Executive Director, The Sylvia Center
Anna is the charming and passionate creator of many successful educational programs for children and young adults in both academic and community environments. She joined The Sylvia Center as Executive Director in 2009, with a mission to transform the way children eat by creating and implementing farm-to-table programs.
A couple of months before launching Vie, I found The Sylvia Center. I knew immediately that we were perfectly aligned in purpose and this was the charity I wanted to partner with to create positive change in the lives of thousands of underserved children.
Vie believes in “education that can inspire transformation.” The Sylvia Center has been committed to this idea for years and I am honored to be a part of that. I hope you will be too.
What is your well-being aha moment?
I was a downhill racer in high school and have been doing yoga since college. But it wasn’t until I took up rowing at the age of 40, coupled with eating a mostly vegetarian diet, that I really felt like my body and my mind were working as one. There was no one day this happened. It was an accumulation of goodness, an accumulation of aha moments.
The mission of The Sylvia Center is to inspire children to eat well through hands-on learning experiences on the farm and in the kitchen. Tell us how it all got started.
In 2006, our founder, Liz Neumark, started the organization to honor the memory of her daughter, Sylvia. Sylvia used to tell people that she wanted to be a “helpful human” when she grew up, so the mission of The Sylvia Center became that: to help people learn how to cook and eat well and create community around the table.
Today, The Sylvia Center teaches over 2,000 children, teens, and adults each year in New York City and upstate New York how to be active agents in maintaining their own health. Primarily, our goal is to create long-lasting healthy eating habits by teaching basic culinary techniques and recipes using fresh ingredients; in conjunction, these motivate students to continue cooking and eating healthily at home.
How many children has The Sylvia Center helped since it started?
Our programs are mostly within the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) community centers across the five boroughs, but we work with other organizations as well. We have reached over 10,000 children, teens, and families since 2007. Our city programs run for 6–9 weeks and our farm programs are full-day programs.
What do you love about your job?
There are so many things I actually love about my job, but I suppose that if I had to choose one thing it’s seeing the universal pleasure that everyone—no matter where they come from—experiences when they’ve cooked a meal together, while they are making it, while they are eating and sharing it. This happens whether we’re in the gorgeous fields of Katchkie Farm or in a community center in public housing in New York. It really is universal, and giving more people the opportunity to have that experience is incredibly gratifying.
What’s surprised you about the children’s reaction to trying new experiences?
Nothing. I worked in the art world for a long time and saw the pleasure that young people get out of making things, whether they’re going to become artists or not, and food is the same. If you make it yourself, you’ll eat it and it’s really that simple.
How can our Vie community get involved?
There are so many ways to get involved with The Sylvia Center. You can come to the farm and help prep the garden, you can bring any of your professional skills in service to our work; you can help out at events, sponsor our programs, or volunteer to help in the hundreds of classes we teach a year. And you can spread the word about the work we do and its importance.
Describe your perfect day of being well.
My perfect day of being well starts with waking up at 5 am (which I always do); having my double espresso delicious coffee from the Jura machine that 20 of my friends got together and gave me for my 50th birthday; doing yoga for about half an hour; having a piece of toast with almond butter and homemade marmalade; going to the river, getting my single scull out, and rowing for an hour past the salt marshes on the Hudson; coming home, taking a shower, and having a big breakfast of fresh eggs and arugula; hanging out with my family and hiking along the river in the afternoon before we sit down for a delicious family meal in the evening with friends. And I kind of do that day a lot.
What’s in your fridge?
It depends on the season; but let’s start with summer. There are piles of produce gleaned from The Sylvia Center children’s garden: fairy tale eggplants, heirloom zebra tomatoes, dinosaur kale, freshly cut salad greens, ground cherries, and edible flowers. There’s always fresh butter from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania and raw milk (but I won’t tell you where that comes from); homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, or some kind of pickled vegetable; and fresh eggs are a must. Winter is a little sad because I refuse to buy things that aren’t in season, but that’s when I consume my canned goods from the summer. I spend a lot of time in August pickling and canning beets, tomatoes, and lots and lots of fruit the second I can get my hands on them— peaches and plums (from my own tree): I eat a lot of them all year round on top of yogurt. And lots of hot sauce because my sons (I have three) have to buy every hot sauce they ever see and it goes on everything, whether I agree or not.