Twenty-five years ago—a lifetime before NYU undergrads started taking field trips to Long Island farms or city cyclists began touring urban gardens—Wendy Dubit was determined to get New Yorkers in touch with where their food came from.
So in 1986 she launched FarmHands-CityHands, a pioneering not-for-profit that took city slickers to the country so they could, as she put it, “get their hands dirty and their minds clean.” Participants tapped maple trees in winter, sowed seeds in spring and picked peppers and peaches come summer—not to mention special sessions making jam, wine and farmstead cheese.
Dubit’s day job as a marketing and brand manager gave her spare-time rural initiative a decidedly city sensibility (the organization’s tagline was “New York: Love It and Leave It”) that attracted city mice from across the spectrum. Participants included groups of Fulbright scholars, culinary historians, IRS employees, foreign dignitaries, homeless families, wine importers and students from kindergarten to grad school. “On a day in the country,” a 1991 headline in the Times enthused, “everything fresh, including perspectives.”
Dubit put FarmHands-CityHands on hiatus for several years while the dot.com boom commanded her full professional focus, but the vivacious visionary is now back in agricultural action. This year she marks FarmHands-CityHands’ 25th anniversary with a new program called “A Call to Open Farms” which, like its predecessor, encourages city dwellers to visit farms, walk the fields, plant and pick produce … and share experiences online. This time Dubit (who was an early AOL employee) invites participants to post photos, videos, songs, stories, recipes, poems online. She’s also planning biodiesel bus tours, up-country farm days and intown harvest celebrations.
It’s all in keeping with the same belief that prompted her to begin the initiative in the first place: her lifelong awareness of “how much we—farm and city—need and feed each other.”