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Archive for the ‘Local Food’ Category

Photo by Rachel Clift

On Sunday, Sweet Joy and I made the slow G-train journey to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to check out this crazy 6,000 square foot organic rooftop farm that loads of people have been raving about.  Unlike the photo above, Sunday was the farm’s swansong….a few stalks of chard and kale clung to soil and the very last baby beets and carrots had been tugged and were offered up for visitors’ Thanksgiving feasts. Yet, despite the fact that it’s the end of the growing the season and we’re all looking down the barrel of long, cold winter, the farm was buzzing…and for good reason.

The farm’s gotten a lot of press in past several months, and I don’t want to belabor the point, so here are few interesting facts: the farm is located on the roof of an industrial warehouse on Eagle Street in Greenpoint. It’s the brainchild of Ben Flanner who connected with Broadway Stages, a production company that wanted a green roof on one of its warehouses in Brooklyn.  Broadway Stages footed the billed to prepare the roof for planting and agreed to let Ben grow food on it.  Ben and his partner, Annie Novak (check her out on the Huffington Post’s Hottest Organic Farmers slide show), did the planting and were able to keep all of the profits from their organic vegetables (sweet!). They sold the produce to local restaurants and other community organizations, but only to very local ones because everything was transported by bike (rad!). They also operated a farm stand on some weekends during the growing season (check out the photo below). I chatted with Annie briefly the other day and she told me told me the farm was really a community effort and none of it would be possible without all the volunteers who offer free farm labor. I immediately signed up to volunteer next summer and look forward to working on my tan while taking in some of the best views in the city.

Urban Farmer Annie Novak. Photo by Rachel Clift

Produce for sale at the rooftop farm. Photo by Rachel Clift

After leaving the Rooftop Farm, Sweet and I had a quick cup of coffee at the über-hipstery Greenpoint Coffeehouse and hopped the train to Bushwick to meet the rest of the gals at Roberta’s for our monthly ladies’ brunch.  Roberta’s has quickly become one of New York’s storied “pilgrimage” pizza joints – a place people travel from far and wide to savor. As much as I adore pizza (and it is delicious) I was more interested in seeing the elevated garden sponsored by none other than Alice Waters and the studio in the back garden that hosts the Heritage Radio Network, which programs shows about urban foragers and first-time farmers, like Annie and Ben. Like I said, the pizza was delicious, particularly the Beastmaster (berkshire pork sausage, capers, jalapeño and just a touch of blue cheese), but the fried chicken and homemade biscuit won best of show.  Definitely worth the trip.

Elevated garden at Roberta's in Bushwick. Photo by Aimee Quick

Photo by Aimee Quick

Pizza oven imported from Italy. Photo by Miss Quick

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I was fortunate enough to attend PopTech in Camden, Maine last October (2008), an annual conference that brings together an amazing array of leaders, thinkers, and doers from all walks of life. This year’s theme was “America Reimagined” – where presenters took a hard look at the  forces are reshaping the idea of America, its government’s contract with its citizens, its brand, and its role in the world.

Below are two videos worth watching (I dare say that all PopTech videos are worth watching).  The first is Michael Pollan, author of one of my favorite books and the subject of a recent PBS documentary, The Botany of Desire, a Plant’s-Eye View of the World, along with others well-known titles like  In Defense of Food and the Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the word’s of PopTech’s curator, Andrew Zolli, “Michael Pollan has changed, fundamentally, the way many of us understand what we eat, how it’s made, how it gets to us.”

Will Allen, former Procter and Gamble exec turned urban farming innovator, is the founder of Growing Power, a non-profit whose mission is to bring healthy, high quality, safe and affordable food to urban “food deserts”. What’s truly amazing about Allen is the virtuous circle he’s created with his farm on just two acres of land on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project. The farm not only feeds 10,000 residents, but it employs loads of people from the neighborhood,  trains farmers in intensive polyculture techniques, and converts millions of pounds of food waste into a nutrient rich soil that can be circulated back to the farm.

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I’ve been itching to check out the New Amsterdam Market since its 2009 debut in September.  The New Amsterdam Market is a self-described “public market”  in the tradition of London’s Borough Market, which is hands-down the finest food market I’ve ever had the privilege to visit (Program Note: I picked up some gorgeous stinky French cheese there that, if we hadn’t inhaled it for dessert, had all the elements of a primordial goo for a brilliant future civilization. It was truly exceptional, but sadly my delicate American gut was not properly colonized for such otherworldly things. Alas, I could not stomach a homemade full English breakfast the following morning).  Well, Borough Market it’s not, but I’m totally down with the aspiration.  Perhaps with time it will become a contender.

The market emerges once a month on South Street, where the old Fulton Fish Market once stood.  It’s different from a greenmarket in that it welcomes “butchers, grocers, mongers, farmers and provisioners, bakers and distributors, brokers, importers, and sellers of cooked foods”.   The goal, in part, is to incubate small, local, food producers and introduce New Yorkers to the bounties being hand-crafted right in their own backyards.  I was happy to see that Brooklyn had a strong presence.

As much as I enjoyed the market, I do have a criticism. While I acknowledge that most food is far cheaper than it should be and doesn’t fully reflect the social and environmental costs of producing it, the New Amsterdam Market was not designed with a low to moderate income person in mind.  Perhaps this is in the works, but unlike most NYC greenmarkets, using your EBT card was not an option.  It felt more like a rustic fancy food show rather than a public market, which, I think,  should increase access to locally-sourced, high quality food for the general public.  Most items were priced and geared toward upper-income food snobs (which I guess is me, sans the upper-income component).

With that said, here are a few highlights:

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Freshly shucked Robins Island oysters

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Wild Gourmet Food- Fairlee, Vermont. This guy had all kinds of strange mushrooms and medicinal herbs. They're foragers. I heart Vermont

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Porchetta - some of the most delicious roasted pork. Ever

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Aimee (left) and me enjoying magical bratwurst from The Meat Hook - so good you can't see it. Regretted not bringing a pack home

Honorable mention goes to the tremendously creamy and smooth ricotta we tasted from Narragansett Creamery in Rhode Island. Luke’s Lobster also turned out some fine lobster rolls: toasty buttered potato rolls loaded with lobster.  You can check it out for yourself at the next market on Sunday, November 22nd. Photos by Tim Kelley.

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