While the Hard Rock Café may be better known for celebrating roots-inspired sounds, at the recent “Hope to End Hunger” benefit, audiences returned to more terrestrial roots in the form of a farm installation put together by Bushwick high school students.
Hosted by Harry Chapin’s noted WhyHunger organization in partnership with Hard Rock and Brooklyn’s own EcoStation, the annual fund-raising evening of music, food and activism treated event-goers to locally sourced hors d’oeuvres and international food stations while bringing attention to WhyHunger’s mission of getting to the core causes of hunger and changing the food system from the bottom up.
Founded in 1975 by Chapin and rock-and-roll radio DJ Bill Ayres, WhyHunger works through a vast network of partnerships across the globe to create meaningful change in food systems. According to WhyHunger director of development Noreen Springstead, “It was just two guys that believed there was another way and that music has the power to change the world.”
High-profile partners, including Hard Rock International, Bruce Springsteen and Yoko Ono (who we profiled a while back) among many others, help keep their mission in the spotlight, while on a legislative level WhyHunger has representation at the U.N. Meanwhile, their National Hunger Hotline partners with the USDA and other national organizations to ensure kids can find a nourishing meal in the summertime when school’s out.
And while this organization likes to rock for a good cause and wants to make sure no child goes hungry, their aim is “not just feeding people,” says Springstead. Instead they ask, “How do you get to the root causes and transform communities — with the belief in the power of the individual to change their own life if they’re given the opportunities and the skills?”
That’s where on-the-ground partners like food justice superstars EcoStation come in. “The solutions lie at the grassroots,” says Springstead, describing the urban ag operation as “just this bright light in Bushwick.”
And indeed EcoStation is a shining example of the many community gardens and farms that WhyHunger partners with around the world. The Brooklyn nonprofit works with the local community producing “innovative, sustainable urban agriculture projects.” In addition to their many educational initiatives, to date they have five farmers markets and are hard at work on an ambitious rooftop farm project called “Farm-in-the-Sky.”
The initial partnership began with a visit to EcoStation last fall by WhyHunger partner, Chopped star and sustainable food enthusiast chef Aarón Sánchez, a Bushwick resident, who, Springstead says, was “blown away by not only the poise of these kids but what this experience is doing for them.”
Some of these kids were among those installing the on-site farm and giving the keynote that night. Edible spoke with one of the speaker/farmers, Kristina Erskine, a high school senior at Academy for Environmental Leadership, one of four public high schools on the Bushwick Campus involved with urban farming and food justice programs with EcoStation.
Kristina is bright-eyed as she describes why she enrolled at the environmental high school. “I just felt like it was very important. I mean, nobody really says this person is a celebrity because they care about the environment,” she says, “and it’s crazy because I feel like that’s the most important thing.”
The focus of the Hope to End Hunger event particularly appealed to her. “I found out the other day my dad wrote a song, and that’s what he said, too, that ‘it’s about the roots.’ I’m serious. Basically the concept that the way to move forward is not in technology, it’s in the roots. Like giving back to the earth.”
To that end, Kristina will be starting at Medgar Evers College this fall, majoring in environmental science.