2010 NYC Urban Agriculture Roundup

Posted: January 3rd, 2011 | Author:

Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm business in Long Island City, NY. Photo by CyrusDowlatshahi.com

Introduction

2010 was a major year for urban agriculture. There seemed to something related to urban agriculture every week.  I had a hard time keeping up.  So, I am pleased to offer this Year End Roundup to review all the activity during this amazing year.

Farms: Many New Starts and Expansions

In 2010, many impressive farm enterprises started and expanded in NYC.

Ben Flanner designed and built almost an acre of rooftop farmland in Long Island City, Queens, the first site for Brooklyn Grange, his for-profit agricultural enterprise.  In addition to finding no receptive landlords in Brooklyn, Flanner had some intial setbacks with the NYC Department of Buildings.  With charismatic pluck and good planning, Flanner quickly shed these logistical headaches and turned his first growing season into a productive one, selling to area restaurants and hosting a market every week. Next year, he is trying to locate several additional rooftops to farm, pursuing his long term strategy to develop a viable venture.

Tenth Acre Farms started in Early 2009 by Jordan Hall and by brothers Bennett and Adam Wilson — in Mr. Hall’s backyard.  They expanded in 2010 to the abandoned basketball court at St. Cecilia’s School in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, using raised bed gardening and hosted a weekly market from Spring to Fall.

Eco Station helped launch The Secret Garden Farm in a re-discovered inner yard adjacent to the Bushwick Community Garden (Linden St and Broadway).  In its first season, the farm produced heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, mustard greens, jalapeño peppers, kale, and fresh herbs sold at Bushwick Farmers’ Market. The season had some bittersweet notes: crop damage from the September hurricane and discord with a neighborhood gardener who was reluctant to share space. With good cheer, Eco Station ended the year with a successful Solstice Celebration.

Added Value, now in its 10th year of operation, planted three-acres of organic fruit and vegetables at a new Farm on Governor’s Island.  Farm Managers supervised volunteer farmhands and opened farm stand for visitors.

Bk Farmyards High School for Public Service Youth Farm. Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Stacey Murphy and Bee Ayers of Bk Farmyards were incredibly busy this year, opening two ambitious new projects in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  First, they worked with students to cultivate an acre at High School for Public Service Youth Farm with support from Green Guerillas.

Second, the pair launched the first Egg CSA in NYC, giving 40 members roughly a dozen eggs per week throughout the growing season. Located in Imani Garden, 50 hens were housed in a newly-constructed model chicken coop designed and built by Murphy and volunteers with a mere $1,500 grant from NY Restoration Project (founded by Bette Midler).

Bed Stuy Farm secured the right to plant on an adjacent lot this year.

After successful advocacy in 2009, Bed Stuy Farm obtained permission to farm the property adjacent to its parent organization, Brooklyn Rescue Mission.  In September, Bed Stuy Farm was selected by Growing Power (located in Milwaukee, WI) to be one of several Regional Outreach Training Centers which will receive technical training and support.

In March, a group of neighbors in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn started Prospect Farm, working together to grow food in a formerly vacant lot. The project started modestly when Tom Angotti, who lives adjacent to the lot, emailed around for help clearing debris. He was pleasantly surprised “Over 100 volunteers arrived during the day.  That’s when I began talking to neighbors about planting a farm together.” The soil has been tested and found to have high levels of lead and other heavy metals.  So before growing any food, the group’s first step will be soil remediation through careful composting.

Digging beds at Ujima Garden, a Neighborhood Farm of Slow Food NYC

Through its Neighborhood Farms program, Slow Food NYC launched Ujima Garden, partnering with East New York Urban Youth Corps, WATCH High School and Brownsville Multi-Service corporation to find a location where we could build our teaching farm.  Located in East New York, volunteers cleared space for this new farm consisting of almost 4,000 square feet.  East New York Farms! donated all the tools for the volunteers to use and Brooklyn Botanic Garden donated plants and planting mix. WATCH High School will take over long-term management of Ujima Garden.

Gotham Greens, a commercial hydroponic rooftop greenhouse operation, finally found a home atop the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center in Brooklyn. Beginning in 2011, the 15,000 square foot facility expects to produce over 30 tons of “premium quality, pesticide-free, sustainably-grown,” vegetables, fruit, and culinary herbs every year.

DIY Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP) at Slippery Slope Farm

Builders of rooftop greenhouses may challenges in obtaining government approvals because the new structure may sometimes exceed the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) permitted for an existing building size and its zoning. City Councilmenber Gale Brewer became aware of how FAR restrictions inhibit building rooftop greenhouses after attending the NYC Food & Climate Summit last year. So, she and others sponsored Introduction 0338, a Local Law to amend the building code adding ”greenhouses to the list of rooftop structures that are excluded from such [floor area] calculations.”

Advocates of urban farming expressed concern about Intro 338 because the proposed law would limit FAR bonuses to only 1/3rd of roof area, which would provide little benefit for prospective commercial rooftop farms.

After holding hearings on October 20, 2010, Councilmember Brewer explained that the Housing and Building Committee delayed further action on the legislation “while we review enlarging the exempted roof area and ensuring no private penthouses are built using this law as a loophole to evade the intent of Building Code and Zoning.”

Throughout 2010, I heard about countless other urban homestead projects launched in back yards, plots in community gardens and apartment windowsills.

