American Museum of Natural History Features Urban Farming

Posted: November 16th, 2012 | Author:

Just in time for America’s biggest food holiday — Thanksgiving — the American Natural History Museum launches an ambitious new exhibition: Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, exploring the complex and intricate food system that brings what we eat from farm to fork.  Urban agriculture gets some interesting and prominent attention as a recent twist in the telling of the story of human food.  The exhibition will truly be global in reach — traveling around the world for around seven years.

Windowfarms Installation at American Museum of Natural History

As you enter the exhibit, you face a floor-to-ceiling installation of living plants in Windowfarms,  an operational hydroponic vertical growing system designed and maintained by a start-up enterprise based in Brooklyn and recently featured in the 2012 Slow Money NYC Entrepreneur Showcase. (Full disclosure: I am a minority investor in this amazing little company founded by artist-entrepreneur Britta Riley).

Windowfarms planting system

A Windowfarm system allows for year- round growing in almost any window. It lets plants use natural window light, the climate control of your living space, and organic “liquid soil.” In conjunction with the exhibition, the entrance to the Museum’s Judy and Josh Weston Pavilion will feature a monumental 18-foot-tall, 280-plant installation of Windowfarms growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to showcase sustainable food-growing techniques and agricultural biodiversity in increasingly urban habitats.

The living plants in the Windowfarms vertical garden included in Our Global Kitchen are edible greens, mostly lettuce and kale. They grow indoors, hydroponically—that is, without soil. Their roots derive nutrients from fortified water, which continuously drips through the system in a low-energy cycle. It requires technology, but without the need for soil, hydroponic gardeners can grow food almost anywhere, even in the desert or outer space. Pest and weed control is easy.

Gotham Greens greenhouse atop Greenpoint Wood Exchange, Brooklyn, NY

The exhibition starts with a thorough historical exploration of howour food has been grown over the centuries. Most of the plants and animals we raise for food today barely resemble their wild ancestors. Thousands of years ago, for instance, there was no corn—modern cobs were bred from a wild grass. Today’s global food economy binds us all to the 1 billion people working in agriculture, from a rice farmer in Vietnam to an oyster farmer in France.

A series of panels describes different forms of urban agriculture deployed across the globe from Brazil to right here in New York City.  One floor-to-ceiling poster features a small photo of Gotham Greens, a rooftop greenhouse farm producing leafy greens and located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Year -round consumers can find Gotham Greens’ lettuce for sale at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores in NYC, like Union Market and Brooklyn Kitchen.

Architect’s rendering of Plantagon vertical greenhouse

A vitrine opposite the poster contains a scale model of Plantagon vertical greenhouse, a geodesic dome with its outer glass wall cut away to reveal a spiral helix of indoor fields, representing a futuristic imagining of a farm. Acompanying text lays out some “pro” and “con” of such a system.  Critics of the design say the unusual shape will increase construction cost, but Plantagon has justified the design  estimating a yield three times the amount of crops a traditional vertical urban farm of the same size. The spherical nature of the greenhouse was designed to maximize the access to light for optimal crop growth, even in winter seasons. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, the future may not be as far away as you think.  Groundbreaking for the world’s first Plantagon occurred in February 2012 at Linköping, Sweden (outside of Stockholm). Completion is expected in early 2013.

Our Global Kitchen is organized in sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating,  illuminating the myriad ways that food is produced and moved throughout the world. With opportunities to taste seasonal treats in the working kitchen, cook a virtual meal, view rare artifacts from the Museum’s collections, and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures throughout history, visitors will experience the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history—and consider some of the most challenging issues of our time.  The exhibit does not shy away from controversies at the core of food politics, including strong interpretive displays addressing issues like obesity, malnutrition and environmental degradation caused by industrial farming.

The exhibit has vivid graphics, dioramas (classic Natural History style) and 3-D models lining walls as well as a working demonstration kitchen and fun, engaging interactive components.  Our Global Table introduces basic issues of our food system and urban agriculture, making the exhibit a good outing for people of all ages — including kids.

Suggested general admission, which supports the Museum’s scientific and educational endeavors and offers access to the Museum’s 46 halls including the Rose Center for Earth and Space, is $19 (adults) suggested, $14.50 (students/seniors) suggested, $10.50 (children) suggested.  Members and student groups attend for free. For additional information, the public may call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at

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Design Trust Releases Five Borough Farm Report

Posted: July 31st, 2012 | Author:

Five Borough Farm Report CoverJuly 24, 2012 (New York, NY) – Today the Design Trust for Public Space, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving New York’s public spaces, released Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York, the most detailed survey to date of New York City’s urban agriculture movement. The comprehensive publication provides a roadmap for public and private-sector partners to leverage existing programs and expand urban agriculture citywide.  The report was released at the historic Arsenal Building, headquarters for NYC Department of Parks in Central Park, where there is a small edible garden on the uppermost roof.

The study was created in partnership with Brooklyn-based nonprofit Added Value and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and David Rockefeller Fund. It found that New York City, a densely populated metropolis with some of the nation’s highest real estate values, is also a national leader in urban agriculture. The city is currently home to more than 700 food producing farms and gardens across approximately 50 acres of reclaimed vacant lots, rooftops, schoolyards, and public housing grounds – nearly ten times the number of urban farms and gardens as San Francisco and Seattle.

“In all five boroughs, urban agriculture transforms under-utilized land into vibrant, productive public space,” said Design Trust executive director Susan Chin. “Thousands of farmers and gardeners contribute to the social, economic, and ecological health of our city, particularly in neighborhoods hit hardest by the recession. These efforts dovetail with our mission to improve public space in New York City.”

Susan Chin, ED for Design Trust, announces publishing of Five Borough Farm Report and Website at NYC Parks Arsenal Building.

