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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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

I’m writing this on the day after voters in Massachusetts elected Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate, ending the 60-vote coalition of Democrats.  Exactly one year ago on this day, our country celebrated the inauguration of President Obama.  Broadly speaking of the American cultural landscape, it feels like we’re swinging on a pendulum:  Do we want change or not?

While the pundits debate and the pollsters tally, here’s a reminder about our committed citizens.  Seth Wolcott-MacCausland, owner of Pumpkin Village Foods, is one of them.  He’s a man in a van with a plan to connect Vermont farmers to the New York City market.  I caught up with him as he made a delivery to the Bedford Cheese Shop in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

At the Corner of Bedford & Immensely Wonderful

Seth Prepares Green Wind Farm Maple Syrup for Retail Sale

Before he was a man in a van, Seth was a guy at the door.  He started his growing business, Pumpkin Village Foods, in March of 2007 by knocking on doors and introducing his artisanal Vermont products to shop owners in New York.  In the beginning, it was slow going, but with persistent legwork, he has doubled his company’s revenues since the first year.  Now in his monthly road trip, he distributes the carefully-crafted wares of nine different Vermont producers to about twenty stores in the city.  The products include maple syrup and candy, honey, pepper sauces, apple cider, French-style nougat, and tomato marinara sauce, among others.  His network of vendors continues to expand and new products are added regularly.

“All of these producers use the best ingredients.  Now they want a selling partnership and they’re looking to come to New York,” explained Seth, “I feel so lucky to be a part of this connection between conscientious producers and consumers.  The shifting public consciousness with regard to food sourcing is wonderful and motivating.”

Vermont Specialties Awaiting Their Shelf Moment

With this momentum underway, Seth anticipates that his distribution trips will increase by fifty percent in 2010.  By the fall of this year, he’s planning to deliver every two weeks, in order to expand his line of perishable products available at the bigger stores, such as Eli’s in Manhattan.

What kind of retail food buyer receives Seth in NYC?  In the words of Charlotte Kamin, the buyer for the Bedford Cheese Shop, “In our store, we want the least amount of processing involved in the production of the products.  Everything has a story and it gives a face and a name behind the food.”

Now as we change the American food system, let us never doubt a story like this.

Seth Wolcott-MacCausland in Wiliamsburg

The Delivery Dashboard in Williamsburg: Photo by Seth

A New Marketplace in the Neighborhood

A New Marketplace in the Neighborhood

Please leave your felt-lettered activity board at the door — this is a different church basement.

Yesterday, at the Church of the Messiah in Brooklyn, the church basement became the Greenpoint Food Market.

It was opening day of the weekly event, founded by Joann Kim, to provide a space for local cooks to sell their packaged goods.  In evidence of the enthusiasm for local and artisanal food, over 30 vendors sold items from chicken paté to Korean pancakes to deviled eggs, with many more people hovering around the tables to sample and talk with the chefs.

Amelia Coulter of the cookie company, Sugarbuilt, was one such vendor who is both a chef and an artist in equal measure.  A native of New Mexico, her cookies have delicate taste influences from the Southwest — chocolate red chili, for example.  Visually, the baked creations are intricate replicas of favorite sights:  sugar skulls from the Mexican Day of the Dead, rod ironwork in Greenpoint, and playful hipster mustaches, among other things.

“I’m inspired by my passions – here it’s architecture,” Amelia said, holding up a square cookie.  “All of these ironwork pieces are from my favorite actual ironwork in the neighborhood.  All of these designs have a history.”

As I walked around the church basement, I remembered something I saw years ago:  A man on very, very tall stilts walking through the fields of Bread & Puppet in Vermont.  As he took slow, long strides, he called down below:  “Art is food!  You can’t eat it, but it feeds YOU!”

Yesterday, in the down below, the neighborhood feasted on art in all ways.

Local Food that Honors Local Sites

Local Food in Honor of Local Sites

Delicious and Beautiful

Delicious and Beautiful

A Moustached Amelia Coulter of Sugarbuilt

A Moustached Amelia Coulter of Sugarbuilt

Groundswell Wasn't the Only Press!

Groundswell Wasn't the Only Press!