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
Advertisements

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

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.**

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

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!