62 Mail Order Chicks Later…

So, we’re raising 62 meat chickens.

After finishing up evening chores yesterday, I walked into our make-shift greenhouse (the room below our kitchen area where I’ve been nursing various seedlings) to find a whole new set of tender challenges. In a metal incubator set on the seeding table were 62 tiny chicks peeping and scuttling like 1st graders let out for recess after a week of rain. The owner purchased them online and they arrived during the day with only one chick DOA (a good turnout).

The chicks are Cornish crosses, so they’ll quickly lose that adorable yellow-fluff and transform into dirty white little monsters. Their legs will forever be too bulky for their bodies; their breasts will grow heavy and tip the pullets toward the ground. Cornish crosses are the meat industry standard: their modus operandi during their short lives is to eat – constantly and furiously – as they mature to processing weight within six to eight weeks. Past that? They die off by ten weeks.

Totally crazy, right? After working with both Heritage meat birds and some gorgeous layers, I’m a little apprehensive to work with these franken-chicks. Plus, this will be the first time I’m raising something solely for slaughter. I’ve been on most sides of the animal industry equation (distribution, retail, slaughterhouse, dairy), so I guess it’s about time that I take on the system as a whole.

{Beautiful and healthy layers, a far cry from a mature Cornish cross}

My newest venture notwithstanding, I’m definitely not eating meat anytime soon; I’m viewing these next eight weeks as an experiment in sustainable meat production. To begin, I picked up a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Until next time…


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:

Slow Food NYU Eat-In! Today!

In a final rush of collegiate hurrah (graduation is only 11 days away) Slow Food NYU is sponsoring a final, end-of-the-semester, beginning-of-spring EAT-IN! What is an Eat-In? Think a food-issue centric “sit-in.” Sustainable-foodies get together to enjoy food in a public place and call attention to food issues. We’ve partnered with our fellow food and agriculture related clubs at NYU to get all of our membership and leaders together for an informal potluck to foster inter-club collaboration and general nerding-out over food- and agriculture-issues! It’s a bee-yoo-ti-ful spring day so stop by for food, sun, and good company.

Farmarazzi! Action Alert: Take Photos of Farms While You Still Can

{photo taken by moi as part of my senior project at Cross Island Farms}

“A well managed farm has nothing to hide.” – Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA. But if Daniel Imhoff’s book CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories tells us anything, it’s that most farms do have something to hide.

{image courtesy of http://www.cafothebook.com}

So it’s no wonder that certain states are now considering a law that would make taking pictures of farms a criminal act. Yup, you read correctly: Legislators in Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota have proposed laws that claim unapproved photos of farms (i.e. the images in whistle-blowing outlets such as CAFO) misrepresent the industry and prove detrimental to the public’s perception of food production.

This is just plain horse manure. As Mark Bittman pointed out in an opinion piece for the Times, if farms were well-managed and humane in the first place, there wouldn’t be a need for such a reactive piece of legislation, “Videotaping at factory farms wouldn’t be necessary if the industry were properly regulated. But it isn’t.” The sad fact is that many of the farms that supply our supermarkets participate in the horrific abuses seen in CAFO.

On a wholesome farm, farmers revel in photographs of their healthy, happy animals and crops. Such were the reactions of the women farmers I interviewed and photographed last semester for my senior project. All the women happily agreed to not only having me and Noah snoop around their farms, but also allowing us to take photos. You can check out all my farm photos here.

In order to fight back against the pending legislation, Slow Food USA has started the tongue-in-cheek campaignFarmarazzi.” They’re encouraging individuals to get out to a farm, take a photo and then submit the photos to the Slow Food USA facebook page. From their blog:

Step 1: Sign the petition. Even if you’re you don’t live in Florida, Minnesota, or Iowa, your voice matters. These state laws would set a dangerous precedent that other states may choose to follow.

2. Join the farmarazzi! Head out to a farm, take a photo, and if the farmer is available, spend a few minutes getting her perspective on the impact this legislation would have if passed. Then upload your picture to our Facebook wall (or email it to campaigns@slowfoodusa.org) and take a look at what other people have posted there. You can also encourage your friends to “like” your photo—we’re working on a prize for the most popular shots.

So sign the petition, and get out and take some photos of farms!

Happy Earth Day! NYC Updates PlaNYC to Include Food

Happy Earth Day! Today is a busy day over at Legume Loyalist: Slow Food NYU is tabling the NYU Earth Day Street Fair from 11-3 on Washington Place between Greene Street and Washington Square East. Stop by for food, fun, music, and more food!!

