May 2010

Years ago on a road trip, my friend and I pulled into a gas station late night.  We had been driving nonstop for hours.  It was deeply dark and most places were closed.  Now we were hungry and weary.

It was a scene for Edward Hopper to paint:  One man attending a brightly-lit station on a road with few visitors.  The only movement was a slowly-rotating hot dog machine in the corner.  There, moving up and down in a steady circle, was one scraggly hot dog.  Somewhere I heard the faint sound of Rosemary Clooney singing, “I Stayed Too Long at the Fair.”

So imagine the surprise when a recent stop at the WaWa in New Jersey had something new.  Take a look at the fruit stand below.  This is one the best illustrations of Americans’ changing attitudes towards food that I’ve seen.  The WaWa station isn’t in an urban center — it’s along a road where a variety of people stop by all day and night.

Now if we could start building these kind of options around local producers, then we’d have real roadside dining.  For example, when people talk of Italy, they often say, “You can pull over to a shack and have one of best meals of your life.”  What if travelers on our highways (and in our airports) started to say the same of the U.S.?  Readers, have you seen anything similar to this in your travels?

Fresh Fruit "Stand" at the Gas Station

Really? Along side the highway?

I Hear They Call This "Good Food Quickly" (Seinfeld)

I've Never Seen This View And Thought, "Delicious!" But Now...

Somewhere, deep into hour two of shoveling, I started to have visions of fierce machinery tilling vast fields.  A part of me understands why big companies took over farming:  It’s hard work.  But in evading the process ourselves, we lose a vital understanding.  Where better to remember than at school?

BK Farmyards is the inspired urban farming initiative by Stacey Murphy and Bee Ayer.  They describe it as “decentralized” — they plan to farm several lots around Brooklyn, including private brownstone backyards.  Right now they are digging their flagship project, a one acre farm at the High School for Public Service in Crown Heights.

On a recent Saturday, a crew of about twenty people, including many members of the Farm Club, continued to crack open the school’s front lawn.  They’re early in the weeks of growing food for the school’s 20-member CSA.  By fall, the farm will be incorporated into the health, science and art classes.

But one day at a time.  At the end of this Saturday, Bee happily summed up the group’s accomplishments: “We have our first crops in the ground – kale, beets, carrots, salad mix and marigolds, sunflowers and zinnias.”

Continued below

Bee Ayer Instructs Students On How To Create New Soil Beds

Acting on Instructions!

Like the nascent plants, many of the students involved are freshmen.  They will be the stewards of this farm for their whole high school experience.  Imagine the learning curve coming up for everyone.  Kassandra Midy, Class of 2014, said it best with a few words and dirty hands, “I was scared of worms last week, but now I’m holding one.”

At one point, Stacey took a minute to take it all in.  “This is months’ worth of talking and planning.  To see the physical evidence of all of the work and all the fund raising is pretty incredible,” she said.  Pointing to the active shovels nearby, she continued,”It’s as simple as that person turning over the soil.  This feels really great.”

Now would you like to be a part of it?  I bet you would.  If you’re in New York and ready to work it out in the dirt, BK Farmyards is the perfect place.  You’ll work hard, enjoy yourself, and sleep like a baby when the day is done.  They have volunteer work days every Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm for the next several weeks.  Click here for the full calendar and details!

The Front Yard Becomes a Front Farm

Learning from Bee Ayer & Her Mad Skillz

Digging in for The High School for Public Service

Pausing a Minute to Pose