New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm


Voice your support for a sustainable USDA

How?  You can sign on to this letter, for starters.  And do it quick, ’cause bloggers, journos and pundits seem to think Obama is gonna announce this puppy any day now.

Food Democracy Now, a grassroots movement of farmers, writers, chefs, and other food-and-community types who advocate a sustainable food system, drafted the letter to President-Elect Obama urging him to appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who is well versed in sustainability and will have a “broad vision for our collective future” in a way that past appointees have not.

Food Democracy Now incorporates energy, environment, public health, and the economy into the reasoning behind supporting an appointee who believes the following are of utmost importance: Continue reading

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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



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



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



The case against farm subsidies
July 28, 2008, 1:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

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