Acting Dean of William Smith College and Professor of History Susanne McNally is not afraid to get dirty, as she clearly demonstrated on Saturday, Oct. 15 when she and her history class, “Food Systems in History,” traveled to the local farm Bejo Seeds to help them harvest 25,000 pounds of cabbage for Food Link.
Far from letting her students do all the work, she demonstrated the correct method to cut the stalk from the cabbage plant.
“I had three goals in mind with this exercise. First, I’ve been telling the students for weeks how low the status of a shirker was in the village. I wanted the students to understand why those who don’t work have a low status in the village,” explains McNally. “Second, I wanted them to find out about Bejo Seeds – an agribusiness that’s good. Finally, I wanted them to learn about Food Link.”
Food Link, the Feeding America regional food bank, rescues and redistributes more than 11 million pounds of food annually to a network of 450 member agencies in a 10-county area in Central and Western New York. Foodlink works with area food retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers to acquire, sort, store and redistribute food to member charity programs – especially soup kitchens, shelters and emergency food pantries. Harvesting nearly 10,000 pounds of cabbage and winter squash for Rochester Food Link last year, Bejo Seeds is a local farm that avoids using pesticides.
Food, something every person needs, is the center of her class as she traces the historical emergence of the contemporary world food system.
“Food connects to every important thing on the planet: the environment, your own health, justice, pleasure and community,” says McNally.
Currently studying the food efforts of peasants, the students are fascinated by the connections they see between what they are learning and what is going on in the world today.
“I think it’s interesting how our culture has adopted the ways of peasants who were farming during the Middle Ages,” says Maddie Carens ’15.
“We get an opportunity to get our hands dirty and do the work they did,” agrees Andrew Robichaud ’13. “It was interesting to see how much work went into harvesting the crops; it gives me a better appreciation of what farmers do now and what peasants did in the past.”
As part of her HIST 151 class, students are required to complete at least 15 total hours of a local food experience, which can include going to farms, farmers’ markets or restaurants. These outside hours go toward the main goal of the class – understanding meaning of changes in the food systems for individual lives. Through these outside experiences, students get to really see how food moves and who is behind the work.