Downtown Express recently published an article about the faltering finances of the Seaport Museum New York, the historic component to South Street Seaport, a museum/shopping development opened in the 1980s.  The key phrase was:  “…the problem lies in the clash between the district’s commercial character and the museum’s historic presence.”

In response to the story, I wrote a Letter to the Editor.  They didn’t publish it; all their letters this week address the SoHo Business Improvement District (BID) concerns.  So, here’s the letter now on Groundswell – feedback welcome!

Keep Scrollin’

New Amsterdam Market - Summer 2010

Dear Editor:

Re: “Seaport Museum flounders, but hasn’t yet sunk,” (Vol. 20, Number 41, Feb. 23rd-March 1st)

My family has been in the West Village for over thirty years, and I remember skipping through the fanfare of South Street Seaport as a kid in the early 1980s.  Thinking back on the years that followed, my family returned to the area occasionally with out-of-town guests.  It was a way to spend time with visitors; however, as a local family, it did not have an enduring draw.  During the 1980s-1990s, I went to the Seaport five or six times.  In 1999, while on an escalator to the food court, two visitors summarized my feelings about it, as one said to the other, “I feel like we could be home in Minneapolis.”

I’m not writing to disparage Minneapolis.  On the contrary, I’m writing with great respect for the uniqueness of local communities everywhere.  In our shared city, I have recently returned to the Seaport regularly for one vibrant, new venue:  The New Amsterdam Market.  In the past 18 months, I have visited the market – and its host neighborhood – at least a dozen times.  It’s held in the same place where the Dutch started their markets 400 years ago.  Its vendors are food entrepreneurs from this region.  When I buy produce there from the Queens County Farm Museum, I support the only continuously working farm in New York City since the 1600s.  Now in my weekly grocery shopping, I experience the history of the Seaport and the city.

In this same issue of Downtown Express, there was a great article about the Taste of Tribeca, described as one of the “most anticipated” spring events downtown.  In the Letters to the Editor section, SoHo residents lamented that their neighborhood has become “a shopping mall for tourists.”  Isn’t it evident from these two topics alone that New York City is strongest when we celebrate our extraordinary neighborhoods?

I hope the Seaport Museum New York survives its difficulties.  This is not an “either/or” debate.  Cultural and historical venues always improve our city.  As for this New Yorker, I look forward to returning to the New Amsterdam Market this spring.  I hope the city understands it’s time to give the market a permanent home in the Seaport.  The locals would love that.

Nicole Reed

Lunchtime at the Market

Mr. Stokes -- GRILL A CHEF -- Will See You Now

Beautiful Packaging

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.


61 Local Sign Says It All: Drink, Idea, Food, Conversation, Connection

Brooklyn in Proper Perspective

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.**

Before we go one word further, I have a request:  Prepare to think differently about Washington, DC.  Too often our capital city is disparaged for bulky national programs.  But this is a story about something that works beautifully:  Common Good City Farm located at 3rd and V Streets in the LeDroit Park neighborhood.

Continued below

The Community Comes Out for Common Good

Founded four years ago by Liz Falk and other engaged citizens, Common Good recently celebrated the start of the 2010 season.  It’s located on the grounds of a former junior high that ended in a sweep of school closings by Mayor Fenty in 2008.  Of the twenty-six schools that closed, Common Good is the only active space among the vacancies formed two years ago.  The city has plans to create a public park in the area surrounding the farm, so there will be gateway green for people to relax and then discover it.

For many, finding the farm could be the first step in a new life of learning about food.  In addition to growing fruits and vegetables, it’s an educational site, including cooking classes, for the local community.  Soon they will have an outdoor kitchen/classroom on the grounds.  It will be a simple roof structure with cabinets underneath, serving as the anchor in their educational work.

As part of their non-profit, Common Good also runs a program called Green Tomorrows.  Participants work the farm and produce good food, and in return, they earn shares of the harvest.  “It’s like a CSA, but not for purchase,” explained Falk.  Workers can also build hours by attending the culinary and gardening classes.

Falk’s broad vision of the Green Tomorrows program is that the people who receive training will go on to recover other vacant lots in Washington and create their own urban farms.  Looking at the strength of the programs and community at Common Good, it’s inspiring to imagine what such an expansion could like.  This year alone, the harvest at Common Good will include fruit from thirty trees — pear, cherry, paw paw, and fig trees are included in the mix.  According to Falk, “We’re going to grow almost everything you can grow in this region.”

