Posts filed under ‘Community Supported Agriculture’

2011 NYC Urban Ag: A Nine-Month Review

The urban agriculture movement in New York City has made enormous progress this year.  New legislation favoring urban farming was introduced.  New farms opened.  There’s even a new farm school.  It all happened within the last nine months, all of it summarized here.  (more…)

September 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm 1 comment

LOCAL FOOD News Roundup

CSA Stands Strong Post-Irene

Tropical Storm Irene has tested the will of even the sturdiest farmers.  In an interview with NPR, Cheryl Rogowski, owner of W. Rogowski Farm in Orange County, N.Y., talks about the considerable storm damage to her 150-acre farm. She lost 80 to 90% of her crops with most of the farm underwater at the time of the interview.

Rogowski’s farm is one of 15 CSA farms supplying New York City that suffered severe damage, said Jacquie Berger, executive director of the advocacy nonprofit Just Food, in the interview.

Irene may have knocked out half the city’s CSA farms (31 farms run CSA programs in the city) for the season, but it did little to diminish support for the concept of CSA (community supported agriculture).  The tropical storm put CSA to the ultimate test, as CSA customers — shareholders in farm harvests — bore crop losses along with their farmers. (more…)

September 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm 1 comment

CSA Farmers Gain Political Support at State Level

Political support for local farming is growing at both city and state levels.  As I blogged here, the New York City Council last month passed a package of bills to support regional farmers and announced its own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with two upstate farmers.

Now state government is backing local farmers too.  U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) recently introduced legislation that would create a competitive grant program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture dedicated to the promotion of CSA.  The program would award federal funds to non-profit organizations, extension services, and state and local government agencies to provide support — ranging from marketing and business assistance to crop development — to CSA farmers. (more…)

August 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

New York City Council Launches City’s First Workplace CSA

Speaker Quinn

Photo courtesy of William Alastriste of New York City Council

The New York City Council’s lunch room was as much the scene of the action yesterday as the hearing room. Council leaders and staff streamed in to do what they always do on Thursdays during their lunch hour: they picked up their share of fresh fruits and vegetables from Norwich Meadows Farms and Red Jacket Orchards, two upstate farms.

“I never saw a sugarplum that color in my life,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn of the yellow plums that were part of the week’s fruit harvest. Speaker Quinn collected peppers, squash, pole beans and other veggies from bins set up on a table and dropped them into her bag.

She and more than 50 other council members and staff were pioneers of sorts:  They were the initial participants in the city’s first workplace Community-Supported Agriculture or “CSA” program. (more…)

July 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm Leave a comment

NYC Council Pushes for More Local Food

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn last week released an 86-page report on ways in which to reform the city’s food system.  The 59 proposals presented in the report address every phase of the food system, from agricultural production through post-consumption.

“The proposals focus on combating hunger and obesity to preserving regional farming and local food manufacturing to decreasing waste and energy usage,” says the New York City Council in a press release.

The proposals call for new procurement guidelines encouraging city agencies to purchase food from regional farmers as well as new legislation to reduce the packaging for the food they procure.  The report urges the city to invest in food processing facilities and to consider a much bolder vision for the redevelopment of the aging Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, the world’s largest wholesale produce market and “the beating heart of our city’s food system,” said Speaker Quinn in her remarks.  As part of this bolder vision, the report endorses a permanent wholesale farmers market, which I blogged about here, and the building of new rail terminals to reduce the number of trucks to Hunts Point each day.

Another notable proposal calls on restaurants to recycle their grease.  The grease and oil restaurants produce can be “turned into a biofuel that heats buildings and runs vehicles,” said Speaker Quinn.

In a show of support for local farmers, Speaker Quinn announced a community supported agriculture (CSA) plan for City Hall employees.  City Council would also work with the Department for the Aging and the New York City Housing Authority to bring CSAs to senior centers and public housing.

The report, “FoodWorks,” is the outcome of an initiative that I blogged about here. Here’s the link to the report.

November 28, 2010 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

Chickens Become Garden Attraction

Lower East Side chickens

© Margarida Correia. Chickens have become a community attraction at a Lower East Side garden in Manhattan.

It was the perfect midsummer evening for strolling city sidewalks and forgetting about life’s troubles for a while.  But not for a committed group of city chicken keepers who had a pressing issue on their minds:  how to keep their birds safe from salmonella.

The group huddled at a Lower East Side community garden to listen to tips from invited speaker Martha Callaghan, a USDA animal health technician.

If the birds have swollen faces or aren’t their usual chipper selves, she explained, it’s a sign that the birds are sick, though not necessarily from salmonella as there are no specific symptoms for the disease.

The 16 chicken fans  — all members of the Just Food City Chicken Meetup Group —shared their knowledge and experiences, their voices at times drowned out by the chirping of crickets and tree frogs or the zoom, zoom of motorcycles on the street.

