Here at Stony Point Center Farm, we are in the thick of harvest season. In these hot and humid August days, we’ve been harvesting yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, red and purple peppers, carrots, beets, potatoes, delicata squash, and even a few eggplants. We had our first gap in lettuce production this season (we had been producing it steadily since May until last week) but with cooler temperatures already creeping into the forecast, we anticipate more lettuce in the weeks and months to come. Our work of harvesting in the fields has been accompanied by making preparations for fall. We’ve been diligently broadforking the fallow half of Cornerstone Garden in order to seed cover crops by the end of the month. As usual, we’re keeping busy!
Even with all the work in the fields, this year the Stony Point Center Farm has launched a pair of new food justice educational programs that we are excited to share about.
Hudson Valley Food Justice Corps
The Hudson Valley Food Justice Corps is a collaborative effort between SPC Farm and Hudson River Presbytery’s Food Justice Network. Thanks to a generous Challenge to Change grant from the Hudson River Presbytery, we have accepted five youth from the Presbytery into the Food Justice Corps. The purpose of this program is to bring injustices in our food system to light for these young people and provide them with the tools and support necessary to become leaders in their communities that inspire thoughtful action toward addressing these injustices.
The members of the Food Justice Corps have visited Stony Point Center Farm twice a month throughout the summer getting hands on experience working with the land. They have weeded, seeded, harvested, and composted. They even started a vermicompost system here where worms transform food waste into valuable compost for the farm. However, the highlight of the Food Justice Corps’ experience so far has been an overnight trip to Rural and Migrant Ministry’s Liberty, NY, office to work with RMM’s Youth Economic Group and hear first-hand about the struggles for food justice in a community that is less than a two hour drive from where they live.
During our time in Liberty, there were two experiences in particular that illuminated the struggle for food justice in that particular context, both of which centered on foodworkers’ right to be treated with dignity and fairness. RMM’s staff invited a special guest to join us for dinner during our stay, a woman in the community who had recently been fired from her job working at a food processing factory in town that employs about 400 people in the community. She explained that Ideal Snacks fired about 200 workers who had been working at the company for several years to avoid granting the workers the vacation time they had earned as dedicated, long-time employees. Our dinner guest told us that the company hid behind the excuse that workers were fired because, as undocumented immigrants to the United States, they lacked the proper work permits to be employed. However, the fired workers were replaced by a new group comprised primarily of undocumented immigrants. Our guest shared her personal story of struggle, beginning with a decision to leave her home and family in El Salvador due to violence and government corruption, along with her community’s current struggle to organize the fired workers to demand compensation for the vacation time they earned while working at Ideal Snacks.
The next morning, our group was led on a driving tour that included views of a local duck farm whose primary product is foie gras and a chicken processing factory. Later, we heard about the conditions of the workers at these two workplaces. We learned that at the duck farm, in order to keep their job, workers are required to keep a repeating schedule of “four hours on, four hours off, four hours on, four hours off” for an entire month leading up to the ducks’ slaughter. This results in sleep deprivation for the workers (they never have more than four hours to sleep while keeping this schedule), dangerous working conditions, and extended time away from their families. We heard stories from a member of the Youth Economic Group, whose mother works in the chicken processing factory about the monotony of the assembly line style of work that exposes the workers to injury risks, both because of repeating the same motion over and over again and because such sharp tools are required to perform many of the tasks required at the factory.
It was clear that the young people in our group were moved by what they learned during our trip to Liberty. As we reflected on the conversation we had at dinner, one member of the Food Justice Corps remarked that he had a newfound respect for immigrants based on hearing the personal story of our dinner guest. Another member of the group noted the historical roots of racism in farmworker injustice in a reflection she wrote upon returning home, citing that laws created to exclude black farmworkers from basic workers’ rights after the era of slavery in the US still exist and are now being used to exploit immigrants. She wrote, “There is a LOT WRONG with this picture… [and] I feel the public must be informed about these issues… No one wants to be mistreated, so why should those who provide us with food be?”
Food Justice Retreats at Stony Point Center
Stony Point Center Farm’s latest program offering is our Food Justice Retreat. This program has been designed so that participants can explore a variety of issues related to food justice and food systems, including earth care, foodworkers’ rights, treatment of livestock, and consumer food concerns, through hands-on, interactive experiences.
We hosted our first Food Justice Retreat in August when a group of five young adults from Gates Presbyterian Church near Rochester, NY, joined us for an extended weekend on the farm. The group spent time in our fields pulling weeds, clearing out rocks, and harvesting potatoes and tomatoes with us. In addition to our work in the fields, members of the Community of Living Traditions led a variety of activities that connect to food justice including a discussion about the exploitation of farmworkers after watching a film on the topic, a food preservation activity, an early-morning boating outing where we appreciated the wonders of God’s creation, and a Christian worship service where we reflected on our experience together using the biblical text of Isaiah 58.
The highlight of the experience for many of the participants was a multifaith teaching on earth care led by members of the Community of Living Traditions. The group appreciated the wisdom shared by our community that helped us realize the unified call to care for the land of this earth and all of the living creatures within it that comes from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Stony Point Center will be welcoming its second Food Justice Retreat when a youth group from First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown joins us in September. If you are part of a group that would be interested in participating in this program, please contact me.