First Food Day Youth Summit Nets 250

Students at Food Day Youth Summit engage in lively conversation

Food Day Youth Summit gives high school students a forum for discussing food-related issues.

Inspired by National Food Day, the North Country cooked up its own Food Day Youth Summit to give high school students a forum for discussing food-related issues. The first Summit at SUNY Potsdam on October 24, 2011, attracted students and teachers from 30 schools in the Adirondacks and northward, with more than 250 people in all.

Upon arrival of school buses from every direction, guests were guided across campus to the auditorium by college students dressed as vegetables (corn, carrot, pea pod).

The event began with a lively and inspirational keynote address from Mark and Kristen Kimball of Essex Farm.  These two young farmers have created a CSA that now has 150 members, offering meat, dairy products, vegetables, and fruit, all grown organically and almost carbon neutrally.  They profess to use the "drug dealer model" to convert people to good eating:  they lure people in with locally small-farm grown good food, and get them hooked. Unlike big grocery stores, the CSA ensures that very nearly all the money involved stays in the community.

Interactive workshops followed the Kimballs' introduction.  Students could attend two of seven offerings (for examples: Junk Food Safari, My Food (and How it Got That Way), Healthy School Food). The layout of the building and location of the sessions were clearly mapped, and there were helpful vegetables to guide strays.  The kids were tuned in and engaged throughout the sessions, responding enthusiastically to thought-provoking questions and participating in brainstorms.

FDYS_lunch line

A lunch of fresh greens, roasted root vegetables and chili perked up the energy level at noon.  After that, each school team gathered to come up with an action plan to implement at school.

Interviews with teachers who brought groups to the summit revealed that almost none of them could have attended without the stipends that helped pay for travel and substitute teachers.  Most schools bus pooled (Keene, Schroon and Elizabethtown rode together, for instance), so the busses were full.

The concept of fresh, wholesome, locally-produced food in school and around the community is being embraced wholeheartedly by a large number of people in the Adirondacks and St. Lawrence County.  After this Summit, those who have faced resistance in their schools are encouraged to stick with it.  Kids return as ambassadors and activists who will help the fresh food movement become part of normal life at school.

Organized by Canton-based GardenShare and the St. Lawrence County Health Initiative, the event was funded by grants from the Alcoa Foundation, Adirondack Foundation and the Northern New York Community Foundation.