Free Bird: Warner Grad Makes the World His Classroom

kids in a boat with a teacherChris Hartman ('09, M.S.) is one of the rare few who have successfully combined all of the things he loves into a life. He married his high school sweetheart, Vicki, with whom he has two children: Quinn, 5, and Sawyer, 2. He teaches social and environmental sustainability at his alma mater, The Harley School. And he is the co-founder of the South Wedge Farmer’s Market, the West Side Farmer’s Market, and The Good Food Collective—a community supported agriculture (CSA) program in Rochester. Looking back, it’s easy to trace the seeds of Hartman’s current work back to his childhood.

“I grew up playing outside endlessly,” says the Rochester native. “We had a creek behind our house and woods. We spent time in the Adirondacks in the summer…From forts, to skateboard ramps, to rafts, go-carts, pedal boats, and many other things…the theme when I was growing up was ‘do it yourself,’ and I spent loads of time making things. My father and uncles, and many of my favorite teachers, are all engineers and tinkerers. They are also eternal optimists and lovers of a good project, and it rubbed off.”

During his studies at Vassar College, Hartman was drawn back outdoors during a semester at the National Outdoor Leadership School in the Rockies. After three months in the mountains, Hartman decided to declare an independent major in environmental education.

“Classrooms have never been my favorite learning spot,” he says. So he designed his degree around field work experiences, the first of which was at Sprout Creek Farm in Dutchess County, N.Y. The demonstration and working farm, run by two Sacred Heart Order nuns/former teachers, would end up inspiring Hartman’s thesis at Vassar.

“It was clear I loved the farm and the kids, so when my [undergrad] thesis project came along, I decided to create a high school program where the kids lived and worked on the farm for two weeks. It was an awesome program and thesis project. After graduation, I was hired to come live and work on the farm.”

Hartman stayed with Sprout Creek for eight years—even built a cabin on the grounds with no running water or electricity where he lived with his future wife. But, eventually, the desire for children and a reconnection with family brought them back to Rochester. At the same time, Hartman began his graduate study at the Warner School.

“Warner has been huge for me,” he says. “Their embrace of issues around social justice was inspiring to me and this new world of academia was intriguing,” he says. “It gave me a context in which to situate and direct my learning. The experience put a background and strong reinforcement around my ideas and moved them forward in exciting ways.”

In addition to a whole new world of academia, the Hartmans had to adjust to a whole new way of living. They had raised their own foods when they lived on the farm and wanted to enjoy the same purity in what they consumed in Rochester, as well as connect with farmers here. So they signed up for a community supported agriculture program and an organic meat club. But the process became too time consuming.

“We had a full time job just getting all of our food,” says Hartman. “For us, it wasn’t just about the integrity of what we ate and drank, but also the flavor. So it didn’t take too long to think, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a farmers market in this neighborhood instead of driving around.’ It was about access to healthy and nutritious food for the whole neighborhood, building social relationships, economic development, and giving farmers a place to sell their goods.”

To that end, the South Wedge Farmers Market was born in the spring of 2007. The Hartmans went on to create the West Side Farmers Market as well as The Good Food Collective, a community-supported agriculture program providing a weekly delivery of seasonal, locally-grown produce to subscribers throughout the year, including deliveries right here to the University of Rochester.

“We need to re-think the food system,” he says. “There are real social justice issues with produce availability in urban neighborhoods. I want to keep plowing forward to see how I can be helpful.”

Hartman’s current job as a teacher with The Harley School does just that by involving Harley and City School students in sustaining a garden and greenhouse behind the school.

“We grow food with students and work with community groups doing community gardens,” he says. “We’re going to South Africa in a couple of weeks with some students to create community gardens there. So these kids are active players and leaders in the process.”

Hartman also started a boat building and river stewardship program at Harley, BRIDGES (Building Relationships Involving Diverse Groups, Experiences, and Service). Now in its third year, eighteen students—nine from Harley and nine from Rochester city schools—worked collaboratively to build a community, explore diversity, and build a wooden boat which was launched in the Genesee River.

For Hartman, it’s a full life, in every sense of the word. With his self-starting, ever optimistic ways, one might argue the need for advanced studies in his work. But Hartman would disagree.

“My exposure to professors at Warner, other students, and leading writers in related fields has changed everything for me,” he says. “I now have a real sense of the significance and potential of much of my work, and a way in which to communicate that in articulate and meaningful ways, to many audiences of varying interests.”

To learn more about The Good Food Collective, visit thegoodfoodcollective.com.

Photo Caption: Hartman works with middle school campers as they pose real scientific questions and search for answers regarding the beach’s water quality as part of the Warner School's Get Real! Science Action Camp. These budding scientists and Hartman paddle their way through Lake Ontario using a handmade boat that former students from The Harley School’s Horizons Student Enrichment Program built as part of BRIDGES.

Photo provided courtesy of Democrat and Chronicle photographer Shawn Dowd.

Tags: Get Real! Environmental Action Camp, Get Real! Science, science education