In one of his early books, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Michael Pollan struggles against the enemies of weeds and a woodchuck as he cultivates a garden. His daydreams escalate into their total annihilation (gasoline down a burrow hole included) until, chapters later, he pauses to ask, “What sets us apart from other species is culture, and what is culture but forbearance?”

This question has stayed with me. After looking up forbearance in the dictionary (air high five for honesty!), I realize the question is asking us, “What is culture but restraint?” Now I agree: restraint is not a word that stirs passion. Nor is its close cousin “patience” anything to dance to all night.

Yet when it comes to producing food for an ever-growing population, these words are our highest call. They are for long-term vision, not short-term profit. They ask us to be the earth’s guardians. They don’t ask us to maximize food growth via any means necessary – CAFOs, pesticides, etc – only to deplete the resources given to us. In other words, what is culture but the call to act in honor of our highest, collective selves?

Thinking about Pollan led to another book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money by Woody Tasch. It examines the harm done when our economic engine runs white-hot, running solely on financial ROI as its fuel. It’s centered on the thesis, “the basis of the economy is soil fertility.” Recently, I was grateful for the opportunity to write about Slow Money as a guest for Mission Markets; please find the full post here.

In the nearly two years of writing Groundswell, I’ve learned two primary things: 1) We have a broken food system, but there are countless people working to change it. Many of them are business owners. These businesses patiently do good and create strong livelihoods. If we can’t figure out how to earn our keep in sustainable food, then the changes we want won’t be sustainable. 2) When the farmers invite you to dinner, go no matter what. It will be the best meal of your life.

Lastly, in Slow Money, Tasch writes, “Entrepreneurs and farmers are the poets of the economy …. Ideas in a business plan; seeds in potting soil; rhymes in search of new reasons.”

As someone with a little bit of humble experience as both an entrepreneur and a poet, and with much respect for farmers, I find a lot of inspiration in this quote. The common trait in poetry and entrepreneurship is that they both make the heart soar. They both fly in the celebratory spirit of the unknown and the possible.

So, dearest readers, it’s time to fly and put Groundswell down for now. If you find you miss this somewhat informative, yet smart-alecky voice, you can find me writing for slowmoneynyc.org. If you’d like to be notified if and when Groundswell starts back up, please subscribe with your email. Simply stated, it’s been a thrill to write about you and for you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.

Downtown Express recently published an article about the faltering finances of the Seaport Museum New York, the historic component to South Street Seaport, a museum/shopping development opened in the 1980s.  The key phrase was:  “…the problem lies in the clash between the district’s commercial character and the museum’s historic presence.”

In response to the story, I wrote a Letter to the Editor.  They didn’t publish it; all their letters this week address the SoHo Business Improvement District (BID) concerns.  So, here’s the letter now on Groundswell – feedback welcome!

Keep Scrollin’

New Amsterdam Market - Summer 2010

Dear Editor:

Re: “Seaport Museum flounders, but hasn’t yet sunk,” (Vol. 20, Number 41, Feb. 23rd-March 1st)

My family has been in the West Village for over thirty years, and I remember skipping through the fanfare of South Street Seaport as a kid in the early 1980s.  Thinking back on the years that followed, my family returned to the area occasionally with out-of-town guests.  It was a way to spend time with visitors; however, as a local family, it did not have an enduring draw.  During the 1980s-1990s, I went to the Seaport five or six times.  In 1999, while on an escalator to the food court, two visitors summarized my feelings about it, as one said to the other, “I feel like we could be home in Minneapolis.”

I’m not writing to disparage Minneapolis.  On the contrary, I’m writing with great respect for the uniqueness of local communities everywhere.  In our shared city, I have recently returned to the Seaport regularly for one vibrant, new venue:  The New Amsterdam Market.  In the past 18 months, I have visited the market – and its host neighborhood – at least a dozen times.  It’s held in the same place where the Dutch started their markets 400 years ago.  Its vendors are food entrepreneurs from this region.  When I buy produce there from the Queens County Farm Museum, I support the only continuously working farm in New York City since the 1600s.  Now in my weekly grocery shopping, I experience the history of the Seaport and the city.