Through maps, photographs, and interviews with more than 100 stakeholders, Five Borough Farm illustrates how New York City’s community-based farming creates jobs, educates youth, captures stormwater, decreases the city’s waste stream, and creates safe public spaces.

Some of the study’s key findings include:

  1. Urban agriculture has health, social, economic, and ecological benefits. Studies show that urban agriculture encourages healthier eating and physical activity, strengthens community cohesion, improves job-readiness skills, and reduces the urban heat island effect.
  2. The city’s farmers and gardeners face challenges obtaining critical resources. These include land, funding, soil, and compost.
  3. Scaling up urban agriculture requires municipal leadership. Citywide coordination, dedicated funding, and commitment from elected officials are needed to promote and sustain farms and gardens.

Building on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s support for urban agriculture in PlaNYC and FoodWorks, the Design Trust calls for creating a citywide plan to guide land use and resource allocation for farms and gardens, establishing an interagency urban agriculture task force to coordinate policy and procedures, and incentivizing temporary projects at more than 600 stalled development sites across the city.

The release of the publication and companion website ( mark the start of the Design Trust’s implementation of key recommendations from the report to support agriculture. In the second phase of the project, the Design Trust will identify 100 publicly-owned sites citywide potentially suitable for food production, collect data on urban agricultural activity, and give New York City’s farmers and gardeners a voice in the policymaking process.

“People are starting to realize that our broken food system has serious consequences for our individual health, and for the health of our environment and our economy,” said Five Borough Farm project partner and Added Value executive director Ian Marvy. “It is increasingly important for all of us to be able to understand and articulate how urban agriculture can contribute to our society and economy, and to the planet on which we all live.”

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Reuters Reports on NYC Urban Agriculture

Posted: July 23rd, 2012 | Author:

An artist's rendering shows BrightFarms proposed facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Reuters had a recent article entitled “Can Urban Farming Go Corporate” looking at Bright Farms, Gotham Greens and Brooklyn Grange as possible models for the future of urban farming.  Amazing how this dialogue has gone mainstream, to some extent.

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Urban Agriculture Discussion: Orion Magazine

Posted: July 23rd, 2012 | Author:

Interesting web radio discussion about Urban Agriculture led by Orion Magazine.

Summary: Can our cities grow health? How about community, or justice? Orion invited Jennifer Cockrall-King (author of Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution) and urban farmers Jason Mark, Katherine Kelly, and Karen Washington to discuss the urban farming movement’s “principal crops,” which, as Rebecca Solnit says in her July/August 2012 Orion essay, “Revolutionary Plots,” go far beyond broccoli.

Listen to the audio at this link:

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Meet Will Allen in Brooklyn July 21-23

Posted: July 6th, 2011 | Author:

Will Allen meeting with Rev. Robert Jackson, Bed Stuy Farm

The Good Food Revolution!
July 21st, 6:00-8:30 PM
Boys and Girls High School Auditorium; 1700 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY 11213
Suggestion $10 donation, $5 for students/low income
Learn from MacArthur Fellow & Founder of Growing Power


July 22nd, 7:00-9:00 PM
Peaches Restaurant (New Catering Hall); 393 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11233
$100 per person
Enjoy an intimate tasting of local sustainable farm foods.
All proceeds support work of Brooklyn Rescue Mission,
A food justice program feeding 4000+ needy people each month.



July 22nd, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM & July 23rd, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM
Bed-Stuy Farm; 255 Bainbridge Street, Brooklyn, NY 11233
$150 before July 15th, $200 thereafter
Very Limited Space!

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Oran Hesterman launches Fair Food Book Tour . . . in Brooklyn!

Posted: June 3rd, 2011 | Author:

Tipping his hat to Brooklyn as the site of significant and dynamic energy around reforming the food system, Oran Hesterman launched his book tour for Fair Food: Growing A Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All at PowerHouse Arena in DUMBO on June 1, 2011.

The book tour is being organized more like a rally for the Food Movement to advance its agenda and galvanize support.  And it worked.  PowerHouse was packed.  The event was like a Who’s Who of Good Food politics.  For instance, Michel Nichan provided the food. And I was honored to serve on the Host Committee for the event.

Oran has a long history as an activist in the Food Movement.  He has been a farmer, a Kellog Fellow and the Director of Fair Food Network.  So, naturally, I asked Oran why he decided to write this book at this time:

“I wrote this book for anyone who is concerned about food issues and wants to know: What can I do?  I also wrote this book for seasoned food activists who want a blueprint for change.  I call them Solutionaries.  The Problem Committee must be retired the issues are too urgent right now to discuss the details.  We have to act and act fast and together.”

I asked Oran if I could have a copy of his excellent talk that he gave that night. Instead, he asked me to post his first blog about his book tour. Here it is:

Moving From Conscious Consumer to Engaged Citizen
by Oran Hesterman, reprinted with permission from FFN, posted Apr 28, 2011

A Broken Food System

Our food system is failing many of us. Originally designed to produce abundant food at low cost, it now destroys some of what we hold most precious—our environment, our health, and our future.

While many of us have become more conscious about the impacts of our personal food choices, we can’t fix the broken food system simply by changing what’s on our plate. The answer lies beyond the kitchen: it relies on our willingness to be fair food “solutionaries” in our communities, in the institutions where we work, and with policy makers.

Beyond Your Kitchen

This is a moment when you can make a difference if you harness your voice, beliefs, passion, and resources to promote a fair and healthy food system. If you are ready to participate in creating a fair food future beyond your own kitchen, one place to start is in your community.

