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.


Craft Fairs, Honey Festivals, and the Nation Magazine – Oh My!

Ok, so that wasn’t the best play on the famous Wizard of Oz mantra, but I tried. This weekend is choc-full-of exciting events here in New York. Saturday and Sunday is the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. Be prepared for reclaimed disaster relief housing, vertical gardens, and robots that teach you things. I’m nerding out over the whole event, but I’m easily most pumped for BUST Magazine’s sub-section Craftacular! (Also, keep an eye out for the Oct/Nov issue of BUST! Yours truly wrote the feature story on urban farm women in NYC!)

Craftacular is BUST Magazine’s outdoor shopping village featuring 50+ vendors, deals, and demos. Check-out hand weaving, mozzarella making, and more!

Purchase tickets to Craftacular and the Maker Faire here. See you there!

Do you like honey? Do you like the beach? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then let me propose this: what are you doing tomorrow, Saturday September 17th beginning at 10AM? It’s the premier of the NYC Honey Festival at Rockaway Beach, sponsored by rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange, and featuring one of the women I interviewed for my BUST Magazine article, the wonderful Meg Paska of Brooklyn Homesteader.

So what can you expect: beekeeping demos, food raffles, cooking demos with the folks at Brooklyn Kitchen, honey-beer brewing with the guys at Sixpoint, honey mustard pickles from Horman’s Best Pickles, and a honey-themed dinner on the boardwalk after dark. Pack some sunscreen, a bathing suit, and your beekeeping veil and head down to the Rockaways for a new twist on a day at the beach. For more information, visit http://www.nychoneyfest.com.

In other food news, the Nation magazine premiered its annual food issue. This is an important one for the food world, as it carries pieces on food economics, crisis, and the environment. The 2011 issue features a roster of a who’s who in food systems celebrity, including articles by the likes of Michael Pollan, change-maker Vandana Shiva, Raj Patel, Frances Moore Lappe, Anna Lappe, Eric Schlosser, Daniel Imhoff, and Civil Eats editor Paula Crossfield. Check-out the full list of articles here, and be sure to pick-up your copy on newsstands today.

Real Food Challenge – Gearing Up for The Year Ahead

Have you heard about Real Food Challenge? It’s a non-profit supported by a network of student leaders across the country who are working toward shifting 1 billion dollars in campus dining money to “real food” by 2020. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve been working with them since July on a few projects, and I am perpetually impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of this network. As we’re gearing up for an uber-busy year ahead, I wrote a piece for the Real Food Challenge blog in reaction to the USDA’s bail-out of the chicken industry to remind us of why we work.

{Originally posted on the Real Food Challenge blog on August 31, 2011.}

Throughout August and September, the Real Food Challenge is hosting regional summer trainings for student leaders all across the country. Student leaders will be participating in intensive, four-day trainings as they prepare for a jam-packed year ahead of them. Come September, they’ll embark on a year filled with campaigning and strategizing on their campuses. The leaders are working towards the Real Food Challenge’s long term goal of shifting $1 billion of campus dining funds away from industrial food and agriculture to more sustainable, community-oriented farms and processors – or ‘real food’ – by 2020.

These regional trainings couldn’t come at a more relevant time. Last Monday, the USDA purchased $40 million in chicken products in a move to bail out the chicken industry. (Thankfully, they’ve pledged to donate the food to soup kitchens and families in need.) The chicken industry (read: industrial agricultural conglomerates) cited the rising cost of production and the apparent struggle to turn a profit as reasons for the bail out. We can’t help but wonder where these funds are actually going to end up, and something tells us that it won’t be in the farmers’ wallets. Some argue that the bail out was necessary, but this is just another example of the government supporting the industrial producers who are “too big to fail” as the smaller, real food farmers are left in the dust.