One notable home grower who went public is Frieda Lim, creator of Slippery Slope Farm located on her rooftop in Gowanus, Brooklyn.  This summer, Lim hosted free tastings and teachings at her farm to discuss her use of Sub-Irrigated Planters (SIPs) designed in collaboration with SIPs guru Bob Hyland.  To her surprise, her farm was featured in the NY Post!

It was a really inspiring year for innovative experiments in urban farming of every size.

Farm Support Organizations: Crop Mob NYC and Lower Hudson CRAFT

Crop Mob NYC started in February 2010 after organizer-farmer Deb Taft read an NYT article about the group in North Carolina, where the idea orginated. Crop Mob alerts a network of landless farmhands about a farmer’s need for assistance. The concept borrows terminology from “text mobs” — spontaneous gatherings called together rapidly by text messages.

Crop Mob NYC provided farmhands for Eagle St Rooftop Farm

Taft amassed 900 followers and organized 11 “Mobs” from April to October — the first hit 4 Brooklyn farms with more than 100 people participating. All but two Mobs lent a hand in the City — the other two were in Westchester and Putnam Counties. Mobs helped harvest at BKFarmyards High School for Public Service (twice), Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Brooklyn Grange, Queens County Farm Museum, Added Value’s Red Hook Community Farm, Bed Stuy Farm, La Finca del Sur in the Bronx and others.

Another cool thing that happened in 2010 was the formation of the Lower Hudson CRAFT chapter, coordinated by Glywood, connecting an upstate farming organization to farms in NYC. CRAFT is an acronym for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, a longstanding organization including farms from Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts to Upper Hudson by fostering opportunities for farm interns to improve skills.

This year, the Lower Hudson CRAFT met about 10 times at different farms from Putnam County to NYC, including Red Hook Community Farm and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. Apprentices (and farmers) were given a tour of the host farm followed by a lesson in a particular specialty — or challenge — of the farm.  According to Deb Taft: “We all got to see the many different ways things can be done and to hang out with colleagues instead of feeling isolated on our farms”  Contact Maryellen Sheehan to join Lower Hudson CRAFT.

School Gardens: Growing  Support for Innovation and Greater Resources

A 2010 study by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets found that 306 of the 1,600 NYC schools have a school garden or some type of interactive growing environment. Interestingly, 43% of community gardens also partner with a local school.  The study finds that barriers to garden creation and survival include limited funding, need for gardening equipment and materials, and few resources to care for gardens over the summer.

Vermiculture at Brooklyn New School by Educator Matt Sheehan.

Even amidst space and resource constraints, City schools have already found creative ways to implement and expand gardening projects in 2010. Examples of innovative growing projects include PS 364 in the East Village which grows vegetables in converted pickle barrels; PS 146 in Brooklyn (New School) which has created a complex composting and rainwater harvesting system to support their thriving garden; and Discovery High School in the Bronx which started a hydroponic growing wall.

In an effort to support the growth of school gardens, The Mayor’s Office and Food Network chef Rachel Ray launched a broad-based, private-public initiative with NYC SchoolFood via Yum-O, Ray’s non-profit devoted to improving healthy eating for children. At a press conference in the vegetable garden at PS 29 in Brooklyn (where my kids went to school), the Mayor announced new efforts that will help address obstacles to creating and maintaining school gardens and supportive programs including:

  • Launching a new mini-grant program (grants of $500-$1,000) this fall for schools in need of funds to start a garden.
  • Creating a website for schools, being designed by GrowNYC, to be launched by this fall with resources including:
    • Additional technical assistance provided by GrowNYC and GreenThumb.
    • Information on how to locate and connect to local community gardens.
    • Complimentary programming provided by City and nonprofit partners.
    • Information for teachers on how to incorporate garden instruction into existing curricula to maximize their academic impact.
  • Expanding the “Garden to Café” pilot program from 25 schools to more than 50 schools in the 2010 school year. The program’s goal is to connect school gardening and lunch menus through seasonal harvest events and educational activities. PS 29 is one of the initial Garden to Café sites using what is grown in its salad bar and creating recipes for special events.
  • Starting a teen intern program to take care of school gardens during the summer months. NYC Service will also help coordinate volunteers to care for the gardens.

“We are very excited to help teach New York City youth where food comes from and in turn provide them with encouragement to make healthier choices,” said Ray. Sounds like a good start.

School Gardens: High Profile Projects Gather Celebrity Backers

Rendering of Edible Schoolyard NY at PS 216 by Work.AC

Edible Schoolyard – A little bit of Oakland arrived in Brooklyn this year when Alice Waters spearheaded a new project at P.S. 216 in Gravesend: Edible Schoolyard New York.  Movie producer John Lyons, who had volunteered at the public school, was the motive force behind raising the whopping $1.6 million, attracting an A-list celebrity Advisory Committee, like Momufuku chef David Chang and locavore guru Michael Pollan.  Ground broke in October on the first phase of the elaborate farm construction, featuring a four-season high-tech greenhouse designed by Work Architecture Company, known for its pioneering 2008 installation Public Farm 1 at P.S. 1.