  • Instead of using just your personal purchasing power to fill your own fridge, you can help create a community buying club so that your friends and others in the community can combine their food purchasing efforts and support a fairer food system.
  • Instead of growing a vegetable garden in your back yard, consider participating in or supporting a community garden so more people in the community have access to land, water, and shared information.
  • And instead of focusing on how you can directly access great food at farmers’ markets, consider supporting efforts that assist those in historically underserved communities to obtain greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Shifting Institutional Purchasing

Making changes in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities is a great start for bringing more balance back into our food system, but we can’t ignore that nearly one-half of the dollars flowing through the system is for food eaten outside of the home. If we help shift the flow of food purchasing dollars at some of the major institutions that touch our lives, such as public schools, college and company cafeterias, and hospitals, we can start to see the outline of a redesigned food-system.

  • We can join with other concerned individuals to demand different food at our children’s school cafeteria and at our college food service.
  • We can advocate for healthier food choices in health care institutions and seek to transform the way food is sourced throughout the institutional system to promote more sustainable agricultural practices.

Policy Change

As we shift our own food purchasing habits and work to create balance within our institutions, we also need our policy makers and industry leaders to work toward a redesigned food system. The food system we have in place is one that was shaped by decades of public policy. We now need policies that will drive the system in a different, more positive direction.

There are many opportunities for advocating for policy change in our own communities, in our states, and in Congress. We can:

  • initiate a food policy council in our city or region
  • become involved in farmland preservation in our local community, and
  • urge our local government to use its powers to direct public resources to support more local, regional, and sustainable farms and food businesses.

But even with all these efforts, we will be able to alter this broken system only when we shift the rules by which the game is played—and many of the rules that set the stage for the current system are written into the federal Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is important because it establishes national goals and priorities for farming, conservation, nutrition, and rural development. It is also important because it represents significant government expenditures, about $300 billion over the five-year life of the bill.

You can make an impact by knowing when the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization, contacting your government representatives, and asking them to support policies that promote a more sustainable and equitable food system. Our website at can keep you updated with information about timing of the Farm Bill and specific provisions to support.

When all of us committed to making a difference in our food system stand up and make our voices heard, there will be a resounding roar throughout our country: we will be heard, and changes will be made. Now is the time to become a fair food solutionary and to work with a large and diverse cadre of others of all ages and all backgrounds to make the redesigned food system a reality.

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A Short Film About < 49.6% of NYC Urban Agriculture

Posted: April 20th, 2011 | Author:

I stumbled across this lovely short film about urban agriculture, New York Farm City, using a title dear to my heart(!) and work (  The piece features interviews with Daniel Bowman Simon about People’s Garden NYC, Ben Flanner about Brooklyn Grange, Gina Heatley from Harlem’s Nourishing Kitchen, and chef Patrick Connolly of Bobo.

New York Farm City from Petrina TV on Vimeo.

It’s a prettily shot film. I am all for any type of inspiration and promotion of urban agriculture. And I am not one to focus excessively on requiring that race, class or diversity be considered in every single discussion of urban agriculture because I think that all segments of society are needed to remake our city as a greener fertile food space. However, like the photo spread on urban farmers in NY Mag last year, this lovely little film shows only young, hip, white faces. Albeit, faces I know and like very much!

The portrayal of urban agriculture as the province of the young, caucasian and privileged has drawn much concern from some agrarians of a different hue, ethnic milieu and socio-economic class. In fact, the issue of inclusion and exclusion in sustainable food and farming was raised as the dominant raison d’etre motivating the launch of Black Farmers and Urban Growers conference in 2010.

In a moment, when non-hispanic whites are counted as a minority in NYC for the very first time (49.6% according to the 2010 US Census, See NY Times), artists and explorers of urban agriculture might consider how to depict or dream this bold new social & cultural agenda for urban agriculture to inspire all of us to make change together in solidarity. We should stretch ourselves to operate outside our separate spheres, moving beyond our cloistered comfort zones. Otherwise, I fear we may begin to topple our tiny sprout of a movement with its very fragile ideas barely rooted in our collective consciousness.

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An Urban Goat Love Story

Posted: March 7th, 2011 | Author:

Jennie Grant, founder of The Goat Justice League, gives Snowflake a kiss.

My new heroes of making the impossible seem like common sense — truth appear stranger than fiction — with more amusing titles — are the founders of The Goat Justice League.  I am not even going to bother paraphrasing their mission statement:

The Goat Justice League was founded to legalize the keeping of goats within the city of Seattle. Perhaps this sounds outrageous, but outside Seattle’s urban core, most neighborhoods are made up of single family homes on lots of about 4,000 square feet. It is not difficult to set aside a 25×25 foot area within such a yard and devote it to goats. Taking care of goats takes work and lots of research, but it can be extremely rewarding for people who love animals and want to produce food in their own back yard.

And they even have a baby goat named “Joel Salatin.”  Sorry, Joel. Or, maybe “Congratulations?”

The really funny part is that The Goat Justice League means business.  According to a recent, excellent story by Jennifer Bleyer in the Dining Section of the NY Times (“Fresh Goat Milk, dead Wood and Dubious Neighbors,” Feb.22, 2011): Jennie Grant, 46, a gardener from Seattle, established the Goat Justice League (motto: “I’m Pro-Goat and I Vote”) to lobby for the legalization of goats there.

She succeeded in persuading the City Council to change the rules. And since then, 37 goats have been licensed in Seattle. They include Ms. Grant’s own Oberhasli runt and miniature LaMancha, which scamper around a 400-square-foot pen in her yard facing Lake Washington, where they look across the water at Bill Gates’s estate (“I wonder if Bill Gates ever looks at my goats”) and fill her Mason jars with two gallons of high butterfat milk a day during their production peak, much of which she makes into chèvre.

Inspired by Seattle’s victory, a chapter of the Goat Justice League sprung up in Charlottesville, Va., and prevailed in its goat legalization effort in September. Goat fanciers in Minneapolis; Eugene, Ore.; Northampton, Mass.; and Long Beach, Calif., are pursuing similar campaigns, and residents of Detroit, Washington, D.C., and more than a dozen other places have sought Ms. Grant’s counsel on overturning local goat prohibitions.

