our Food System: From Producer to Consumer: What You Need to Know – What You Can Do at SUNY Orange in Newburgh. The lecture’s presenter Kathy Lawrence, Co-founder and Senior Director of School Food Focus, talked about the state of U.S. food systems, how policy got us here, and how we can change. The presentation was a partnership with the Newburgh Urban Farming Fair, an annual agricultural event coming up later this month in Newburgh. The fair’s coordinator Virginia Kasinki, who is also the Outreach Manager for the city’s Downing Park Urban Farm, opened the talk with a summary of the fair’s beginnings, produce donation program and a short history of the park’s nearby farm whose seasonal pubic events start this season.  

For over 20 years Lawrence has worked in policy and projects in sustainable agriculture and food justice. She opened the talk with questions for the audience about their knowledge and connection to food, from backyard garden harvests to feeding systems in institutions. Her work at School Food Focus, a national collaborate that connects school districts and food businesses, helps schools develop an effective supply chain that results in healthy meals for students. The organization’s mission stems from the all-too-documented connection between student success and poor diet, disrupted eating patterns, and limited access to healthy food.

One key event brought about the idea of connecting school districts to strengthen their bargaining power. A district was receiving containers of yogurt from Dannon that were too large for their elementary students and food was going to waste. The school approached the manufacturer about reducing the package size, but didn’t get the response they hoped for. School districts have such a low price point per meal per student, making it essential that they be exact with their demands. School Food Focus connects districts and successes include creating an ingredient guide to enable schools to identify harmful ingredients and creates new lines of items. The organization was instrumental in pressuring large chicken producers like Tyson and Perdue to eliminate antibiotics. Chicken is number one protein served across the country.



Lawrence helped the audience divide the food system into three categories:
  • Conventional - Large scale, concentration of power profit, benefits flow to private sector, costs accrue to public sector, contributes to a loss of farmland and farmers and farming, negative environmental health effects, decreases in biodiversity
  • Alternative - Smaller scale, direct to consumer, farmer’s markets, contribute to gains in farmland and farming
  • Ag of the Middle - Midsized, have the capacity to serve volume to key institutions like schools. These don’t typically offer CSAs, farmers markets or pick your own. They might sell truckloads of apples wholesale
The current shape of our food system is not an accident and it’s not the natural path of progress. Lawrence talked about how policy got us here and how her organization is using it as a lever for change, with the goal to make the default choice be the easiest and healthiest choice. Lawrence talked about the roots, current state, and future of the Farm Bill which connects what’s on our plates to producers, and the Child Nutrition Act which serves 30.4 million children in our schools.

School Food Focus’ core beliefs are that we’re all connected and collaboration is essential. Lawrence stressed the importance of making your voice heard and how clear, informed, organized citizen action gets things done. She talked about the importance to letting lawmakers know when we want change. Even though issues needing change appear to be all over the news and social media, that doesn’t mean lawmakers are in the loop. Lawrence talked about not giving lawmakers the opportunity to say “we are not hearing from you people.” Even five or six phone calls about a particular issue can make them pay attention.   

What can we do? Everyone knows about “making your dollar count” but we shouldn’t stop there. Don’t know where to begin? Lawrence says that’s not uncommon. We can contribute to public comment periods, sign up for alerts that outline who, what, and where about your message. Making activism a group activity can be fun and empowering.

A citizen push for legislation, rules, and protections can snowball. Just Food’s network of fresh food training and resources for the New York City community began with just a handful of volunteers, and the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) developed as a response to public input.

Today we find plenty of bad news about government and food systems and policy, but there’s a lot of good happening. Change starts on a personal level and Lawrence encouraged the audience to find their passion. Kids can’t wait for healthy food.

School Food Focus: www.schoolfoodfocus.org

Friday, March 31, 2017

Himalayan understanding


I got out of the Hudson Valley for a day. Since learning about the Rubin Museum a few months ago, I wanted to take a trip. This museum in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood celebrates the culture of the Himalayan region and its neighboring countries. Current exhibits profiled the significance of seasons and weather patterns, as well as introduced visitors to the concept of Om.


Nepal’s geography is diverse. This country in South Asia has arable plains, forested hills, and is the home to almost all of the world’s tallest mountains including Mount Everest. The Rubin’s exhibit Nepalese Seasons: Rain & Ritual connects its seasons and weather events with ancient deities and festivals that honor the the cyclical weather.