In this same issue of Downtown Express, there was a great article about the Taste of Tribeca, described as one of the “most anticipated” spring events downtown.  In the Letters to the Editor section, SoHo residents lamented that their neighborhood has become “a shopping mall for tourists.”  Isn’t it evident from these two topics alone that New York City is strongest when we celebrate our extraordinary neighborhoods?

I hope the Seaport Museum New York survives its difficulties.  This is not an “either/or” debate.  Cultural and historical venues always improve our city.  As for this New Yorker, I look forward to returning to the New Amsterdam Market this spring.  I hope the city understands it’s time to give the market a permanent home in the Seaport.  The locals would love that.

Nicole Reed

groundswellblog.wordpress.com

Lunchtime at the Market

Mr. Stokes -- GRILL A CHEF -- Will See You Now

Beautiful Packaging

A friend of mine describes NYC as “no excuse living.”  For people eager to get your hands dirty this spring, I offer the end of all excuses:  Join us next Wednesday, February 16th, for a screening of What’s Organic About Organic? together with ioby (“In Our Backyards”).

What’s Organic? stirs passion about the need for a clean, transparent, and organic food system.  The next step is action!  Erin Barnes, one of the founders of ioby, will be on hand to offer a variety of opportunities to dig deep in NYC urban agriculture.  You’ll be able to sign up for springtime garden projects right at the screening.

And the venue?  None other than the newly-opened Greenpoint CoWorking, a space for independent workers by Sara Bacon.  It will be an evening of food, drink, and kindred company — get your tickets here!

In the press release for Chautauqua: Creating Community Through Food, the latest series of imaginative food events by Derek Denckla, I’m drawn to a simple phrase tucked in parenthesis:  “and vice versa”.

The full line reads, “Chautauqua aims to create community through food (and vice versa), assembling a series of innovative and diverse events and exhibitions harking back to historical cultural gatherings started in NYC and held in rural farm communities all over America.”  The series begins with a Farm City Book Club meeting on Tuesday, February 22nd, and will explore food via art, sustainability, history, and more on a weekly basis for the next five months.  He’s got an incredible line-up and you can find it all right here.

Denckla Speaks Chautauqua at 61 Local

What I like about the vice versa is that it makes a two-way street; an exchange.  Yes, through these events, we’re going to break bread and expand the table.  Yet in the vice versa — creating food through community — we’ll also create sustenance.  This two-way exchange leads to a trademark in Denckla’s work that I always appreciate: “…collapsing the distinction between maker and consumer” (phrase also from press release).  It reminds me of Denckla saying that his 2010 Farm City series sought to get people to realize we don’t have to be “alienated consumers.”

These ideas recall a conversation I got to share last summer with Professor Joan Gussow.  We were sitting in her garden, after roasting freshly-harvested eggplants, and she was asking me a series of questions such as, “Did I know how to hem a pair of pants?”.  While I was busy thinking of the tailor I’d call, she answered for me by saying, “It’s disempowering not to be able to do things yourself.”  Thus implied…and vice versa.

So, let’s make some food — and ideas, conversation, and connection, while we’re at it — in these coming weeks.  The venue is Local 61, a new bar/restaurant at 61 Bergen Street in Carroll Gardens dedicated to local food and beer producers.  The place is warm, cozy, and exquisite.  See you there.

Inviting...

61 Local Sign Says It All: Drink, Idea, Food, Conversation, Connection

Brooklyn in Proper Perspective

Later today, a small group of New York City food advocates will gather to share ideas with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Tonight’s meet and greet comes on a wave of recent events, all involving city government, to engage local food and urban environment activists.  The Mayor’s office continues to hold public forums on PlaNYC, and last week, before an audience of the city’s most vocal change agents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn presented FoodWorks, a series of proposals to improve the NYC food system, “from ground to garbage.”

In a phrase:  The cat is now out of the community garden.  There’s talk among those of us working on these issues about whether or not the city is serious in its call for change.  I certainly hope so and can’t help but wonder if officials are already past the point of no return.  As we move forward, I have two requests…yes, two for now.