Edible Schoolyard New York could become a dazzling showcase for farm-based learning in the City’s public schools.  At the groundbreaking, Borough President Mary Markowitz remarked “I am happy to state that this is the only neighborhood project that no one has complained about.” While admirable, the lack of public comment may reflect the lightning speed with which the whole project was hatched by people outside the school community. Contrary to many other public schools around the City, for instance, parents and teachers at P.S. 216 had no previous commitment to starting a school garden. Hopefully, the immense initial investment will yield a cadre of loyal, local stewards dedicated to the viability of Edible Schoolyard.

The Sun Works Center atop PS 333 in Manhattan

Sun Works Center – Another high-profile school garden opened this Fall — The Sun Works Center for Environmental Science, built on the roof of The Manhattan School for Children P.S. 333. A public-private partnership between the P.S. 333 community, New York Sun Works, and the School Construction Authority, the Sun Works Center uses sustainable local food production as a tool for teaching environmental science. NY Sun Works has an ambitious plan to build 100 greenhouse classrooms throughout NYC called .

Together, BrightFarm Systems and architects Kiss+Cathcart designed the Sun Works Center to utilize diverse growing mediums such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), vertical Vine Crop System, Aquaponics and raised soil beds dressed with vermi-compost made on site. Other green features include building-integrated photovoltaic cells and rainwater capture for both evaporative cooling and irrigation. The Sun Works Center was developed by the same team that created the Science Barge in 2007.

How do you pay for the ambitious construction planned for the Sun Works Center? Located in the Upper West Side, P.S. 333 is well-situated amongst the well-heeled.  In 2009, Designer Donna Karan, Actress Lauren Bacall and Author Ann Brashares hosted a benefit where 430 attendees contributed $100,000. Additional funds were raised through an online auction on Charity Buzz co-hosted by Wellness in the Schools.  Despite the scale of the resources required in the face of an economic downturn, NY Sun Works is scheduled to open its second Greenhouse Project this year at The Cypress Hills Community School, P.S. 89, an innovative, successful, community-based, bilingual (Spanish/English), public school in northeastern Brooklyn.

Rendering for GELL Project at PS 41

Rendering of GELL Project at PS 41

Greenroof Environmental Literacy Lab (GELL) – In March, P.S. 41 unveiled designs for its new $1.7-million rooftop “environmental literacy lab” — unique in its design and scale for a New York City public school at the West 11th Street school.  Initial construction began this Fall.

The GELL Project will feature “plants, insects and wildlife from a mix of habitats as well as learning space to teach lessons in urban sustainability, farm-to-table agriculture and environmental stewardship.” The project’s costs have been underwritten by the offices of Manhattan Borough President Stringer, City Council Speaker Quinn and State Senator Thomas Duane, along with donations from foundations and the school community (which is drawn from one of the wealthiest areas in the City!).

Fifth Street Farm Project – A grassroots organization of teachers, parents, and green-roof advocates have begun work on a farm atop the Robert Simon Complex, a large public school building on the Lower East Side containing P.S. 64 and the Earth School, and Tompkins Square Middle School. The 3000 square foot farm was designed by Michael Arad, known for his winning plan for the World Trade Center Memorial. The office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer contributed $500,000 toward the cost of the $750,000 project.

As a final note, P.S. 6 in Manhattan also started construction on a snazzy rooftop greenhouse, called Eric Dutt Eco-Center, but the information on the project does not emphasize any food or agriculture practices.

Adopt-A-Farmbox: Technical Assistance for School Farms

In May 2010, Artist Aki Baker, her husband Ron Baker of Baker Design + Build and Yemi Amu, a Health Educator and natural foods chef, teamed up to launch Adopt-A-Farmbox, a non-profit organization supporting the design of urban agriculture planters and programs in NYC schools. The three founders combine their unique and diverse skills to engage school communities in building farmboxes — using the objects as a starting point to initiate related programming: community building, gardening education; cooking & nutrition workshops and resource guidance.

“Our goal?” says Amu, “We want to connect children and adults to nature by presenting them with the opportunity to plant a seed, watch it grow, tend to it, then harvest and share the fruits of their labor with the community.” Last summer, Adopt-A-Farmbox raised $10,000 on Kicskstarter through a community-based fundraising campaign supported by schools, local businesses and artists that facilitated projects in 6 New York City schools located in Brooklyn and Manhattan including P.S. 347, The Greene-Hill School, P.S. 11, P.S. 307, Brooklyn Brownstone School and Children’s Workshop School. The team has plans to partner with 2 additional schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx in addition to expanding its program focus to include a project with a homeless shelter.

Community Gardens: Brinksmanship, Relief and Continuing Concerns

Brooklyn Bears Carlton Avenue Garden, Brooklyn.

Community gardens produce a lot of food for individual small plot farmers around the city.  However, in the 1990s, the Giuliani administration began to sell gardens to real estate developers, making their future uncertain. In February 2000, Attorney General Spitzer obtained a Temporary Restraining Order, preventing any further development in any community garden.

The Temporary Restraining Order remained in effect until September 2002 when Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Spitzer reached an Agreement preserving nearly 400 community gardens on city-owned land while allowing development to move forward on over other 100 gardens already slated for development.  The 2002 Agreement was expected to expire in September 2010, causing the NYC Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) to begin organizing its members and allies to sustain and to improve its terms.  As a result, the terms of the 2002 Agreement have largely been maintained to protect all current community gardens.

