By Carina Sorrentino
Last Saturday afternoon, the Healthy Harvest Festival was held in the College Park Hall Ballroom.
The Harvest Festival aimed to “bridge the Union College community with the Schenectady community,” as it brought a coalition of Union groups together for a good cause. The primary goal was to educate members of the community, young and old, on the importance of food security and sustainability.
“This is the first year we are having the Healthy Harvest Festival. The event was inspired by a disconnect I saw between Schenectady and the Union community, but also the larger disconnect between the foods we consume and the lack of awareness about where it comes from and how it impacts our communities,” the event’s organizer Sharmeen Azher ’17 stated.
She continued, “I started thinking about nutrition, sustainable food production and food security largely because of my projects involving food management and nutrition at the Department of Health in my hometown this summer — the Healthy Harvest Festival is a way of me bringing back some of that knowledge and insight and using it to benefit my community here.”
Member of MEDLIFE Taylor Allen ’18 stated, “In addition to health, we want to raise awareness about food sustainability, because it is equally as important to be aware about the impact you are having on your environment.”
MEDLIFE hosted the event, but it was cosponsored by a multitude of Union organizations, including Empty Bowls, Campus Kitchens, GoodEats, the Pre-Health Society, U-Sustain, Environmental Club, Ozone, Rights House, Culinary House/Union Bread Co. and Dining Services.
Capital District Community Gardens specializes in work relating to urban farming and increasing access to local produce in low-income areas, or “food deserts.”
Food samples were provided by local businesses, such as 3 Chicks and a P, Red Jacket Orchards and Freddy’s Fabulous Food, as well as by Dining Services.
By offering foods from farms and locations in the area, event organizers hoped to stress the importance of buying from local food producers.
U-Break was also present to host interactive dance lessons for elementary-, middle- and high-school students from Schenectady. U-Break tried to promote the benefits of dance as an exercise to keep kids active and healthy.
Computer Science Professor John Rieffel, who is also an amateur beekeeper with the Southern Adirondack Beekeeping Association, had a stall featuring his work. He talked about beekeeping and the nutritional benefits of honey.
The Kenney Center advertised the event to the entire community, and Janet Sweeney was critical in reaching out to the local organizations. Union students also went into Schenectady to try to spread the word to as many residents as possible.
“We were hoping to target younger children, but also kids who are in middle school and high school, as well,” Taylor Allen commented.
Allen reinforced her reasons for being a part of the event, commenting that she hopes to go into primary care. “I think learning about what you eat and physical activity are the first in preventative measures against certain diseases,” she remarked.
“Your chances of getting heart disease and diabetes can be decreased immensely if you know more about what you are eating and are encouraged to remain physically active,” Allen continued.
Member of MEDLIFE Brenda Lin ’18 noted, “It’s a really nice way to reach outside of the Union campus, and it provides an opportunity for students just like us to help improve someone’s life. Just giving people a better understanding of their food can drastically improve their health.”
Sharmeen Azher said, “Food is honestly so crucial to a community, and when you’ve got affordable, nutritious, locally produced food, your community is much more able to thrive.”
“I notice that there’s a significant discrepancy in Schenectady and the Capital District in that there’s an abundance of local produce and nutritious food, but that abundance isn’t reflected in the health outcomes of so many people who live here,” Azher commented.
Azher added, “It’s so sad that people don’t have access to these foods, or at the very least can’t afford it or understand why eating healthy is so important.”
Within two hours this weekend, the Union community was able to open its doors and offer an opportunity for Schenectady residents to see what healthy food options are available in their area.