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…


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:

A Moveable Feast: Photographs of the NYC Green Cart Program at MCNY

{Gabriele Stabile, Untitled, 2009}

If you live in New York City, then you’re probably familiar with those ubiquitous sidewalk green carts. Fruits and produce for a reasonable price, on the go, anywhere, anytime. They’re not usually organic, nor do they typically boast any sustainable practices, but these carts serve an arguably even more important purpose: to bring fresh fruits and veggies to under-served communities, where the closest thing to “vegetables” are often the french fries at the local McDonald’s. But with a head full of organic sensibility and quests for the most sustainable kale, it’s easy to ignore the cultural and social significance of these humble green carts.

Moveable Feast: Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Cart Program,” a photo-journalism exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, aims to highlight this oft-invisible part of city life. Five photographers spent a year exploring the lives of the independent green cart owners, their customers, and the neighborhoods they serve. The result is a stunning collection of photos and a bit of history. Most of the green cart photos were taken over the past few years throughout the five boroughs, but the exhibit also features a number of pictures, taken from various museum archives, from as early as 1895.

{Empty Vegetable Stand On Valentines Day, Looking East From 3rd Avenue & 110th Street, Will Steacy, New York, 2010}

The exhibit runs through August 22, and is absolutely worth a visit. Launched in 2008 by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the green cart program was designed to bring accessible fresh fruits and vegetables to communities where 12 percent of adults reported to not have eaten a fruit or vegetable the previous day, according to a DoHMH study.

The images remind us of the families that depend on the green carts for their health, and livelihoods. One collection of photos by photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier includes snapshots into the life of a green cart vendor who operated his cart 24 hours a day until he was beaten and robbed late one evening. Now, he depends on his brother and other family members to man the cart with him at all times. Another interesting anecdote includes the cut throat, but often unacknowledged competition between green cart operators and other food carts, like the Sabrett hot dog vendor. (In this case, the police favored the Sabrett vendor and the green cart operator in question was forced to move his cart onto a less busy block.)

{Will Steacy, McDonalds Drive-Thru Adjacent To Dominos Pizza, Looking Northeast From Jerome Avenue, Bronx, 2010}

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!

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!

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.