Dirty Girls – Meet the Urban Women Farmers of New York City

Women farmers have hit the big time – the BUSTy, feminist, big time. I can barely believe it, but if you pick-up the Ocotober/November issue of BUST magazine you’ll see my humble name in the table of contents! “Dirty Girls: Resourceful urban farmers are giving new meaning to the term asphalt jungle. By Stephanie Fisher” Over the summer I spent a month running around Brooklyn interviewing women farmers – from bees to sub-irrigated planters to organic vegetables, all of these seven women are doing their part to bring a little bit of nature into this hectic gotham. The women also gave us some farm-centric projects that you can do at home, like a low tunnel cold frame and beet infused vodka. Check out the issue (it’s the eco issue, so there’s tons of good stuff) and meet a few of the beautiful women farmers of New York City.


Our Brooklyn Balcony Summer Garden – Some Advice for Container Farming on a Budget

After two months of construction, our balcony garden finally lives! It’s been a saw-dusty, frustrating road to get here – we’ve been keeping our seedlings on a folding table under the one window in our crowded kitchen as a blue tarp has covered our balcony since we moved in. We did lose a few seedlings along the way, including a few beans, lettuces, basils, and some anticipated cosmos. But the wait has paid off, and for the first time in over year, I’m finally struggling to get all of the dirt out from under my nails on my way to work.

My new writing post! *note on the table and chairs – we found that awesome workstation on craigslist and the two chairs on the sidewalk at various times outside our old apartment. Oh, the joys of gleaning.

So, what’s in the garden? Well, we have four bean plants, a ton of lettuce, three tomato plants (a hanging cherry, Mr. Stripey heirloom, and an un-identified variety acquired from a sidewalk sale in Williamsburg), one kale, four basil plants, two peppers (a medium chili and a red bell), mint, and lemon verbena. And, my favorite part of our garden of sorts, we have a compost bin! 100 worms and counting!

We started a few things from seed, including the beans, lettuce and basil, and bought the rest of our plants from a combination of a random sidewalk sale in Williamsburg, Silver Heights Farm Nursery at the Union Square Greenmarket, and Red, Rose and Lavender Flower Shop.

This is all very exciting, but it’s kind of a lot of stuff – think of all the soil, plants, fertilizer, containers, and other accessories necessary for a start-up garden. The sad reality is, when working with a meager budget like ours, a container garden can easily run your finances into the red. Noah and I encountered this problem in planning for our set-up, but with some out of the box thinking and a creative reuse/recycle mentality, a healthy and productive container garden is within your reach!

TIPS! on container gardening on a budget
1. Look around your apartment and kitchen for anything that can hold soil. We used old Steve’s Ice Cream containers (perfect for herbs!) and just cut a few drainage holes in the bottom. Even the pint lids serve as water catchers to place under the pints. Some other options are: cut off the tops of old milk or juice cartons, add some holes in the bottom, and voila, a perfect bean planter! Don’t forget old take-out containers (thoroughly cleaned, of course).

2. The next time you’re in a flower shop or garden supply store, ask the clerk if they have any used or as-is containers. Stores won’t typically advertise used pots, but if you ask, they might be happy to get some of their less desirable pots off their hands. We got some of our pots this way: $2 for two medium sized clay pots! One of them has a large chip in the rim that’s been super-glued back on, but the pot works just fine.

3. Craigslist! People are moving and giving away stuff for free all the time, don’t rule out free garden supplies! That’s how we found our nifty watering can.

4. Keep your eye out the next time you’re walking around your neighborhood. As they say, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. In our case, we found some great drawers on our way to the Bushwick farmers market. We lined the flatter, square one with a garbage bag. Perfect for any pots without water catching dishes! We’re going to fill the other two, deeper drawers with some potting soil and transfer our lettuces.

5. Finally, compost! It’s a great way to put kitchen scraps to good use.

A bit more on composting – Composting isn’t for everyone – before we had our balcony/any outdoor space at all, we kept our kitchen scraps in the freezer for drop-off at our local greenmarket. Considering that we didn’t really have any use for compost dirt at the time, a compost bin didn’t make too much sense. But kitchen scraps are a great resource, and if you’re not afraid of a reasonably sized plastic bin with some worms and dirt, then you’re in the clear. We got our bin from Nextdoorganics, a Rhode Island based farm that has a stand at our local Bushwick Farmers Market.