Common Good City Farm Located at 300 V Street in Washington, DC

Classic DC Rowhouse Architecture is a Backdrop for Common Good

Hey, I Know That Shirt! (Kind of)

Playing Catch on a Former Baseball Field

While packing for a long drive south, two thoughts came to mind:  1) What if the fire and brimstone preachers are right and all sinners go to hell?  2) Then my flaring eternity will be spent at a Roy Rogers restaurant, alongside an eight lane highway.

The Current Map of Options; Courtesy of Serious Eats

To avoid this version of hell now, I’m researching how to find organic, local food in the towns along our route to New Orleans.  Does anyone have a suggestion how to do this?  I’m all eyes.  Here’s what I’ve found thus far:

Before we leave the Holland Tunnel, New Yorkers have a wonderful resource in  It lists all of our local farmers’ markets, including what days of the week they are open and what ingredients to expect when you get there.  Looking in the third week of December, I had no idea so many markets remain open during the winter months.

Now to the New Jersey Turnpike and beyond:  Where do we go from here?

The best bet I have found is the Eat Well Guide.  It’s great for singular destinations — one town or zip code, for example.  The “Plan a Trip” feature, however, is tough to use.  Granted, I’m going a long distance, so pages of results come up, but nonetheless, it’s cumbersome.  I’ve logged in a few stopping points along the route, but I’m afraid it’s not a way to create a map of local, seasonal places from here to Nola.  (I still love you Eat Well Guide, I’m just not sure we’re right together for the long road.)

The second consideration is an iphone app called Locavore.  But it is more for cooks, than diners.  Locavore lists the seasonally available produce, but doesn’t provide any information on nearby restaurants that will cook it up.  What it does have — oddly enough — is running commentary from other app users about what they just ate.  I think Twitter is finally ridding itself of the “here’s what I had for lunch” rep, but don’t worry, you can still follow along here.  Yes, these are my people, but I’m no fan of the dietary playbook.

So, can one find delicious, non-industrial food along America’s highways?  Or is it “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here”?

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!

Rooftop Gardens in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

It sounds like directions to your next mafia hit:  Walk to the most northern edge of Brooklyn, down a side street ’til you get to the river, then into the warehouse on the left.  You’ll find what you’re looking for at the top of the stairs.

The good news is what you’re looking for is a 6,000 square foot edible garden known as Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Founded by Ben Flanner, Annie Novak, and Lisa and Chris Goode of Goode Green, the farm is having a triumphant inaugural season.  They have gotten press coverage from many major outlets — including the BBC News.  Every week some 100+ people come to the Farm to tour it, work it, and buy its produce.

One element of the draw is the juxtaposition of a green field against the stunning Manhattan skyline.  The other magnetic force is the people.  Ben and Annie greet everyone like family.  They also have a reservoir of kindness and patience for novices who are eager to get their hands dirty.

As Nicholas D. Kristoff recently wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed piece (8/23/09), “…I think I figured out the central problem with modern industrial agriculture.  It’s not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all.  More fundamentally, it has no soul.”

Rooftop Farms provides green space, local food, and a big heart antidote to the process.  I was happy to get a few thoughts from Annie about it:

Why do you think Rooftop Farms is so popular now?

Greenpoint is community-oriented and it’s been a great year for local food.  Our number 1 goal is that our food speaks for itself.  We’re not selling you anything other than a tomato.  We’re not selling the packaging or the claim that it fights heart disease.  Just the tomato.

Why do you think the Farm important?

Greenpoint has terrible soil on the ground level.  We’re offering people a green space.  It’s an oasis for people – and flora and fauna, too.  And pollinating insects.  We want to put the jungle back into the concrete jungle.  (Laughs.)

What are your plans for expansion?

We hope to be a model for green roofs, local food, and learning about plants.  I think the Farm proves we have endless possibility.  We want people to do this everywhere.  Come, learn about what we’re doing, and take it back home.

To learn more and sign up to volunteer at the most beautiful farm around, go to

Take the Stairs to the Farm

Take the Stairs to the Farm

Annie Novak Instructs Farmhands (A.K.A. Volunteers)

Annie Novak Instructs Farmhands (A.K.A. Volunteers)

In the Dirt

In the Dirt

Field Backdrop: Williamburg Bridge

Field Backdrop: Williamburg Bridge