Healthy, sustainable food; brought to you by diligently hard-working, morally conscious, struggling farmers in your area!

Author Lisa Cassidy is originally from Ballston Spa, NY and currently a Master’s student at University at Albany in the Biodiversity, Conservation, and Policy program. She is also an active member on the school’s Sustainability Committee as Grounds Chair and has been working on getting a community garden on campus.

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I am a firm believer in eating healthfully, heartily, and most importantly, locally. This is something I haven’t always been passionate about out of lack of awareness. I am a graduate student at the University at Albany, and I, like many students, have been raised on plastic-wrapped food off the shelf of a grocery store. I never wondered where it came from or how it got there. It was just there; processed into this nice little package in front of me. You could call the past four years an era of enlightenment for me (or else just a knock on the head) as I became well acquainted with issues of our food system and the importance of farmland preservation.

Last month I attended a film screening of The First Season at the Culinary Institute of America. It was a story of a couple, Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh, who ambitiously started up an old dairy farm. The film took you through their personal struggle of balancing responsible dairy farming, finances, and caring for their children. After watching this film, I can tell you there is a big difference between hearing of the struggles of small farmers, and actually seeing it. The film humanized all of the words I have read about and speeches I have heard on the issue of farmland preservation. “The loss of farmland to development” really means the forced shutdown of a hard-earned family farm, the loss of someone’s livelihood, the swallowing of someone’s family heritage by suburban sprawl. I could feel how hard they had worked, how exhausted they were, and at the same time I felt the satisfaction of their achievements. Today, the Van Amburghs remain on this dairy farm after seven trialing years. What a triumph! Their story is representative of the strong, perseverant people that own farms across America.

Following the screening, the audience of culinary students had the chance to interact with a panel of speakers including the Van Amburghs. It was a great discussion that I feel had a profound impact on the students. These are future chefs in our restaurants, hospitals, universities, etc.  The discussion drove home the point of product quality. Choosing to buy from local farms that employ sustainable practices is choosing the highest quality product. It is choosing to support a family that works hard for their living. It is a choice to treat the land and animals with respect. Ultimately, it is a choice to feel good about. Wouldn’t you like to feel that you are making a difference everyday just by picking the right carton of milk?

They say change starts with awareness and ends with action. I want to recreate this amazing day at the Culinary Institute of America a hundred times over. This was an eye-opening event. It is these types of occasions that inspire cultural change. It begs the question of what we value as consumers and what is best for our children. The answer should be healthy, sustainable food that fuels our bodies, supports our farmers, and promotes our local economy! We can’t attain this without responsible choices and, of course, keeping our farms on the land. No farms, no food!