1) Let’s not be a dysfunctional family.  Let’s work together.  The Mayor’s Office is in, Quinn is in — and based on the NYC Food and Climate Change Summit last year — Stringer is, too.  Yet whenever I hear proposals from a local gov camp, there’s little mention of proposals from colleagues across the street or across the river.  Yes, we are a city of geographical pride (Greenpoint, Brooklyn = Number One 4-EVA!), but we let’s not have our fiefdoms hinder the big solutions.

2) Let’s build on our resources already underway.  In Quinn’s talk, she saved her strongest language for Hunt’s Point, the city’s food distribution hub and the largest such center in the world.  In brief, it was already antiquated when it opened in 1967.  It connects to the city by a mess of highways, and diesel trucks idle around it all-day and night, contributing to ugly air in its South Bronx host neighborhood.  The area consistently registers an alarming rate of asthma sufferers.

City Council Speaker Quinn Addresses the Audience at Food & Finance High

“If we only get one thing in all of FoodWorks right, it has to be this [Hunt's Point],” said Quinn.

I’m all for it.  But rather than get overwhelmed by designing the perfect solution for food in 2060 at Hunt’s Point, what if we were to begin now by strengthening a decentralized distribution system?   For example, shortly after Quinn’s talk, I got to have coffee with Robert LaValva, the local hero behind the New Amsterdam Market.  Here’s someone with deep skills and experience in creating systems — both as an architect and a market progenitor.  His market attracts thousands of people each week to the space in front of the former Fulton Fish Market buildings.  How can this area be a nexus for our city food system once again?  If the political will is there, as we are hearing, elements like these buildings should no longer be at the mercy of other pressures.

These are initial thoughts.  There’s much more to say on the topics mentioned here, so stayed tuned.  In the meantime, please find the full FoodWorks report here.  And with that, let’s pull up to the dinner table together tonight.

Brown paper packages tied up with string and seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed Library — yes, these are a few of my very-very-number-one-forever-most-favorite things.  Take a look at these beauties found yesterday at the New Amsterdam Market.  Priced at $3.50/packet, I stocked up to fill Christmas stockings soon to be nailed to the wall with care.  (Greetings from NYC; what’s a mantle?)

The mission of the Hudson Valley Seed Library is glorious:

  1. to create an accessible and affordable source of regionally-adapted seeds that is maintained by a community of caring farmers and gardeners; and,
  2. to create gift-quality seed packs featuring works designed by New York artists in order to celebrate the beauty of heirloom gardening.

Can I get an AMEN?  (And some seeds for Christmas?  Thank you, beloved family and friends.  Did I mention you’re the best?)

The First of the Jewels

Suited Gentleman Not Included

Lady Lovely

Yes, I'll Take the Whole Display, Please. Thank you.

Post-election update:  Unfortunately, Francis Thicke got smoked on November 2nd (and not in the tasty way).   In the final result, Iowans voted 67% for Northey and 37% for Thicke.

As The Iowa Independent stated in their review of Northey’s win:  “…large and small farmers in the state…have found at least current compromise with larger agribusiness and now depend on those relationships to maintain the family income and property.”  Don’t we call that “hog-tied”?

Let’s find the silver lining:  The pounding in Iowa reminds us that there is still work to do.  It has been said — mainly by David Axelrod in Obama’s run-up towards his successful election — “Be wary of the echo chamber”.  That is, if we’re only talking to one another and wholeheartedly agreeing with every word, we’re in a closed communication loop.  We lose the broad view.  Now, coming up over the horizon in that view, can you see the Farm Bill of 2012?  Yeah, me too.

————

For people who eat, there’s a bellwether election underway in Iowa.  Voters in the nation’s food basket will soon decide between Bill Northey, the incumbent funded by large-scale commodity farming, and Francis Thicke, a regional dairy farmer backed by a PhD in soil science.  Thicke advocates for sustainability by encouraging farmers to generate their own energy onsite.  He also wants farmers to process their crops, thereby cutting out an unnecessary middleman.  And he’s in favor of giving local communities the right to vote up or down on any new CAFOs in their region.

In the days leading up to the vote, the two candidates are within the margin of error.  Here’s the full article from Joe Frassler in The Atlantic:

Conventional vs. Organic:

An Ag Secretary Race to Watch

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