Just a few feet away two hens and a -SHHH “non-hen” or rooster (roosters are illegal in New York City) were tucked away in the garden’s newly built luxury coop. The rooster was one of two roosters that had been abandoned in the garden last winter, victims, the gardeners surmised, of a cock fight.  The gardeners gave one to an upstate farmer — he was too territorial, they said — but the other they kept.  In the spring, two hens donated by a longtime community resident joined him and the three roamed in the garden range-free until the coop was built.

“The community loves him,” Kathleen Webster, co-chair of the M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, said of the rooster.  She explained that the chickens have become a garden attraction, drawing people from nearby Chinese and Latino communities, nostalgic perhaps for the countries they left behind.

“Chickens were quite common to this neighborhood before the mass infusion of money destroyed some of the local community gardens and their “casitas” or garden sheds where people played cards or just hung out,” Kathleen explained.

While the chickens may be a novelty for average New Yorkers, they’re a normal part of the landscape for urban gardeners.  Owen Taylor, organizer of the Just Food City Chicken Meetup Group, said he counted some 30 community gardens that kept chickens three years ago.  He’s since stopped counting.   “It’s been normalized,” he said.   “It’s no longer shocking.”

Isabel Goldberg, one of the more than 400 registered City Chicken Meetup members, keeps two hens — one an “Easter egger” that lays blue eggs — in her North Bronx backyard.   She started with three chickens in April 2009.

“I like good eggs,” she said when asked why she keeps chickens.  “Supermarket eggs are tasteless.”

When it comes to city chickens, though, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rules the roost.  The neighborhood is home to a 40-hen community coop that provides fresh eggs to some of the city’s poorest residents through a CSA program run by bk farmyards, a Brooklyn-based company that farms people’s backyards, schoolyards, and underutilized urban land.  The hens produce three dozen eggs daily.

Their Lower East Side sisters aren’t nearly as productive, laying one egg every two to three days.  But that doesn’t seem to diminish the community’s affection for the birds.

“I love you,” the garden’s resident chicken whisperer coos as she reaches out to stroke the Lower East Side hens.

In the world of urban chicken keeping, anything goes, especially if it helps chickens lay a few more eggs.

September 13, 2010 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

A CSA Plan with a New Twist

A new kind of community-supported agriculture (CSA) plan debuted last month in the South Bronx.  The new CSA plan gives members more than a share in a farm’s summer harvest.  It also gives them a chance to own a share of the farm itself.

The new CSA plan, described in this New York Times article, is the work of Dennis Derryck, a 70-year-old professor, mathematician and Harlem resident who wanted to make it easier and more affordable for low-income individuals to get fresh produce directly from local farmers.  According to the article, Derryck sold CSA shares to local residents as well nonprofit groups for their employees and members.  The South Bronx Food Co-op, for example, bought 25 shares of the CSA plan for its members.

Unlike traditional CSA plans where members are required to pay upfront for an entire season’s worth of produce, members in the South Bronx plan pay for two weeks’ supply at a time.  And the prices are cheaper, ranging from $3.75 to $20 a week, depending on income, subsidies and share size, according to the article.

Corbin Hills Farm, the 92-acre farm supplying the CSA members, is located in Schoharie County in upstate New York.  The farm was purchased by Derryck, who took out a $300,000 loan and collected $562,000 from nonprofit groups in the South Bronx.  He hired a farm manager and bought two essentials to launch the CSA:  a tractor and a refrigerated truck to make deliveries at drop-off sites in the South Bronx.

Once Derryck pays off the debt on the farm, ownership will pass to CSA members, giving them more control over what’s grown and share prices paid.  “They can collectively decide to use their shares to reduce their weekly take, and make other decisions about how the farm is run and what’s grown,” explains the reporter in the article.

CSA plans have long been criticized as being elitist, despite efforts to make them more affordable for low-income people through subsidized sliding-scale payment arrangements, which I blogged about here, and other means.  The new commercial CSA plan and farm cooperative that Derryck has envisioned provides yet another arrow in the quiver of those committed to bringing fresh produce to all Americans.

July 22, 2010 at 2:16 am 1 comment

What Price Milk?

A pamphlet circulated by the New York City milk cooperative, Consumer-Farmer Milk Cooperative, for nearly 20 years.

A pamphlet circulated by New York's now defunct Consumer-Farmer Milk Cooperative for nearly 20 years.

A dime for a quart of milk today sounds like a bargain, but back in the 1930s it was anything but.  With prices fluctuating from nine cents to 14 cents a quart – the equivalent today of $1.34 to $2.08 – milk was unaffordable to Depression-era New Yorkers. 

People understandably grew angry.  In November 1937, following a milk price increase, a mob of mostly women, along with a Holstein cow named Bossy, gathered at Foley Square in Manhattan to protest spiraling milk prices.

Meanwhile upstate dairy farmers were barely getting paid for the high-priced milk. Prices for the struggling dairymen plummeted to all-time lows, leaving many destitute and causing thousands to strike and even threaten to “blow up milk stations and milk trains.”  

