women in agriculture
Growing up in Manhattan, Dina Falconi foraged her food at the grocery store. But when she relocated to Marbletown, New York, in the foothills of the Catskills, she discovered a powerful fascination with food harvested from the earth, particularly from the wild.
“How amazing it was for me to discover that many of the ‘weeds’…surpass cultivated plants in nutrient content while also possessing additional therapeutic properties,” she writes in her book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook.
The crowdfunded book, illustrated by botanical artist Wendy Hollender, walks would-be wild cooks through the entire plant to plate process for 50 wild plant species. And yet, as delicious as these wild plants can be, Falconi maintains an approach that also emphasizes foraging’s less tangible rewards.
While it may have the eye-catching photography typical of most fancy cookbooks, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day, is a cookbook for the roughly 44 million Americans, (according to current USDA data) who receive SNAP benefits.
The cookbook is the brainchild of Leanne Brown, who was working toward her master’s degree in Food Studies at New York University and decided that she didn’t want to write “[J]ust another paper that would just be of interest to academics, but something that could be more widely applied and that would be of use to a lot of the people that I was working with.”
Having studied the issues faced by food stamp, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), recipients, Brown elected to write a cookbook for her master’s thesis intended for those whose food budget is dictated by their monthly $126 per person SNAP benefits. It features recipes that are healthy, flavorful and easier to prepare than the complicated and ingredient-heavy dishes usually found in books of this genre.
When one thinks of the James Beard Awards that are yearly dispensed to the most distinguished and culinarily imaginative chefs and restaurants in the United States, food access and equity is not the first thing that comes to mind. But Katherine Miller, director of food policy advocacy for the James Beard Foundation, is working hard to alter this perception by aligning award winning chefs, many of whom wield significant power in the food policy arena, to make the high quality, local and healthy food more accessible to all.
“From a policy standpoint chefs and restaurant owners are major employers, so they have clout with congress and state legislators,” she says. “They’re a relevant force on the policy front—I want to see more chefs get involved.”
Faced with an empty lot in the Bronx, NY, Karen Washington decided to start growing.
“I had no knowledge. I took some seeds and put them in the ground. I knew that they needed water and sun – I just did it.”
That was in the 1980s. Since then, Washington has become a practiced urban and rural farmer and community activist. However, she warns, “When someone says they’re an expert in farming and gardening, they’re not. Because it’s mother nature… and you’re always learning.”
Washington points to elders as an important source of learning. By picking the brains of those who had farmed and gardened before her, she was able to make her first forays in the soil.
Then in 2008, Washington attended a six-month program with The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For Christina Hall, executive director of Orange County Food Access Coalition, it all began in a garden. A community garden, that is, where Hall first learned about food access challenges.
Even though Hall had been involved with social justice issues such as air quality and right to water, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that the concept of food inequity entered the picture. For this she thanks her daughter, who was in eighth grade at the time.
“They started a community garden after school,” says Hall. “At that point I had a black thumb—I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive.”
She learned how to grow food, but more importantly, her eyes were opened to a widespread lack of food access in Orange County. This spurred her to go back to school in 2010, and two years later Hall earned a master’s degree in urban sustainability (with a focus on community gardens and food justice) from Antioch University. Her hands-on experience complemented her formal graduate education.