Syracuse University Magazine

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Students tour the fields at Early Morning Farms in Genoa, New York, on a class trip.



From Farm to Fork

There’s a sense of anticipation in the air as students circle around Chef Mary Kiernan G’12 in a Lyman Hall kitchen on a September afternoon, their eyes on two cardboard boxes on the counter in front of her. The boxes, delivered each Wednesday from two regional Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, are filled with fresh produce that represents a share of the farms’ harvest. “So have you given any thought to what you might want to cook tonight, based on what you learned last week?” Kiernan asks, unpacking a colorful bounty of eggplant, squash, onions, beets, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, carrots—deemed “beautiful” by the chef—and several types of leafy greens. It isn’t long before students start calling out their ideas for turning the fresh veggies into a meal—everything from soups and salads to stir fry—and begin pairing up to create that night’s dinner, which they’ll cook, eat, and clean up together.  

Gathering in the kitchen is just one component of the Farm to Fork class, which explores the benefits and challenges of community-based food systems and helps students make educated and ethical decisions as consumers. Taught by Kiernan and food studies professor Evan Weissman G’12, the four-credit course is offered through the Department of Public Health, Food Studies, and Nutrition in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. Students meet once a week for five hours, starting in the classroom with Weissman and then moving to the kitchen for some hands-on experience in basic culinary skills, with occasional field trips to tour—and even work at—the CSA farms. “We’re trying to create a class that is a bit different than the lab models we normally have,” says Weissman, who earned a Ph.D. degree in geography at SU and is a founding member of Syracuse Grows, a food justice network promoting urban agriculture and community gardening. “We want the culinary component completely integrated with the didactic instruction, so students are constantly reflecting on what we learn in the classroom and how that applies to what they are experiencing in the kitchen.”

Weissman leads students in exploring the complexity of both industrial and alternative food systems, discussing such matters as where food comes from, who is involved in its production, and what working conditions are like for those people. One way that discussion comes to life is through the class’s subscription to the two CSAs, which establishes a direct link between area farmers and the students as consumers. “With CSAs, the consumer agrees to buy a share of the farm’s harvest at the beginning of the season, and the farmer agrees to provide a fair amount of quality food over a specific length of time,” Weissman says. “So both the farmer and the consumer share the risks as well as the rewards of growing food.” The course also explores the significance of community as it relates to food matters. “That includes thinking about how we develop a community regionally, what community means in the City of Syracuse and on campus, and what community means for the students in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in our daily interactions with food,” he says.  

Although this is only the second time the class has been offered, it’s attracting students with a range of interests and majors, Weissman says, including nutrition and public health, social sciences, race or gender inequality, and environmental issues. “Food and food systems can provide an interesting lens for looking at all sorts of things,” he says. Falk College sophomore Imelda Rodriguez, still undecided on a major, agrees. “Having a cooking class as part of the course has been the best learning experience,” says Rodriguez, who finds the combination both challenging and eye opening. “Not only do I learn about food issues that are going on in society, but I am also able to cook fresh produce from local farms. I believe anyone taking this class will benefit, and I hope to have more opportunities to study this subject in depth.”    —Amy Speach 



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A colorful sampling of peppers, just picked.

Photos courtesy of Evan Weissman