SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Sims Foster is well known in Sullivan County as a restaurateur, innkeeper and, with his wife Kirsten, the owner of Foster Supply Hospitality. He’s also the founder …
SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Sims Foster is well known in Sullivan County as a restaurateur, innkeeper and, with his wife Kirsten, the owner of Foster Supply Hospitality. He’s also the founder of a non-profit called A Single Bite. The program is expanding toward the goal of teaching all the eighth graders in Sullivan County about the difference between real food and processed food.
One of the main things that convinced Foster of the need for this sort of initiative was those health-ranking reports created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In it, Sullivan County ranked 61 out of 62 counties in New York State in terms of health outcomes.
In an interview with TRR, Foster said the report discussed “food insecurity, obesity and a lot of the things that are driven by poor nutrition, which is linked to poor awareness about the difference between healthy real food and unhealthy processed food.”
So how does the program work? “We meet them where they are in the classroom, then we take them on a farm tour,” Foster said. “Later in the program, we take them to one of our restaurants to have lunch. Then we follow up with a trip to New York City for a meal with, ideally, a celebrity chef. We’ve done it with Jeffrey Zakarian for multiple years, who then reiterates our core message, so they’re seeing the connection with somebody else and not just us.
“We have one rule, and I tell the kids I named the program after the one rule so I don’t forget it, which is they just have to take a single bite of everything we give them, and not prejudge it. Then we talk about whether they like it or not afterward and it allows us to have a dialogue about, for instance, this trout comes from the Beaverkill Trout Hatchery, and this beet came from Linda Horak’s Farm.” It starts to open up a conversation about where real food comes from. “We don’t beat them over the head saying you’ve got to eat healthy, we just tell them you should know that there’s a choice, and you have the choice, and you should be aware of that.”
The program started with the eighth graders of Livingston Manor School District, which is fairly rural; but rural areas are where Foster says the program is needed. “There’s this assumption that because we live in a place where we can garden, as opposed to the Bronx—which is 62 in the health rankings—that somehow our children understand how food grows and the difference between what real food and processed food is.” He said that’s not the case. Some of the students’ grandmothers may have gardens, he explained, but not the students themselves.
“I guess that’s a testament to the broken food system of our entire country, which focuses hard on processed food.”
The plan now is to expand the program into Sullivan County, and Audrey Garro has been brought on board to move those plans forward. “We continue to offer the program to eighth-graders in Livingston Manor, and we also are following students as they go into high school,” Garro said. “We’re adding Roscoe Central School District and Downsville. The two schools share some services and there are students there who we think could benefit from the program. We’re going to Sullivan West and Tri-Valley and that’s all before the fall.”
She said by the end of May there will be 170 students in the program, and “once all of the eighth-graders in Sullivan County experience the program,” it will have reached 780 students.
Foster pointed out that the program doesn’t ask students, parents, or school districts for funding. When it was only running in Livingston Manor, Foster could raise the money from a barbeque fundraiser or Foster and his wife would kick in some funding. But with plans to grow the operation, A Single Bite is moving into a more ambitious fundraising plan.
Garro said, “We are developing a donor base, seeking grants and corporate support as any traditional not-for-profit would. Thus far having held our first fundraising event in November, the response has been terrific. People really appreciate the authenticity, and also the way that we are communicating directly with students, with the hope that we will not only raise their health but also the health of the community.”