A few weeks ago, SOFSA hosted a planting day at Kirk Park along with our friends at Onondaga Earth Corps. It was called a memorial, but really, it was a service day with an aching heart; we were there to remember our friend Evan Weissman, who passed away last April, by carrying his life’s work into the future.

Without a doubt, there were tears that day. But there was much more sweat, much more laughter, much more dirt caught under fingernails.

I didn’t know Evan, but over the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to meet him through his writing, his friends, his family, colleagues, and the work we all do together now. I’m glad that I can be here to nurture the seeds he left behind — and I’m glad to step out of the way now, to give some folks who knew him better room to reflect on what he meant to them.

Thanks to everyone who was able to make it to our Memorial Tree Planting event on April 28th. Thanks especially to everyone who let me film them, and who leant their stories for this blog post. Scroll down to watch the video from the event and to read reflections from a few attendees.

I met Evan on the basketball court at Ed Smith School where he bounced me around in the paint and got most of the rebounds. He seemed almost always to be smiling and not just because he was stronger and getting the ball more often. He was a rarity on the court: a fierce competitor filled with kindness and there just to have fun with everyone there. He was so funny and his laugh made me smile. I can hear his voice now and see his smiling face. The voice and face of a good man. 

Here at Syracuse Northeast Community Center, he helped get our Community Garden going and made it a place of life and renewal. Tomorrow, we are spending the morning cleaning and preparing that garden for a new season. Evan will be there with us. I’ll bring him with me, the memory of a good man who did good work throughout our community. I sure do miss him.

Brian Fay, Syracuse Northeast Community Center

One of the most memorable moments of my time at Syracuse University was walking into Evan’s office during my first year of college. At the time, my 18-year old self felt like I was having an identity crisis. I knew I wasn’t happy with what I was studying; but had yet to meet anyone who understood what I meant when I said I wanted to feed people when I grow up. 

However, when I talked about my experiences with Evan, he listened and validated them by guiding me to design a college experience that reflected those experiences and values in the most genuine and dedicated way. I was introduced to the Food Studies program and found my home in Evan’s office. 

While I only worked with Evan for a few short years, those meetings, phone calls and after class talks will stay with me as I graduate in May and leave Syracuse. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I do know that as long as I continue to follow my passion for nourishing my community, Evan will be with me.

Emma Rothman, SU Food Studies Student

Evan was the kind of professor you hope to have at a large university. Not only was he supportive in the classroom, he was supportive outside the classroom as well. I was a student in his Contemporary Food Issues class in 2016 and his Farm to Fork class in 2018. I then had the pleasure to be a TA in his Contemporary Food Issues class 2 years after taking the class myself. 

Evan is one of the most supportive professors I ever had. It all started my freshman year when he told me to sit in the front row during an exam so I can ask him questions when I needed help, all the way to my senior year when he wrote me a letter of recommendation for graduate school. Evan was someone I could be myself around. He had the craziest sense of humor and that is what made any space we were in fun. I could write so many fun memories we had but I would probably exceed the word count. He told me many times my senior year to stop by the Food Studies Suite more often and now I wish I made the time to do so. 

No one can ever replace Evan in the Food Studies Department. His impact on campus and in the Syracuse Community will not be forgotten. My Syracuse University experience wouldn’t have been the same without him.

Assata Cradle-Morgan, student and teaching assistant

Evan brought people together. This may be why food systems work suited him so well. Evan, myself, and others first started working together to establish Syracuse Grows to support a growing network of gardens across the city. His collaboration on the FoodPlanCNY project helped to bring together diverse stakeholders across the local food system. We were planning on meeting to do the final edits – when he passed away. Through all that work and countless other efforts such as shoveling compost as part of Syracuse Grows resource drives, I have memories of Evan that I know so many others share. What I will always admire are certain moments, such as during a stakeholder meeting, when Evan would identify a difficult issue and initiate a dialogue that helped us think about it in a new way. He brought us all together with his fierce commitment, generosity, and a big smile.