As part of the process of renewing the 2002 Agreement, NYCCGC had worked with City agencies to draft new rules governing community gardens.  Negotiations eventually broke off in September 2010, leaving the Coalition and its allies frustrated. On October 13, 2010, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation went ahead and issued “new rules” for community gardens under their jurisdiction.  NYCCGC released a Response, airing several concerns about the new rules which were reiterated at hearings held at the City Council on November 29, 2010. In the New Year, I am hoping that NYCCGC’s recommended changes to community garden rules will be adopted by the City.

Future Community Gardens: People’s Garden NYC

In the Community Garden Survey: New York City 2009-10, produced by GreenThumb and GrowNYC, the researchers stated: “While very few new gardens have started since 1999, much effort has been made since then to ensure the long term viability of community gardens.”

Advocate Daniel Bowman Simon started a petition campaign, People’s Garden NYC, to Mayor Bloomberg, which begins as follows: “We, the undersigned people of New York City, respectfully request that a vegetable garden be planted in front of City Hall.”

Simon has a track record of success in this “field.” In 2008, he was one of The WHO Farmers, coordinators of the The White House Organic Farm Project who rode around the Country in an upside-down school bus to convince First Lady Michele Obama to cultivate food on at the Presidential residence.

This spring, the Bloomberg administration built a new “Learning Garden” in City Hall Park “tended and used by nearby PS 276 and PS 397.” This could be the beginning of a step in the right direction. You can support Simon’s big, sustainable vision by signing the petition at the People Garden NYC site.

Farm School NYC: Certificate in Urban Agriculture

With a sizable grant from the USDA and two years of collaborative planning completed, Just Food launched Farm School NYC.  The program “aims to increase the self-reliance of communities and inspire positive local action around issues of food access and social, economic and racial justice by providing comprehensive professional training in urban agriculture for NYC residents.”

Farm School NYC drew some inspiration from The Apprenticeship Program of The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz.  Farm School NYC will offer comprehensive training in all aspects of urban agriculture through a two-year certificate program and a wide range of individual courses. According to Jane Hodge, Director of Farm School NYC, Just Food received 160 applications for its first class of 15 students which demonstrates the demand. Hopefully, Farm School NYC will train and education a new set of leaders and farmers who will help establish the long term viability of urban agriculture.

Books: Homesteading, Edible Estates, Vertical Farming and More

Thinking about starting your own farm?  Check out The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficiency in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen of Los Angeles, California whose joint blog is HomeGrownRevolution.

Knutsen and Coyne are identified in another book as part of a movement growing across the United States described as Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. As an interesting counterpoint, I noticed Eco Chic Home: Reuse, Rethink and Remake Your Way to Sustainable Style by Emily Anderson. Not as thoughtfully considered or politically astute but containing some nifty design ideas, like a standing lamp made of old flowerpots.  Something for all levels of social commitment?

Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer came out in paperback, displaying humor, humility and good storytelling that made this memoir one of my favorite books last year.  If you’re looking for a rural move, you might consult Up Tunket Road: The Education of the Modern Homesteader by Phillip Ackerman-Leist. I didn’t get a chance to read it but Joel Salatin liked it.

I really enjoyed Above the Pavement – The Farm! Architecture and Agriculture at Public Farm 1, providing an in-depth eyewitness interviews about the genesis of this influential exploration of the imaginative boundaries of urban agriculture and its new place in the cultural firmament of New York City.  The installation was the brainchild of Dan Wood and Amale Adraos of the architecture firm and the book was the work of Project Projects as part of its Inventory Book series.

The book’s title harks back to the revolutionary call-to-arms shouted by students in revolt in 1968 Paris.  The authors stake a claim for urban agriculture as a next wave of urban radicalism and revolutionary re-imagination of city space.  Provocative and inspiring, this volume showed the transformative power of ideas with an especially interesting epilogue about the long Modern history of urban utopianism by Meredith Ten Hoor.

In a similar vein, Fritz Haeg released the second edition of estimable Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, his seminal agit-prop art project advocating front lawns be ripped up and farmed in an environmental protest to the cultivation of the single largest crop produced by the US: grass. Haeg gives another vision of the power of a simple alteration of business-as-usual leading to game-changing results.

If you are looking for a practical route to achieve what Haeg suggests, look no further Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on ¼ Acre by Brett L. Markham, a beautifully photographed and illustrated guide to civic agriculture. I also noticed another volume on the same topic:  The Practical Homestead: The Backyard Handbook for Growing Food, Raising Animals and Nurturing Your Land by Paul Heiney.

Route taken across US by authors of Farm Together Now!

Artist and activist, Amy Franceschini, blogger of FutureFarmers, along with Daniel Tucker put out a coffee table reference, Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places and Ideas For a New Food Movement.  The book is chock full of innovative farms from across the Country, including several urban farms. Strikingly, Katherine Leiner seemed inspired by a similar impulse, traveling cross country to gather stories and recipes for Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists.  Of course, Leiner visits Brooklyn and talks to legendary beekeeper Andrew Coté, writer-activist Anna Lappé, and food filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis.

On the academic front, I found two decent surveys of urban agriculture from Canada and from the UK, respectively, Agricultural Urbanism: Handbook for Building Sustainable Food Systems for the 21st Century edited by Janine de la Salle and Mark Holland and Urban Agriculture: Diverse Activities and Benefits for City Society, a hardcover edition of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability edited by Craig Pearson, Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty.  The former is a compendium of thoughtful ideas for urban agriculture while the latter book seeks to be a “collection of the latest thinking on the multiple dimensions of sustainable greenspace and food production within cities.”