Novella Carpenter with her goats in her backyard farm in Oakland

But many would-be goatherds never maneuver such mazes because they abandon the idea of keeping goats as soon as they learn what it entails. In Portland, around 200 people have enrolled in a class called Goats in the City through Tierra Soul, an urban self-sufficiency institute. In Berkeley, a one-day workshop called Urban Goats 101 has filled up since BioFuel Oasis, a farm supply store and biodiesel station, began offering it last year. Novella Carpenter, who teaches the class, said it “is about managing expectations and really kind of scaring people.”

Among dairy goats’ needs are access to a livestock veterinarian, a consistent supply of high-nutrient hay and a stud service for breeding — none too easy to come by in a city, said Ms. Carpenter, who has raised goats at her Oakland, Calif., home for three years. (She wrote about her experiences in the book “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.”) The animals’ hooves and horns must be trimmed, and Ms. Carpenter recommends a secure pen with walls about five feet high to prevent them from bounding away and “destroying the things you love.”

Most pressing is that they typically need to be milked twice a day, every day.

“I’m not just saying ‘Goats are great, go get some,’ ” Ms. Carpenter said “It’s so much work to have goats. At the end of my class, people say, ‘Oh, my God, I had no idea it was so complicated.’ ”

But some city farmers remain undaunted. Jules Dervaes, an urban homesteader in Pasadena, Calif., lives on a fifth of an acre with his three adult children, eight ducks, eight chickens, three beehives, two cats, composting worms and a tank of tilapia. In 2006, he added two goats to the menagerie, and he quickly came to appreciate their cat-like intelligence, dog-like personalities and general adorableness, despite the management they require.

“I’ve lost a citrus tree, a mango tree, wood off the house, five or six brooms,” said Mr. Dervaes, 63. “We’ve had to protect our investment more than we ever did with chickens or ducks. In a city, where there’s not much forage and your place is compact, man, they can go through the trees and bushes like nothing.”

Making the best of it, he tacked chicken wire around his tree trunks and against the wooden garage where the goats live, to deter their chewing. In the absence of nearby medical services, his daughter Jordanne, 27, stocked up on veterinary books and learned how to do basic care like deworming, which involves examining feces and administering parasite-killing medicine and herbs. For alfalfa hay, Mr. Dervaes drives 25 miles round trip to equestrian stables in Los Angeles.

He also recently created Barnyards and Backyards, a social networking site for urbanites raising livestock to connect with their more knowledgeable rural counterparts for advice. Still, he sometimes wonders if his metropolitan goats might be better suited elsewhere.

“In the end,” Mr. Dervaes said with a note of resignation, “maybe we’ll have to move to the country.”

Goats graze Angels Knoll Monday, Sept. 8, 2008, in downtown Los Angeles. The city Community Redevelopment Agency made use of the non-human work-force to eat weeds, brush and overgrown plants during a two-week stay on the steepest portion

Another Reason to Love Urban Goats: Weed Control

In looking for this recent article, I found another NY Times article from 1999 “Goats in Trial as Urban Weed Killers.” (Kevin Moloney, May 16, 1999):

“A herd of about 100 Cashmere goats that has been munching at the park and other weed-choked areas around the city since April is working for the City of Denver as part of a program to fight invasive weeds that have taken over native plants and wildlife habitats.”

Judy Montero, a spokeswoman for the Denver Parks and Recreation Department. ”We hope the goats will reduce our use of herbicides and pesticides in the long run.”

”It’s the oldest weed-control technique known to mankind,” said Lani Lamming, an owner of Land Whisperer, the Alpine, Wyo., company that is leasing the goats to the city. ”It’s so logical and simple. In my opinion, we’re using life to nurture other forms of life. No natural resources are being wasted.”

Mrs. Lamming, who owns the company with her husband, Fred, said goats preferred the broadleaf weeds to grass, unlike cows and horses, which graze grass first. The herds are managed alternately by the Lammings, their three teen-age sons and professional herders.

The goats, which work in two four-hour shifts daily in a temporarily fenced-in area, can mow down about one acre per day. They can reach areas that machines cannot, and they serve other purposes as they graze: tilling the soil, re-seeding and fertilizing.

Part of the plan for the park is to re-establish native grasses. As the goats are nibbling on the broadleaf weed varieties, a park official said, their hoofs are trampling in seeds of desirable native species distributed by city employees.

The cost of a job varies depending on conditions, but Land Whisperer estimates the average cost is $100 per acre, using 50 to 100 goats.

In the past, the city has relied on mechanical mowing, spraying herbicides and pesticides and pulling weeds by hand. But those methods have hazards: air pollution from mowing and contamination of groundwater from chemical sprays.

What started as an experimental practice in 1999 has now gained widespread acceptance being used in many metropolitan areas around the Country.  If you paired this weed-killing with harvesting goat milk, meat and pelts, then you’d have a pretty amazing system of agriculture arising from “waste”  avoiding the use petroleum-based mowers and noxious pesticides.  Now, that’s a win-win.




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Changing the Way We Eat: Live from TEDxManhattan

Posted: February 16th, 2011 | Author:

Diane Hatz, Director of The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming, asked me to blog live from the inaugural TEDxManhattan event “Changing the Way We Eat”, February 12, 2011.  All in all, I produced a whopping 125 tweets, 11 Facebook Updates and one blog. These formats tell the story in reverse chronology that I have re-ordered for your reading pleasure.

Session 1 – What happened?

