Executive Director of Our Core
By Olivia Groell
December 17, 2020
In the town of Newburgh, New York, which lies along the Hudson River about 60 miles north of Manhattan, there is a cooperative community of youth involved in an organization called Our Core. Our Core has varied educational opportunities for the local youth, including everything from agricultural to scholarship opportunities, but they are all focused on addressing the systems of injustice in Newburgh by helping students. Our Core has a rich history that starts in 2004 with a teacher named Christine Hutchinson and her idea for a program called Girls to Ladies—“a character and life-skill development group for teen girls in which members learn and grow through collaborative problem solving and community service,” according to Our Core’s website.
I was able to speak with Christine, now Executive Director of Our Core, in November after The Farmlink Project began an extended partnership with the organization in October. According to Claudia Sandell, one of the leaders of The Farmlink Project’s Farms Team, “[Our Core] set up contracts with local farmers for weekly produce deliveries until December 15th and we're going to help them cover the cost of the produce and transportation...spanning over about eight weeks.” The deliveries consist of roughly 10,340 pounds of mixed fresh produce including squash, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, radish, onions, greens, and apples. Though these deliveries seem similar to other deliveries we do on a weekly basis, Our Core is a distinct nonprofit in that unlike many other food access organizations we partner with, its primary goal does not revolve around solving food insecurity. I enjoyed learning about Our Core’s initiatives and programs while talking to Christine, as well as their transition to putting an emphasis on helping feed families in their community during the pandemic.
Our Core officially became a nonprofit organization in 2017, according to Christine. Three main programs comprise Our Core: Girls to Ladies, AgriCultural Education, and Funding Academics. Christine noted that AgriCultural Education is the “fastest growing, most visible program.” This program includes an opportunity to complete a paid summer internship—an opportunity established three years ago. The home base for this internship program is the Downing Park Urban Farm (DPUF) in Newburgh. Though Our Core had to reduce the number of interns this past season to maintain social distancing, they worked for a longer time period—from May until late-October/early-November—making them instrumental in growing 4,500 pounds of produce under the direction of the DPUF farmer, Molly Foley. There are three different “tracks” that make up this internship program, according to Christine and Our Core’s website: Marketing, Growing, and Education. The marketing and education interns complete much of their internship running a farmers market, and the education interns work with Land to Learn, taking what they learn at the farm to teach elementary-aged children. Our Core also has also worked with the local high school to establish an urban agriculture course, and Christine said that they are working to “create a college-level course for the spring.” These programs all existed before COVID-19, but a new one has emerged this year to address the new hunger challenges the community is currently facing.
According to Christine, this new push is called Our Core’s “COVID response food access initiative.” She described how there was a USDA program paying farmers to provide food boxes for communities in need, but that “nobody was sending boxes to Newburgh.” Being the action-oriented educator that she is, Christine wanted to help solve this problem and made it possible for Our Core to be funded to distribute food. Specifically, this funding came from Glynfood’s Food Sovereignty Fund, which Christine described as “money given to organizations like Our Core…so they can connect farms to feeding programs”—just like The Farmlink Project, except more local and community-based! This is an ongoing initiative, and she has been able to include students in multiple steps of the process, including “sorting and packaging produce, and choosing appropriate produce for their communities,” according to Christine. Our Core has been partnering with five “feeding programs,” including a local group called M’Vore Cares, and has helped serve homeless residents in Newburgh. They have also been partnering with multiple farms in the area: Farm Fresh Caribbean Growers in New Paltz, Second Wind CSA in Gardiner, Farm Tournant in Montgomery, Grandpa Farm at the Chester Agriculture Center, and Trinity Farms in Milton. By working with Our Core, The Farmlink Project is also directly supporting these farms and food access groups.
Christine described the extensive challenges that Newburgh has faced during the pandemic. There was a reduction in volunteers, more produce had to be donated rather than sold, and Christine said that “a lot more of the food went directly into the kids’ neighborhoods.” She also explained that the AgriCultural Education program shifted to focus on “production” with the “goal of feeding the community,” and said that students were “at the farm all the time.” Still, she wanted to make sure that it was an educational experience for the students involved and that they were paid for their hard work.
I cannot believe how dedicated and determined Christine is to make a positive impact on student’s lives and the community around her. Her description of the impact the Girls to Ladies program has had stood out to me. Christine told me that since 2004, around 200 girls have participated in this program. She told me how there has been a “longevity in successes” and that the program has “come full circle” as a woman who participated in the program recently joined the board and will take over the Girls to Ladies program. Christine also emphasized why agricultural education is central to Our Core’s mission: “[The students] are disconnected from the food. [This program enables them to] grow from seed to harvest. They want to come into the growing space and have a strong desire to be there.” She recounted how one of the student interns had just recently texted her to ask if she could go over to the farm where she had been working. I could tell how passionate Christine is about making Our Core such a positive force in the community. She told me how her dream is to “have their own growing space, office space, and greenhouse space.” I was also amazed by how many different tasks Christine is able to accomplish: “I’m on the ground with students with my hands in the dirt for the agriculture program....I’m also working with leadership and directors...[and] with a garden educator...I like to have my hands in everything.” Christine, as an inventive leader of a unique and important nonprofit organization, serves as a role model for The Farmlink Project. She pushes the boundaries of what one organized group can accomplish and do to help those around them.
To learn more about Our Core, please visit their website.