Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Amsterdam Market

I found an apartment and signed a lease – happy day!! Back to normal life. Here’s the view from the roof deck of my new home.

Even in gray weather it’s a breathtaking spot. Aside from being on the water, I love that my new place has a bigger kitchen and is only two blocks from the Tribeca Farmers Market. Hopefully some great posts will come out of my next adventure!

Don’t forget tomorrow is another New Amsterdam Market. In addition to the usual abundant selection of dairy, produce, fish, wine, bread, and meat from the Northeast, this meeting will highlight the resurgence of the neighborhood butcher shop. Four businesses leading the way in this endeavor and participating tomorrow are Fleisher’s Grassfed and Organic Meats of Kingston, NY, Marlow and Daughters and Meat Hook, both of Brooklyn, and newly-opened Dickson’s Farmstand Meats of Manhattan.

In the 1830’s there were over 300 neighborhood butcher shops connecting New York City’s 200,000 residents to regionally-raised meat. The current 8,000,000 residents of the City have, for the most part, lost this connection but are fortunate to have access to these four pioneering shops, all of whom buy whole animals from regional farms committed to raising their animals in a humane and sustainable manner.

If you have questions about the differences between meat that is grass-fed, grain-fed, grain-finished, pasture-raised, and organic (and honestly, who doesn’t?!), tomorrow is a great time to meet and talk to the people who know it best.

I’m volunteering at the Market so I’ll be there at 7:00 am (what was I thinking?!), but the rest of you can sleep in and get there between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. For a map and directions, click here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne

A flock of sheep on Park Avenue? I saw it with my own eyes and you can, too. I’m taking off my foodie hat for a moment and putting on my cultural cap. If you live in or are visiting NYC, I encourage you to find the time to walk along Park Avenue between 52nd and 57th Streets to see the magical works of the celebrated French sculptors, Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne.

For over 40 years, this husband-and-wife team worked in individual yet complimentary styles. Organic and powerful, their pieces represent nature on its most simple yet iconic level. Throw in a bit of whimsy and you have the work of the Lalannes.

If you are as taken with the imagination of their sculptures as I am (and/or you love animals like I do!), you will want to look through the recently published book, Lalanne(s). It’s incredibly well done and just plain gorgeous.

The exhibit, on loan from the Paul Kasmin Gallery, lasts through November 20th. It’s hard to understate what a treat it is to experience their exquisite representations of the natural world in an outdoor setting instead of a gallery. Don’t miss it!

On a side note, please excuse my lack of posting lately. I’ve begun the process of looking for a new apartment and the process has begun to take over my life! When all I really want to do is stay home and write about the exciting developments in the locavore world, I am instead out, pounding the pavement of New York City, looking at impossibly over-priced, postage stamp-sized apartments. But I will prevail! Just bear with me for a bit, especially since I have a fantastic experience to share from last weekend. I spent two days on the New York/Vermont border in Washington County, NY attending something called Farm Camp. Check back soon for the details….

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Changing Role of American Farmers

The other night was one of those nights that remind me why I love living in New York City so much. Somewhere in my internet travels I came across a mention for an event at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore in Soho. The store was holding a panel discussion called “The Changing Role of American Farmers”. The moderator was Lisa Hamilton, author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness and the panelists were Fred Kirschenmann, Verlyn Klinkenborg, and Mary-Howell Martens. I bet you’re saying “Who?” so let me introduce you, which will in turn explain why I was surprised to hear such a distinguished group would be gathering at a little bookstore downtown, sitting on folding chairs with the rest of us, for free.

The first time I heard of Fred Kirschenmann was back when President Obama was gathering names for the new Secretary of Agriculture. Kirschenmann was said to be on the short list. While he didn’t get the job (that went to Tom Vilsack), he certainly doesn’t lack for ways to fill his days. He is a farmer who oversees 3,500 organic acres of land in North Dakota. He is a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The Leopold Center, named after famed conservationist Aldo Leopold, is a “research and educational center with statewide programs to develop sustainable agriculture practices that are both profitable and conserve nature”. And if that weren’t enough, Kirschenmann is also president of one of my favorite local places, Stone Barns.

