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A Kale of Two Cities: Cultivating Social Justice

Locavoracious appetites and a back-to-the-land ethos have raised bespoke urban farming to the status of high fashion, especially if the land sits atop an industrial building in one of Brooklyn’s hipster havens. To many, growing food in the city is an exercise for gourmands, measured by the distance heirloom tomatoes, artisanal honey, and free-range eggs travel from farm to plate. Urban agriculture pioneers have repurposed vacant land, greened the city, created community space, and introduced city dwellers to fresh local food. Terroir is now measured by block and lot number.

But this is not the whole story. In fact, as practiced in farms and gardens in New York and elsewhere, urban agriculture is as much about social justice as it is about the quality or proximity of produce. Read more

United We Eat

A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had a debate in the Washington Post about rural subsidies; the substance of which was then analyzed and thoroughly skewered in a couple of excellent posts by Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs and Tom Philpott at Grist. The whole affair got me thinking about another urban/rural discussion I read at the end of last year, this one focused on food—and about how counterproductive all of our country/city dividing lines are. Read more

A Place For Us: The Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference

It has been said that black people are not interested in issues of sustainability, ag policy, and good food in general. But in late November, over 500 black-identified people, representing urban and rural farming networks, food justice organizations, government officials, policy makers, and good foodies traveling from Oakland, Denver, Philly, Detroit, Durham, D.C., and points elsewhere, attended the First Annual Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference in Brooklyn. People of color are in the fields, the co-packing facilities, and the commercial and restaurant kitchens of the good food movement, but they’re conspicuously and consistently absent from the dialogue that is transforming Americans’ relationship with food and farming. Read more

Edible Schoolyard Arrives In Brooklyn With Ambitious Plans

When Chez Panisse board members met to talk about expanding its Edible Schoolyard organic garden and kitchen program, board member John Lyons immediately volunteered: “I know just the place!” Lyons began volunteering at Brooklyn’s Arturo Toscanini Elementary School (PS 216) five years ago as a Pencil Principal For A Day, where he became acquainted with the principal, students, and the school’s quarter acre-sized parking lot–perfect for a school garden. Read more

A Farm Grows in an Empty Lot in Brooklyn

When Brooklyn homeowner and Hunter College urban studies professor Tom Angotti thought about how he could make a difference in his community, he decided to start with his overgrown corner plot. Little did he know he’d be at the helm of a volunteer movement that’s working to make a difference in the way we think about food, community, and what it takes to democratically run a major project comprised of individuals holding various opinions on urban agriculture. Read more

A County Fair With City Flair Grows In Brooklyn

With beehives, chicken coops, and rooftop farms popping up all over Brooklyn, it’s high time us city folks revived that end of summer ritual, the county fair. After all, the county of Brooklyn–Kings County, to be precise–is a hotbed of horticultural happenings. Why should blue ribbon pies, pickles, and produce be limited to rural regions when we’re growing great stuff and baking up a storm right here in our neck of the not-so-woodsy woods? Read more

Rooftop Farms: The Start of a City-Farmer Revolution

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of lending a hand as a volunteer at Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The name says it all: it is a 6000 square foot urban vegetable farm on the roof of an industrial building, growing rows inter-cropped with lettuces, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, kale and much more, which they sell directly to restaurants and at a farm stand inside the building every Sunday from 9am – 4pm.

Annie Novak and Ben Flanner are the farming minds behind the project. Both are passionate about how food gets to our table (Novak works with farmer with Kira Kenney of Evolutionary Organics at the Greenmarket, and works as the Children’s Gardening Program Coordinator at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Flanner is new to farming but seems to get a kick out of hawking produce). Chris and Lisa Goode of Goode Green, a green roofing company, found the roof and funded Rooftop Farms as a test. With this project, the team hopes to determine what is possible in terms of scale for growing on rooftops in the city. Read more