September 2010


With the URL ilikepig.com, eaters are primed for pork this Saturday, October 2nd, when Governor’s Island will transform into a celebrated outpost called Pig Island.  From 11:30 am to 4:30 pm, more than twenty top NYC chefs will offer pig-centric dishes to an anticipated crowd of 1,500 people.  In addition to The Pig, the event will honor his buddy, The Local Farmer.  Already the chefs of Pig Island are amassing their dominions:  Yesterday, one-by-one, they came by Union Square to pick up pigs from Paul Dench-Layton, the owner/farmer of Violet Hill Farm in Sullivan County, and one of the suppliers for the event.

Sporting the Double 29!

“All of my pigs are free-range, heritage breeds.  We’ve got blacks, reds, Yorks, and others,” explained Dench-Layton.  The description of his pigs was bolstered by his t-shirt, showing the Zagat rating for his farm — including TWO 29’s — in quality and service.

What struck me most about yesterday’s pig pick-up was its transparency.  There, in the busy lunch hour of a public park on a blue-sky day, was a farmer carefully laying out whole slaughtered pigs for his customers.  The chefs carried them away over their shoulders, excitedly planning for recipes with days of attentive preparation.  The farmer’s children were in the middle of it all, handling the pigs with comfort and ease.  If part of reinventing our food system is knowing where our food comes from, I can’t think of a more public forum than this.

“You see that we need to respect them [the animals] from the beginning to the end,” said Ed Yowell of Food Systems Network NYC, as he watched people gather around the pick-up table.  Food Systems Network NYC is the charitable partner for Pig Island and they work to secure “a strong and just regional food and farm economy,” he explained.  He went on to say that they’re thrilled to be involved and declared one of the organizers, Jimmy Carbone, to be “the patron saint of not-for-profit food organizations” in New York City.

“We’re supporting local farmers — that’s number one,” Carbone said, with a pig hoisted high on his shoulders.

Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's #43 Promotes Pig Island

Chef Matthew Weingarten Has Plans for "Whole Hog Sausages" Using Every Bit of the Pigs

Chef Chris Rendell of Double Crown, Jimmy Carbone, Ed Yowell, Kristin Pederson, Lauren McGrath

Today, on opening day of the Foodshed Market held at the community space known as The Commons Brooklyn (a.k.a., The Commons), I heard one of my most favorite quotes in a while:

“Forget about beating your head against chem agriculture — big agriculture — and just go ahead and start creating a new food system.”

Foodshed Market at 388 Atlantic Avenue - Now Every Sunday 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

The words were from Melissa Ennen, who along with Lauren McGrath of Rick’s Picks, were hostessing with the most-tess-ing, outside the new neighborhood food spot.  Melissa was describing a 1990s article that started building the concept of a “foodshed.”  Just like a city sources water from the surrounding area for its watershed, a foodshed is a network of growers from outside the city.  The distribution of resources is direct, transparent, and neighborly.

“It’s not necessarily a matter of miles, but definitely a question of sustainability, energy use and transportation, and creating community…not just growing vegetables and food, but growing community,” she further explained.

While touring the vendor tables, I was reminded of the study that showed we have as many as 10 times more social interactions at a farmers’ market than in a conventional store.  (And that’s before the food talks back to you.  One vendor, The Brooklyn Salsa Company, caps their jars with GET INTO IT! and TAKE the lid OFF, among other ready-to-rumble phrases.  Then with the taste, you wave the white flag of surrender.)

The market is a commercial venture by The Commons Brooklyn, an organization self-described as “a skill-sharing space in the heart of Brooklyn”.  They host classes and offer office rental for compatible organizations, such as The Brooklyn Food Coalition.  There’s a great list of classes this fall, all with an eye towards training people for sustainable food jobs in the future.

To borrow language from the investor world, the Foodshed market is one way for them to build a “diversified portfolio of income”.  Recent history has shown that businesses and non-profits alike have to become financially viable.  Many organizations have seen their grant funds sputter out, and now such groups are developing new means of earned income.  Simply stated, if we lose money building our new food system, then it won’t be sustainable in any sense of the word.

Local, Seasonal, Fresh

With white walls and light wooden floors, the market space evokes an art gallery — with master works of artisanal cheeses, breads, and specialities crafted by love and enterprise.  It’s also part farmer’s market, stocked with well-priced produce from the fields of Migliorelli Farm, near Tivoli, New York, among other vendors.  There’s a lot to choose from, and all the sellers offer samples of their edibles, so you’ll find your favorites fast.  As one fellow shopper, Maria, said: “When you get to try so many different things, you don’t just ‘go to the market’.  You’re in it.  You live it.”

Ripe for the Picking

Migliorelli Farm: Quality Produce, Honest Questions

Upcoming Classes at the Foodshed Market - and more events to come!

Happy Upon Departure

Still Life with Foodshed: My Loot

FREE and open to the public:  If Brooklyn had a county fair, this would be it.  And like every good county fair, people would come from far and wide for the cook-offs and blue ribbon winners.  Farm City.US, brought to us by Derek Dencla and his comrades at the French Institute/Alliance Française, is a series celebrating the edible that begins this Sunday.  Derek has his sensibilities in both the art and local food worlds, so I anticipate a unique vision behind all the happenings.

The venue is in the spacious art gallery, the Invisible Dog in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.  Bring your best blue ribbon game face and find the full list of events here!

**Closing hour update from the newsroom on Friday, September 10th:  Kerry Trueman has posted a wonderful exchange with Derek on Civil Eats.  From her questions, Derek explains both the road leading to FarmCity.US and the possible promised land of urban agriculture in our future.**