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OCSL in Action

Food Justice From Seed to Market: Live Online Event

1 year 9 months ago

In light of the important national conversation on GMO labeling and access to quality food for all, the Omega Center for Sustainable Living is pleased to offer online access to Food Justice From Seed to Market, part of the Seeds of Change Conference.

Renowned environmental activist Vandana Shiva will be joined by Hudson Valley Seed Library cofounder Ken Greene, cofounder of Freedom Food Alliance Jalal Sabur, author of The Color of Food Natasha Bowens, CEO of Growing Power Will Allen, and many regional leaders and organizations advocating for GMO labeling and equal food access.

Join us in person for the whole weekend, or watch Sunday morning, October 11, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time (Time Zone Converterlive from anywhere.

Learn more about the conference

Register for the online event

Seed Freedom Leaders Return to Omega This October

1 year 10 months ago

During the Omega Center for Sustainable Living's 2014 Where We Go From Here conference, internationally renowned seed activist Vandana Shiva met a group of Hudson Valley farmers, gardeners, and seed activists working to establish seed sovereignty in the region. Ken Greene, cofounder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, said meeting Vandana Shiva was "a seed saver's dream come true.”

When she spoke, Dr. Shiva urged everyone present to "get involved in the [Hudson Valley] Seed Library and challenged us all with the idea of creating a Hudson Valley Seed Freedom Zone," said Greene. "After a decade of working on seed issues for our region, I felt reinvigorated to continue our work preserving, developing, and celebrating seed diversity.”

This year's OCSL conference, Seeds of Change: Cultivating the Commons, October 9–11, will bring Shiva and Greene back together to the Omega campus, along with Winona LaDuke, Maude Barlow, Ralph Nader, John Todd, and others.

As we explore the interconnected nature of the many challenges ahead, how to bring about change, and questions of equity and social justice, we will delve deeply into issues relating to seeds, food justice, GMOs, transparency in food labeling, protecting and stewarding water resources, and the political and social context within which we live and work.

Omega CEO Robert “Skip” Backus says by focusing on seeds as an important theme, we’re addressing “something fundamental to human rights and the preservation of the Commons: The ability to renew life. That is held in the quality of the seed. That cannot be owned.”

Whether you are already working closely with these issues, or are interested in learning more, we invite you to be part of a growing global community coming together to protect the Commons, including the pivotal right to share and save seeds.

Buying Local is About Building Relationships

1 year 11 months ago

Omega FoodWorks, the team responsible for overseeing the food at Omega's Dining Hall and Café, is committed to using as much local produce as possible. FoodWorks executive chef Robert Turner says over the last eight years he's been able to increase the amount of local produce he uses by working with Red Barn Produce, a distributor in Highland, New York.

Prior to working with Red Barn, FoodWorks would buy directly from a number of farms, something that Turner describes as “really great, but really inefficient.” Working with Red Barn gives Omega access to many more local farms than it would otherwise be able to buy from, which has many positive effects on the regional community.

“We can buy individual cases from Red Barn that aren’t worthwhile for a single farm to drop off to us,” Turner explains. “Right now we have access to 10 farms.” Red Barn is able to meet the farmer's minimum and then distribute the produce to multiple locations. 

This arrangement has enabled FoodWorks to source locally-grown greens earlier in the season. “We normally source greens from Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, New York. But they don’t do any greenhouse growing. So in the spring, while all the local crops are still maturing in the field, we’d have to buy mesclun shipped in from wherever. But through our relationship with Red Barn, we can get local mesclun early in the season, grown in greenhouses at Sorbello and Taliaferro farms.”

Omega has also been able to help out local farmers by connecting them with Red Barn for distribution, Turner says. Both Blue Star Farm in Stuyvesant, New York, and Ironwood Farm in Ghent, New York, which supply to Omega directly, now also distribute their produce through Red Barn.

Ultimately, local produce is about building community relationships.

“At Omega, the nation’s largest holistic learning center, we believe in reciprocal relationships that benefit the community at large,” Turner says. “If we can purchase from a distributor that has local produce, everybody wins. The farmers make money, and the headache of distribution is taken off their hands. The distributor makes money. We get a good product, at a good price—one that’s fresh and that we can turn into delicious food for our guests.”

