August 2010


Under the Vines and Above Our Heads

The poet Mary Oliver once wrote of “the patience of vegetables and saints.”  Yesterday, above the endless activity that is New York, I caught a peek at this patience.  It’s there, in a squash blossom, under the vines and care of Ben Flanner.  This little flower is one of the many saintly jewels growing at the Brooklyn Grange, an 18,000 square foot rooftop farm located in Queens.  (Our guess is right: the name came before the location.)

It is pure inspiration to walk a rooftop farm.  As we look to use our urban space better, as well as shorten the travel distance for our food, I hope the these farms become commonplace.  I also hope that we’ll always keep the feeling of awe that they spark.  The contrast of green leaves fluttering against a backdrop of skyscrapers is striking and lovely all at once.

You may remember Ben from a story last summer about his initial rooftop farm project in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  I got curious to see his latest effort — a farm three times the size as last year! — so I stopped by the market at Brooklyn Grange.  It’s open every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon in the lobby of the building, among other times and places.

The market trip reminded me of another quote, often said by a friend of mine:  “May you live in interesting times.”  Indeed.  How wonderful that a trip to pick up tomatoes and Swiss chard included these images:

From the Street: First Sign of Grange

A New Way to See the Citicorp Building

The Contrast of City Street and Leafy Green

American Ingenuity

The Subway as Backdrop

Peppers and Visitors

To the Market!

Market Choices in the Lobby on Northern Boulevard

Why, Hello There, New York City

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Now for the best story of Summer 2010.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to Springfield, Missouri, the land of my high school and my Dad’s side of the family.  You may know it as the Queen City of the Ozarks.  Or the hometown of Brad Pitt.  Or perhaps the birthplace of the über-famous Bass Pro Shops.

Today the city has a new source of renown:  They just started a Slow Food chapter, called Slow Food Southwest Missouri.  I was thrilled to be a part of the chapter’s inaugural event on July 26th — and for reasons I did not anticipate.

As part of the trip, I wanted to learn about the local food scene in Springfield and connect with the people who are building it.  I sent an email to my friend and food activist, Melissa Millsap.  She’s the Wonder Woman behind Urban Roots Farm, as well as the edible garden program of the Springfield school system.  It also turns out that she’s on the council, if you will, of local superheroes in the movement for good, clean food.

For the event, it was decided that we’d host a farm-to-table dinner, along with a screening of Shelley Roger’s lively documentary, What’s Organic About Organic?.  Amanda Millsap Owen, owner of Home Grown Food, a sweet marketplace that sources all its products from nearby farms, offered the lot next to her store as the venue.  A local artist created a beautiful promotional poster and the ticket sales took off.  By the morning of the event, we had over 65 tickets sold.  We were thrilled.  (And little nervous — could we pull it off?)

On the day of the event, a team of guys put up a huge white tent.  They hung rows of lights and set up the audio visual system.  Another group set the tables.  It was hot and humid, but we were a steady machine.  A big thunderstorm rolled through around 5 o’clock, and we kept on.  The Do-It-Yourself talents of this crowd got it done.

People were due to arrive at 8 pm, and we were ready for them by 6:30 pm.  And then…

Continued below

Hours Into The Original Venue

The Lights Go Up!

We decided one side of the tent should be a little more taunt.  We pulled up one of the rope lines, adjusted it to a few feet away, and started to hammer in the new stake.

WE HIT A GAS LINE.

Suddenly the whole lot reeked of gas.  There was no avoiding it.  A call went out to City Utilities.  They came down and ordered us to leave the premises.  They said — under no uncertain terms — that we could not host our public event there.

I would have photos of this part, but at the time, it was too tense to whip out a camera. Homer says it best.

Amanda, and her husband Ryan, then made an amazing offer.  “We just moved into a house two blocks away, why don’t we hold it in our backyard?,” they suggested.  And with that, the crew picked up every table and chair and walked it all down the gravel alley way to their yard.  The guys set up the screen in its new place on the side of the garage.  We hung white lanterns on the clothes line to help people find their way.  What happened then was a beautiful dinner, followed by an inspiring film, all under the stars.

Thank you to everyone involved — it was an unforgettable night.  The only way I can describe it is to say, “it did my heart good.”  I could not wish for than this:  A breezy summer night, breaking bread with friends and family, and conversations fueled by the spirit to make our world better.  Thank you to everyone in the Slow Food SW Missouri chapter for making it possible.  Now to many more!

Up and Running at the New Venue!

The Crowd Gathers for the First Event of Slow Food SW Missouri

The Backyard is Set for Farm-to-Table Dinner

With a Toast to Our Local Farmers!

I LOVED This Menu -- Both Its Design & Content -- Thank you all!