Events


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!

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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.

On Thursday, October 7th, the Mayor’s Office held its first “community conversation” to talk about what’s working and what’s not in PlaNYC.  To recap, PlaNYC is the city’s sustainability document for the year 2030, an anticipated era of more people and contentious climate.  It came out in 2007, along with the legal imperative to update it every four years.  Now New Yorkers are gathering around the collective table to direct the first round of updates for spring 2011.

Community Advocate Addresses His Peers; PlaNYC

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was encouraged by a personal email from someone at the Mayor’s Office.  Now after having attended, I recommend it to anyone who wants to be a part of building the next phase of NYC life.  At the Brooklyn event, I’d estimate there were about 130 people in attendance.  The evening was adeptly facilitated by the PlaNYC team; they said we’d be done by 8:00 pm and we were.  It was well-paced with good energy.  No rambling.  No whining.  Quite the opposite:  I met neighbors who want an open dialogue for a better city, despite upcoming tough developments.

The evening started with a summary of PlaNYC achievements to date.  For example, did you know that New York is home to the first municipal Office of Environmental Remediation in the country?  Me neither.  Later, the audience funneled into a large room with several round tables.  Each table was labeled with its particular PlaNYC topic of concern:  Water, Transportation, Energy, etc.  People selected their tables, introduced ourselves, and got talking.  The city’s team stopped by frequently to make sure our goals were, in their words, “ambitious, practical, and measurable.”  Then, each table selected a speaker to tell the room about the best idea from their discussion.  One by one in round-robin style, we heard from each table.  It was fast and focused.

In summary, if you have the opportunity to attend one of these community conversations, DO IT.  Yes, I too wonder how these conversations will eventually fold into city policy.  It was an empowering evening, but where will we go from here?  I’m not sure of the answer.  What I know is that as the room dispersed, and we all took our steps onto the Brooklyn streets, I could hear my community saying, “If you don’t participate, you can’t complain.”

Postcards Given Out Prompt Everyone to Text PlaNYC Ideas to the City

To the food activists of New York City:  Tonight we ride!  Shortly, starting at 6 pm at 1368 Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability will convene a town hall meeting for feedback on its PlaNYC.  Introduced by Bloomberg in April 2007, PlaNYC is the blueprint for an environmentally-sustainable city, looking towards a population of 9 million in the year 2030.  According to a local law, PlaNYC is required to be updated every four years, and the first one will be published in February 2011.

Together we can write that update now.

Most local Earth advocates cheer PlaNYC, and in my opinion, rightly so.  Yet there is one glaring omission:  In this strategy to create “a greener, greater New York,”  it does not address the role of the food system.  It doesn’t mention urban agriculture, community gardens, or the use of rooftop farming to absorb storm water, to name some examples.  Also, other ideas from city government have been compelling — Christine Quinn’s FoodWorks initiative, for example — how can we fold them into PlaNYC?  What else do we want to see included?

When I RSVP’d for this event, I asked about food issues in my email.  To my happy surprise, there’s an Oz behind the curtain, and I got this reply from a gentleman at City Hall:

“…As for food and PlaNYC, we have spent this summer and fall meeting with experts, advocates, city and state agencies, and other related stakeholders on the issue of sustainable food systems.  We are currently exploring the role that sustainable food systems can play in PlaNYC.

The community conversations we are hosting are part of this effort to determine that role.  During the Community Conversation event tomorrow night [Now read: tonight] there will be breakout groups where community members will work together to determine a goal for a number of specific areas including all existing parts of the plan as well as others not already included.  One of the areas that will have a breakout group is sustainable food systems.  Please, come prepared to help the group rally around a shared goal for food sustainability in Brooklyn and, also, think about the ways that community groups and neighborhoods can help promote that goal.”

Readers, if you can’t make it tonight, don’t fear.  This is the first in a series of meetings by the PlaNYC team.  Please find the list of meetings, including one in every borough, here.  With that, I tuck my copy of PlaNYC under my arm and head out the door.  Stay tuned!

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

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