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American food revolution could begin in Adirondacks

January 9, 2014
Lake Placid News

It's going to take a culture shift to improve the health of Americans, starting in our local schools and continuing throughout all corners of our communities. And while the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education recently took an admirable step in the right direction - signing on to a commitment to use more locally grown foods by 2015 - there is still much more to be done.

The Adirondack Park is a perfect place to continue this cultural revolution started by foodies, farmers and hippies in the late 1960s. Rebelling against the government during the Vietnam War, young men and women went back to the farm and learned how to grow their own food. It's this back-to-the-earth movement that led to modern-day farmers' markets.

The American food revolution can easily mushroom here inside the Blue Line and become a model for the country. Most Park residents may not live in contemporary agricultural communities, but thanks to the constitutionally protected state Forest Preserve, we have a deeper connection to the land than many others in the state. The Adirondack experiment is all about the environment: the land and the water. This is our own back-to-the-earth heritage, one that began in the late 1800s.

In order to eat healthier foods, and have them become the rule not the exception, we need to create a farm-fresh culture. Getting back to the roots of this land - an agricultural-based society with small, family-run farms - is a start. We're not saying every kid should grow up to be a farmer, but they should at least learn the importance of farming and how it provides them with healthy food choices. Fundamentally, we need to foster an appreciation of how to grow food organically - from the cradle to the grave - among the entire population.

One way to do that is to get our hands dirty, literally. Community and school vegetable gardens are a good start. Some teachers in the Lake Placid schools have already used the district's gardens as part of their class time, and we need more like them. Gardening in Lake Placid is already an institution thanks to the Lake Placid Garden Club, and we can use this resource as a foundation.

We could successfully argue that Lake Placid is historically an agricultural community. It didn't start out as the "Winter Sports Capital of the World." There are stories about the fertile Plains of Abraham farming settlement and abolitionist John Brown displaying his cattle and prize-winning sheep at the Essex County Fair. We have maple syrup producers and the Uihlein Potato Research Station of Cornell University, the official seed potato farm in the state. And generations have long known about the Adirondack Park's agricultural heritage along the Mohawk and St. Lawrence rivers and Lake Champlain. We can build upon this heritage and celebrate it.

The food revolution is about eating healthier, better-tasting foods, reducing health costs, living longer, and looking and feeling better. It may also be a great way to stimulate economic development in the region.

The revolution will require infrastructure, education, funding, a support network, community celebrations, reward programs, a reliable workforce, sales venues and the political will to launch this concept and follow it through until we're the model for the country. We're confident that grassroots movements such as the recently founded Adirondack Farm to School Initiative will give way to institutional acceptance. The Lake Placid Central School District's locally grown food commitment is proof.

But one community can't do it alone. After all, this will hopefully spread to the entire nation, so Adirondack communities need to work together. Saranac Lake schools are already part of the local food pact, and Tupper Lake school officials are considering it. If the domino effect is successful with a school district food agreement, think of what else we can do together. We could have regional cooking and gardening competitions, young farmers programs and a regional shared commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs launching specialty food products with locally grown items.

Where do we start? Get involved in established local food-advocacy groups or start your own. Support your local food producers. Learn about healthy food choices, practice them and help spread the word. Teach your children or grandchildren about healthy food, and build a vegetable garden with them. Join a community garden group. Establish a local food festival or support existing ones. Ask local stores and restaurants to provide more locally grown food products. There is so much we can do if we work together. We can't count on the government to do it for us.

With a successful food revolution, we will help change our culture's food supply from fast and convenient to wholesome and healthy. Wouldn't it be something if we could, as a society, change the way we feel about food? That's an accomplishment worth fighting for.



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