Although food is central to the wellbeing of everyone in Saugerties, food security and food justice are rarely discussed among its youth. According to the USDA, Food Security means access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.Communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and locally grown food with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals is Food Justice.
Multiple environmental and economic factors threaten food security. Global water crisis, soil degradation, climate change, fossil fuel dependence, homogeneity in the food supply, and price setting are examples of issues that affect our access to food. Although food access is something that will be more challenging for everyone in the future, these issues will affect those in poverty the most.
In the Hudson Valley, most of the sustainable food initiatives are heavily influenced by commercial agriculture. Training programs, garden development and local investments focus on training commercial farmers or encouraging farms to share food through a charity model. We believe this model mainly helps the few farmers able to start a business and the wealthy customers that can buy the more expensive ethically grown local produce. In contrast, our goal is to work together with local youth and community members to create a network of gardens on local land to nourish soil, grow and share food for free. We believe this is the most viable way to provide food security to everyone in our community. This is the reason we started the Saugerties Free Food Program.
The Saugerties Free Food Program is a network of gardens that are overseen by The Underground Center (UGC). This project is designed to be an educational experience for the young people involved, and a model of how we can grow food locally and sustainably to ensure food security and food justice for all of our residents.
How it works
Our work is split between a community garden created from a previously empty lot in town (Re:seed Saugerties), an off-grid farm at the UGC site, and a network of “lawns to gardens” called the Raised Bed Initiative throughout town. . The summer interns and apprentices at the Underground Center collaborate with the Saugerties Boys & Girls Club to create and maintain these gardens. The young people involved gain experience farming in various conditions and learn how to grow, harvest and cook a diverse and delicious local diet. As we share what we learn, this cooperative growing system can be adopted by homes and organizations in Saugerties as a viable alternative to our environmentally destructive and expensive commercial agriculture system.
The goal of the Saugerties Free Food Program is to develop a local farming economy that doesn’t depend on exploitation and instead nourishes the people and land where we grow food. We are doing this in these four ways:
- Educating people in Saugerties about food security, food justice and the value of healthy food.
- Training local youth to be leaders in building sustainable food infrastructure in Saugerties.
- Growing staple crops to share
- Collaborating with landowners to turn private lawns into shared subsistence gardens.
One main function of the garden is a tool to educate young people about food security, food justice and ways of growing food locally. This project continues to address these issues in multiple ways. First, Boys & Girls Club members have already begun to see the value of local food through hands on experience in the garden throughout the year. This includes building soil, starting seeds, planting and caring for garden veggies, harvesting and cooking.
The garden itself serves as a model for neighbors and community members to see how a lawn in town can be turned into a garden that can meet all of our nutrition needs without chemicals, machines, or large sums of money. Also, through public school visits, community events and online publications, we share what we learn through our work to continually improve local food production.
Raised Bed Initiative
In addition to giving young people hands on farming skills, we promote sustainable land use through our Raised Bed Initiative. This program is a collaborative effort with local land owners. We work with people who have suitable lawns to transform them into productive gardens. Interns work with UGC staff to build garden beds to grow staples. In exchange for giving us access to their land, we provide a handmade raised bed for participating community members. This encourages people to start growing their own food and maintain growing space to share with members of the community. We currently have 6 families participating in this program.
Each garden in this initiative contributes food scraps for compost at our farm site. Most importantly, they provide growing space for food that is distributed to the Saugerties Boys & Girls Club. Each year, we harvest hundreds of pounds of staples like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, amaranth, peanuts, soybeans and squash to share.
The gardens in the Saugerties Free Food Program grow food that makes up a local subsistence diet. Unlike commercial farms that grow “high value” produce for markets, we focus on staple crops and a diversity of vegetables that make a healthy and delicious diet. We grow in a way that can meet all of the food needs in our community without exploiting workers or the land.
All the food grown at the Re:seed garden and half of the produce from the other gardens that are part of the Saugerties Free Food Program is harvested and distributed or cooked for members Boys & Girls Club and their families. Additional produce goes to making meals for the interns, workers and family members that help manage the gardens. By eating nutritious and healthy food, the kids learn the true value of local farming!
To make a resilient and sustainable food system, we need local seeds to replenish our gardens. Each year we set aside enough seed to replenish the gardens plus extra to grow our food network. As we include more participants in our Saugerties Free Food program, we will grow our seed bank and develop a seed stock adapted specifically to our climate.
Getting to Work!
Another important goal of this program is to train young people to be leaders in making our community more sustainable and just. We believe this is best done by teaching skills to young people, demonstrating cooperative ways of working together and giving teens responsibility for nurturing gardens.
One way we are doing this is by running a college internship where interns host educational programs in the gardens with Boys & Girls Club kids. Also, through our apprenticeship program, we teach teens in high school skills in building small scale sustainable infrastructure including rain catches and solar electric systems to create self sustaining community gardens.
Future of the Saugerties Free Food Program
In the future, we hope that our apprentices and the young people that participate in this program will become leaders in a workforce to transition our local community into a more sustainable and just place. We believe it is possible to feed everyone in our community, regardless of their economic standing. The Free Food Program will be a model for how we can feed everyone in our community healthy food without exploiting the land or the workers.