You would be hard pressed to find a more "up-beet" person in the Western New York Food Regional Food System Initiative work than Chris Hartman. Yes, beets are his favorite food because of their underdog status in the food world, but his passion for educating people about the importance of how our food is grown and consumed is infectious.
Chris says he was always interested in teaching but not in a traditional classroom. During his senior year at Vassar College in the Hudson Valley, he landed the only internship he could find doing community-based education and it was at a farm run by three nuns. They allowed him to live there and learn the art of farming alongside them. He graduated, traveled a bit but was drawn right back to that farm to help it grow.
"Those were super formative years for me. Learning from the nuns how to feed the community in need around you while engaging youth in that process was such a privilege," said Chris.
After a few years on the farm, Chris was a newlywed looking to earn a master's degree and start a family with his new wife closer to home in Rochester, NY, all while keeping education and farming his north star. During grad school, he started a farmers market in his neighborhood. On opening day, he hoped for 60 people but 500 showed up. He knew there was an appetite for better understanding where your food came from and access to locally grown food. That led to another project where he created workplace-based delivery of fresh, local grown produce in downtown Rochester and he included local high school students in developing it. All of this eventually led to him starting Headwater, which sources food from over 200 regional family farms and businesses to distribute to individuals, families, chefs and institutional food service throughout New York State.
Chris' understanding of the interconnectivity of the food system made him an excellent candidate for the Regional Advisory Council (RAC) for Food Future WNY. A 9-county planning effort, led by the SCALE consultant team, to strengthen the region's food system to achieve resilience, equity, strong economic performance, and reduced food insecurity.
"I knew I wanted to participate in this effort right when I was asked because the SCALE team was made up of some of the most interesting national thinkers right now in the food system space," said Chris. "As I got into the work, I was impressed with the plan and the approach, it was methodical and disciplined and I appreciated that we made some adjustments at the halfway point."
This storytelling project was made possible through funding from the WNY Foundation