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Starting Out: A New Farmer’s First Growing Season

It’s spring, the first season of the first year at Alewife Farm in upstate New York’s pastoral Duchess county. Owner and head farmer Tyler Dennis coaxes weeds–miniscule dandelions and tiny bunches of grass–from a neat, compost-dusted bed.

Last week he made his first sale, 1,000 pounds of pea tendrils destined for kitchens in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, via the curated community supported agriculture (CSA) company Quinciple. The sale was a relief for Dennis and proof that his fledgling effort to reform an “unsustainable” food system could compete with established operations in the Hudson Valley. But more than cash flow, it was validation. Read more

Labor and the Locavore: Farm Work in New York State

Spring has been slow to arrive in New York this year, but warmer temperatures mean the re-invigoration of the city’s many farmers’ markets. This season, New Yorkers will shop at nearly 150 markets across the five boroughs. Some will surely chat with producers, asking questions about growing practices or ingredients. After reading Margaret Gray’s Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic, I wondered: Will any of them ask about the people who grew, harvested, or transported their food? Read more

Eggs-Change Turning the Organic Affordability Question on its Head

We get it. Organic food typically costs more than conventional, that that’s a significant barrier for people under financial strain. Food activists are working toward big-picture, systems-wide changes that could make organic food more affordable, but in the meantime one company in New York State is trying to make organic food more affordable and accessible–one dozen eggs at a time. Read more

New York Farmers Struggle in Wake of Hurricane Irene

Many New York State farms have experienced devastating losses in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Wind and subsequent flash floods destroyed late summer crops and vegetables, while others have reported drowned cows and washed away barns. Many more farms are without power and, because of washed out roads, countless more do not have a means to distribute their milk.

The flood is particularly brutal because it comes at the height of harvest, which means it is not only a financial disaster, but also an emotional blow. In addition to losing direct sales through farmers‘ markets and grocery stores, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members might not receive further produce for months, since waterlogged produce is illegal to sell. Read more

A Tell-All Guide to Artisanal Butchery

It’s an unlikely story: A vegan chef and his vegetarian wife open a butcher shop that becomes a commercial hit and an industry game-changer. It all started thanks to that omnivore gateway meat, bacon, which for years was Jessica Applestone’s one vegetarian exception. When she started craving more meat she searched for meat that aligned with her ethics: Something raised with respect for the animal and for the environment. But she found meat labels confusing.

She concluded her best option was to buy a whole steer from a farmer, but how to deal with a whole animal when she was the only meat-eater in the family? Jessica’s dilemma revealed a gap in the market: Butcher shops that break down whole, well-raised animals for the average home cook. Her husband Joshua saw an opportunity and the couple began the painstaking training and groundwork that eventually became Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, New York. Read more

Natural Gas Fracking: Ruining Your Lunch

With the documentary movie Gasland making its national debut on HBO just last week, the nation is now more aware of the environmental issues natural gas fracking poses. What you might not have heard is that many farmers in upstate New York fear the impact that natural gas drilling will have on our grasslands and water, and ultimately our livelihoods. It is an issue that could threaten New York City’s food shed but many do not realize what is at stake. Read more

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Into the Garden

I’m always amazed by the number of folks who think that most of Central Park is some kind of natural habitat of indigenous plants, a pristine terrain onto which we plunked our bike paths, boathouses and pretzel vendors.

In reality, nearly every square inch of Central Park was painstakingly landscaped back in the mid-nineteenth century to the specifications of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. A massive public works project, it required some 20,000 workers to subvert existing swamps and blow up bluffs to create a soothing pastoral landscape in the English romantic tradition.

Oh, and there was the little matter of evicting the Irish pig farmers and German gardeners who’d built shantytowns on the land. And destroying Seneca Village, the “first significant community of African American property owners on Manhattan”. The five acre settlement, which included three churches and a school, was seized through eminent domain and demolished.

All this, so that cooped-up city dwellers could get their fix of “nature”. Our civilized way of life is so removed from the natural world that Central Park’s manicured, manipulated acres are as close to a bit of wilderness as we can hope to get within the borough of Manhattan.

But you can catch a glimpse of what Manhattan was really like before we invaded it and tamed it by watching the fascinating video that architect/educator Fritz Haeg’s created in collaboration with The Mannahatta Project. The video documents Haeg’s Lenape Edible Estate installation, which was designed to “provide a view back to the lives of the native Lenape people, how they lived off the land 400 years ago” on the island that was then called Mannahatta. Read more

Sugar Never Tasted So Sweet: My Week Eating Locally

At the Eat-In on Labor Day at Slow Food Nation, we were asked to write a small step we could take to help change the food system on a banner. Some people wrote that they would host their own Eat-In (essentially a potluck with a purpose) or that they would stop buying bottled water. I had agreed to an initiative a friend in England had cooked up called Eat the Change, so I wrote what I’d agreed to: eating mostly unpackaged, local-as-possible food for one week in September. Read more