March 2010

Remember this photo taken a few weeks ago on February 25th?

You May Recall...

Now take a look at the latest stage of life for this vegetable bed.  Yes, a beginning is born!  Over at the Bellevue Garden, we have been clearing away the old, dead bits and turning over the soil.  Here we planted greens and beans with more to come.  The scallions mark the water lines of the sprinklers, so those stay.  (Ahem, lesson learned.)

Well, We've Only Just Begun...

It’s all possible because of the expertise and elbow grease of the head gardener, Jimmy.  Here he puts in the first seeds of 2010.  The garden crew and community can’t wait to see what it all becomes.  Happy Springtime, dear readers.

Fresh Dirt and New Seeds

Authenticity is an elusive concept.  Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu wrote, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”  In contemporary American culture, we say, “Trust your gut.”  As more people shift towards knowing our food sources, we also fine tune our reception to the voice of authenticity.  We hear it directly many ways; one easy example is in the phrase promoted by the USDA, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the new Triscuit brand marketing campaign.  The front of the box says “Join the Home Farming Movement!”.  Flip it over and there’s a small piece of cardboard in the box that holds basil seeds ready for planting.  Really?

Continued below

Green Sprout = Clue

Playing with the language of "garden" vs. "home farm"

I was recently talking to a fellow food blogger and he commented, “This isn’t so much a food revolution as it is a food evolution.  The big ag companies aren’t going anywhere.”

His words have stayed with me as I follow the marketing cues of these companies to the changing food consumer.  The Triscuit campaign press materials promote that they are starting 50 community gardens with this effort.  At the website,, there’s a map of these gardens, as well as posts by gardeners around the United States.  When I read the comments, it seems like the words could be from any one of my relatives across the country.

So, why is my gut off on this one?

I’ll never be so cynical to think that corporations can’t also be socially responsible, even though the history to date is often dismal.  Additionally, my dream for the sustainable food movement is that we create a dynamic industry that employs many people in long-term, well-paying jobs that bolster personal and environmental health.  This is precisely what we are starting now.

I’m reminded of the age-old question for activists:  Does change happen from within the current system or outside of it?

Please, let’s not pretend that you have something to do on Monday night.  I’ll see you there.

Where’s there?  At the debut of Big River, the latest film by Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney. It’s the follow-up to their 2007 documentary, King Corn, where they travel to the county of their great-grandfathers in Iowa and grow an acre of corn.  They drive from Massachusetts, but the real distance they cross is the gap in our knowledge of what it means to be a farmer today.

When the guys first walk on to the field, one of them asks, “So, how big is an acre?”.  It’s the first of many questions they answer by working the land and interviewing Iowa farmers.  In the end, they produce nearly 180 bushels of corn on their acre; their great-grandfathers would have been thrilled with 40 bushels.  These yield numbers suggest progress, but no one seems happy.  “We’re growing crap,” explains one farmer who doesn’t serve the crop to his own family.

In Big River, Ian and Curt paddle down the Mississippi River to investigate the effects of toxic farming pesticides on the waterway, particularly the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.  I’m eager to learn what they uncover from their first question to the last.

Come one and come all!  Here are the event details:

Monday, March 15, 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM (Screening at 7:00 PM)

Brecht Forum 451 West Street (btwn. Bank and Bethune Sts.) Manhattan

Tickets FSNYC Members – $25 Non-members – $35 Tickets may be purchased here.

Refreshments generously donated by: The New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the Good Beer Seal, the Cleaver Company, Hot Bread Kitchen, Lucy’s Whey, and Martin’s Pretzels.  Event proceeds benefit the Food Systems Network of New York.

Photo courtesy of

On a recent walk with my good friend, urban environmentalist Kate Zidar, our boots made cracking noises on the ice underfoot. I can’t wait to hear the soft sounds of loose dirt come springtime.

Despite the cold, the community of people who want to change food in America is gathering. Some say it’s a fad, but I know this movement has staying power. One way we’ll dig deep for the long haul is through the work of visionaries like Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard programs. In these programs, increasing in size and number every year, students plant gardens to learn where food comes from and how it grows.

There’s another common and untapped place for good food and nutrition: the hospital. Here we have people often in the most dire health of their lives. Yet, when it comes time to build them up nutritionally, we serve enriched white bread slices, individually wrapped in plastic.

Yes, it’s true that most hospitals are private businesses, whereas schools are often public. Regardless, food is elemental to our health, and no where is that more important than in a hospital. This summer we will create an edible garden at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. We plan to grow greens and other vegetables as part of the Bellevue Sobriety Garden. For years, the garden has been a place of peace and quiet for hospital outpatients in recovery from addiction. Soon it will also be a place of urban agriculture, both by and for the hospital community. Here are photos of what the space looked like a few days ago – want to help us create what it will look like this summer?


Long view

Come sunshine, these will be vegetable beds

Long View, Looking Back

Hang in there, Piggy! Not too much longer...