If you were to find the appropriate food metaphor for a Wednesdays at Michael’s I’d say it’s a tasty stew served hot with a number of surprise ingredients that can spice things up at a moment’s notice. That’s precisely what happened today when I was joined by passionate foodie and patron saint of farmers everywhere Tessa Edick, founder of FarmOn!, a 501 (c)3 organization, which she launched in 2011 and which was recently featured on Forbes.com. She describes FarmOn! as “a social responsibility that supports the local food system and funds educational opportunities in agricultural for students pursuing farm-related careers.” In short, Tessa’s mission through FarmOn! is to get the world — or at least all of New York — starting with the Hudson Valley — to recognize the important role farmers (who she calls “starmers” — get it?). My pal, the tireless and terrific Judy Twersky brought us together along with Beyond PR Group’s partner Beth Feldman today and believe me, I learned more about where the food we eat comes from than I could ever hope to tell you in the time allotted to write this column. My head was spinning like never before by the time we said our goodbyes. Trust me, I’ll never buy a container of hard-boiled eggs while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike again.
Dynamic Tessa is a one-woman empire who has an exciting new deal with Disney (more on that later), has a new book out in September (ditto) and is sure to be a name you’ll know, if you don’t already, very soon. Born and raised in upstate New York, Tessa told me she was born with a passion for food that was nurtured by her Italian-born mother (her great grandparents owned a dairy farm). Despite growing up in an economically depressed area, she and her siblings were “happy and healthy” due in large part, she says, to the way they ate food purchased from local farmers. But, she explained, as she grew older she wanted a life away from the country and went off in search of “glamour and success” in the big city. At 27, she returned to her roots and started her own food company, Sauces n’ Love with her ex-husband (she sold the company to him in 2010). Just as Tessa was extolling the many virtues of buying from your local farmer (or, at the very least, knowing where the food you are eating comes from), proprietor Michael McCarty sauntered over to our table. When I introduced him to Tessa and told him about her mission on behalf of the farmers, he told us he was once a duck farmer way back when in 1976 when he had the first foie gras farm in the United States. Small world, no?
I found it quite intriguing to listen to Tessa’s stories of helping her local farmers through FarmOn! while balancing the high-profile gigs she’s landed in the increasingly star-centric foodie universe. Tessa has created product lines for celebrity chefs, including Todd English and Tom Colicchio, and has also guided new-product development for Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table and Royal Caribbean, among many other companies. In 2011, she in addition to creating her foundation, launched Friends of the Farmer, which produced the first Hudson Valley Food Lovers Festival, a regional food event celebrating the farm-to-table movement. This summer, Friends of the Farmer have three amazing events benefiting FarmOn! Foundation’s youth education programs. The first is a Hoedown! benefit concert on July 18 at 6 p.m. with Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) and other performers at Club Helsinki Hudson in Hudson, New York. Next up, there’s the 4th Annual Hootenanny Fundraising Dinner sponsored by designer John Varvatos, Helsinki Hudson, Radio Woodstock and Taste NY, which will take place on Saturday, July 26 at Copake Country Club in Columbia County. At this event, diners will enjoy a farm-to-table dinner prepared by ABC Kitchen’s Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten under the stars with Varvatos, actor/director Griffin Dunne and other celebrities from fashion, food and entertainment. On September 27, the day-long FarmFest! at Empire Farm in Copake, New York, will cap off the season with a family-friendly event where everyone can “learn, dance and play.” Says Tessa: “Bring a kid to a farm and they’re totally happy. They get it.”
Which is why, I’m guessing, Disney reached out to Tessa in November of last year and now she’s become something of an ambassador for the company. “I’m Farm Princess Tessa!” she joked. Executives were interested in integrating her educational messaging for kids with Michelle Obama‘s “Let’s Move” campaign since removing all their Disney characters off processed food packaging. Tessa worked with Disney and developed FarmOn! the Road with Disney and has been appearing at events, encouraging kids to learn about growing food from seed packets and talking about the benefits of eating healthy. She’s appeared at a recent Disney Tryathon on Governor’s Island, which got kids to “try” healthy options and will be part of Disney’s Pirates & Princesses event at Riverbank Park on July 25. This afternoon, she was headed to do a spot on “Kids Concerns” on Disney Radio.
