Did you know water fills at least ninety percent of a cup a’ joe? Water is the juice of life. I glug down at least a gallon a day, ice cold with cucumber and lemon slices or piping hot with therapeutic herbs or just a wake-up chai. It’s all about water, from our waggling toes to the dangling limbs of the ancient willows in Stewart Park to the cotton garments that caress our skin and perhaps most cherished – bubble baths.

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Water keeps us alive, long after food runs out. But it’s also an essential ingredient in most of the food that pleasures and nourishes our bodies and souls, from growing and rinsing vegetables to making a broth or a fine cocktail to welcome happy hour.

My dear friend Sarah Kelsen is using her positivity and winning smile to help communities throughout the Finger Lakes become aware of a real threat to our watershed: hydraulic fracking. I asked Sarah how I could use my voice and my words to to help spread awareness. Her answer was immediate, “dude, it’s all about food!”

It’s true. The dangers of fracking are imminent here! Our lust for gas has pushed us over the edge, and our very own lifeblood is in jeopardy. Here’s what Food and Water Watch say about fracking:

“Fracking is an unconventional form of natural gas drilling that involves the injection of water, chemicals and sand underground to break up rock formations that contain gas. The process produces radioactive wastewater, climate-changing methane emissions, air pollution and groundwater contamination. The soil contamination and pollution from fracking threaten the health, safety and viability of New York’s production of dairy products, fruits and vegetables, beer and wine, and other foods.”

My words are only as rich as the tastes that give me a portal through which to write. So I did what I do best. I started eating, and drinking and playing outside. I soaked in water and I listened to the tastemakers and community members surrounding me. I want to share three discoveries that I hope will inspire you to sign a petition that comes your way, or call your local elected official and ask him to protect your food, your children, and the earth beneath your feet. Water makes the world go ’round. Let’s keep it crystal clean and safe, please!

TAKE ACTION: BAN FRACKING IN NEW YORK STATE!

My brother, and two twins hiding behind for an optical illusion on Seneca Lake.
My brother, and two twins hiding behind for an optical illusion on Seneca Lake.

Hector Wine Company: The Next Generation of Winemakers has Arrived, with Oomph!

As I tumbled down the rolling pavement that leads to Seneca wine country, my eyes devoured the rambling grape vines that framed the shimmering lake. My tongue prickled with anticipation. Visiting this region is like falling into wonderland, right in my back yard. It has the romanticism of Tuscany, with the candor of rural America, and the impressive flavor of a wine region quickly gaining worldwide fame.

After several stops along the east shore wine trail, the Hector Wine Company‘s vibrating wood-paneled walls tempted my family (visiting for the weekend) and me inside for one more tasting. With good old classic rock, a live band was singing to the oak barrels, serenading the guests and a big, fluffy dog. We met Jason and Jenny, high-spirited with an endless bottle of smiles to dole out with tastes. We instantly fell in love with their personalities and their passion for wine.

Above: Emma (Tasting Room & Shipping Manager), Jason (Designer, Co-owner) and Alex (Assistant Wine Maker & Marketing).

Jason and Jenny have been friends since they were kids. Their families are intertwined and date back for generations. Jenny said “we all grow up here, leave for a while and eventually find our way back to the best place on earth.” Jason comes from a seven-generation line of grape growers, and opened Hector Wine Company with his partner Justin just two years ago. He acknowledges, “it’s really a privilege to grow up this way.” The region’s natural beauty and rich production is bolstered by a its tight-knit community. Jenny chimed in, “people always ask how we manage all the competition, but we don’t think of other wineries as our competitors. We are all in this together. We’re united, and proud of the reputation we’ve built as a region.”

The HWC family is invested in their product from seed to wine stem. The staff manages all parts of the operation, from growing grapes to slapping labels on every bottle that ships out of the winery. Alex served my brother a taste of the one-thousandth Forge Riesling she labeled, a high-quality product and a joint project between two local winemakers and a winemaker from France. Emma beamed, “it’s such an honor that a French winemaker would want to come to the Finger Lakes to make wine with us!” I opted for the dry Riesling, one of the best in the region, which Emma told me was the first wine Alex made with HWC’s head winemaker. I’m blown away. Alex hails from my home state, Connecticut, and made her way to Hector via NYC. She makes it clear that she’s landed home!

