Jessica Swadosh graduated the Chef’s Training Program 9 years ago (CTP 83). Like many graduates, she garnered considerable restaurant experience over the years, working at Asia Nora, Pure Food and Wine, Heirloom, and Savoy. But what distinguishes her career is her relationship with farming.
Jessica’s interest in farming dates back to graduation from high school, when she traveled with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) to New Zealand. Jessica recalls that “this is where I first experienced my first organic farm. I knew I was in love.” Through WWOOF, she also volunteered in Eastern Canada, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ireland, Norway, France, Italy, Greece, Japan and Korea.
Jessica’s agricultural journeys have changed her life in profound ways:
Seeing how other cultures practice agriculture has had a massive affect on me, from small bits, such as a structured tea time, to how different cultures take care of their soil. What really marked me the most was my trip to Japan 2 years ago. This is the country that started CSAs. But their techniques are quite different than the Western take on organic agriculture. Their machinery was impressive as well. They, by far, grow the tastiest fruit and vegetables I have eaten.
I have really enjoyed just seeing how things grow! I have gone to different ecosystems so I could learn how to harvest and process olives for oil, wheat for flour, and how to harvest rice, tangerines and mangoes. It’s also been really fascinating to work with livestock, seeing different varieties, what they eat, how to milk goats, sheep and cows, then how to make cheese.
Upon graduating from NGI, Jessica interned at Willow Pond Farm in Maine and Garden of Eve Farm in Long Island. Flash forward several years and those internships have culminated in a management position at Veritas Farms in New Paltz, New York, where Jessica has been for the past three years. “I’m in charge of the vegetable growing, buying all the supplies, making all the contacts for markets and organizing our CSAs,” Jessica says. “I also start the seeds, take care of the plants, fend off disease and weeds, harvest and transport the plants to market or CSA.”
Jessica’s not sure what the future holds. “Sometimes,” she says, “I can see myself going to Africa to work on systems for sustainable agriculture and methods to stop desertification. Other days I would love to just homestead. I feel like I could put roots down anywhere, which makes the decision a whole lot harder.”
Jessica’s culinary education and experience continue to play a role in her career. At Garden of Eve she took extra produce to make soups, sauces, salads and main courses, featuring vegetables as the main ingredient. “Lots of people really have no clue about vegetables,” says Jessica. “I think that is why I went to the NGI, to teach people vegetable-based meals can taste good. I am always dishing out advice about how to prepare vegetables.”
For the past 2 years at Veritas Farms, Jessica and another chef have prepared 4-course dinners for 50 people in the greenhouse. 95% of the ingredients for the dinner come from the farm, including the animal protein. Jessica encourages NGI students to get involved: “Help out a farmer. Do a farm-to-table dinner on their farm. It would be awesome for some students to come up to help us out.”
Jessica has made a personal and professional commitment to sustainable agriculture. For her, the choice is unavoidable:
I think it’s important for people to be familiar with where food comes from and who picks it. [Industrial] agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to global warming along with air and water pollution. It’s destroying rain forests, enlarging deserts, poisoning migrant workers and giving cancer to those who live down-wind from it. It can be a highly destructive practice or it can be sustainable.
We need sustainable farming to be the future; it’s not really a choice. Unfortunately, so much of it is economical. The cost of land is too high for anyone in an average income bracket to start a farm, and the taxes and cost of farming are too high for most farms to stay afloat. People need to vote with their wallets. We are a capitalist society. People can say what a great a thing I am doing, but if they turn around and buy grapes from Chile or Earthbound mesclun mix, it’s not helping a local, sustainable farmer.