Tessa’s first book, Hudson Valley Food and Farming: Why Didn’t Anyone Ever Tell Me That? (History Press), due out in September, will pull together everything Tessa has done to date with stories of Hudson Valley farmers, along with her special brand of activism stressing the importance of knowing where your food comes from. Since she has all these plates in the air, I just had to ask her if a television show is in the works. I have no doubt the development deal she told me about will bring about something big. I mentioned to her I’d seen a show on the Food Network that appeared to be focused on a similiar farm-centric approach but that its host seemed less than authentic, having borrowed more than a little from Paula Deen. Tessa isn’t interested in television stardom (even though she’s a natural), but no doubt will benefit tremendously from having it as a platform. “I’m going to make the farmer what the chef is today. They’re the real stars.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. PR scion Steven Rubenstein
2. Fashionable Fern Mallis with architect Steven Learner, who recently launched Collective, a new design show, and journalist Sarah Medford
3. Cindy Lewis,who recently departed DuJour for greener pastures. Onward!
4. Dana Miller and Mitch Kanner
5. Attorney Bob Barnett and Penquin Group’s president and publisher Adrian Zackheim. Nice to meet you.
6. Tessa Edick, Judy Twersky, Beth Feldman and yours truly
7. On the way out the door, I stopped by BDA’s Euan Rellie‘s table, and he introduced me to his colleague Justine Mannering and the dashing Kevin Martel, creative director of Harry’s of London, where, says Euan, business is “growing like a weed.” The luxury men’s shoemaker and accessories collection is sold at all the best retailers around the world and will be opening its own retail store here in the city next spring. “We’re shamelessly courting Kevin to expand the business into Asia,” says the tireless — and always sartorially splendid — money man.
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia with his partner Jeffrey Hirsch, Blair Sabol and an elegant silver-haired lady
9. R. Couri Hay
11. Marketing man and political commentator Robert Zimmerman and a well-dressed gal we didn’t get a chance to meeet
12. PR maven and Love Heals cofounder Dini Von Mueffling, presiding over a table full of pals. This weekend’s hot ticket in the Hamptons is Let’s Misbehave ’80s Style on Saturday night at Wolffer Estate Vineyard to benefit Love Heals. Constantine Maroulis (of American Idol fame and who starred in Rock of Ages on Broadway) is headlining with his ’80s cover band, Jessie’s Girl. Co-chairs are Alina Cho, Eric Villency and his wife Caroline Villency, Danielle Snyder and Jodie Snyder Morel. Patron is sponsoring an ’80s photo booth and Uber Beauty will transport guests back in time by providing big hair, neon-makeup-fueled makeovers, so dig out those Danskin dresses and leg warmers from the back of the closet (you know they’re in there somewhere) and buy a ticket. See you there!
14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew with uber agent Ed Victor
15. PR maestro Tom Goodman and Jack Kliger, who dazzled us with photos from his recent trip to Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Tres chic!
16. Tech guru Shelly Palmer, daughter of Alexis Palmer and two gentleman pals
17. Andrew Stein with yet another young stunner named Danielle, who we’re told, is a former lady love but now they’re just “good friends.” How nice.
18. PR princess Lisa Linden with writer James Panero
20. Vidicom’s Christy Ferer, who was nice enough to introduce me to Barby Siegel, CEO of Zeno Group, makers of those eye-catching black rubber “empowerment” bracelets. They were both wearing ones emblazoned with the word “Fearless.” I have no doubt …
21. Jack Myers — Long time no see!
22. Niche Media’s Jim Smith
24. AllianceBernstein’s Liz Smith
25. William Hardie
26. Pauline Brown
27. Jamie Niven and Neil Lasher
29. The Wall Street Journal’s David Sanford and Lewis Stein
Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.