Alex was wearing her anti-fracking shirt, and rightfully so! While I’m not a wine expert by any means, I already know that water is critical to keeping this age-old art alive. Grapes depend on water to grow and the Internet claims that 80-85% of a bottle of wine is composed of water (less for sticky-sweet dessert wines). I used water at least once per tasting to rinse my glass between whites and reds, and more for sipping to tame the buzz I picked up along the trail.

I snapped a few pictures of the HWC Crew, as they savored glasses of their own wine, and said goodbye with wishes that their legacy continues seven generations into the future.

TAKE ACTION: BAN FRACKING IN NEW YORK STATE!

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Lakefront Life: A Summer Tradition and a Generations-Old Community

Over Labor Day weekend, my family came to visit from NYC and Connecticut (both downstream from the Finger Lakes watershed). We piled into a rental house on the banks of Seneca just in time for summer’s last heat wave. What a privilege to have lakefront access! Not even the Northern Water Snake my mamma spotted could keep us at bay for long. With ample playtime, we set out in kayak flotillas, and splashed about like rambunctious kids refusing to grow up. My baby brother – now a staggering 6 feet and 5 inches tall with the build of a practiced rower – sent my twin sister and me in fits of deep belly laughter as we tried to stand up together on the paddle board while he drenched us in heavy-handed splashes.

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Late into the evening we roasted s’mores around the campfire and watched the sun dip below the horizon, turning the lake the color of our Campari Spritzers. The next night we stood on the shore gasping as awesome streaks of lightening split the sky and thunder roared up the valley, amplified by the water.

It wasn’t just a vacation, but a glimpse into a lakefront community that spans generations. The majority of the homeowners we met in each direction were my grandma’s age, including Fireman Bill, who was well versed on the lake’s depths and currents. I see people like Bill as stewards of the water, their life unfolding on its unadulterated shores. I wonder if this picture-perfect, serene neighborhood will suffer one of the horrid catastrophes that are squelched by media and almost always related to chemical exposure. It’s a morbid thought for an optimist like me. And, it’s motivating me to speak louder to protect sacred water reservoirs like the Finger Lakes!

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Celia’s Ice Pops at the Seneca Big Splash 

My siblings and I arrived at the Seneca Lake Big Splash Sustainability Fair, and pounced on my friend Sarah at the New Yorkers Against Fracking table where she was educating festival-goers and selling shwag like the cute, statement t-shirt Alex (of Hector Wine Company) was proudly wearing. The festival was a showcase of alternative energy, an assembly of world-class musicians like Bela Fleck and a smorgasbord of flavors. While Sarah transitioned her table over to another helper, the rest of us skipped over to the circus tent to stomp our feet to Super 20‘s funky tunes. Sarah arrived with a ginger-peach ice pop in hand to balance the stifling heat. Her pop disappeared down at least four friends’ gullets before we came to our senses and visited Celia’s stand.

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Celia’s Ice Pops are a local hit. Not only do they serve the summer function of instant refreshment in finger food form, they also provide a service to local farmers who have surplus fruit harvests and utility-grade (read: blemished or bruised) fruit that the average customer won’t buy. Celia says, “people want to eat a perfect pear or peach, but not every fruit is perfect.” In fact, the more perfect your fruit, the more likely pesticides were used to keep bugs from scarring the skin.

In between an endless stream of customers, Celia tells me how she stocks up on surplus and seconds, crushes it into unique and seasonal flavor combinations, adds a splash of simple syrup like honey-water and voila! – makes frozen bars. I ask her how much water goes into each bar. She says, “well, I put very little if any water into the bars, but water makes the fruit I use grow!” I’m starting to get the picture: the quality of her products also depend on water.

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I make my way around the festival grounds. I see water everywhere. It’s in my brother’s beer from the microbrewery Ithaca Beer Company. It grew the cabbage slaw that dresses Stone Cat Cafe’s famous cornmeal-crusted catfish. It’s in the water bottle weighing down my backpack, which I filled from the kitchen faucet.

This weekend has been a true wake-up call for me. I have never really stopped to think about the gravity of water pollution in my backyard. It is purely ironic that my greatest joy – food – is the very stuff we live on, second to what keeps us alive. Water.

Please help me keep our water supply – and our kitchens – clean, healthy and safe!

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