Local Concerns Address Food Insecurity, Sustainability, and Accessibility

Representatives of Rocky Acres Community Farm, Anabel’s Grocery, and Wegmans participate in a food industry panel moderated by Alexa Ing Stern, MBA ’17, at the Cornell University Social Impact Conference.

Local Concerns Address Food Insecurity, Sustainability, and Accessibilityinline-block

By Giorgi Tsintsadze ’17

Accessibility, distribution, environmental impact, education, and social equity, quantity, price – all these factors are key to understanding and maintaining a sustainable agricultural sector and a healthy food market, according to food industry panelists who spoke at the Cornell University Social Impact Conference held at Sager Hall Feb. 27.

Keynote speaker Kunal Mehta, former investment banker and author of Disruptors: Entrepreneurs and the Escape from Corporate America, opened the on Feb.27 conference dedicated to “the many ways to make a positive social impact, no matter your industry or interests.” The food industry panel, moderated by Alexa Ing Stern, MBA ’17, ran concurrently with panels focused on sustainable design, apparel, and finance.

Stern began by asking panelists to reflect on their careers and outline the decisions that led them to their current positions.

Panelist Rafael Aponte, founder of Rocky Acres Community Farm, recounted the story of how he became interested in food and agriculture. While working with nonprofits as an educator in New York City earlier in his career, Aponte realized that food insecurity is one of the most prevalent problems in the city. Seeking to combine his role as an educator with his passion for the food industry, he came to Tompkins County, a place he saw as “the agricultural hub of New York.” He described his current work at the Rocky Acres Community Farm as “combining education and agriculture for both the young and adults.” Rocky Acres Farm is a researched-oriented, 10-acre farm in Freeville, N.Y. that produces sustainable, locally harvested vegetables, herbs, meat and eggs for low-income communities while facilitating interaction between consumers and agricultural workers focused on food justice and sovereignty issues.

Martha Goodsell, the Green Team leader at Wegmans in Ithaca, outlined the company’s efforts to provide products and services that are “good for the environment, people and Wegmans” in her presentation, “Little Steps-Today, Tomorrow, Together.” Wegmans shows its commitment to an ecologically and socially sustainable food industry in many initiatives it has implemented throughout the company’s divisions, from supply chains to internal operations, including recycling and improvements in energy efficiency and accessibility. A farmer herself, Goodsell is passionate about promoting sustainability in the food industry and described how a combination of smart analytical tools to crunch data, a focus on social impact, and a strong commitment to the environment can help advance Wegmans’ threefold mission: to provide products that are ecologically plausible, socially equitable, and economically viable.

Lizzi Gorman ’18 and Adam Shelepak ’17, executive directors of Annabel’s Grocery, spoke about the new, nonprofit food store founded and managed by undergraduate students slated to open on campus in the basement of Anabel Taylor Hall. It was founded explicitly to address issues of food insecurity and accessibility at Cornell in response to a recent Cornell PULSE survey that shows 22 percent of Cornell students "skipped meals or [did not have] enough to eat because of financial constraints."  Gorman, director of marketing and customer relations, and Shelepak, director of operations, described how affordable prices, consistently high-quality merchandise, cooking tutorials, community engagement programs, food literacy events, utensil rentals, and its central location in Anabel Taylor Hall  will help to make Anabel’s Grocery an effective hub for tackling food insecurity at Cornell.

The conference concluded with a networking reception for participants and attendees, including local business people, graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and staff.  

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