Here is the live stream for Session 1

Live blogging: I feel like Lester Bangs, the [famous] music critic, taking the stage to tap on his typewriter.  Now, laptop.  Shout out to TEDxMan Viewing Parties, especially friends in Hudson Valley, Gianni Ortiz, and Ithaca, Krys Cail, and Erin Fairbanks at NYU and the rest of you 40 some odd other sites!

Laurie David – Environmental activist and author Laurie David kicked off the day with the ode to family meals as the glue of social interactions and good eating habits. She calls for parents to “ring the dinner bell” for the health and success of their kids. Rituals around sharing food are cornerstone of social behavior and society itself! What’s the one factor shared by all National Merit Scholars: They all ate dinner regularly with their families. I guess that’s why being called “Late to Dinner” has such negative consequences to be avoided at all costs. David’s talk tracked themes laid out in her new book “The Family Dinner:  Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time,” a guide to unplugging and connecting with your family over healthy, fresh food. She claims the power of Family Dinner is so strong that she succeeded in drawing her famously cynical ex-husband, Larry, back home for dinner together with their daughters.

Carolyn Steel, who is author the book Hungry City, came to TEDxMan via video of her previous TED talk.  Steel uses food as a means to “read” cities and explain their function.  Steel described the history of how cities fed themselves for 1000 years focusing on eating domestic animals and the consequences of the increasing scale of this practice correlated to the ever-enlarging metropolises. Such metropolises will not be able to continue to grow and rely on ever-dwindling rural areas to supply food.

According to Steel: “The first thing we need to do is to stop seeing cities as inert objects and recognize them as organic entities, inextricably bound to the natural ecosystem. The language may be new, but the thinking is not: Philosophers as diverse as Plato, More, and Marx have tried for centuries to resolve the urban paradox by imagining ideal societies. The trouble is, such societies were utopian, so they never came to pass. What we urgently need is an alternative to utopia: a model that aims not at perfection but at something partial and attainable. My proposal is sitopia, from the ancient Greek words sitos (food) and topos (place). Sitopia, in essence, is a way of recognizing the central role that food plays in our lives and of harnessing its potential to shape the world in a better way.”

As a solution to the growth of the Metropolis, Steel’s concept of “Sitopia” frames the challenge of the future being a shift from city as food consumer to city as food producer. She advocates modeling decentralized, scattered site production of food within cities, promoting such changes as cultivating urban farms.

Cheryl Rogowski is a second-generation family farmer from the black dirt region of Pine Island in Warwick, Orange County, New York.  She reveals that she was Onion Princess in 1983, daughter of an onion farmer in biggest onion-growing region in the US.  Rogowski tells of damaged soil from onion mono-crop planting & how she “dug in” & began changing to organic practices and started thinking of “dirt as soil.”

The Rogowski Farm has been a pioneer in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement that allows consumers to buy a portion of the farmer’s harvest in advance of the harvest.  She is also credited with starting the first low income CSA in NY state.  Rogowski talks of burden and benefit of CSA, taking on responsibility of feeding others but knowing that her members are eating better and helping her take care of the soil.

Karen Hudson lives on a fifth generation family farm in West Central Illinois. She founded F.A.R.M. (Families Against Rural Messes), a grassroots group in Illinois that opposes CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) and their impacts. She is co-founder of ICCAW (Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water). Hudson talked about her campaign to change airborne manure disposal practices of factory farms, hitting on a campaign slogan: “Illinois Land of Stinkin’”.

Many of her successful campaigns against CAFOs demonstrated abuses and illegal activities using aerial photographs as evidence.  Large dairy corporations were not so pleased to be held accountable to federal and state environmental laws.  Hudson tells the chilling tale of how Big Dairy responded to her efforts by successfully getting an amendment to a draft of an Anti-Terrorism Bill that would have made it a serious crime to take aerial photos of agricultural animal operations.  She caught wind (so to speak) of this language and help wage a citizen’s campaign to remove it. Hudson reminded the audience that changing the way we eat involves taking on entrenched interests that will fight dirty and hard to continue profiting from creating pollution and poisoning their neighbors.

She said her kids were confused by her activism.  However, over time, she was pleased that her children shifted from embarassed to proud.  Recently, she got a megaphone from her kids for her birthday.

Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group (EWG) discussesd how government money is spent on US food system thru Farm Bill.  Cook showed a map of Manhattan with hundreds of densely-packed dots representing recipients of federal farm subsidies. He said many of these dots represented payments made to absentee owners of farmland. He showed this slide to demonstrate that Farm Bill effects even urban places like Manhattan.

Cook wants to convince all eaters in the US to make reform of Farm Bill part of their healthy diet. He showed how most Farm Bill is $314 billion for Food Stamp Program with 43 million people enrolled, half of whom are kids, getting $4.50/day and $1.50/meal. The next largest portion of funding in the Farm Bill is Farm Subsidy. Largest 10% of all farms get 70%+ of all subsidies concentrated in midwest.

These days the Farm Bill pays for the depletion of the soil in one chapter while it pays for conservation in another.  For instance, Farmers are paid to remove plant residue to make fields for ethanol vs. leaving it in fields to replenish soil health & fertility.

What does change in the Farm Bill look like? In US, 814 million acres are used for crops and livestock. By contrast, the $25 billion organic market operates on <1% of that land = 7 mil acres. There is a lot of room for improvement and growth of organic stewardship. To help increase the size and understanding of the organic marketplace, Cook and EWG have produced a wallet card listing the “Dirty Dozen,” foods that receive such dangerous levels of pesticides that they should only be eaten if labeled “organic.”

After Cook spoke, we enjoyed a performance by Dean Osborne playing bluegrass banjo from the highlands of Kentucky, traditional music for 200 years from an agrarian area in the US. Nice cultural reference point to bookmark the importance of feeding the soul as well as the body.