Rendering by Chris Jacobs, Dean Fowler and Rolf Mohr posted on VerticalFarming.org

Continuing in the academic vein, Columbia Professor Dickson Despommier released his neo-Modernist manifesto Vertical Farming: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. Despommier believes that the “vertical farm is the keystone enterprise for establishing an urban-based ecosystem” and for “restoring balance between our lives and the rest of nature.”

Like any sci-fi geek worth his Star Trek stripes, I initially dug Despommier’s slick space ships synthesizing food in the soon-to-be City. With little practical experience building green or growing food, Despommier proposes an invention the merges the two complex undertakings into one theoretical construct. By contrast, I have experienced first-hand the maddening gulf between ideal and reality in the construction of green buildings. And I have seen the painfully plentiful ways that plantations can fail to meet even the best scientific expectations.

Hence, it is from a place of affection for Despommier’s dream that I state my own serious skepticism about the efficacy of building a multi-million dollar skyscraper to produce food with a supposedly smaller carbon footprint. Frankly, the real surprise about Despommier’s sweeping ideas is their traction with media outlets — mainstream and eco-conscious alike — which seem take his plans at face value with little in-depth questioning or probing critique.  Perhaps Despommier has hit upon deeply wishful thinking tracking our desire for a single magic bullet to an infinitely vexing target.

On the sustainable food front, there were so many books on this worthy topic this year that it would be hard to mention them all here.  Having said that, two notable books jump to mind.  Anna Lappe’s Diet for A Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It is an excellent overview of the current climate crisis and the role that the food system plays in it.  And, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg is an entertaining, personalized and nuanced investigation into global fisheries.

The New Brooklyn Cookbook

Just for fun check out The New Brooklyn Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from 31 Restaurants That Put Brooklyn on The Culinary Map by husband and wife, Melissa and Brendan Vaughn, which provides an interesting tour of evolving food scene in Brooklyn, driven by chefs and restaurants who have a passion for fresh local ingredients.  The cook book also explores restaurants’ connections to urban farming, featuring a profile of Annie Novak from Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, to home cooks and to small-batch artisans, like Wheelhouse Pickles and Salvatore Ricotta. From a personal perspective, the “Chicken Under a Brick” recipe provided by chef Sean Rembold from Marlow & Sons was a revelation, allowing for a tasty and fast dinner for a family of four.

Documentary Film: What’s Organic About Organic

There were so many sustainable food films released in 2009 and still touring the country in 2010 (Dirt!, What’s On Your Plate, Fresh, etc.) that I get a little confused about the few documentaries that actually came out this year.  The most prominent film that I can recall, What’s Organic About Organic, was not really devoted to urban agriculture directly. The film covered a matter of importance to the urban food shed — the organic food debate —  showing the importance of being clear about these environmental standards moving well beyond personal choice and into the realm of social responsibility.

Mark Ruffalo plays an urban farmer character in The Kids Are All Right,

Feature Film:  The Kids Are All Right

Urban farming goes Hollywood!  The feature film, The Kids Are All Right, not only introduced the idea that lesbian moms can be as dysfunctional as their hetero counterparts but also debuted an urban farmer, played by actor Mark Ruffalo, who grows fresh produce for his southern California farm-to-table restaurant.  Let’s hope future urban farm characters are more responsible with their seed!

Television: Jamie Oliver talks Revolution

Chef Jamie Oliver talks to school children about their lunches.

I think that Jamie Oliver has done more to mainstream sustainable food politics in 2010 than anyone else. Everybody wants to talk to me about Jamie’s Food Revolution USA, an ABC television show that followed Oliver over the course of winter 2009, when he travelled to America to raise awareness of the growing obesity crisis and aimed to get people cooking and eating good food again.  Not bad.

Oliver hit some flat notes in the opening of the show when the local talk radio host asked him “who made you king?” – a fair question about an interloper amongst the fat and unhappy. However, Oliver shows everyday alienation from food production when some of the kids could not properly identify a tomato.  I have used that anecdote countless times as a glaring example of the failure of the educational system and food system alike.  It is an unbelievably powerful and priceless teaching moment.

Publication: Brooklyn Bread

Brooklyn Bread Press has to be the most unique new urban food publication around, launched this year by Danielle Franca Swift and Jack Wright. It is sort of a food fanzine that surveys both the people who produce comestibles and the folks that consume them.  The radically democratizing concept is that all the people in the sustainable food system are stars – the eaters equal to the feeders.  All those gathered around these many diverse tables are covered copiously in multi-frame photo essays taken at the borough’s myriad food events.  Brooklyn Bread reads like the Society Pages for foodies without any nattering over boldfaced names captioned in the pictures.

So, you could be the next face of Brooklyn Bread just by showing up for a cooking class at Ger-Nis Culinary Center. And, I am quite proud to say that the revelers who joined me for Farm City Tours were included in the premiere issue! Brooklyn Bread represents a new form of celebrity tabloid: honoring the people who create alternative, sustainable community around good food.

Websites: NonaBrooklyn

NonaBrooklyn tells us that it’s “like the sidewalk chalkboards that restaurants, shops and bars use to promote daily specials,” Nona pulls all those “chalkboards” together in a communiqué that tells you ‘What’s Good Today’ in Brooklyn.  You can learn about food news, special offers, events and tastings. Founder Peter Hobbs and the editors as NonaBrooklyn are deeply interested in promoting the growth of the sustainable food system and provide a lot of good exposure for urban farms.