I must confess the real reason I check the New York Times editorial page faithfully everyday is in the hope that one of Verlyn Klingenborg’s essays will be there. Run under the heading "The Rural Life" (which is also the title of his most recent book), his short essays are magical, poetic observations of living a country life. He lives his country life on a small farm in upstate New York. The juxtaposition of his column against the others that appear on the same newspaper page is striking. While the news of the day -- especially nowadays -- can be unsettling and frustratingly grim, his reflections on nature help give me pause as well as provide solace and perspective.

I wasn’t familiar with Mary-Howell Martens but as someone who has attended many of these panels, I can tell you the farmers asked to speak at these events are always articulate, smart, and forward thinking. If your idea of a farmer is a hick from the sticks, you haven’t met a sustainable farmer lately. Mary and her husband, Klaas, farm 1,300 acres in Penn Yan, NY. They turned their acreage over to organic in 1992 and have become leaders in an impassioned effort to provide New York residents and livestock (their farm produces organic wheat and grains) with New York-grown food.

The evening’s discussion covered a range of topics, often coming back to the debate over local vs. organic vs. industrial agriculture and what can be done to change the current fragmentation of the three into one system that provides nutritious, delicious food while building up our local communities socially and economically.

A conversation on farming in the middle of New York City (Soho no less!) may seem out of place. One of the panelists, in fact, marveled at the turnout for the event -- it was standing room only, with 50 or 60 people crowded into the space. But when you realize it’s our urban centers, with their vast number of mouths to feed and dollars to spend, that influence what and how many farmers grow their food, it begins to make sense. Farming is about much more than tractors, feed, and crop rotation. At its essence it’s about food; where it comes from, how it’s grown, the quality of its nutrients, and how good it tastes.

For any of you out there with even a mild interest in the local/sustainable/organic food movement I have this to say to you: now is the time to get involved. Do it while it’s still possible to hear the giants of the movement -- Wendell Berry, Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Joan Gussow, Joel Salatin, Will Allen (as well as Fred Kirschenmann, Verlyn Klinkenborg and Mary-Howell Martens) -- speak, many times to small groups of people, often for free. It’s my exposure to such intelligent, thoughtful people that has helped fuel my passion for the movement towards good food. Trust me, once you start going down this road and learn the difference between food grown by organic farmers versus “chemical” farmers (to use a Mary-Howell Martens term for industrial farmers), there’s no turning back.

On my recent trip to North Carolina I was shopping for food with my dad, lamenting the quality of what I was finding. He said to me, “If you’re not careful, eating is going to become a chore.” I thought about it a second and responded, “Actually, knowing exactly where my food comes from has made every bite much more meaningful.” This isn’t a chore -- this is fun!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Fest at Stone Barns

This weekend I traveled about 45 minutes north of the city to Pocantico Hills, home of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. The occasion was their sixth annual Harvest Fest. It was my first time attending the event and I looked forward to spending the day on the farm with some friends. The weather was overcast and eventually the rain came, but Stone Barns is always glorious, even in foul weather.

Stone Barns was founded in 2004 by David Rockefeller to honor his late wife, Peggy Rockefeller. She was a founder of the American Farmland Trust and a farmer herself.

The spectacular 80-acre property, part of the Rockefeller estate, includes the Center’s namesake Norman-style stone barns that were once used by Peggy for her cattle operation. Now these structures house the SB offices, gift shop, event space, and Blue Hill restaurant and cafĂ©.

There are also 22,000 square feet of greenhouses,

3 acres of vegetables and fruits, as well as many acres of pasture and forest for chickens, sheep, turkeys, and pigs.

Walking from the car to the Center we first passed a Berkshire pig roast, which would later make its way into tasty sandwiches for sale at the farmers market.

The farmers market was just up the hill and filled with people buying food from regional farmers, producers, and purveyors like

Mast Brothers Chocolate, Irving Mills Coffee, Balthazar Bakery, Red Jacket Orchards, Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, Hudson Valley Wool, and Murray’s Cheese, to name a few.

In addition to the marketplace, there were live bands, hayrides,

farm Olympics, cooking and gardening workshops,

and farm demos like egg collecting and sheep moving.

I went home tired, a little wet, and very happy. It was a fun, educational, delicious day in the country.