Dr. Scott Kahan, Co-Director of the George Washington University Weight Management Center, spoke about “Why We Eat the Way Eat?” Knowing some stuff is bad for us, why do we continue to eat it? Kahan opined that our environment — social & physical landscape — strongly shapes our decisionmaking process about food & all else.

“Unhealthy food is cheaper than fresh food, so that obviously influences economic decisions.”  Portions of unhealthy foods are larger these days, leading us to eat more and more. The largest Coke available in 1960 was the new 12oz can! Now, the can is the smallest size. Food scientists have learned how to manipulate human response to taste, smell & texture using salt, sugar and fat to seal the deal.

“Unhealthy foods more widely available in more stores than healthy foods.” Hard to get a fresh peach at a gas station. 6000+ ads are directed to kids each year selling unhealthy foods as opposed to only a handful of ads for healthy foods.  ”Messengers sell unhealthy products to kids.” Studies of kids who eat a food with a picture of a character, like Shrek, on the package report that it actually tastes better to them than the same food without the picture of the character on it. Who knew a foul-smelling ogre could be used to sell more unhealthy food?

Kathy Lawrence, founder of NY’s Just Food and Program Director of School Food FOCUS “helping transform school food procurement to provide meals that are more healthful, local and sustainably produced.” Lawrence described how National School Lunch Act was passed with good intentions but school lunch reflects negative changes taking place in the entire US food system. School lunch changed from whole, fresh food to packaged, shelf stable prepared foods. Sound familiar? School food is supposed to make kids happy & healthy, yet it’s backfiring by providing foods that makes kids obese and sick.

As a solution, Lawrence offered a list of “powers” of change: Peers, Partnerships, Fun, Public Policy, Public Plate. And . . .Power of Peaches! Some kids have never seen a fresh peach. “When school food programs introduced peaches at schools, kids loved them.” The Food Revolution could all start with a bite of sweet fresh fruit. Dare we eat a peach? Lawrence ended with the power that links all the others together: The Power of Love. “We have the power and we share the vision to make enlightened institutional purchasing that is at the heart of ending obesity and food-related illnesses.”

The food at lunch was spot-on with the themes of the day provided deliciously by Mary Cleaver of Cleaver Co., sustainable chef in NYC for 25 years. To further “change the way we eat,” Hatz informed us that we would be given a picnic bag with five lunches only after we linked a group of five strangers to eat together. Even though I fulfilled this exercise honestly, meeting some great new people, one of my lunchmates was the son of my neighbor from across the street!

Session 2 – Where are we?

Dan Barber, chef for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, joined via video feed talking about problems with commercial fishing and sustainable alternatives. Barber asked his supplier how its fish farm was “sustainable.” First, he was told that the farm was so far out at sea that none of the fish waste could pollute local waters.  Next, he was told that the feed to flesh ratio to grow larger fish, like Salmon, was one of best in the industry 2.5:1 and the feed consisted of  ”sustainable proteins.” When Barber pressed the fish farmer to explain what he meant by “sustainable proteins,” he found out that one of main ingredients in the feed for fish was chicken!  ”After learning that fish were fed chicken, he said “All the fish began to taste like chicken.”

Barber went on to explore the question: What makes a good fish farm? He visited an estuarial marshland recaptured from industrial destruction in Spain that was farmed extensively not intensively.  Barber found out that a good fish farm measures success by the health of visiting predators, such as flamingos, whose pink bellies show their fitness after being permitted to eat 20% of farmed fish. The good fish farm shares its yield with predators because it is part of an ecosystem rather than destroying one.  The fish from the good farm has skin that tastes sweet like the ocean because the water is so clean. Not oily, bitter.

Barber came away with a simple, powerful observation: “The future of food should taste good.” Feeding more people more cheaply has been business plan of American Agriculture for the last 5o years, resulting in resource extraction & depletion. Barber thinks that kind of business plan cannot continue forever.

Diane Hatz introduced TEDx Fellows. Stefani Bardin is an artist exploring impact of processed foods vs. fresh foods on digestive tract using a miniature camera called the M2A naming her project (aptly) “Fantastic Voyage.” Other fellows include: Stacey Murphy, founder of bkfarmyards, a decentralized urban farm network in Brooklyn, NY; Erica Dahwan incubating SupplyChange, a fair trade fruit company; Letitia Johnson, starting a Delta SEEDS to develop capacity among black farmers in Mississippi; and Wayne Labar, Vice President of Exhibitions and Featured Experiences at Liberty Science Center, working on Cooking: the Exhibition.

Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End, publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan and senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute said he was inspired by naturalist Paul Ehrlich to do explore sustainability.  Ehrlich says that “agriculture is where humans touch the world most intensively” and Halweil began to research negative impacts & promptly got depressed.

To move away from the negative impacts humans make on the environment, Halweil wrote a book entitled Eat Here, looking at local food system as a positive, uplifting alternative that could change the World. Halweil tells stories of food system changes improving the environment in small ways around the World.

Halweil spoke of citizen oyster growers in the East End of Long Island helped by Cornell University to form the largest community aquaculture program in the US.  Halweil draws hope from Kenyan farmers fertilizing soil by planting trees between crop rows, fixing nitrogen & dramatically increasing crop yields. Halweil is encouraged by the increase of individual farming in cities in Africa and the expansion of green carts in NYC moving food to un-served areas. Lastly, Halweil has witnessed many schools all over the south fork of Long Island adding edible schoolyards to their curriculum and physical culture, competing with each other to see who can raise the most food.

“Food can be our greatest ally,” says Halweil. “And, If the environmental movement is dead then I say “Long Live the Food Movement!”

