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

groundswellblog.wordpress.com

Lunchtime at the Market

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

Beautiful Packaging

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

Remember this photo taken a few weeks ago on February 25th?

You May Recall...

Now take a look at the latest stage of life for this vegetable bed.  Yes, a beginning is born!  Over at the Bellevue Garden, we have been clearing away the old, dead bits and turning over the soil.  Here we planted greens and beans with more to come.  The scallions mark the water lines of the sprinklers, so those stay.  (Ahem, lesson learned.)

Well, We've Only Just Begun...

It’s all possible because of the expertise and elbow grease of the head gardener, Jimmy.  Here he puts in the first seeds of 2010.  The garden crew and community can’t wait to see what it all becomes.  Happy Springtime, dear readers.

Fresh Dirt and New Seeds

On a recent walk with my good friend, urban environmentalist Kate Zidar, our boots made cracking noises on the ice underfoot. I can’t wait to hear the soft sounds of loose dirt come springtime.

Despite the cold, the community of people who want to change food in America is gathering. Some say it’s a fad, but I know this movement has staying power. One way we’ll dig deep for the long haul is through the work of visionaries like Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard programs. In these programs, increasing in size and number every year, students plant gardens to learn where food comes from and how it grows.

There’s another common and untapped place for good food and nutrition: the hospital. Here we have people often in the most dire health of their lives. Yet, when it comes time to build them up nutritionally, we serve enriched white bread slices, individually wrapped in plastic.

Yes, it’s true that most hospitals are private businesses, whereas schools are often public. Regardless, food is elemental to our health, and no where is that more important than in a hospital. This summer we will create an edible garden at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. We plan to grow greens and other vegetables as part of the Bellevue Sobriety Garden. For years, the garden has been a place of peace and quiet for hospital outpatients in recovery from addiction. Soon it will also be a place of urban agriculture, both by and for the hospital community. Here are photos of what the space looked like a few days ago – want to help us create what it will look like this summer?

Entryway

Long view

Come sunshine, these will be vegetable beds

Long View, Looking Back

Hang in there, Piggy! Not too much longer...

In the trailer from Vanishing of the Bees, one of the experts says that the Chinese character for “crisis” includes the characters for both “danger” and “opportunity.”  What a precise metaphor for our economic climate today.

In the global groundswell to change the way food is produced and distributed, entrepreneurs are opening to the opportunity.  I hear spirited stories from New York often and will bring you local updates soon.  In the meantime, enjoy these kindred businesses from distant lands.

SoupCycle in Action on the Streets of Portland, OR

This comes from Groundswell West, a.k.a. my sister Lindsay and her friend Elizabeth Moore in Portland, Oregon:  SoupCycle.  Started by two “soup lovers and avid bicycle advocates,” the company delivers freshly-prepared soup by bike to your home or office in the Portland area.  The standard order starts at $18 for a quart of soup, a salad, and rustic bread with the delivery fee included.  A meal this size is estimated to feed 1-2 people.  In New York, our density makes bicycle delivery standard (albeit ruthless to pedestrians), but imagine the carbon benefit of this model in our wide and vastly-paved cities.  They could create a franchise for every few neighborhoods.  Customers could also bike over to the franchise to pick up their soups, rather than get in a car nightly for fast food via a drive thru.  [Note:  The drive thru example falls under my category of “Confessions of a Midwestern Childhood.”]

Beautiful utility: Unpackaged in London

The mention of this next business is dedicated to the first environmentalist I ever knew: Joan Landewe.  I went to high school with her kids and was in their kitchen one day when she returned fired up from the grocery store.  The store had not let her use her own bags to carry out her groceries.  They claimed that all bags leaving the store needed to be printed with the store name.  In those days, reusing a bag was simply not done.

Many years later, there’s a store in London called Unpackaged.  It is BYOE – Bring Your Own Everything, except the food you purchase.  They have that part.  They sell it in bulk and customers bring their own containers to take it home.  If you think you have a particularly heavy container, they will weigh it first and then deduct the weight from the final price.  Otherwise, they will offer their discount for any container that customers bring–including for the person who brings plastic bottles for lentils.  And yes, they let you bring your own bags, too.

Have you experienced a new food business in your corner of the world?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.  Opportunity — here we come!

Over a century ago, George Ohr, the ceramic artist known as the Mad Potter of Biloxi, Mississippi, called his handcrafted pieces his “mud babies.” I’ve long adored this phrasing and it came to mind last weekend when I saw these these beautiful glass babies.

The Glass Babies from La Ferme de Mesenguy

They are jars of pork paté from La Ferme de Mesenguy, the farm owned and operated by my friend Cécile’s family, located about an hour north of Paris, France.  She’s living and working in New York now, but every trip home brings a suitcase full of paté back through American customs.

For anyone who has established their hooks into New York, we all know the first few years can be slippery.  So on Saturday night, we toasted to Cécile’s arrival here one year ago.  To celebrate this important milestone, we also opened the paté.  In the words of Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet, “Work is love made visible.”  In this case, it’s also love made delicious.

It’s intriguing how life puts people in our paths.  In addition to Cécile’s upbringing on a farm and appreciation for the craft of making food, her long-time boyfriend, Damien Kuhn, has a sustainable food business in France.  It’s called Producteurs Locaux and he connects local French food producers with their consumers.  We didn’t have time on this visit for a full debrief of his work, but I promise to learn more on his next trip to New York.