We refer to an idea or theory as well-grounded when it’s clearly based on facts, and to be on our own ground commonly means being in a place—physically or metaphorically—where we have competence and knowledge. When we call a person grounded, we’re saying they’re solid—stable, sensible and reasonable. It’s a trait that can seem vanishingly rare in public affairs; very few news stories are written about well-grounded people.
This is partly due to the nature of the news itself, tending as it does to be a litany of drama and crisis. The adversarial, hyper-competitive nature of our particular form of late-stage capitalism keeps the media well supplied with daily tales of conflict, much of it—from a grounded point of view—blindingly foolish. It can be a struggle to stay grounded in the face of a constant onslaught of such stories, hijacking our attention and blinding us to the things that are going well. Getting us to focus on conflicts and catastrophes, keeping us anxious and aggravated, generates huge benefits for the political class and for every business that depends on our willingness to ceaselessly consume, on feeding our appetite for the newest shiny toys.
At an even more essential level, speaking of appetite, it’s really hard to stay grounded when we’re hungry. Here in Kingston, and beyond into Ulster County, the combination of good ground and well-grounded people has resulted in a concerted effort to redesign food distribution from the ground up.
It’s a story with a lot of heroes in it, going back a long, long time. Ulster County Community Action was incorporated in 1965. People’s Place and Family of Woodstock started feeding people half a century ago. Long before these organized, of course, volunteer organizations and churches and farmers were no doubt doing what they could, and it’s a sure bet that the earliest European arrivals were fed more than a few meals by the people who were already living here when they showed up.
Hunger here in Ulster County is a stubborn beast, and the people trying to solve it are a stubborn bunch, committed to the idea that nobody surrounded by the amount of great food we grow and serve around here and count as one of our Main Attractions should go to bed hungry. The most recent census finds 421 farms in Ulster County; the list of food-related festivals and entertainments in any given year is many times that size.
In 2009, Mohonk Consultations invited everyone to come talk it over at “Hunger in the Hudson Valley: How Can We Help? Connecting People, Food, and the Land,” drawing hundreds of farmers and folks with a heart for the problem, and strong connections took root between those with food to spare and those who could get it to hungry people. A collaboration between Family, the Rondout Valley Growers Association, and UlsterCorps, begun at that conference, has since grown to include the Hudson Valley Farm Hub and the Bruderhoff and distributes around 150,000 pounds of free, fresh produce every year.
Networking among hunger activists has spread like mycorrhizae in soil. There’s the Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition, founded in Poughkeepsie in 2019, on a mission to “realize a more equitable and regenerative Hudson Valley food system by connecting food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management practices while encouraging the use of our region’s food resources to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our community.” Locally, there’s the Live Well Kingston Coalition, whose Eat Well program strives to “create a collective vision for everyone to eat well in Kingston and to amplify communications between groups already working on food issues.”
The Farm Hub’s Food Access Program is a multi-faceted initiative that partners with those folks and more to get produce into pantries, budget farm stands, meal programs and community fridges across the area, while also working on long-term systemic efforts to bolster our food system’s underlying resilience. To that end, they’re working on agricultural and ecological education and research and working with mission-aligned wholesale partners who’ll produce minimally-processed local food for farmers markets, retailers and schools.
Emergency feeding projects ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a vital collaboration between Ulster County and local restaurants and the grassroots Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative. Yet for all of these outstanding efforts, food sovereignty remains a tough nut to crack. In 2021, according to a report to the Ulster County Legislature, around one in five Kingston residents were food insecure.
It’s hard to feel grounded when you’re hungry. Helping make a difference can be as simple as writing a check, dropping some excess in the nearest community fridge, or reaching out to UlsterCorps for current volunteer opportunities, a great way to make some grounded new friends. And if you’re hungry, know that you don’t need cash money to get fed tonight—reach out, because there are people who do care.
EMERGENCY FOOD RESOURCES
You’ll find a comprehensive list of food pantries & meal programs at ulstercorps.org/agencies/food-pantries, including which ones can be reached via free UCAT bus.
Spread the word: Farmers markets accept SNAP (food stamp) cards as payment, and the county offers free $25 coupons for senior citizens through the Office For the Aging (845-340-3456).
LOCAL GROWERS & PRODUCERS:
Seed Song Farm
White Feather Farm
Rondout Valley Growers Association
Hudson Valley CSA Coalition
Seasoned Delicious Foods
Tilda’s Kitchen & Market