Matt Potteiger

I feel very fortunate to have met Evan and even luckier to have been able to work with him during what turned out to be the last few years of his life. Upon meeting Evan, I was immediately impressed by his deep understanding of local issues, passion for policy change, and clear vision of what was needed in Syracuse. As we continued to work together and I learned how many responsibilities he was juggling, I was even more impressed that he found time to stay engaged in the work to build what became SOFSA. 

Without Evan, SOFSA would not have come to be. In early 2018, when I was planning an event focused on food issues for the Central New York Population Health Improvement Program (PHIP), I reached out to Evan for input. Although I spoke with over 40 people during the planning process, my meeting with Evan stands out as the most memorable. He rattled off problems in our local food system and chief among them was the need for better coordination and planning. He spoke about the demise of Onondaga County’s original food policy council and the clear need for a group that represented all the local food system stakeholders, operated with transparency, and was positioned to address systemic issues. Most importantly, he shared specific ideas about how people might start forming such a group. He planted the seeds of ideas which all grew to fruition. 

In Fall 2018 PHIP convened over 100 Central New Yorkers to hear from the late Wayne Roberts and learn about strategies to increase access to healthy food that were being implemented locally. One of the event’s outcomes was feedback from attendees that indicated clear interest in learning more about food councils and justified finding funds for a consultant. Evan recommended PHIP work with Anne Palmer, Director of the Food Policy Networks project at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and an expert on food councils. He arranged for her to meet with key stakeholders in Onondaga County and hosted Anne for a presentation to a small group of future SOFSA members in March 2019. 

Unbeknownst to me at the time, another outcome of the 2018 event was that Evan met Emilija Postolovska, Director of Transforming Communities Initiative (TCI) Syracuse. This connection led to TCI Syracuse funding Phase 2 of Evan’s ideas: contracting with someone who could facilitate meetings of local food system stakeholders. Evan identified Maura Ackerman as an ideal candidate, and the rest is history. Maura capably led an initial group of 20+ stakeholders through a visioning process and grew it into the young but thriving organization SOFSA is today, which I wish Evan was here to see.

Looking back, I’m awed by Evan’s impact. His drive to improve the community, deep knowledge, good instincts, and willingness to engage in the hard work of organizing community members led to everything SOFSA has been and will be. I know his kindness, humor, humility, and faith in the value of doing the hard, slow work to create positive change had an impact on me. And the many students and friends of Evan who were profoundly impacted by him and who have engaged in SOFSA over the past year tells me that I’m not alone. If even a fraction of the seeds of ideas Evan planted continue to grow, this community will be better off.

Mary Carney

There are a few times in your life that people, places or things happen that change the course of your life. I have been really thinking to myself that certain people that you meet, happen for a reason. They happen when you least expect it and leave an everlasting impression on your thoughts, your actions and your ideas.⠀

For those that have heard me talk about the origins of Farm to Fork 101 have heard me mention my time at Syracuse University in the Food Studies Program before it was an actual program. My professor Evan Weissman and a few others started a class called Farm to Fork. We visited local organic farms, urban farms, ma and pa grocery stores and so much more. He made us realize that there is so much food and bounty within an earshot. He also taught us of the importance of how our food systems could work. He united students, faculty and others to take action and really push for food justice. His classroom was different and engaging and smelled like delicious food!! ⠀

The reason I mention this, is that Farm to Fork 101 may not exist if not for the dedication to Food Studies that this man had. He helped create an idea in my mind of how food should be and how local food tastes, smells and is grown. He made me think about how food impacts all of us on a different level. Like I said, there are a few people that come into your life that change the course of it. Evan Weissman was one of those people. I will miss your guidance and encouragement. You mean a lot to to the food world and to me.  You will be greatly missed and I send thoughts and prayers to your family and friends.

Mark Pawliw