Lucas Knowles, Coordinator of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, spoke of partnerships that stimulate growth of local/regional food systems which can be transformative.  Knowles mentioned that Farmers Markets have double sales over the last 10 years but still only represent a minute fraction of the overall market — equal to less than 1% of all food sales.  The partnerships cited by Knowles were admirable and interesting.  My eyebrows raised a bit when Knowles gave a shout out to ADM as a partner of a little farmer collective in Washington state.  All in all, Knowles focused on existing USDA programs rather than using his bully pulpit at TEDx to explore how USDA might really change the food system.

Barbara Askins, President and CEO of 125th Street BID, talked about the business of food in Harlem, a place with food deserts where 1 in 6 residents have diabetes. “What’s missing?” she asked “A community accepted vision of how to bring fresh food to Harlem, comprehensive plan” not piecemeal. Askins continued to pose questions: What’s Harlem food like now? Supermarkets far off, fast food everywhere, many people of limited means whose traditional foods are unhealthy, adopted in the past for active people who did physical work all day. What are the solutions? Askins cited some creative artists who used “edutainment” to raise consciousness about healthy eating through hip hop music.  She spoke of NYC’s Green Cart Program as an instance where government was making a difference in bringing fresh food to underserved people via street vendors. In conclusion, she felt that input from the community itself is always necessary to find out how to plan for local change.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainable for Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, spoke about her company leads by example of celebrity chefs who walk the walk and talk the talk. Meltz discussed her experience attempting to green a restaurant business.  She found that greening was a lot more about educating staff rather than simply changing to green stuff. When one restaurant changed to low-phosphate detergents, she found the dishwashers pouring tons of the soap into the machines. When she asked why, the dishwashers told her that the new soap made no suds. After she explained that this was normal, the dishwashers stopped using excessive amounts of soap.  Meltz sees her job as convincing staff that it is easy to change. As a result, Meltz helped create 13 certified green restaurants and the company got behind the Meatless Mondays, helping to sell the idea to customers as something they could do themselves at home.

Dr. Melony Samuels, Executive Director of the Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH), noticed that food pantry clients were giving back certain foods because these foods were not their choice. To help give clients more choice, they created a “Superpantry,” modeled on supermarket where clients could choose more of what they wanted to eat.  She was surprised with how quickly fresh vegetables would fly off shelves. Since fresh vegetables were expensive and rarely donated to the food pantry, Dr. Samuels decided to start an urban farm. She identified vacant lot nearby to work with the owner on its transformation. After the farm was completed, adjacent neighbors came to Dr. Samuels for help planting their own farms using a manual she created.

In its first year, Dr. Samuels’ farm grew 1200 lbs food! She discussed the health benefits that she saw amongst farm volunteers: weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduced disease symptoms, taking less meds.  Dr. Samuels said that her work was only the beginning of solving a National crisis “Kids who eat junk — They’re bellies are full but they are still hungry.”

Ian Cheney shared his visionary project Truck Farm, documenting the story of urban agriculture in NYC through the filter of his 1/1000th acre plot, growing food in the bed of his pickup in Brooklyn using green roof techniques. “Truck Farm attracted young urban dwellers who rarely saw food grow, making suggestions for places to grow food.”  The most common suggestion amongst the youth: The Toilet! Cheney had no problem with the kids irreverence. In fact, he invited it. “We need to bring humor to the usually heavy dialogue around sustainable food.  We use the Truck Farm to spark dialogue.”

Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA, told about how he herded sheep on Mount Aetna in Sicily as a romantic way to use physical work to solve philosophical problems. After he got a sense of the need to combine heart, hands and mind together, he began working on changing food policy. For instance, Viertel recently sent a video to Obama about his failing to mention sustainable food in his State of the Union address.  Obama cited Walmart’s efforts as part of the Country’s move to sustainability.  ”Obama handing off responsibility for food & farming to Walmart is like handing over offshore drilling oversight to BP” commented Viertel.

“‘Vote With Your Fork’ is a good rallying cry but many districts only have one candidate & can only vote for incumbent.” Viertel thinks that The “Enlightened Eater” is easy to manipulate by commercial interests but an “Engaged Eater” is harder to push around. Big Agriculture Corporations are scared of the “Engaged Eater” and they are fighting back.  For instance, at recent speeches by good food advocate Michael Pollan, the Farm Bureau has delivered buses full of volunteers who read questions off of pre-printed cards like: “Why do you hate American Family Farmer?” Viertel discussed how being “engaged” meant that we all would have to be ready for some strange, intense fights ahead from entrenched economic interests whose profits are endangered by changing the way we eat.

Session 3: Where are we going?

Dr. William Li, head of Angiogenesis Foundation, appeared via a 2010 TEDTalk video ”Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” Angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels.  The proper balance of body’s blood vessels signal health. Without a blood supply, many microscopic cancers that arise continually in the body cannot grow and become deadly. Dr. Li found that diet is responsible for 30-35% of environmental causes of cancers. Dr. Li asked: “What can we ADD to our diets to reduce that risk?”

To answer this question, Dr. Li tested foods with supposed anti-angiogenic properties and discovered that combining two of these foods greatly improved effectiveness. I’m glad to hear that drinking a blend of Sencha & Dragon Teas fights cancer because it sounds like a pretty tasty flavor mix to me.

Dr. Li then appeared live at TEDxManhattan and Hatz interviewed him.
Hatz: Is there a local sustainable food connection to fighting cancer?
Dr. Li: Yes, we have begun to research this possible nexus.
Hatz: Any surprise foods?
Dr. Li: Dutch hard cheese.
Hatz: What about chocolate?
Dr. Li: Chocolate is the Holy Grail we hope to study the impact on angiogenesis.
Hatz: What’s the impact of quantity eaten?
Dr. Li: We are studying that and other related behaviors like preparation and combination.