In all fairness to the blogerratti, of which I am one, there were so many great blogs that I can’t pinpoint any others without extending this section way too far.  Suffice to say that I found a new urban agriculture blog about every week or whenever I looked, whichever came first.

NYC Government Action: Legal Beekeeping, FoodNYC vs. FoodWorks and Educational Green Roofs

Beekeeper Cerise Mayo at Red Hook Community Farm. Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Bee Legal – On March 14, 2010, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene altered its regulations to make beekeeping legal.  Previously, honeybees had been classified as a prohibited “wild animal” under Title IV of the Health Code, Article 161, Section 161.01, making beekeeping punishable by fines of $200 to $2000.  Now, many of the honeymakers who crept about in the shadows can come forth and celebrate a “sweet victory.” The advocacy campaign that changed the beekeeping rules emanated from many different sustainable food organizations, most notably Just Food.  If you want to join the now-legal ranks of honeymakers, contact the NYC Beekeeping Meetup.

Other Voices, Other Laws – In addition to Intro 338, discussed above, the City Council proposed several other interesting measures related to urban agriculture this year.

The Council introduced but did not pass a Resolution 0200 to make the Newtown Pippin (pictured above) the official Big Apple apple. According to NewtownPippin.org, the City Council’s lack of legislative will did not dampen spirits at The Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration on April 28, 2010, marking the planting of NYC’s first public access orchard consisting of 40 heirloom apple trees in Randall’s Island Park. Go heirloom species diversification!

Now stalled in Committee, Resolution 0507 calls upon the NYS Legislature to allow the Green Roof Tax Abatement to extend to owners cultivating food producing plants.

Eureka! Here’s something that actually passed!  Local Law 42 directs the NYC Department of Sanitation to conduct a study exploring “diversion of compostable waste from the city’s waste stream” to be issued July 2012. In the past, a similar study laid the foundation for city-wide curbside recycling.

What's in a bin? Could Local Law 42 lead to a curbside compost collection, like the City of Ottawa?

FoodNYC – In February, Mayoral hopeful and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer released FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System, a comprehensive effort to unify and reform New York City’s policies regarding the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food.

The report summarized work of breakout groups at the NYC Food & Climate Summit held at NYU in December 2009 in partnership with Just Food, outlining a package of proposals that will make the City’s food system more sustainable by pushing local purchasing and production, increasing access to healthy food, and expanding the food economy. (See “Urban Farming on the Agenda” 12.19.09)

“For the first time, [we] present a single, comprehensive vision for food policy in this city.” said Manhattan Borough President (MBP) Scott M. Stringer. Urban Agriculture received special mention throughout FoodNYC, including the following recommendations:

Establish food production as a priority in New York City for personal, community, or commercial use by the year 2030.
 Assess Land Availability and Suitability for Urban Agriculture
 Create a Citywide Urban Agriculture Program
 Ensure the Permanence of Community Gardens
 Facilitate the Development of Rooftop Agricultural Greenhouses

MBPO Stringer has also begun mobilizing grassroots support for food policy change through gathering signatures for the NYC Food Pledge:

I pledge to eat in a manner guided by the environmental, economic, and health consequences of my food consumption, and I will work to create a food system consistent with the principles set forth in the NYC Sustainable Food Charter.

Foodworks NYC – In December at Food & Finance High School in Manhattan, Mayoral hopeful and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn unveiled her office’s vision of a comprehensive plan for a more sustainable food system .

The plan, FoodWorks, provides a blueprint for addressing issues at every phase of the food system – from agricultural production, processing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption, outlining 59 policy proposals spanning five phases of the food system. The proposals included new legislation, funding initiatives and far-reaching goals that present a long-term vision for a better food system in NYC.

Speaker Quinn’s proposals are closely aligned to the work of MBP Stringer and the NYC Food & Climate Summit. Speaker Quinn’s motivation to reform the food system is not new, having formed the NYC Food Policy Task Force with Mayor Bloomberg in 2006. In 2012, New Yorkers who care about food will face a choice of two candidates who have shown a lot of concern about improving NYC’s food shed.

Educational Green Roofs – In December, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer hosted an Educational Green Roofs for Public Schools Panel Discussion at PS 41. The symposium focused on the planning, development, curricular tie-ins, costs and maintenance of establishing educational green roofs.

The Borough President has funded ten green roof projects and two greenhouses which are in various stages of development.  These projects range from feasibility studies to green roofs to an aquaponic installation for breeding tilapia fish on top of Food & Finance High School. To help schools move forward with their own plans, the Borough President has posted a Report on Green Roofs for Existing School Buildings, detailing technical issues, and a Green Roofs Resource Guide, providing general information.

PlaNYC: Bringing Food to the Table in 2011 – An update of PlaNYC 2030, the Mayor’s long-term sustainability goals for NYC, will be issued on Earth Day 2011. One of my first posts detailed how urban agriculture might be included in the next draft. (PlaNYC and Urban Agriculture, 10.29.09)

The Food Systems Network NYC has prepared a document, Food for the Future, with the help of its members and friends explaining why the Mayor should include a Food Chapter in PlaNYC 2.0. The Mayor’s Office has a website — http://www.allourideas.org/PlaNYC — where you can “Add Your Own Idea” and request that PlaNYC adopt the suggestions of the Food Systems Network — or your own.