This is why we need passionate student leaders and people like you – because real food farmers, those who are farming for our environment, our animals, and our communities, don’t have the USDA to bail them out when times get tough. They instead depend on a network of people who believe in shifting power away from the industrial conglomerates that abuse the environment, laborers, and animals, and into the hands of real food farmers.

The USDA transferred $40 million into the chicken industry, but Real Food Challenge hopes to shift $1 billion of campus dining funds to real food farmers and processors over the next nine years. Imagine what kind of change $1 billion affords: increased access to markets, higher wages for laborers, improved farm infrastructure, just to name a few. The prospect of that change is exciting, and should empower our student leaders, grassroots leaders, field organizers, and anyone passionate about transforming our food system as we continue working toward our goal.

Don’t forget to check out this inspiring video of the 2011 Northeast Regional Summit! It captures the importance and influence of the Real Food Challenge’s radical regional student summits:

No Goat Left Behind

{image courtesy of Heritage Foods USA}

Goat cheese is delicious – creamy and tangy, it’s perfect in an omelette, on a salad, or with some roasted beets. And goats themselves are the funniest little creatures. They have dynamic personalities and, as pack animals, they’re incredibly social. I spent some time with a herd of goats during my farm women research up at Cross Island Farms on the Thousand Islands. That fall day, the herd was checking out two new additions to their family:

As the women were trying to size-up their new sisters, the billies were off in a neighboring field mowing down some unruly brush. Dani chose to keep her billies to use as future agri-tourism for the farm. She envisioned them pulling wagons, accompanying children on farm tours, and aiding in the upkeep of their fields.

However, most dairy farms don’t have the capacity to keep their billies, so the males are culled at birth. Heritage Foods USA has a solution to the problem of billies on dairies that would not only give dairy farmers a fair price for their male goats, but it would also extend the market for undervalued goat meat. Check out the video below with the wonderful Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers here in NYC as she introduces “No Goat Left Behind,” Heritage Foods’ cleverly named goat program which begins in Goatober.

Eating Rockaway Beach: Sand, Sun, Savories, and Sweets

This past Friday, Noah and I packed our day packs with various beach-going paraphernalia: tapestry, sunscreen, sunglasses, Nalgene water bottle… We were headed out for a day at Rockaway beach. But we left the cooler and cold-cuts at home in favor of the pop-up food shops along the Rockaway boardwalk.

$2.25 and an hour later, we found that we had escaped the exhaust fumes and car horns of our Brooklyn apartment, and were staring straight into the endless Atlantic ocean. Bliss.

As if the prospect of baking in the sun and sand of this urban beach oasis wasn’t enough, the boardwalk boasts some of the city’s best finger foods.

So what did we eat? We began with Caracas at Beach 106th Street, easily one of our favorite restaurants – visit the original storefront in the East Village, or check out their relatively new location in Willy’burg. We had the traditional arepas, which are kind of like spongy, corn pita pockets. I had mine filled with shredded salty cheese, tomato and avocado, Noah had his with salty cheese and sweet plantains. And don’t forget the fried green plantains topped with a mojito mayo and shredded salty cheese. Yup, it’s as devastatingly delicious as it sounds. And no, Noah and I are not worried about arteries…at least not on our days off.

After an hour baking in the sun, I headed back to the food outpost at Beach 106th to freshen up with a New Orleans style iced coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee – cold brewed, with chicory and milk. Perfect beach pick-me-up.

Finally, we ended our day over at Beach 96th Street with the ever twee Babycakes – the beloved Lower East Side vegan and gluten-free bakery. We shared a vanilla-frosted mini doughnut and a chocolate chip with vanilla ice cream cookie sandwich. Sugary, sweet, and melt-in-your-mouth (and hands! it’s hot outside!) goodness.

The best part of this food tour of Rockaway? It doesn’t end here! Check out this quick bite in NYMag for some other pop-ups, and this piece in NonaBrooklyn for a complete list of the food options for your next Rockaway getaway.

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.

Re-Purposing Steve’s Ice Cream’s Pints – because we eat it so quickly!