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.

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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



Put down that hamburger
December 8, 2008, 2:06 am
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The meat industry has some ‘splainin’ to do.  This week and next, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including environmental ministers from 187 countries, meets in Poznan, Poland, to discuss the meat (har!) of a new treaty to help ameliorate global warming.

Though the panel has plenty of ideas on fuel, factories, and the other usual suspects, the arena of agriculture still falls behind when it comes to solutions on how to effectively curb emissions.  Some proposals include methane capture — collecting pig manure, heating it, then using the methane captured from the process to add electricity to the local power grid — or engineering feed that produces less methane in the first place.

But many believe that meat production and consumption on the scale we see today is simply not sustainable, no matter how much we reverse-engineer what goes into or comes out of our livestock.  With the higher global demand for meat, especially from developing countries such as China and India, we’re losing rainforest and other land, and expending more fuel to transport and refrigerate it; some say that our best hope is simply to reduce meat consumption altogether. 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



The farmer as rock star
August 5, 2008, 12:47 pm
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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