Tompkins businesses aid Wall St. protesters

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Van packed with donated food travels to NYC

A van, running on biodiesel and chock-full of goodies made in the Ithaca area, traveled to New York City to feed protesters with the Occupy Wall Street movement last week.

Organized by Stefan Senders of Wide Awake Bakery of Trumansburg, the van was packed with bread, pancake mix, cheese, scones, cabbage, bulgur and whole wheat pasta, to name a few items. Eager to find a way to contribute to the movement, Senders decided to enlist the help of local farmers and restaurant owners.

“Our bakery has a mission to bake the best bread in the world, but we also have a social mission to do good things we believe in,” he said. “We really wanted to contribute in some way to the movement because it is very much in line with what we think.”

In an ideal world, Senders would have been protesting on the streets of New York City. Taking days off from breaking bread was not an option, so packing a van of goods was the next-best thing, he said.

His baking partner, David McInnis, and Oechsner Farms owner Dan Gladstone drove the van — which was donated by Catholic Workers — to the city last Thursday. The goods were dropped off at two separate prep kitchens in Harlem and the Bronx.

Last week, Senders posted on his website asking that anyone who wanted to donate goods should get in touch with him. He also made some calls and the response was overwhelming, he said.

“I had tears in my eyes because you feel so proud of your people for the amount of material and beautiful stuff and their generosity,” he said. “The food scene around here is as good as anywhere in the whole world. But the people are also some of the most generous people.”

Numerous places contributed food, such as Northland Sheep Dairy, West Haven Farm, Moosewood, The Piggery, Greenstar, Fat Boy Bakery, and Silent City Uprising Coffee. When asked why they donated food, the business owners all answered the same way: Why wouldn’t they?

“Our business and personal lives are separate, but personally we are big fans of the work people are bravely doing down there,” said Heather Sandford, owner of The Piggery, who donated cases of beverages. “We are a 99 percenter, we are not a 1 percenter. The least we could do was send support.”

Maryrose Livingston of Northland Sheep Dairy did not hesitate to load some wheels of tomme bergere cheese onto the van. She met the van in Whitney Point and was proud to see piles of beans, vegetables, and bread from other area farmers.

“I think a lot of us farmers in this area are really concerned about the way the food market has been affected by speculation, which is driven by corporate greed and Wall Street,” she said. “So we are happy people are standing up and fighting that and saying we need to do things differently.”

Every week, West Haven Farm donates excess produce or produce that is partially damaged, General Manager John Bokaer-Smith said. So when Senders called him last week, he put together some cabbage and apples.

“I feel like the protestors speak for a lot of the anxiety that most people are feeling,” he said. “We wanted to show solidarity with the folks down there. I know I share a lot of the concerns they do.”

It was difficult for Sara Robbins, one of the owners of Moosewood, to remember all the goods her restaurant sent down to the city. The list was a long one: tortilla chips, bulgur, whole wheat couscous, whole wheat penne pasta, canned tomatoes, cranberry juice, soy milk, fruit preserves, coffee, olive oil and salsa.

“We totally support what they are doing,” Robbins said. “It is exciting to see. A lot of us go back to the late ’60s and it is like the old days again with people finally waking up and saying ‘no more.’ It feels good to hear it.”

Moosewood typically makes donations to organizations in central New York or the Southern Tier, said Laura Branca, one of the owners. But this movement was certainly an exception.

“The inequality that exists between classes is terrible and we have 14 million people unemployed, 25 percent of the youth are unemployed, and people that do have jobs have to work two or three just to make ends meet,” she said. “One of the things that is really true from our experience is that it is completely possible to run a successful business without robbing workers and hoarding the wealth that is created.”

Since Senders organized the donations, he has received both positive and negative feedback. He has received some hate mail and threatening calls telling him to stop supporting the movement.

But he has also received requests to organize another trip down to the city, he said. It may not be long before the biodiesel van is on the road again, full of kale, eggplants, potatoes, cookies and croissants, he said.

“This is part of our mission — it is part of the mission of many of us in the area — to do all we can to help what we see as an important movement,” he said. “We feel like we are doing the right thing. We are totally psyched to be involved.”