New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm

Quite a quandary
July 31, 2008, 5:00 pm
Filed under: From Pharma to Farm | Tags: , , , ,

It’s been a 48-hour whirlwind.  I’ve been struggling with exactly how much I can say about my job search, because now I’m really in the thick of the interviewing process.  This is not an anonymous blog; it is simply not polite to be blowing up spots all over the dang place.  So, I can’t be too specific, but I will say that I’m in an interesting situation right now!

I’ve been offered a position with a nonprofit organization doing what most closely approximates my dream job at this point in time, and yes, it is a giant cut in pay from what I’ve been used to in the very-for-profit world of Big Pharma.  But there are other perks, like, oh, I don’t know, actually enjoying what I do for a living and not wanting to strangle others or myself.  It’s a tough decision, though, because I’m still waiting to hear from another opportunity about the next step in their interview process, and I don’t want to totally close the door on them; they’re a little more tangential to my interests, but they will (likely) pay a little better, and they have better benefits.

My gut is telling me to take the offer since it’s there for me, and oh, did I mention, they do incredible work that I admire greatly?   And did I mention that the two people I interviewed with have now both called me today to reiterate how much they want me to join their team?  And, they said that they would consider inching up the salary, as well — which is much appreciated and yes, definitely one of the only things that’s causing me to hesitate.

The other is… I’m not sure if they offer dental insurance, and I totally forgot to ask earlier today.


Jay Dines, Eli Zabar bug locals
July 30, 2008, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,
Courtesy New York Times

Courtesy New York Times

Jay Dines, owner of Dines Farms, used to sell his meat at several Greenmarkets throughout the city.  I know because I used to see his stall at the Fort Greene market on Saturday mornings.   Greenmarket has a very strict policy — one I just learned about this past Saturday, when I attended a training session for prospective Greenmarket volunteers — that states farmers must sell only that which they grow, raise, or make themselves, and if they’re making prepared food, their ingredients must be sourced locally.

Nina Planck, who used to be Greenmarket’s director, visited the farm in 2003 and raised some serious concerns about the difference between what he sold and what was present on the farm.  Dines says he sent some of his livestock to other farms to be raised when he was injured and could not build winter housing for his animals; other Greenmarket vendors say his practices hurt their credibility.  Continue reading

July 29, 2008, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Metrocropolis | Tags: , , ,

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s Rachel Sohmer discusses the idea of biophilia — a concept that E.O. Wilson has described as humans’ intrinsic emotional desire to connect with nature.  Living in New York, a city of stone and steel, it’s sometimes easy to forget that nature is still easily accessible and, in fact, extremely important to our well-being. Sometimes you’re on edge, stressed out, or simply feeling “off” without knowing exactly why; I think it has something to do with not getting your recommended daily dose of trees, grass and little birdies chirping.

Biophilia ensures that our day is brightened by even the modest potted plant on our windowsill. Biophilia is why we’re relieved to escape to Bryant Park or Madison Square Park on our lunch breaks, if only for ten or fifteen measly minutes, to catch a break from our flickering plastic-and-silicon work stations.  Biophilia is (well, among other things) what keeps the Hampton Jitney in business, summer after summer.

In fact, I bet biophilia is even one reason why some people eventually leave the city for parts upstate.  But I think it’s possible to fulfill your innate need for that green connection if you stay right here.

Continue reading

The big search
July 28, 2008, 3:18 pm
Filed under: From Pharma to Farm | Tags: , , , ,

I’m deep in the midst of my serious job search.  I admit I took the first month off from the rat race entirely — a true summer vacation was exactly what my brain needed.  I’m still enjoying it, of course, but now with the added anxiety of cover letters, interviews and an utter lack of income.

I’m still not completely certain how it’s all going to turn out, but I know my eventual goal is work in some capacity with local, sustainable food systems and their impact on local economies, public health and the environment.  Whether to approach that from an environmental, food, nonprofit, volunteer or educational point of view is my main concern, but not really knowing what’s “best,” I’m working on it from all angles.

After three weeks in total freak-out mode (I’m a little paranoid, but I feel I have to be, lest my nonchalance backfire), scouring Monster, Idealist, and Craigslist, plus my own company-specific research, I finally got a bite in the form of a phone interview for a nonprofit organization concerned with sustainable land use.  Just a screening tool, I’m sure, to ensure I’m not crazy, but it was a huge encouragement.   And just when I thought I had been waiting too long for a new development, I got an email from them this morning requesting an in-person interview.  Thank goodness.

And lo, when it rains, it pours.  Continue reading

The case against farm subsidies
July 28, 2008, 1:42 pm
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The Freakonomics guys have published an excellent Q&A with Daniel Sumner (pictured), an agricultural economist from UC Davis.  Readers sent in their farm, food and agriculture questions and Sumner set about answering them, complete with links to original papers and research at the forefront of this debate.

In it, Sumner suggests that the US may be able to rid itself of farm subsidies within “a decade or two,” and that, if we successfully ended tariffs on imported sugar, “we would shift to the use of more sugar and less HFCS [high-fructose corn syrup].”  However, Sumner is vague when asked how to discuss the loss of subsidies, a touchy and emotional subject, with farmers themselves:

I talk to farmers all the time and find the exchanges really valuable. My experience is that farmers are smart, articulate, and very interested in an open exchange of ideas. I do not start by challenging their passions, but I am pretty forthcoming about what most economic analysis finds about farm subsidies. My experience is that most farmers do not disagree with the analysis, but that does not mean they volunteer to give up their subsidies.

Continue reading

Sisters doing it for themselves
July 14, 2008, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

The New York Times reports that, according to the Department of Agriculture, 20,000 farms in the Northeast alone are run by women.  Not only that, but: “There are 80 percent more women who are farmers than there were 20 years ago in the United States, even as the number of farms has decreased.” These statistics surprised me, but in the best way possible!  Moving out of the city to work on a farm is a far-fetched fantasy of mine; I’d have so much to learn, not the least of which is learning to hate living in New York, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Farmers like Barbara Shinn, Diane St. Clair (who owns Animal Farm in Orwell, VT — har, har!), and Nova Kim (pictured), among others featured in the article, all happily engage in sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices, which they’re refining all the time.  Most of these farmers sell to food co-ops, farmers’ markets and CSAs.  These women are doing amazing things right here in the Northeast, and to say I look up to them would be an understatement!

Apartment gardening

A lot of New Yorkers scoff that they can’t possibly garden in the city. If you barely have enough space to cook, how can you have room to grow the ingredients? Well, doubting Thomases, not only is it possible, but there are several ways to go about it, depending on how dedicated and creative you’re willing to get.

Container gardening. Do you have a window that gets direct sunlight for at least some of the day? You’re in luck. You can plant individual containers of herbs, flowers or vegetables and maintain them on a windowsill or nearby table. Careful attention and knowledge of the varieties you choose will help to ensure your containers go on producing bundles of mint, basil, cucumbers or zinnias for months. In our apartment, we have two Kentucky Colonel mint plants that just won’t stop growing, which is great for filling our self-imposed mint julep quota! Companion planting, based on the idea that certain plants can benefit one another when planted closely to one another, is a great way to maximize your output in a small space. If your landlord will allow it, you can also consider building or buying window boxes as well.

Continue reading