Omega Helps Families Harvest & Cook Seasonal Lunch

2 years 1 week ago

On Saturday, May 16th, Omega FoodWorks executive chef Robert Turner supported Spring Planting Day at the Sylvia Center in Kinderhook, New York. The Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm in Columbia County inspires young people and their families to eat well through hands-on learning experiences on the farm and in the kitchen. At the event, families did just that—planting in the Children's Learning Garden, harvesting early spring vegetables, and working with Chef Bob to create a delicious farm-fresh seasonal lunch that they all shared. 

Jenn So, writing about the event for The Dish, explained, “Everyone learned how to roll out dough properly for flatbreads that were fired off in the wood-burning oven. People lined up for their turn to cook a flatbread in the oven and watched as vegetables crisped up and cheese bubbled right before their eyes. The results were spectacular!—beautiful, charred flatbreads topped with foraged ramps, spinach from our greenhouse, our own garlic and fresh local mozzarella.”

A Groundwork Hudson Valley Retreat at Omega

2 years 3 weeks ago

On May 19th–21st Omega Institute welcomed Groundwork Hudson Valley (GWHV) to our Rhinebeck campus for a board and staff retreat, as part of Omega in Service, which supports nonprofit organizations committed to improving the well-being of others and the life of the planet we share.

In 2014, GWHV was given the Omega Center for Sustainable Living Leadership in Sustainable Education Award for their decade-long work helping to transform underserved communities throughout the region into more livable and environmentally sustainable places. They do this through a variety of programs, such as their Science Barge, a prototype floating sustainable urban farm, and their Get Fresh Yonkers initiative, an umbrella program covering a farmers market, community supported agriculture, and an environmental food team.

Over the three day retreat, Groundwork Hudson Valley developed a greater understanding of their current programs and brainstormed ways to further the impact of their already impressive work in the region.

Of their time spent on campus, Rick Magder, executive director of Groundwork Hudson Valley, said, “It was a wonderful few days for us. It will improve our work in the community going forward for sure.” 

Omega in Service was established in 2005 to support fellow nonprofit organizations by providing the use of Omega’s facilities, access to campus amenities, and room and board for meetings and retreats. As part of Omega in Service, a large number of nonprofits apply to participate in a Service Week working retreat each May, to engage in planning and dialog that requires greater time and space, build and strengthen relationships, and become part of a community of change leaders that Omega supports through other programs and initiatives. 

Past Service Week participants include well over 300 organizations, such as Anderson Center for Autism, Center for the Contemplative Mind Society, Human Rights Watch, New Harlem Renaissance Work Group, Sakhi for South Asian Women, Sustainable South Bronx, the United Nations Development Program, and more.

Omega FoodWorks Speaks at CIA About Sustainability

2 years 4 months ago

On January 26, 2015, Omega FoodWorks general manager and executive chef, Bob Turner, spoke at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) about sustainability. 

“Sustainability is one of Omega’s core values,” Turner explained to more than 60 people attending the panel, Sustainability and Resource Management With Flavor during the CIA's faculty workshop day. “In many ways, our practice of sustainability began in the Omega Dining Hall. I like to say that we’ve been quietly serving local and organic produce for 30 years on our campus in Rhinebeck. More recently, we built an Eco Machine that reclaims all the water on campus and serves as a model to inspire others to create something similar, something adapted to their region and water usage.”

Other panelists included Sara Grady from the Glynwood Farm, who spoke about their efforts to establish and align networks to support the vibrancy of the regional food system, and Jean-Paul Sliva from the Bard College Farm, who spoke about establishing a farm with environmentally friendly growing practices and a financially sustainable operation.

A number of CIA faculty and administrators at the workshop day attended the Omega Center for Sustainable Living's Where We Go From Here Conference in October 2014, and credited the conference with supporting the CIA's decision to focus its faculty workshop day on sustainability. 

Governor Cuomo Bans Fracking

2 years 6 months ago

Omega applauds Governor Cuomo and his administration's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York State and congratulates all those who have worked in dialog to bring about this considered outcome.

The decision to ban fracking—a method to extract gas or oil from shale rock—was delivered at a year-end cabinet meeting today in Albany. 

"Governor Cuomo's decision demonstrates an understanding and respect for the connections between society, nature, and individuals, and their contributions to creating healthy communities," said Robert “Skip” Backus, chief executive officer at Omega. "While each of our actions toward preserving our collective resources is important, the state's leadership is essential for protecting fresh water—a vital and irreplaceable resource—during a time when it is not guaranteed anywhere in the world. This decision moves New York toward being a national and global leader in environmental preservation and building a sustainable economy that doesn't rely on energy solutions that endanger our environment." 

