Some kids pretend they're superheroes. Not four-year old Sammy Gellar. He shepherds pretend sheep and milks imaginary cows.
Sammy also knows how to pull a potato from the ground and understands that apples are picked from a tree—not from a grocery store shelf. This pint-sized soldier of sustainability is a member of Rainbeau Ridge Buds, an after school farm program.
While Lisa Schwartz, founder of Rainbeau Ridge farm, didn't set out to shape the next generation of ecologically minded citizens, it seems to be a by-product of her work.
Since purchasing her first goat seven years ago, her farm has become an access point for many to sustainable living, offering children's programs, adult cooking classes, and a farm share program, in addition to special events like the annual Fall Festival.
Schwartz's new book, "Over the Rainbeau: Living the Dream of Sustainable Farming," reveals her story and imparts lessons for non-farmers on how to be more in-touch with real food. "One goat led to a herd which led to my award-winning farmstead cheese. The farm's mission—Making Sustainable Living Second Nature—just grew from there," she explained.
After a ten-year career in management consulting and another ten years of volunteering and raising her children, Schwartz pondered her choices for the next chapter of her life. A four-year stint in Japan opened her eyes to seasonal eating, daily marketing, and the frustration resulting from being food illiterate.
"I didn't know what the food was called, or how to cook it," said Schwartz. Her tiny Tokyo refrigerator made a big weekly shop—the way many Americans buy food—impossible. Mastering seasonal food buying and preparation in a foreign country made her realize that many people in her own backyard felt that way about American food.
"A rutabaga—what's that?" laughed Schwartz. When you don't know how to cut a celeriac, let alone cook and serve one, using fresh local ingredients can be daunting, she added. She decided to establish a center for community sharing and celebration of seasonal foods.
One Table at a Time
Her book offers strategies for a more "authentic" life, such as visting farmers markets or growing your own pot of cherry tomatoes. But even some loyal Rainbeau Ridge members find it difficult to make the switch to seasonal eating.
"It's much easier when you're rushing to buy a pre-cut bag of carrots," said Rima Marschke, farm share member and mother to four year old Rhys who participates in Buds. "But once you taste Lisa's lettuces—I could just eat them by the handfuls," she sighed. "It just tastes better from the farm."
And her son has a burgeoning interest in where his food comes from. Nisa Gellar, mother of Sammy Gellar, said that his participation has created a great dialogue with her older children and an interest in home gardening. Both families said they've made efforts to buy less processed food and have developed an appreciation for locally grown products.
It's hard to make the leap, admits Schwartz, especially in a bedroom community like Bedford. "Vegetables take time! And Dad doesn't get off the train until 7 p.m., so Mom is often cooking for underappreciative children and it doesn't seem worth it," she said.
But Schwartz and her team are out to convince people that it is indeed worth it to slow down and cook real food. Karen Sabath, Lisa Schwartz's sister, co-worker on the farm, and collaborator on Over the Rainbeau (along with Judy Hausman), said their philosophy preaches incremental changes.
"Small steps are easier to embrace," she notes. Her own family has over the last several years tried to eat more sustainably but they're not perfect. "I have a penchant for Hershey's kisses," she admitted.
Schwartz has been lucky to ride a wave of interest in food and the environment and hopes her book acts as a catalyst for bringing farmer's markets to city areas or even growing the number of urban farms. Or Buds on TV?
"We've thought about it. But it's got to be relevant—you can't smell a pear on television. But what we're doing is important enough for a bigger audience," she said.
But even in Katonah, with abundant supermarkets and enticing farmer's markets, there are converts waiting to happen. Resident Amy Heath had never been to Rainbeau Ridge, and on a whim, took her daughter and friends to the Fall Festival.
"I wasn't sure what to expect but it was such a friendly atmosphere—farming made fun." She and the girls did a scavenger hunt about where food comes from and they all learned something new, she said.
"Months later the kids still remember how nothing went to waste there, from making yarn with wool shorn from sheeps, and the composted cooking scraps. For my daughter, that message stuck."