In other Earth Day news, New York City unveiled an updated version of PlaNYC, the 2030 projection for the city. The newest edition includes a (small, but still a step in the right direction) section on food systems. To sum up:

“Our food systems intersect with several areas addressed by PlaNYC. Improving the distribution and disposal of food within New York City and increasing access to healthy food will not only benefit the environment, it can also have positive public health and economic impacts.

We are developing a multi-faceted strategy to increase access to affordable and healthy foods and reduce the environmental and climate impacts of food production, distribution, consumption, and disposal.”

You can read the whole PlaNYC proposal here, and the food section here. It’s pretty exciting to see the city acknowledging the need for more accessible and affordable healthy foods. New York City is becoming an increasingly active member in the sustainable food issues conversation, and it’s awesome to be right in the middle of the transition. In fact, just this past November, the New York City Council unveiled a plan specifically targeting the sustainability of the New York City food system. The comprehensive, 82-page paper is called FoodWorks, and covers agricultural production, processing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption. The paper focuses on ways to combat hunger and obesity while simultaneously preserving regional farming and local food manufacturing, and decreasing waste and energy usage. Suggestions include potential legislation and funding opportunities. It’s all around an important document for sustainable food issues in New York City.

Also, check out Grist’s 15 Ways to Celebrate Agriculture on Earth Day.

So celebrate Earth Day! Get outside, visit a farmers market, and enjoy some delicious food.

What’s the Matter with Processed Meat?

{image courtesy of LowDensityLifestyle.com; words my own}

What’s the matter with processed meat? Find out tonight! 6:30 PM at NYU’s Bobst library at the Fales library and special collections. Co-sponsored by the wonderful series Kitchen Table Talks and and the on- and off-line social network Eating Liberally, tonight’s conversation features some big names from the sustainable-food-world:

Daniel Imhoff editor of CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. (If you haven’t seen this book, then you should definitely peruse a copy if you can… it’s some pretty powerful stuff.)
Michael Moss the New York Times investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his exposé on E. coli-tainted industrial beef, “The Burger That Shattered Her Life.
Marion Nestle NYU nutrition professor who served on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, and author of Food Politics and What to Eat, among other books. Check out her great blog, Food Politics.

Moderated by Paula Crossfield, the managing editor of Civil Eats.

RSVP to rsvp@library.nyu.edu or call 212.992.7050. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be available for sale and there will be a signing following the event. Sustainable food and refreshments will be provided by the wonderful Northern Spy.

Tomatoes in April? You Betcha!

Prior to an auspicious run-in at the Saturday greenmarket in Union Square, I hadn’t eaten a fresh tomato since about September. In my attempts to eat what I preach, tomatoes are one of the foods that I try to buy only seasonally (from June to about mid-October). Out of season, grocery-store tomatoes are typically shipped from some far-off place like Mexico, they’re rarely organic, and they taste just blegh.

However, there is hope for the ‘locavore’ foodie who craves that sweet taste of summer: hydroponics! Try to imagine my excitement at the site of shiny-red vine tomatoes amidst the blanket of earthy-toned root vegetables and salad greens that are typical greenmarket fare this time of the year. Shushan Valley Hydroponics, a hydroponic farm based in upstate New York, grows tomatoes hydroponically in greenhouses on their 200-acre farm for about 10 months out of the year, and sells their pesticide- and herbicide-free tomatoes at the Union Square greenmarket on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Hydroponic farming is a neat thing, especially for the closet science-fiction geek like myself. It’s essentially indoor-farming without soil: instead, plants absorb a nutrient rich water mixture. The advantage? Produce, plants, and herbs can be grown year-round in indoor spaces, which is promising for the urbanite who’s developed the itch to grow their own food. City Hydroponics, a NYC-based hydroponic resource company, provides free “Intro to Hydroponics” classes every Saturday morning from 10AM-11AM.

I was a bit incredulous of how these hydroponic tomatoes would taste – as a fan of the coveted heirloom tomato varieties that grace the greenmarket for only a limited time during the summer, my tomato-taste-reference-bar is set high. But these tomatoes are surprisingly delicious: firm, sweet, and juicy. The tomatoes run about $4.95 a pound, which is pretty steep on a student budget, but store bought tomatoes cost about the same for an absolutely sub-par taste.