Another exhibition is Om Lab: Offer Your Voice which introduces visitors to the sacred sound of Om, which is over 3 thousand years old and believed to contain the power of all other universal mantras. The public can enter an on-site recording booth to easily record a sound of their own to contribute to what will be the largest collective chant of Om.  



The museum has a restaurant and shop. Rubin visitors can schedule their trip to coincide with the museum’s calendar of films, concerts, and on-stage conversations, Admission is free on Fridays from 6-10pm during K2 Friday Nights along with café drinks specials, a DJ, and an ethnic tapas menu. Besides regular daily tours, the museum offers Mindful Connections tours for visitors with Alzheimer’s or dementia, along with their caretakers. Attendees enjoy complimentary tea at the café and a program designed to engage them with the displays and with the group. 

Rubin Museum:
 www.rubinmuseum.org

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Juice trip


With springtime I’m renewing focus on my health. It’s easy to feel bombarded with supplement suggestions during online research, but I want to experiment with nutrition in whole foods first. I’m exploring sources of protein other than meat and was amazed to learn that 1 cup of the Greek yogurt that’s in my fridge provides 46% of my protein needs. I’m also incorporating more nutrient-rich vegetables like beets and carrots.


My coworker Luisa and her husband just opened a juice bar so I made the trip with my cousin last weekend. PK Blendz, on Main Street in Peekskill, has a colorful smoothie and juice menu. Choices range from the super fruity PK Classic (kale, banana, mango passion fruit) to the earthy PK Green Tea (grapes, spinach, avocado, green tea and honey).  They were on the verge of serving the PK Vegan Burger made of black lentils, black quinoa and sweet potato. I never liked sweet potatoes until I learned about their health benefits earlier this year. I’ve been incorporating them in sweet potato falafel sandwiches.

It's exciting to see yet another small business grow and succeed--especially one with a focus on health. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Surface shapes


Hudson Valley photographer Lonnie Schlein is famous for his images of presidential elections, celebrities, and the September 11 attacks. At the Lonnie Schlein Photography Exhibition last month I knew we would see images of poverty-stricken nations and President Obama’s inaugural celebration, but one particular photo was different. The bubbly orbs in his Strange Shapes image are a subtle but familiar sight in rural Cuddebackville where I grew up.

They foamy shapes form on the surface of a calm section of the Neversink River under a bridge on Paradise Road. His downward angle yields the same view as when we threw stones or dropped fishing lines from the bridge. Schlein was our neighbor and I’ve known his family my whole life. I honestly can’t think of which memory came first: Lonnie or the river shapes.    



Schlein’s exhibit was at Roost Studios & Art Gallery in New Paltz. The center offers Tai Chi and KUNG FU classes, drawing classes, poets groups and more.

Roost Studios & Art Gallery: www.roostcoop.org

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Taking sides


Earlier this month I read Elie Wiesel’s 1960 book Night about his experience and escape from Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. His first-hand account matched a face to this time in history and I researched more about Hitler’s rise, the camps, targeted populations, and the treatment of people. I learned about Wiesel’s life-long activism to protect victims and share stories about oppression and genocide.

We must always take sides,” said Wiesel. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Last month I attended my first ever march. Hundreds of people convened at the tiny Ulster County town of Woodstock for the Women’s March on Woodstock on Saturday January 21. The group’s mission, along with that of marchers at similar events worldwide, was to “send a message that we stand together in solidarity and expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities.” 

Women, men, and children brought signs with messages about women’s reproductive health, immigration, gender issues, harassment, the environment, healthcare, diversity, science, freedom, and patriarchy. It was reassuring to see people of all ages, from strollers to walkers, sharing the same vision for our future.


Following that, last week I attended Defend Planned Parenthood: A Counter Protest in Newburgh outside the Planned Parenthood office in Newburgh. Anti-choice activists chose Saturday, February 11 to hold demonstrations against Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide, and counter events in support of the organization’s health services were organized as well. Policymakers often treat gynecological care differently from other forms of care, but ask any woman and you’ll find that reproductive healthcare is a fundamental part of life. I’m a patient at the Newburgh office so I felt attendance was important. Lots of drivers passing the group sent waves, shouts and beeps of support, 

I invited people to attend and one woman told me my presence may not be a good idea because someone who opposes me could snap a picture of me and use my image in a skewed and vulgar way to further their own goal. True, but fear is paralyzing. I heard it quoted that we overestimate danger. It took me a long time to convince myself of that. We can’t make everybody happy, and the fear about our perception to the public will prevent us from doing almost anything.