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'Food and Farm for Future' at Hampshire College

Gazette file photo
Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash, seen here at his inauguration in April, said Wednesday that the challenge of reducing emissions while producing more food is a cultural problem. He spoke at the college's "Food and Farm for the Future" forum.

Gazette file photo Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash, seen here at his inauguration in April, said Wednesday that the challenge of reducing emissions while producing more food is a cultural problem. He spoke at the college's "Food and Farm for the Future" forum. Purchase photo reprints »

“I’ve worked on this issue for 30 years, and everything that’s happening now demonstrates that what we thought was the worst imaginable case is now business as usual,” he said, citing the Midwest drought last summer, rising global food prices and population, and tropical deforestation. “In the next five years, there will be more reasons to produce fewer greenhouse gases and increase food production.”

The challenge of reducing emissions while producing more food is not a technical or an economic problem, Lash said.

“It’s a cultural problem,” he said. “It’s about what we value and believe, how we perceive, what we expect.”

Hampshire’s “Food and Farm for the Future” forum coincided with National Food Day Wednesday. The celebration of healthy and affordable food involved 400 Massachusetts public schools, universities, businesses and organizations.

Locally, there was a demonstration in Amherst of cooking and preserving food that was harvested at a gleaning event last weekend. There was a festival at the University of Massachusetts with a performance by a band with a bike-powered sound system, and Mount Holyoke College had a presentation on composting with worms.

Hampshire’s forum on healthy food came after a farmers market and food festival on campus. It was followed by a screening of a new film by Ken Burns, a Hampshire graduate, about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which was largely caused by agricultural mismanagement.

The college already has a farm that has 15 acres of crops, 60 acres of hay, and 50 acres leased to a farmer, said sustainability coordinator Beth Hooker. It has a Community Supported Agriculture operation that provides organic produce to more than 200 families and groups on the campus and in the region. The farm has cows, hens, pigs, sheep and bees.

Hampshire wants to reinvent how it thinks about food on campus, said Howard Wein, a graduate now in the hospitality business. Before moderating a forum, Wein said Hampshire should question everything it does about food and “turn the operating model upside down.”

“We could have a hybrid model of a farmers market, food co-op, Atkins, Whole Foods and a healthy convenience store that serves the needs of the entire community and not just dorms, and maybe have a farm-to-table restaurant,” he said. “We’re thinking big and asking you to do the same.”

One of the panelists in the forum was Philip Korman, executive director of Citizens Involved in Sustaining Agriculture of South Deerfield, which will mark its 20th anniversary next year. The region consumes 10 to 14 percent local food, he said, and CISA’s goal is to double that in the next 20 years.

Panelist Andrew Kendall of the Trustees of Reservations and the Kendall Foundation said that 5 percent of the food consumed in New England is grown here, and that number could be more than 50 percent.

Oona Coy of Town Farm and the Tuesday Market in Northampton said many young people are interested in farming but don’t have land to work. The farm she runs with her husband is moving more into production of winter crops, and is abandoning the CSA model, she said.

Panelist Michael Iceland works on a food project in the Boston area that uses the CSA model and also donates to hunger relief organizations. He said his group has put up a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse in Roxbury that grows early tomatoes and sells them to restaurants.

“The first step is going out and asking questions, asking restaurants if they’re interested,” he told the Hampshire audience. “Ask them to help figure out how we can get a farm-to-table restaurant on campus. Stop questioning internally and go out and test it.”

Anne Obelnicki is the director of food service at tiny Sterling College in Vermont. The college grows 12 percent of its food, raising lambs, turkeys, chickens and rabbits, and works with up to 40 local distributors, she said.

Wednesday’s activities were part of a program called Healthy Food Transition at Hampshire, which seeks to strengthen relationships between the college and regional farmers. It is supported in part by a $1 million gift from graduate Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm.

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