NYC Policy Research: Farming Concrete and Five Borough Farm

Two major policy initiatives supporting the growth of urban agriculture got off the ground this year: Farming Concrete and Five Borough Farm.

Screenshot of FarmingConcrete.com Harvest Map page.

Farming Concrete is a volunteer, citizen science project to measure how much food is grown in New York City’s community gardens launched by Cartographer Mara Gittelman and several community partners. You can follow NYC’s harvest using their interactive map. Farming Concrete “looks at the yield of a small raised bed, determines how many of gardens might actually be considered farms in the national agricultural census, and ensures that we pay homage to the hard work and dedication of community gardeners over the last several decades who have truly made the success of urban agriculture possible today.” For every community garden in NYC, this open source study intends to answer the following questions:

“We at ___ Community Garden grew ___ pounds of food in ____ square feet, which is worth $___, served approximately ___ people, and prevented approximately __ pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.”

Related to this project was an endeavor called GardenMaps surveyed 223 gardens across the City to provide New York residents and community developers with more information about the activities and features of each community garden, such as art, compost, food, events and more.  GardenMaps charts out the results of a 2009-2010 survey by Mara Gittleman and Lenny Librizzi to support the work of GrowNYC and GreenThumb, creating a specific interface for community gardens taken from the broader OASIS community mapping interface.

Five Borough Farm was launched by Design Trust for Public Space in collaboration with Added Value to develop strategies to support urban agriculture in all five boroughs. The project will survey and map NYC’s existing urban agricultural activity and develop tools to help quantify the benefits of urban agriculture demonstrating to government the best policies to promote it.

Five Borough Farm Workshop on December 6, 2010

Late in 2010, the Trust amassed a large, diverse group of urban farmers and thinkers to discuss how to proceed with this important project.  The workshop attempted to settle upon common concerns and themes that might help guide the efforts of Five Borough Farm throughout the year, asking questions such as “What motivates you do your work” and “What’s our vision for urban agriculture in NYC?”  The results will be shared with all the participants as the project matures.  Already, the gathering has identified and galvanized an important network of people supporting and practicing urban agriculture. I am really interested to see how this project develops over the course of the next year.

Exhibitions: FarmCity.US and Living Concrete/Carrot City

Mathilde Rousell-Giraudy premiered her living sculpture Ça Pousse! at Farm City Fair

OK, I have to put in a shameless plug for my own action-research project, FarmCity.US, launched in September with the support for French Institute Alliance Française to promote the growth of urban agriculture.  It really was a pretty exciting collaboration:  three-weeks of events starting with Farm City Fair leading to three different Film screenings and Farm City Tours.

In the middle of the month, we opened  a visual exhibition — Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City at Old Stone House Historic Center.  We ended with Farm City Forum hosting a Pecha Kucha of great ideas in urban agriculture, featured a presentation by Novella Carpenter and hatched new ways of thinking about growing food in the City.

Display of design objects at Living Concrete/Carrot City. From left: Rainwater Catchment, Beehaus, Tiered Vertical Planter, Sub-Irrigated Planter

As FarmCity.US ended, The New School began its own ambitious three month program of Living Concrete/Carrot City, displaying both parallel projects in a gallery at the University.  Carrot City, curated by academics from Ryerson University in Toronto, examines how urban agriculture and issues of food security influence architecture and planning, displaying photos and texts of model projects as well as innovative design objects.  With a similar impulse, Living Concrete curators, Nevin Cohen and Radhika Subramaniam, installed a variety of projects – actual, ongoing and hypothetical — that demonstrate the potentials and challenges in linking design and civic agriculture.

Every week, the gallery hosted diverse panel discussions addressing different approaches to these issues of design and the future of civic agriculture.  Many of these conversations helped introduce new voices to the dialog and help widen and strengthen the network of people working in urban agriculture.  As a community-building exercise, Living Concrete also posted and promoted other events in urban agriculture during the course of its run.

Food Markets: Farewell Greenpoint Food Market, Hello Kitchen Collaborative?

In an odd twist of fate, Greenpoint Food Market (GFM) became a victim of its own success.  In June, NY Times printed a glowing review of GFM, highlighting the unique artisanal foods and communal spirit of the new market.

NYC Department of Health took note of some of the irregularities of the makers’ home processing and began snooping around, eventually shutting GFM down.  According to Founder Joanne Kim, who is an artist and curator: “GFM functions first and foremost out of a love and support for folks to share food, foster and cultivate a community, and secondly function as a nesting ground for artisanal food entrepreneurs to strengthen their wings and fly off to a bigger and wider world of opportunities and dreams fulfilled.”

Many people in sustainable food tried to help guide GFM back on its feet, including Bob Lewis of NYS Agriculture and Markets.  Lee has stated: “In the next couple months we will focus mainly on opening an incubator kitchen in Greenpoint.” Believe it or not, a new project is in the works to help move this idea forward in 2011 called “Kitchen Collaborative.”

Conferences: Black, Young, Growing Justice and Slow Money

Author of Slow Money, Woody Tasch, addresses the conference.

