New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm


A beautiful morning, happily spent
August 22, 2008, 12:34 am
Filed under: Metrocropolis | Tags: , , , , , ,

This past Saturday, I enjoyed my first volunteering experience at the Greenmarket at Fort Greene Park.  I attended a mandatory volunteer training session at Grand Army Plaza several weekends ago, and was very surprised to learn that the Fort Greene market had no volunteers at all!  I emailed the market manager as soon as I could, and unfortunately between an Indian wedding and a very profitable stoop sale, it took me a couple of weekends to get started, but I was determined to get out there — somewhat early, even! — and be a happy helper to my neighbors.

I’m a familiar face to some of the farmers and sellers there, as I’ve been a regular visitor to the market for a few years now.  I’m excited to get to know some of them better, especially since I’ve been learning so much in the last couple of weeks about exactly how damn difficult farming can be.  I have immense respect for them and the backbreaking work they do every day just to get delicious food to hungry New Yorkers.

My first task was to pull on my Greenmarket t-shirt and affix my “volunteer” badge.  Tricky!

I heard from one of the farmers that a patron had asked him whether his peaches were frozen.  Apparently, they seemed cold to the touch, and the visitor was puzzled.  The farmer shook his head and wondered how and why anyone would think that peaches would be frozen when it’s peak peach season right now: “If they’re frozen, when were they frozen?  Why would we freeze them?”  He ticked off some other common-sense-less questions from city folk, such as “Do you bleach the brown eggs to get them white?” and “Did you go to high school?”  I chuckled, but of course the underlying realization is that many people remain, sadly, severely disconnected from their food. Continue reading



Chix and the city

Remember this guy?  Of course you do: Manny Howard chronicled his attempt to eat hyper-locally for a year — that is, food from his own Kings County backyard — and along the way he found out that chickens are smelly, your wife may come to hate your guts, and you can’t stop a freak Brooklyn tornado.  And he didn’t make it for a whole year, but I give him an A for effort.  To be fair the concept was a little silly, but he did prove a point — readers understood all the tiny, possibly unforeseen details of eating very locally.

Some Californians have got the same idea in their heads.  Sonoma once had chickens running “wild” in the town center, until the population began to grow and parents complained that their children were getting pecked.  This week, the Sonoma City Council was considering allowing once again for residents to own chickens, roosters and rabbits in their homes.

Raising rabbits and poultry are a step toward self-sufficiency and provide healthier meat and eggs, proponents contend.

“Every single person should keep chickens,” said Bob Cannard, a former city councilman who has had chickens for nearly 40 years. “If everybody kept three chickens for every person in the household, we would change the nature of this country.”

Of course, Sonoma isn’t the pastoral near-utopia it used to be; some were especially concerned with the noise that roosters might create. Continue reading



Friday: foiled, then fascinated

Silly me.  I underestimated New York’s fervent love for Michael Pollan and sustainable agriculture.  On a Friday evening, after a day full of downpours, I didn’t expect there to be quite so long a line as there was at PS1 for his talk on the plant’s point of view. I waited in line, but once I saw the auditorium and how little space was left, realizing my only option was to stand outside in the hallway, and knowing I’d seen him speak before, I felt it was time to skip out and meet my friends for dinner.

Fortunately, the brave Betsey at Brooklyn Farmer stuck it out, and she can provide the scoop!

And, by the way — Public Farm One?  Total disappointment.  There were some chickens in a closed-off pen, some brightly painted cylindrical structures covered in dated-looking stencils (apparently meant to be a playground), and a bunch of potted plants arranged in such a way that visitors could stand and walk under them but not really see what was going on inside them.  This sad display didn’t really do much for me, and didn’t really do much for the possibilities of sustainable urban agriculture.  Please to be trying harder next time, PS1.  Continue reading



Swoon! My heroes

I’m going to see Michael Pollan speak at P.S. 1 (in their new P.F. 1 courtyard, an “urban farm” that’s been built by architecture design contest winners just for this summer) tomorrow night at a lecture called Taking the Plant’s Point of View.  I have a feeling the content will draw much from his book The Botany of Desire, which is one that I have not yet read, luckily for me.

Some of you know that it was Pollan’s extremely popular book The Omnivore’s Dilemma that was a fiery catalyst for me — I went from a food enthusiast with intrigued by its effects on public health to a full-on sustainable agriculture geek who just had to do it for a living.  I’ve seen him speak once before, at The 92nd Street Y, with fellow high-profile locavore Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill and creative director at Stone Barns.  He’s extremely engaging and does a great job of encouraging enthusiasm in others.

More heroes?  Of course!  A friend reminded me of The Greenhorns, “a documentary film that explores the lives of America’s young farming community—its spirit, practices, and needs.”  From their site: Continue reading



Wish granted
August 7, 2008, 11:25 am
Filed under: From Pharma to Farm | Tags: , ,

Well then!  I must explain what became of my quandary.  It was nerve-wracking for about a day, but I slept on it — and on Friday afternoon I called the executive director of the organization that wanted me really badly, wrangled my salary up a bit, and officially accepted their offer!

I cannot fully explain in conventional written language exactly how awesomely excited and totally psyched I am about this development.  I start on Monday and it cannot come soon enough.  I actually thought I was going to be starting early this week, so I was a little disappointed when I heard it wouldn’t be until next week…but I suppose it’s given me a little more time to enjoy my summer vacation, doing fun things like waiting for two hours at the DMV (“License X-Press,” it’s called — wishful thinking, I say) to finally exchange my Ohio license for a New York one, going to the post office and buying laundry detergent.

I wish I could be more specific, because I’ve never been so proud and excited about a job, but again, I have to keep schtum on a lot of the details.  Here’s the interesting part, in terms of the life of this blog: it was supposed to “chronicle my quest” to find a job in sustainable agriculture and local food.  Well, I found it.  I thought I would be taking a sort of “baby step” job doing PR for an environmentally conscious client or firm, for instance, to gain experience in the field.  But I didn’t even have to do that!  What I wanted was right there for me, and I grabbed it.  I’m almost pinching myself because I didn’t think it would happen so quickly and so easily — but it did. Continue reading



The farmer as rock star
August 5, 2008, 12:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,
Courtesy LA Times

Courtesy LA Times

Two interesting pieces today on the farmer-as-rock-star.  The LA Times features a budding young goat farmer, Kimberly Barnes, who is the darling of the 4-H circuit in Orange County.  Did you know there was a 4-H circuit in Orange County?  I sure didn’t.  Anyway, Barnes is generally a fantastic, responsible, and inspiring teenager whose love of goats has led her to study to become a veterinarian at Iowa State, where she’ll begin her freshman year in the fall.

“I really love showing,” she said, in part because it’s the culmination of lots of hard work.

For five years, she’s been up before the sun, milking and feeding before school. The same chores are waiting for her in the evening. She drinks the goat milk raw and makes cheese, but doesn’t sell it. This is all voluntary, with no financial payoff.

Barnes is a great example of what the future of farming could be.  I have a lot of hope for young people interested in farming — learning the newest knowledge and techniques in sustainability and soil science, it could revolutionize the way this country eats.

Getting a little more local, we’ve got Amy Hepworth and her outstanding produce.  She’s a seventh-generation farmer up in Milton, near Poughkeepsie, and produces some of the best apples New York has ever tasted.  The Park Slope Food Coop invited her to speak at a “Meet Your Farmer” event, where she was treated like a new American Idol.  Hepworth is a fascinating character: headstrong, energetic, wise-cracking, and deeply passionate about her farm.  And she eats apple maggots, believing pests are good for immunity. Continue reading