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Food Day Hopes to Get Americans to 'Eat Real'

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    Fresh produce at W. Rogowski Farm in Orange County, N.Y. (Karlie Pouliot)

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    W. Rogowski selling veggies and greens at the Warwick, N.Y. farmers market. (Karlie Pouliot)

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    Sqush at W. Rogowski Farm in Orange County, N.Y (Karlie Pouliot)

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    Baked goods at W. Rogowski Farm in Orange County, N.Y (Karlie Pouliot)

Is there anything tastier than eating a cherry tomato that’s just been plucked off the vine, or what about some freshly-picked spinach sautéed with olive oil and garlic? So simple and so fresh. 

This is the kind of eating the organizers of the nation’s first Food Day 2011 is hoping all Americans will soon start adopting.  The grassroots campaign, which kicks Monday, Oct. 24., will encourage Americans to "eat real" and support healthy, affordable food grown in a sustainable, humane way. 

“People are eating a diet that’s causing them obesity, heart disease, diabetes, various cancers – and we should do something about that,” Michael Jacobson, Food Day founder and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told FoxNews.com. “Companies are marketing junk food to kids. There is still hunger and food insecurity problems in the United States – there are a range of problems.” 

To mark the day, Food Day organizers have put together educational material and a recipe booklet. Companies like the The Cooking Channel are getting behind the movement and encouraging people to eat healthy, while Epicurious, in  partnership with Whole Foods Market, is getting people organize potluck suppers and dinner parties to raise money for food banks and charities.

The good news is there are many, many people concerned about these growing issues, including Jacobson. 

On his website, there’s a mission statement of sorts that says, “Food Day’s goal is nothing less than to transform the American diet.” 

A very lofty goal, but it seems these guys are off to a pretty good start. 

“Once we started publicizing it to people like college students and others who might organize activities, we were just thrilled by the response,” Jacobson said. “There are 2,000 events registered on our map at Foodday.org, and there are many other additional activities, so there’s been an enormous wonderful response.” 

It’s clear that Jacobson wants people to eat a healthy diet, but another goal of his, is that he wants people to eat food that’s produced in a sustainable and humane way. Think of the movement known as “farm-to-table.” 

“Some of it comes from the environmental side, where people are very concerned about how growing food degrades our environment,” he said. “Many restaurants have taken up the cause by saying, ‘We’re going to buy locally-grown foods and organic foods.’ Some of it’s from the nutrition side, but I think most of it is from the environmental side and concerns about what’s happening in rural America – and that’s where farmers markets come in.” 

There are more than 7,000 farmers markets across the U.S., a trend that has exploded over the years because people want fresher, tastier and more locally-grown foods, Jacobson pointed out. No one knows the business of farming and farmers markets better than the folks at the W. Rogowski Farm in the black-dirt region of Orange County, N.Y. The second generation family-operated farm grows more than 300 different varieties of produce including seven different kinds of potatoes, eight different kinds of winter squash and a slew of greens – just to name a few. 

“We probably have 60 different kinds of greens including the herbs we have,” Beth Ziba, a chef at the farm, told FoxNews.com. We stopped by the farm to talk to them about the philosophy behind Food Day – but it’s an idea that’s not new to them. Since 1999, they’ve been a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, which means they have “a relationship of mutual support and commitment” between their farm and its members. 

“The CSA is a program where people can invest in the farm and their dividends are food,” Ziba explained. “ Our CSA this year cost $415.00. A family would put this up at the beginning of the season and that will allow us to buy seeds, buy fuel to run the tractor and pay the farmers to plant things. Beginning in the middle of June when we start harvesting, people come once a week and pick up their produce. We say there is enough produce to take care of a family of four comfortably. It’s 23 weeks of produce, which works out to about $18.00 per week.” 

And the really great part about this program is that it ends up changing the way people eat. 

“The first year that my family had the CSA, I realized that if I didn’t seriously deal with this great volume of greens and vegetables that was coming in on Thursday evenings that I couldn’t fit it all in my refrigerator. So Thursdays became food day in my house. We wash the greens and then we take a look at what we are going to use for the week, and whatever we’re not going to use for the week, we freeze. My 23-week CSA share turned into 52-week CSA share. I haven’t bought vegetables in the grocery store in two years,” Ziba said. 

These are exactly the kind of habits Jacobson and his colleagues at Food Day are pushing for. They want to see people buying and eating locally, and they especially want people to start cooking at home. 

“It doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat, but the basic things should be really healthy, delicious meals using sustainably-produced ingredients, and eating with your family and friends. It’s also fun and empowering to cook,” he said. 

If you don’t know your way around the kitchen, and cringe at the thought of what to do with a bunch of fresh produce in a paper bag, then Ziba recommends starting off slowly. 

“Start with lunch. One of the things we do is take all of the greens that we have, as well as some onion products like leeks or scallions that came in our CSA bag that week, and we sauté them with a little olive oil and garlic and then we put in the washed greens. I always have a bunch of grains around such as rice or millet or quinoa and then we add it all together and we cook up a big pot of it. That’s what we eat for lunch that week,” she said. 

Once the veggies and grains are cold, try adding some salad dressing for flavor, Ziba suggested, or you can add chicken broth and then you have soup. 

“That’s how we as a family really started to change things,” she said. 

Yes, change is hard, but it this case, it’s necessary. You’ve heard it a million times before, but there’s no harm in saying it again: We are in the middle of an obesity crisis. Two out of three adults and one out of three kids are overweight or obese. 

“People need to do a better job than they are doing,” Jacobson said. “My hope is that people who participate in Food Day 2011 continue to be involved in food issues over the course of the year at a local level, or writing letters to members of congress, or getting better foods into their children’s schools. Whatever course they take, I hope they continue to be involved.” 

It’s not only healthy, but there’s also something spiritual about eating food that has just been pulled from the earth. In the case of the W. Rogowski farm – pulled from that amazing black dirt. 

“It’s the je ne sais quoi,” Ziba said with a smile on her face. 

“It’s about the fact that we have one tractor for 150 acres worth of land, and we have 16 farmers who plant everything by hand and pick everything by hand. So you have people touching your food – people who care. It’s really something when you see them come in with a bunch of radishes that they planted, picked and washed – and then they put it down on the counter for me to chop up and put in a salad. It’s really phenomenal – and I swear you can taste it.”