In June, I attended the 2d Annual Slow Money Gathering at Shelburne Farms near Burlington, Vermont.  Slow Money is the brainchild of Woody Tasch, who has written a book of the same title, making the common-sense observation that we have to invest in the “soil economy” with radically altered expectations of growth.

There was a great NYC contingent at the Gathering and we all engaged in passionate discussions that led to the creation of the Slow Money NYC Meet Up, of which I was recently appointed the coordinator.  We hope to announce more meetings in 2011 to begin developing a local investment structure for agricultural projects in NYC. Among others, I met some great up and coming NYC entrepreneurs, like Taylor Cocalis and Dorothy Neagle who were about to launch Good Food Jobs and Ben Sinclair and Adam Gordon who have been gathering support for NY Compost Company.

In September, Growing Food & Justice for All Initiative, a project of Growing Power, held its 2d Annual Gathering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Will Allen continues to provide substantial leadership for the urban agriculture movement with his star power, providing guidance in networking, food justice and sound business practices.  Many urban farmers and sustainable food advocates from NYC attended.  Sadly, I could not make it because Farm City Fair was held the same weekend. I heard that it was an excellent meeting of the minds.  I hope to attend next year.

Gary Grant, President, Black Farmers & Agriculturists Association.

Happily, I was able to attend 1st Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference held at Brooklyn College in November.  The inaugural event was presented by Black Urban Growers (BUGs), an alliance of predominantly black urban farmers and gardeners, food activists and allies united with a goal of rebuilding community wealth and health by reconnection to the land.

The conference was impressive in its scope, presenting practitioners who travelled from all over the Country to discuss their projects.  For instance, Will Allen was keynote speaker, laying out his impressive presentation of 600 slides demonstrating the progress of Growing Power — from an urban marketing ploy for his rural farm to its current state as a thriving multi-city food justice enterprise.

Racism and the challenges of structural discrimination were discussed in an illuminating panel about the multi-billion dollar Pigford class action settlement, the largest in US history.  I learned a great deal at this amazing and well-attended event.  On a bittersweet note, I was saddened by some blatant, unchecked anti-semitism announced from the podium that seemed glaringly out-of-step with the stated need for solidarity amongst the small ranks of urban farmers and their supporters – black, white or otherwise. Despite this alienating experience, I remain resolved to take away the positive knowledge I received, determined to bring people together and overcome differences.

Greenhouse operation at Stone Barns explained by Farm Manager Jack Algiere

Stone Barns greenhouse system explained by Farm Manager Jack Algiere

At Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference, organizers repeatedly commented that their conference arose, in part, from the repeated realization that few people of color seemed present at sustainable food and farming events. With this anecdotal analysis fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help notice that Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture was almost entirely white.  Strikingly, Stone Barns is located only fifteen minutes from the very ethnically diverse borough of Bronx — yet one of the few people of color I saw had travelled across the Atlantic from Lagos, Nigeria. This is not a critique of the organizers of the conference at Stone Barns.  Rather, I present this observation for thoughtful reflection by everyone in the sustainable food community — myself included.

As was the case last year, Stone Barns provided an amazing array of interesting workshops and wide-ranging topics, provided in its breathtaking model farm setting.  This year, the panels were also helpfully organized into “tracks” according to areas of interest.  I selected the “business” track, attending sessions on enterprise planning, farm leasing, support networks, farm-based learning and many more.  As with last year, I was impressed with the crucial need to provide networking and knowledge-support for young farmers.  Stone Barns provided that in abundance. While no panels directly addressed urban agriculture this year, many could be extrapolated for use by the city farmer.

At some of the panels that I attended, I was struck by how many of the presenters were wonderfully inspired but not always so deeply experienced.  For instance, a young presenter on a panel about managing money admitted that he never run a business that made a profit.  The discussion that ensued was fun and interesting but I wondered whether it would have been more fruitful if it had been coordinated by a more seasoned convener.  Perhaps the organizers of the conference were trying to inject fresh perspective into the “common wisdom” for farm businesses, sensing that traditional approaches have not always been effective in reaching the values of young farmers today.

I grow increasingly concerned that gaps between good intentions and solid knowledge may create long term issues for the lasting viability of young farmers’ enterprises.  Admirably, young farmers seek to grow more food for their neighbors and themselves — mostly driven by a desire to create an alternative lifestyle and guided by sustainable environmental stewardship. However, I fear many of them may end up out-of-cash and disillusioned — unless they obtain the best and most solid guidance to help develop concrete skills, meaningful experiences and solid networks.  I raise this concern because I believe that it is incumbent on myself and sympathetic organizations, like Stone Barns, Slow Money, Black Urban Gardeners and others, to strive to continually review and improve the support we give to young farmers to help transform their crucially important dreams into a secure reality.

Conclusion

In closing, the breadth of urban farming projects and depth of public interest in them was amazing this year.  I end the year with real excitement as well as some growing concerns.  I foresee a danger that urban farmers may become exhausted media darlings who are constantly distracted from their core mission: to keep farming sustainable and local.  Therefore, those of us who care to make urban farming real for every neighborhood, every economic class and every race, it is up to us to raise our voices, repeatedly asking difficult questions of ourselves and of our peers. For instance, how can we help urban farmers make a living?

That is one of the many challenging discussions that I hope to help answer in a working group I have called for early in 2011.  So stay tuned in the New Year — and please let me know what you think as we move into this uncharted area.

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