EAST LYME — After studying geothermal and hydro energy in Iceland, palm oil in Borneo and climate change and renewable energy in Scotland, Rosemary Ostfeld, who holds a PhD in Land Economy from the University of Cambridge, decided that her next adventure would be to promote sustainable farming in her hometown.
Three years ago, after returning to East Lyme, where she worked at White Gate Farm during her first summer out of college, Ostfeld launched Healthy PlanEat, a start-up connecting local farmers with consumers.
“The most powerful thing that you can do to actually have a positive impact on the environment — and to conserve the environment — relates to your diet,” said Ostfeld.
So far, Ostfeld has teamed up with 15 farms in eastern Connecticut.
Healthy PlanEat tries to make ‘buying local’ a personal experience, with a website that describes and narrates histories of the farms and short biographies of the farmers.
Farmers can use the website to upload inventories, and let shoppers browse the produce. For pick-up, Ostfeld also runs two Saturday pop-up markets in East Lyme and Middletown.
She said that all of the farmers she partners with are committed to sustainable practices — rotating crops, composting and refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides.
During the winter, they’ve sold mushrooms, microgreens, oysters, meat, dairy, eggs and cheese. As spring arrives, they’ll shift to more vegetables.
Ostfeld said that she was raised vegetarian. Her mother owned a natural food store in the 1970s, and her parents met when Ostfeld’s mother sold the store to her future mother-in-law.
“Eating naturally grown food was just something that was part of the way I grew up,” said Ostfeld.
But the important thing isn’t only what you eat, she said, but where your food comes from.
“You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to have a positive impact on the environment,” she said.
Ostfeld said that she would like to see meat-eaters choose farms that allow animals to graze on the land and to live more as they would in nature.
This spring, she’s teaching three courses at Wesleyan University, including one that she’s particularly enthusiastic about — a start-up incubator to help students learn how to develop their own companies. The class partners with reSET, a Hartford-based nonprofit which helps entrepreneurs create businesses with a social focus.
Ostfeld said she wants her students to develop social values that can then be incorporated into a business model. Her students have created carbon emission monitoring software, game boxes for elementary school-aged children and a nonprofit donating bottled water to Newark, New Jersey, in response to the high levels of lead found in the drinking water.
In the meantime, Ostfeld wants to expand Healthy PlanEat to other states in New England. She said she’s seen a growing movement of people who want to support local farms and businesses.
“It’s just another option,” she said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with going to the grocery store, but this can be another way for people to just explore what’s around them.”