New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm


Brooklyn Food Conference

A bit late with the cross-post, but I blogged for Farm Aid‘s Homegrown.org about my experience at the Brooklyn Food Conference. Here’s a taste:

I attended “Our Sustainable Restaurants: A Roundtable of NYC Chefs,” led by Leonard Lopate of WNYC public radio. On the panel were Dan Barber; Peter Hoffman of Savoy and Back Forty; Bill Telepan of Telepan; David Shea of Applewood; and John Tucker of Rose Water.

A very popular panel, the discussion ranged from the chef as instrumental in changing food attitudes to seed sharing, and even tackling the accusation that choosing to eat sustainably is an elitist idea. Barber and Shea explained how chefs, first and foremost, care about taste — and food grown sustainably and responsibly, especially locally, simply tastes better. The chefs agreed that sustainable food’s higher prices, which could be seen as elitism by some, is really just a reflection of the true cost of food; Americans have been accustomed to artificially cheap food for far too long and the higher prices are a correction. As one of them noted, many consumers are learning to say, “Food is where I want to spend my money — on what I put into my body, not what I hang off of it.”

My favorite verbal nugget of the session? Telepan quipped, “If we are what we eat, then we’re fast, cheap, and easy.”

Read the rest of the post here.



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



Biophilia
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.

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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.

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