New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm

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

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