Joseph Ruotolo stood among the students lining up beside the tents and tables that littered Old Main Quad looking to get a taste of New Paltz’s locally grown food; he couldn’t help but smile.
“Local food is one of the only issues that people can be passionate about and really act in their own life on and make changes about,” Ruotolo, the event’s main organizer said. “To support local food all you need to do is find or buy local food and eat it.”
On Friday, Oct. 7 students and community members gathered on Old Main Quad to celebrate agriculture and raise awareness about the importance of locally grown food while helping farms affected by Hurricane Irene in the first ever Farm Fest.
Students congregated on the quad, listening to the various local musicians and bands while sampling portions of locally grown food donated by several restaurants and farms from around the area, including Harvest Café, Main Course, The Bakery and Slash Root Tech Café.
“The goal of Farm Fest is to alert the student population that we are surrounded by local food resources, from farmers markets to community supported agriculture farms to fruiting street trees in the village,” Ruotolo said. “As students become more aware of the local resources around them, they start to think about how the food options provided on campus are not reflective of the natural abundance of fresh local food available in and around New Paltz.”
Students involved with environmentally-conscious organizations, such as Students For Sustainable Agriculture and the Environmental Task Force, were inspired to help those in need after seeing the success of last semester’s Sustainable Action Week, event organizer Melanie Glenn said.
“It was just going to be about supporting local food until Hurricane Irene came through, which none of us were expecting, but it was a good thing kind of in a way because it gave us more of a reason to really give donations to local farms because a lot of crops were ruined…we’re just trying to support them in these bad times,”
Some local farms lost all of their crops, while others lost half or a third of their total produce, Glenn said.
One farm tabling at the event, the Brook Farm Project, is a 70 acre non-profit community-supported-agriculture (CSA) farm located on the grounds of the Mohonk Mountain House. Sean Sluys, who represented the project, was excited to be part of the festival and offered freshly cut watermelons to curious students.
“This is a great opportunity to spread some awareness of local food,” Sluys said. “It’s what we’re all about here — trying to keep things in New Paltz as much as we can.”
Jason Rosenberg, who tabled at the event, worked with the goal of raising the question of access to more local food on campus. Rosenberg said Sodexo, SUNY New Paltz’s current food provider, does not allow for contracts to be made with local vendors and hoped a petition signed by students would be influential in their decision when a new contract comes up.
“We are hoping for 1,000 signatures,” Rosenberg said. “That would be about one-third of the student body on campus, so we hope that would encourage them.”
Third-year graphic design major Kristin Scheff said she attended Farm Fest to learn more about how to get local food as a staple on the New Paltz campus.
“I support local farms and I love organic food,” Scheff said. “I feel like the campus needs to invest in supplying local food on campus because we are surrounded by farms in the area, so why not take that opportunity?”
While the goals of raising awareness and helping those in need were stressed, Glenn said Farm Fest represented something more – the idea of community.
“I feel like this country is starting to get away from the idea of community, and we have to bring that idea back by helping people around us instead of supporting big industries,” Glenn said. “By supporting your local farms and organic, you are trying to keep the land preserved so we can keep having lots of food instead of degrading the land and just having to move to another place and get more food there.”