Michael Conard, Assistant Director of Urban Design Lab at Columbia University, spoke about “Rebuilding our Food Infrastructure.” Conard stated tha most food crises are distribution problems. He cited the renowned Leopold Center study that shows average distance traveled by food is 1500 miles. What the Leopold Center did not show is that distance was same in 1925 but that food was shipped by rail with a much lesser carbon impact. Conard brought the issue of means of transportation to the foreground to show that distribution is a key to changing the way we eat and the impact of the food system on the planet.

Conard stated that health care costs related to treating obesity estimated to reach 50% GDP by 2080 if we don’t change current trends. At the same time, demand for local foods has increased dramatically over the last ten years.  Local fresh foods will play an important role in reversing these negative health effects of long haul industrial foods.

Conard posed the question “How do we increase supply to meet growing demand for local food?” Conard proposed an analysis of the “food shed” that would permit a re-alignment towards local production and distribution.  He suggested that a “Spoke & Hub System could support greater local production.” Conard concluded that “Food Hubs” can be developed to create opportunities for “synergy between distribution, processing and production.”

Conard concluded by stating “Access & availability of food is human right. Governments and cities need to create infrastructure to secure resource for all.”

Britta Riley, an artist and creator of “Living in City, I rely on others for everything.” Riley said. “This interdependence can solve social problems through Open Source systems.” Riley wanted to devise a project that would make a difference in food system for people living in apartments, so she turned the best science she could find: NASA. In a way, Riley mused, her city apartment was about as natural as space ship.

She found that NASA had invested in making food using hydroponic using a liquified soil to nourish plants. After some exploration, Riley found that off-the-shelf commercial hydroponic systems were loud, energy guzzlers. So, she sought to improve design through open sourcing a prototype, receiving inputs from designers around the world.

Riley calls her on-going design process “R&DIY,” merging the corporate term R&D with the DIY to connote the collaborative process. Riley see the community created around the design changing behavior & relationships which is every bit as important as perfecting the function of the product.

Elizabeth U, founder of Finance for Food, stated that food businesses face hurdles to obtain access to capital.  There are so many different ways to fund a business and so many different types of food businesses that it’s hard to match dollars to values. U has been encouraged by more decentralized, disintermediated funding models like #Kickstarter which allows business to solicit unpaid backers and #Profounder which allows business to share some percentage of their profits through this online interface.

At base, U said, changing the way we eat may require that we change our thinking about investing. You can start with your bank which invests your money in places that you may or may not like. U encouraged the audience to “Ask your bank where it is investing?” If the investments sounds bad or the bank won’t answer you, U suggested that you consider moving your money to a bank investing in food system. U concluded that the most powerful way to make change in local food is to invest directly in local food producers. “The risk of investing in local food business is high but the higher risk is staying with industrial food as your only option.”

Musicians from Ethel reflect on role in TED from beginning & impact of real time collaboration & sharing which is what TED is about

In a quick interlude, Diane Hatz challenges all viewing parties around Country to undertake a project together over the next few months, submit the ideas to TEDx.  The best idea will be selected to join TEDx next year

Frederick Kaufman, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, asks “What is a Sustainability Index?” In recent research, Kaufman found that Big Ag businesses are trying to create a metric for “sustainability”.  Kaufman found this research to be sinister rather than sincere.  ”The process of self-regulation is called ‘Market Capture,’” Kaufman said, whereby you control the terms of knowledge.

Kaufman found that the problem inherent in many self-regulating standards is that they are not geared to measuring sustainability but rather set up for making money as efficiently as possible. “When we talk about food as an index, we are no longer talking about food.”

To understand the process of making a sustainability index a little bit better, he visited WalMart’s department dedicated to this work. On each of Walmart’s 125,000 products, the company intends to place a Sustainability Speedometer with 300+ factors leading to its score. Kaufman found this approach laudable and laughable in equal parts as it provided no real understanding of the complexity and no concrete guidance to the consumer.  In conclusion, Kaufman found that the Sustainability Index gave Walmart yet another way to market its good, keeping the customer happy but no better informed.

Curt Ellis, coFounder of FoodCorp, related how the Peace Corps was established in 1960.  During the course of the program, Peace Corps engaged 250,000 young leaders and showed how they could make change in the World. “In face of a National obesity epidemic,” Ellis stated “it seems time to launch a Peace Corps for improving school food, a Food Corps.” Food Corps could help organizations already working to improve school food could have foot soldiers to help scale up. “Kennedy talked about New Frontier,” Ellis said “but its Old Frontier that needs us now.”

Ellis asked: “What could Food Corps mean?” For Ellis, Food Corps means school-based agriculture, Farm to School programs, and cafeterias as places where food celebrated. “My hope is that we can take tired idea of Food Service and reimagine it as Real Food and National Service.”

Michel Nischan, Chef, CEO Wholesome Wave, said “Where there is flavor in the tomato, there is definitely joy,” he continued “there are also nutrients and health.”

Nischan asked: “Where do you get your food when you live in Food Desert? Quickie Mart? Why are there no grocery stores in Food Deserts?”

Nischan’s answer dispelled certain stereotypes about “culture.”  ”There are no grocery stores in food deserts because the people who live there can’t afford good, fresh food.”

Why is cheap food cheap? According to Nischan “Because it’s already been paid for by the government subsidies.” Nischan detailed how Wholesome Wave responds to affordability problem by doubling the money SNAP recipients use when buying fresh foods. Nischan laid out his vision about how local food entrepreneurs could be the “Superheroes” of sustainable food movement by making and circulating money in local community.  That’s how Nischan sees changing the way we eat.

In conclusion, I found that was a full and fulfilling day of inspiring talks representing a diversity of approaches to Changing the Way We Eat.

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2010 NYC Urban Agriculture Roundup

Posted: January 3rd, 2011 | Author:

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


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 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 The Greenhouse Project.

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 Work.AC 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

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, 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, , 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 — 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 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.


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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