A few things that you should not skimp out on – good organic soil and fertilizer. We use Tasty Tomato and Veggie fertilizer by Bradfield, and potting soil from Red, Rose and Lavender flower shop.

TerraStories, One Girl’s Journey Through America and its Wonderful Women Farmers

During my time at NYU, I was lucky enough to meet countless intelligent, passionate, and like-minded women, who boast commitments to food issues activism, feminism, and overall awesomeness. One of these ladies happens to share my love for all things farm women. Meet Marlie, a compassionate senior at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study (my Alma mater!), with a concentration in Food Justice. She’s the wonderful lady behind TerraStories.tumblr (more on that in a sec!).

During the school year, Marlie has her hand in anything and everything food and agriculture related on campus, from Oxfam @ NYU to the Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA @ NYU) to Community Agriculture Club, just to name a few. OH, and did I mention she also spends her Saturdays working the Hawthorne Valley Farm stand at the Union Square green market, come rain, hail, or what have you? I didn’t? Well, yeah, she does that too.

This summer, she’s packed up her Brooklyn loft and traded in her Metro Card for a road map as she drives across the U.S. interviewing women farmers state to state. Over the course of seven weeks, she’ll be making her way from Massachusetts, up the East coast, down and over through the Mid-West, all the way to Colorado, and finally ending her journey in Kansas City to volunteer for Farm Aid’s benefit concert on August 13th. Check out her route below:

Marlie will be periodically blogging about her experiences and the women farmers that she meets over on TerraStories.tumblr. So click that link and follow her along her amazing journey!

Take A Class About Farm Women, and More!

Have you heard about Brooklyn Brainery? If you haven’t, then let me tell you about this gem of a storefront in Carrol Gardens. Brooklyn Brainery is the ultimate in DIY; they offer classes on everything and anything for a reasonable price, taught by regular ol’ folks like you and me. So, for the learning obsessed like myself, the Brooklyn Brainery is an amazing place. You can take a class on “Intro to Urban Forestry,” or “Bookbinding Basics,” or even “Ethnographic Research methods,” if that’s what you’re into.

So why am I telling you about the Brooklyn Brainery (besides the fact that I genuinely think this place is amazing)? Because I’ll be teaching a class there in July on farm women! You can read the class description and sign up on the Brainery site, but the basics are: Thursday, July 7th, 6:45-8:15, $10. I’m really, uber excited and maybe I’ll see you there!

The entire July class listing is pretty enticing and includes classes on ice cream making, cooking Ethiopian, free form crochet, and a FREE class on genetically modified food! Get learning!

TBECC Round-Up: Recipes, Crafts, and Books, Oh My!

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” This is hands down my favorite quote from a novel ever. I’m a huge Virginia Woolf fan; there’s something about female, high-society writers that I can’t get enough of. (Edith Wharton, anyone?) I’m definitely no literary buff, not even by a long-shot, but I’ve always identified that simple sentence with my own notions of feminism and femininity (beyond the larger context of the book of course, I’m not married to a politician, nor do I have servants). So in preparation for TBECC, a celebration of domesticity and feminism of sorts, I just had to buy flowers…myself.

TBECC was more than just flowers and aesthetics, of course, and it lived up to its name: friends, women, eating, talking about food issues, sharing knowledge and just enjoying each other’s company. We had SO MUCH food. Meg baked a banana cake with chocolate sea salt caramel ganache (which she baked in a toaster oven!); Marlie brought salad (thankfully, some lighter fare) and bread from Hawthorne Valley Farm where she’s a market worker; Julia brought buttermilk pie and honey and jam; and I baked some honey whole wheat pound cake and mini cinnamon rolls. (More recipes to follow!) To drink, I sorted my out-of-control collection of Harney and Sons tea, and pulled out my bag of Counter Culture Jagong coffee (arguably my new favorite, although Crop To Cup’s Burundi is still up there).

Dani Walsh, the wonderful woman behind www.WomenEatNYC.com  (and Grub Street intern!!), a bee-yoo-ti-ful blog that includes recipes and pictures of women enjoying food, stopped by and helped out with some necessary lighting in my living room (no natural light, boo!). She also shared some really cute recipe cards (Dani, let me know where you found those little guys!). We discussed our favorite baking books including, The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (who also wrote the Cake Bible!) and The Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Eventually (it was inevitable) the knitting needles came out and Meg, knitter extraordinaire, shared her go-to book for knitting: The Complete Guide to Needlework edited by Readers Digest. Meg’s copy is ancient, but it’s a gem of a reference book. The pictures are painfully 80s, but the instruction is invaluable, with pictures and clear descriptions of a bajillion patterns and stitches for all kinds of stitching crafts from knitting to quilting to needlepoint to embroidery.

