Liz Hammond tells us about her lifelong journey toward food justice and the optimism she's found bringing discussions of food access and immigration to the table. She is currently the operations manager at the farmers market in Troy, New York.
Troy Waterfront Market is online at troymarket.com & on Facebook and Instagram as @troymarket. You can contact Liz at: email@example.com
Tell us about your organization, what do you do?
My name is Liz, and I’m the Operations Manager of the Troy Waterfront Market, a year-round, producer-only farmers market located in Downtown Troy, NY. Now in our 18th year, we are open every Saturday and have grown to include 80 local farms, food producers, makers, and other vendors. Our mission is to create and operate a producer-only, year-round, independent, vibrant marketplace featuring locally grown food and locally made products, for the mutual benefit of local producers, consumers, and the community. It’s a blast.
How did you get interested in working with food?
I’ve been passionate about where our food comes from since I was really young—I became a vegetarian at eight years of age. My school-age crew of radical vegetarians and vegans crusaded for meatless food options at our Central New York high school, with little-to-no success. That was my first taste of the challenges involved in changing our food system.
I'm no longer a vegetarian, but the drive to have the closest connection as I can to the food I consume is still in full throttle. After studying Agroecology on the West Coast and apprenticing on farms throughout the US and Canada, it became apparent that it's not farming that's the issue, and that people's diets aren’t necessarily the issue. The real issue is access. How do we get this good, close, wholesome food to our community at a fair price for both producers and consumers?
That's where the farmers' market comes into play. Farmers' markets provide not only access, but a direct relationship to the people growing, raising, and making our food. Without the Troy market, our city is a food desert, with no fresh food or grocery stores within walking distance--or even within reach of an easy bus ride. Our organization was started from demand: the community needed fresh food, so they created a downtown market to bring it here.
In 2000 when we began, we were a handful of vendors in a parking lot—but we grew quickly. The love for the market created a demand for a winter market in 2002. From our humble parking-lot beginnings we have grown to a year-round marketplace drawing upwards of 10,000 weekly customers! Our products range from organic produce to artisanal soaps and are all produced by local people living within a 100-mile radius of Troy. I am honored to work for this market and to help our community support a healthy local food system.
What are you working on right now? What are you most excited about?
Troy is an exciting, gritty, food-focused little city. A few years ago, we began to focus on building a permanent market home (we operate on city permits and renegotiate a lease with a local landlord every winter). Unfortunately, the project folded, and we were left back at the drawing board, trying to determine who we are and what we want in the long-run. Our community is very passionate and supportive, so I’m trying to figure out how to better utilize that energy. There's a lot of impressive momentum in Troy, and I believe we are very much at the heart of it.
What frustrates you most about your work or the current food culture at large? What do you wish to change the most?
The most frustrating aspect of the current food culture at large is the idea that agriculture is magically exempt from our political system. There's this feeling floating around that somehow our food system will not be affected by the current political climate and the proposed changes on immigration. What's also frustrating is that people, including farmers, do not want to talk about it (our market is a neutral zone, so no religion or politics can be discussed there).
I try to approach everything from a systems perspective, and the connection between immigration and food is undeniable. I don't have an answer or a dead-set opinion on migrant labor and agriculture--it's so complex. What I wish to change, though, is the lack of conversation and the hostility surrounding migrant farm labor and the food on our plates. We need to respect and honor everyone who works to grow our food; we also need to realize that if the proposed changes in immigration take place, farming in America will change and so will our food. Even here at our farmers' market.
Any recent moments of optimism? Things you see changing for the better?
Every week at the market I am awash in a sea of hope. Our community members deeply value our market, our farmers and our producers--it’s extremely powerful. Troy hasn't had the best reputation, and it can be a little rough sometimes. When people from all backgrounds come to shop with us on a Saturday, we watch relationships happen, and each connection that forms, builds a stronger community.
I have so much optimism for the growth of our food culture. I recently attended The National Farm Viability Conference here in Albany, and there was a whole tract dedicated to discussing inequity within the food system—a huge step forward in dealing with issues is naming them, so that was huge for me.
What's your favorite vegetable to eat, grow, or wear?
My favorite vegetable to grow is Baby Blue Popcorn. It's an heirloom, and the ears are about 1/4 of the size of a regular ear of sweet corn. When they're fresh, the kernels are a beautiful light violet color, and when dry, they turn a bright, baby blue. The stalks typically produce 2-3 ears each, which is more than most traditional varieties of corn. I first grew heirloom popcorn varieties while interning on an organic, draft-horse powered CSA in Ontario, Canada. Enthused, I planted them myself, and the next year I harvested 96 ears of Baby Blue Popcorn in my community garden plot here in Troy!
Anything else you want us to know or help spread the word about?
Thank you so much for supporting farms and food! Please come visit the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market. We are open every Saturday from 9 am until 2 pm in Downtown Troy. Currently we are in our Summer Season, located on River Street around Monument Square. You can also visit us at www.troymarket.org and follow our adventures on social media (@troymarket)!