FarmOn! Foundation in Copake cultivates something we all need—the next gen of sustainable farmers. It’s time you met Tessa and Eric Williams.

By Mitch Rustad 

“Our foundation envisions a world where a career in sustainable farming is valued and respected,” says Tessa E. Williams, food entrepreneur, author and the founder/executive director of the FarmOn! Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit and charity headquartered at the historic 220-acre Empire Farm in Copake, NY. Williams says she founded the organization with a goal of connecting people to the source of their food and teaching why that’s so important. “FarmOn! is a call to action,” she says. 

Founded in 2010, FarmOn!—which offers programs for adults and kids, including a dynamic summer camp—put the spotlight on agriculture in the Hudson Valley, especially as a viable, profitable and fulfilling career path for young people. “Farmers are as important as doctors and lawyers and elected officials,” Williams tells me excitedly, “because we need them to feed us, reliably, responsibly, sustainably and as stewards of the land. FarmOn! offers experiences on a farm with an entrepreneurial lens.” 

FarmOn! is accredited with Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and works with hundreds of students over the past decade from the Taconic Hills Central School District, often with life changing results. “The farm becomes their classroom,” Williams says, who grew up on a farm herself in Beaver Falls, NY. “It’s hands-on project-based learning—I think that’s so impactful.” 

Students come to FarmOn! not only to seed and harvest, but to deliver the food to the store, see the sales component and work on the farm to get credits. “It threads through their whole curriculum during the school year,” Williams says.

Williams credits Sandra Gardner, Taconic Hills Central School District administrator, who’s been instrumental in this program for more than a decade, and a big reason why FarmOn! Foundation has such an impact on Hudson Valley youth. “She’s just been such a light in how this program comes together.” 

The students’ experience is further enhanced with the help of some high-powered celebrities: Williams’ husband, former NBA player (most notably his years with the Boston Celtics) Eric Williams brings his wealth of knowledge in health and nutrition to the mix, often with the help of some of his NBA pals. “We try to do creative, engaging and fun things, because having fun is important too,” he says.

But Tessa E. Williams brings her own celebrity brand to FarmOn! She launched her career in the food industry as co-founder of Sauces ’n Love, which revolutionized ready-made tomato sauce in a jar (Scarpetta) and other Italian specialty food products, and later founded the Culinary Partnership, guiding both celebrity chefs and food entrepreneurs to launch their recipes to retail shelves. Her first book, Hudson Valley Food And Farming: Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me That? was published in 2014.

So, what does success look like to the indefatigable culinary advocate? What does she really want? “To keep farmers farming.” Sounds like a totally reasonable (and necessary) request to me.

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