The Foodshed Alliance honored four “Local Heroes” at its annual Gala on April 29, 2018. “These individuals each contributed tremendously to support the Foodshed Alliance in the past year,” said Foodshed Alliance Board President Jake Hunt. “We are so grateful to them for their hard work, ideas, energy and goodwill–it is what drives this organization forward and inspires us to do the work.”

Person of the Year — Marty Epstein, Marty’s Reliable Cycle

This is Marty’s 40th year in business. His first store was located in a small storefront in Morristown. He found that being involved in the community and cycling advocacy was part of his business philosophy from the beginning. By 1994, he moved his store to a larger building that he purchased on Speedwell Avenue, opened a store in Succusanna and then moved it to the current location which he built and opened a third store in Hackettstown.

In 2011, Marty founded Gran Fondo NJ, which has become the most prominent cycling event in New Jersey. Through this event, over $1.1 million has been raised for various charities. He has been involved with countless events, races, rides and community events over the years. Advocacy has always been a prime component of his efforts. In 2017, Trek Bicycles awarded him the status of “Legend” for his advocacy work, community involvement and many years as Trek dealer.

Four years ago, he started the Tour de Blairstown. “I found that the Blairstown community is very unique and dedicated to the Foodshed Alliance. I also found it very easy and rewarding to support the Foodshed Alliance in their commendable work to bring healthy local food to those in need, support local farmers and protect the environment,” Marty states. “We have worked hard and have established Tour de Blairstown to be not only a great fundraiser for the Foodshed Alliance but also a signature cycling event on the local riding calendar.”

Farmer of the Year — Roman Osadca, Valley Fall Farm

Roman Osadca and his wife Debra own a small family farm outside of Johnsonburg in northwestern NJ. Roman’s specialty is gourmet heirloom garlic and beekeeping. He nurtures an international collection of 250 varieties of hardneck and softneck garlic and has been the NJ State Fair garlic champion for many years. He maintains about 40 beehives throughout the area and produces an innovative line of honey, beeswax, pollen and propolis products.

To say Roman has a passion for the culinary and medicinal powers of garlic and honey is an understatement. Known far and wide as one of the leading authorities on the history, folklore, pharmacology, and practical uses of garlic and honey, Roman is also a champion of sustainable agriculture, self-sufficiency (in 1984, he designed and built his home complete with solar heating, hot water, and photovoltaic electricity), and land conservation. You can read more about his background here.

“I’ve been a supporter of the Foodshed Alliance for many years, because of its support for the small farmer, for its work in strengthening our local food system, educating the public, and for promoting healthy local food in our area,” states Roman. “There is a lot of stuff germinating in our local food economy, and the Foodshed Alliance is the backbone of this movement.”

Partner of the Year — Laura Szwak, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Laura manages NJ Conservation Foundation’s Conservation Assistance program that includes organizing an annual conference, educational events through the Land Trust Network and a grant program called the Franklin Parker Conservation Excellence grant. With The Nature Conservancy and Rowan University, Laura developed an online mapping system called the Conservation Blueprint that identifies priority lands to preserve for agriculture, natural resource integrity and recreation in NJ.

From 1994-2004, she served as Assistant Director of Morris Land Conservancy (now The Land Conservancy of NJ). From 1979-1991, Laura worked in Washington DC for the National Park Service as an Outdoor Recreation Planner with a two-year assignment to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. She earned a Master’s of Science degree in Recreation & Parks Administration from the Pennsylvania State University and a Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of Georgia.

A resident of Mt. Olive Township, Laura serves as chair of the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, vice chair of the Crossroads of the American Revolution, member of the NJ Trails Council, and builds trails as a member of the township’s open space committee.

For the past two years, Laura has worked closely with the Foodshed Alliance to highlight the need to match young and emerging farmers with available farmland. Together, Laura worked with the Foodshed Alliance to convene several gatherings of the NJ Land Trust Network and other stakeholders to find solutions to address this issue.

“The way to ensure preserved farmland remains in NJ is to attract farmers,” states Laura. “We need to cultivate farmers to cultivate preserved farmland!”

Volunteer of the Year — Patt Reid

Patt Reid, a resident of Andover, is a dedicated volunteer of the Foodshed Alliance’s LocalShare program, which in 2017 delivered 87,000 lbs. of farm-fresh vegetables that would otherwise go to waste, to food pantries to feed those in need.

Patt is primarily retired, and fairly new to the area. In an effort to find friends with like-minded interests, she began volunteering for a group that shops for food pantries and soup kitchens. She also sometimes volunteered for the food pantry she shopped for.

“I view food insecurity as one of the most pressing problems facing many Americans today,” states Patt. “I knew Michele Smith (last year’s Volunteer of the Year) from that group. She got me interested in gleaning. At first I resisted, I had grown up on a farm and knew how taxing farming can be. But once I started gleaning, I was hooked.

“The people I’ve been meeting through this effort are a real pleasure, and are very committed. This seems so important a thing to do, as well. Nothing beats fresh produce, and it is fun to introduce pantry clients to new foods. I can only imagine this will be more important as time wears on. I’m already reading of food rotting in the fields in California due to a shortage of workers. This will drive the cost of fresh produce even higher than it is now. That means our gleaning is even more critical. I look forward to another season.”