Read more about the announcement 

#WeCantWait for Everyone to Have a Toilet

2 years 7 months ago

World Toilet Day, on November 19, intends to raise awareness about the 2.5 billion people in the world who do not have improved sanitation, as well as the one billion people who are forced to defecate in the open because of this.

“This day is a universal effort to address access to improved global sanitation,” Omega CEO Robert “Skip” Backus says. “Until you lack access to a toilet, and must squat in the street, you don’t understand the importance of what we take for granted.”

“Having to defecate openly infringes on human safety and dignity,” the World Toilet Day organizers state. “Women and girls risk rape and abuse as they wait until night falls because they lack access to a toilet that offers privacy. Where toilets do exist [they] generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene. Without accessible toilets for these populations, they remain excluded from opportunities to attend school and gain employment.”

Water is central to the mission of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living. Our building itself—the first LEED® Platinum and Living Building Challenge™ certified building in the world—hosts a natural water reclamation system, called an Eco Machine, built to purify the water used by the Omega Institute campus. 

Extending modern sanitation facilities, done ideally in an eco-friendly manner as Omega has modeled here on campus, can be a powerful tool in improving human health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that improving water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent roughly 9 percent of the global disease burden, as well as prevent 6.3 percent of all deaths worldwide. 

There’s a deeper question we can be asking, though. Considering humanity’s need for clean, potable water, is disposing of bodily waste in water the best way forward as a general practice?

“We have an opportunity here,” Backus says, “to further the development and use of waterless toilet systems for waste disposal, which can reclaim important nutrients such as phosphorus from the waste stream, while at the same time reducing water pollution. In doing so, we will be helping to protect and conserve critically important natural resources, in addition to improving human health”

On November 19 several events have been organized around the world. If you cannot attend one of them, please consider doing your part in your community, your workplace, and your home to raise awareness about this critical issue of social justice and environmental sustainability: World Toilet Day Ideas.

Van Jones Credits Omega As Inspiration For His Green Jobs Initiative

2 years 8 months ago

Van Jones, cohost of CNN's Crossfire and an award-winning pioneer in the clean energy economy, delivered a rousing Friday night keynote address at the 2014 OCSL Conference: Where We Go From Here. He covered everything from Ferguson to green jobs to his latest project YesWeCode, a movement to help train 100,000 low-opportunity youth to become world-class computer coders.

"I remember coming to Omega and having my eyes opened. There was a girl named Julia Butterfly Hill here. This girl was crazy. She climbed up in a tree and didn’t come down. We bonded over the myth of disposability. The whole green jobs thing was born on Omega’s stage with me and Julia Butterfly Hill trying to understand each other," he said.

Van Jones started the Oakland Green Jobs Corps with $125,000. He recalled thinking at the time, "Instead of having these kids standing outside of my house in Oakland, getting on my nerves, let’s have them get on the roof and put up a solar panel."

The Oakland Green Jobs Corps led to the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which infused the Oakland program with $125 million and spread it across the country. Based on this experience, Jones was inspired to write The Green Collar Economy in 2008. President Barack Obama read the book and asked Jones to be on his transition team. Another half billion dollars was put into the Green Jobs Act. It was a three year time elapse from the start. And according to Van Jones, it all began with a conversation at Omega. 

Ceremony Held for OCSL Leadership in Sustainable Education Award

2 years 8 months ago

A ceremony to present Omega’s 3rd Annual OCSL Leadership in Sustainable Education Award was held during Omega's Where We Go From Here conference. This year’s recipient is Groundwork Hudson Valley, an organization working to help distressed communities in the lower Hudson Valley build a sustainable future.

“I look forward to this every year,” said Omega chief executive officer Robert "Skip" Backus. "For this award, we seek out organizations who have ideals in common with the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL). We reach out to lend support in the form of a cash prize and a retreat, but more than anything, to develop a future relationship. Groundwork Hudson Valley is working to educate children, address economic disparity, and reach into communities. We're proud to support their work, from the arts to community gardens to a science barge on the Hudson River. We look forward to a long relationship with them."

Accepting the award for Groundwork Hudson Valley, deputy director and youth program director Curt Collier said, “What we’re missing in environmental organizations is diversity. We’re looking to get diverse youth into these organizations. You just can’t send kids off in the forest once and expect them to get the lesson. You need to keep bringing them into more experiences."

Groundwork youth participants take part in transformative projects in Yonkers, New York, where Groundwork is based. They also intern at a variety of national parks, including Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Bear Mountain.