A year ago today, our city lost an incredible food justice advocate. Evan Weissman was an innovator, an agitator, a visionary, and an unstoppable force, whose passion touched our community in so many ways.
Evan and I met a few months after I moved to Syracuse. As two self-identified introverts who often operate in the world as extroverts, we bonded immediately. Our conversations – usually just a few minutes at a time as we carpooled across the city together – were wide-ranging. Sometimes we would chat about our children’s recent antics or the fabulous person the other just had to meet, and other times we would dive deep into the broken state of the world. But without fail, I would always leave our conversations inspired and emboldened by his vision. If not for Evan, I might never have found my home at SOFSA, helping to solidify the group’s foundation alongside so many incredible partners. It was Evan who invited me to one fateful meeting with Emilija, Mary, and Matt, where the four of them brought me on as the first staff member of this nascent food council.
I’ve had the privilege of hearing so many stories of folks whose experiences of Evan mirrored my own. To this day, Evan’s name is invoked in nearly every meeting I attend as SOFSA’s Facilitator – a recognition of just how central he was to this work in life and continues to be even in absence.
As a community over the last year, we have grieved the loss of our dear friend and colleague at a particularly painful time – one when we weren’t able to be together to mourn his passing or celebrate his many contributions. Maybe for that reason, his loss fanned a fire among the members of SOFSA and drove us to honor his legacy by rededicating ourselves to this brand new organization, which was in many ways his brainchild. We have been galvanized by our memories of Evan’s contagious passion, urging each of us to dig deeper, push harder, and yes, laugh a whole lot more.
I remember writing Evan on the day of his passing to check in about the USDA grant application we had planned to write together. I ended up writing it alone – but also not, because Evan was right there with me in spirit, whispering in my ear the historic and present-day context that makes our work so important. I just couldn’t help but imagine him at my side throughout the process. When SOFSA received the Regional Food Systems Partnership grant, it felt like a validation of our work together and the greatest tribute I could give to someone who I admired so deeply.
Later this month, SOFSA will be partnering with Onondaga Earth Corps and our many members to honor the first anniversary of Evan’s passing. Together, we’ll be hosting our first annual tree planting and stewardship event to support the continued expansion of urban orchards in Syracuse. Each year, we’ll join together to plant new fruiting trees and shrubs while also providing care to those planted in years past – investing in a vision for a stronger future while honoring all the work done by those who came before us. With dirt under our nails and hearty belly laughs, our actions will help us to remember Evan and to continue his life’s work to build a more just food system for everyone in our city and well beyond its borders.
We welcome you to support this ongoing effort to build a vibrant network of edible perennial plants and trees in our city by making a donation in Evan’s honor.
To share your own tribute of Evan to be included in a future blog post, visit: https://forms.gle/u3TX6xyX2p9tFP7Z6