We’re hoping to host another TBECC before the school-year lets out. My hope is that TBECC will encourage more women (men too!) to get together, share domestic knowledge and take back our food system!

TBECC: Reclaiming the Domestic, in Action!

I couldn’t be more excited for the weekend coming up! On Saturday, Slow Food NYC is having their first volunteer workday. They’re gearing up for their summer program at Ujima Community Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and they need volunteers to help plant and build in the garden, and to prep the classroom. This year they’re adding chickens to their repertoire of urban farming, so naturally we have to build a chicken coop. The coop building is scheduled for the second workday, April 30th. I’m most excited to help build the coop as Noah and I are beginning to think about the potential of our own Brooklyn chicken coop! But more on that some other time…

This Sunday, I’m hosting a wee-little event called TBECC: talk, bake, eat, cook, and craft (not the best acronym, but whatever, it serves its purpose for now). What is TBECC? Well, this semester, I’ve made great connections with some amazing girls at NYU. We’ve exchanged recipes, cooking/baking tips, crafting tips, and in general just had really empowering conversations. I found myself making promises to hang out with everybody in getting together to cook, bake, eat, talk, drink tea/coffee/mircrobrews, knit, craft, etc. all on different occasions. But then I realized, in these different conversations with different girls, that we all had the same ideas in mind: eating locally, sustainability, feminism, crafting, enjoying food, baking/cooking, and all that jazz.

Obviously it would be wonderful to hang out with everyone individually, but I figured, in light of some recent ideas I’ve had about communality and the sharing of domestic knowledge, why don’t I get all these great, intellectual, feminine minds together in one place and just talk, bake, eat, craft and cook? So, we have TBECC this Sunday at my humble apartment! My yarn has been collecting dust under a folding table in my bedroom so I’m especially excited to dust-off my knitting needles and put them to work. And, since we will be cooking, eating, and baking, I have two recipes in mind: Cinnamon Swirl Buns and Grapefruit Honey Yogurt Scones. Reclaiming the domestic, in action!

{image courtesy of Boston Public Library flickr}

Reclaiming the Domestic: tonight! at the TEDxGallatinSeniorSymposium

{image courtesy of TEDxGallatin.com; words courtesy of me *note my awkwardly large hand…21 years and I still haven’t figured them out}

Tonight is the TEDxGallatinSeniorSymposium (wow, that’s a mouthful) where I and some other amazing fellow seniors are giving presentations on topics related to our concentrations at Gallatin. My talk is called “Reclaiming the Domestic: farm women’s invisible feminism and sustainability.”

If you’ve never met a Gallatin student, then let me explain a little something about ourselves; we’re nerds. HUGE nerds. (Obviously that can’t be said for all Gallatin students, but I think it’s a safe assumption having spent the past two years immersed in Gallatin student culture.) Because Gallatin students create their own concentrations and curricula, Gallatin students are incredibly passionate about what they study, and they’re also really interesting people. Unfortunately there is an assumption around NYU that Gallatin students are the overly-ideal, hippie-dippies who have no sense of reality or structure; we’re the Hufflepuffs of NYU. Outsiders think we’re just floating around NYU, taking courses in jewelry making or “women’s textiles” (yes, I’ve taken both) and wasting a $200,000 degree. I’ve even over-heard NYU student ambassadors telling prospective students on tours as they point to the Gallatin building, “You can major in anything you want, like Bob the Builder.” Of course, parents and students scoff at so obviously a stupid choice of schooling. Well, let me tell you something Mr. Know-It-All NYU Student Ambassador, that kid majoring in “Bob the Builder” was probably looking into the cultural significance of a children’s cartoon character, questioning our assumptions of masculinity, how they relate to child psychology and neuroscience, and what ‘Bob the Builder’ implies about blue-collar professions within a white collar society. What now, Classics major!

For the record, I don’t know anyone majoring in Bob the Builder, and I have nothing against Classics majors. But if you find yourself among this incredulous cohort, then attend tonight’s TEDxGallatinSeniorSymposium and witness first-hand the genius of Gallatin students. Don’t forget to check out the TEDxGallatin site to read about the other awesome seniors presenting at tonight’s event. See you there!