Fresh Air and Fresh Food For All: First Farm Trip of the Season!

On Friday, July 11th, Just Food and United Way of NYC kicked off the 2014 Local Produce Link farm trip season. Forty-two visitors from four Bronx-based pantries headed to South Cairo, NY to visit their farmers, Deb and Pete Kavakos of Stoneledge Farm. It was one of a series of annual trips designed to generate excitement about fresh vegetables, build relationships between family farms and emergency food programs, and give food pantry staff, volunteers, and clients the opportunity to spend a beautiful day on the farm.

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Reflections on the farm trip from Sonya Kharas, Just Food’s new Fresh Food for All Program Coordinator

I was standing in the middle of a field in South Cairo, New York. To my right, farmer Pete Kavakos was harvesting heads of Napa Cabbage with a small crew, carrying the black crates over to a truck that was parked just ahead. China, a volunteer from the Hope Line Food Pantry in the South Bronx,  looked at the crates as she walked past. She turned to farmer Deb Kavakos and asked, “What’s that?"  This was Napa Cabbage, Deb explained, and it was one of the vegetables that Deb, Pete, and their son Peter Jr. had sent down to the Bronx pantries a few weeks before. “Oh,” said China, surprised. “Well, send it down again next week. I never took it before, but now I want to try it.”

"This is why I do my job," I thought. 

The entire morning had been a dream. The sun was shining and the skies were blue as we got off the bus at Stoneledge Farm. Deb and Peter Jr. had set up picnic tables and hay bales in the shade of the barn, and we sat and ate our lunch together. A woman from Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development passed around glasses and a bottle of homemade ginger soda; the perfect restorative after a long bus ride from the Bronx.

I looked around the table. A man from Spanish Prospect Seventh-Day Adventist Church joked around with Peter Jr., whom he had met on this farm trip two years earlier. Three boys from Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development clambered onto an old wagon with Andy Ollove, an intern with Just Food in the Fresh Food for All Program. And a woman from Bronx Citadel Salvation Army sang a beautiful hymn, dedicated to the farmers and their land.

Very few people have the opportunity to thank the farmers that grow their food. And very few farmers have the opportunity to hear that gratitude. Part of my job is to create these opportunities; through the Local Produce Link program, Just Food and the United Way of NYC connect local farmers to New York City residents working and participating in the emergency food system. We do this not only to increase access and consumption of fresh, local, produce, but to do so in a way that fosters shared experiences, builds relationships, and engenders trust. 

After lunch, Deb and Peter Jr. gave us a tour of the farm. They showed us the bee hives and the chicken coop, and told us about a recent visitor in the shape of a 400-pound bear “who liked honey, but wasn’t as friendly as Winnie the Pooh." They taught us about crop rotation, irrigation systems, and natural pest control. They let us harvest cilantro, and eagerly listened to dozens of variations on the “best sofrito.” They handed out clippers and let us loose in the flower beds, patiently wrapping wet paper towels around each of our bouquets.  And then they brought us to the creek, where we took off our shoes and waded, skipped stones, dunked our heads (“can’t do this in the Hudson”), and relaxed until the early afternoon.

As we walked back to the bus, I talked to a woman from the HopeLine who said she had never been to a farm before. I asked her what she had thought about the trip. “It was good, but maybe next time we can sleep over,” she said, grinning.

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