Over Spilt Milk,” an online exhibit at the NY Food Museum relives the drama of a turbulent period in New York’s milk history.  The well-documented tale brings to life the villains and heroes of the day. The villains included the detested “Milk Trust”—the three milk distribution giants Borden’s Condensed Milk Co., Sheffield Farms Milk Co., and United States Dairy Products Co., which controlled two-thirds of the city’s milk market.  Other key players included the three-man Milk Control Board, accused by the public of favoritism and unclean ties with the milk lobby.  The Milk Control Board granted milk dealer licenses and stepped in to stabilize fluctuating milk prices. 

Heroes emerged from the chaos, among them community activists Meyer Parodneck and Dr. Caroline Whitney.  They helped organize a milk cooperative—the Consumer-Farmer Milk Cooperative—that connected dairy farmers directly to people in New York, eliminating the need for “Milk Trust distributors.” The cooperative, formed in 1937, existed until the 1970s when it was sold by its surviving founder. 

The online exhibit is filled with political cartoons and vintage photographs that bring back the tensions and passions of the time.  While the narrative sometimes jumps and leaves some holes along the way, it is a riveting story of the city’s past.  It’s also a harbinger of the modern community supported agriculture movement, which makes it all the more interesting.

May 24, 2009 at 1:06 am 1 comment

A Food Revolution?

I’ve always been a doubting Thomas.  I need to see it to believe it.  And even then, I don’t believe it.

That’s pretty much sums up how I feel about what many are calling a U.S. “food revolution.”  Though I’ve met city gardeners, listened to urban chicken growers and beekeepers, and spoken to many young college-educated men and women with big dreams of having their own farms, I don’t buy the notion of a “food revolution,” at least not yet.  I see the nation’s growing fascination with food as just that – an appreciation or an awakening to what good, wholesome food is all about.  It’s a movement perhaps, maybe even a mini agricultural revival.  But not a revolution.  

Cheryl Rogowski, a second-generation farmer at W. Rogowski Farm, went so far as calling farming mainstream in a keynote speech (see “Farmers Rock” post below) at a local food conference earlier this month.  I balked.  Farming mainstream?  Even with 250 food and farm advocates in the room and more than 20 local farmers at the conference, I wasn’t convinced that farming was “mainstream” or that it was in the throes of a revolution.

Let’s face it.  The majority of New Yorkers and people I know shop in supermarkets, not farmers markets, and are hopelessly hooked on processed food.  Most have never heard of community supported agriculture and would be hard pressed to tell a parsnip from a turnip. 

Yet, there it was on the front page of the New York Times – a story about the “food revolution” and the push to create local food systems and entice Americans – children especially – to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. The Nation too ran an article a few weeks earlier about “the revolution” in food and farming.  “This revolt,” writes Solnit, “is taking place in the vast open space of Detroit, in the inner-city farms of West Oakland, in the victory gardens and public housing of Alemany Farm in San Francisco, in Growing Power in Milwaukee and many other places around the country.” She describes the revolution as taking place in “little bits everywhere.”

Maybe it is, but I need to see those bits coalesce into a discernible whole.  Until then, I’ll remain a doubting Thomas.

March 26, 2009 at 1:47 am 3 comments

Farmers Rock

Two Sundays ago, as the nation adjusted to daylight savings and a lost hour of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed to attend Just Food’s annual conference on community supported agriculture (a.k.a. CSA*) in New York City.  I’ve been a regular at the conference for several years, an event that’s always been held on Saturday, never Sunday, the day I like to linger a little longer in bed. 

Was the conference worth giving up the most cherished Sunday of the year? Or the trouble of a subway and bus ride uptown to Columbia University?  You bet.  Once I got there, I was greeted by swarms of earnest, well-meaning people — dreamers and idealists intent on building a better world through better food.  There were workshops and the usual panel discussion with local farmers, always a big draw.  And, of course, there was plenty of healthy food, compliments of local food providers.  For lunch, I feasted on a roasted eggplant and goat cheese sandwich, and nibbled on salad greens drenched in a soy, honey and sesame seed dressing.  

I also got the latest on the number of CSA communities in New York City.  They grew again this year, to more than 80 from 62 in 2008.  Starting May – the beginning of the CSA summer season – more than 24 local farmers will be providing food directly to New Yorkers citywide.   

The focal point for me was the keynote speaker, Cheryl Rogowski of W. Rogowski Farm, a 150-acre family farm in Pine Island, New York.  The former employee of a real estate development company farmed in her spare time before making a full-time commitment to the family’s second-generation farm.  In 1999, she started a small CSA program with 12 members.  Today she has 600.  

CSAs, she said, are “the hot sexy thing now,” not farmers markets. “It’s never been a more challenging or exciting time to be farmers than now. Farmers,” she later went on, “are rock stars.”

With an auditorium packed with local food supporters, the claim didn’t seem farfetched.  The conference, like last year, was sold out.  Rock star status was evident in another meaningful way.  Investors, noted Rogowski, were dumping real estate development and buying agricultural land. 

Still, Rogowski warned local farmers and food supporters not to grow complacent, as agribusiness behemoths were watching and lurking from corners (figuratively, that is), ready to stymie the emerging local food movement. 

She rallied the audience for their support, saying that everyone had a role to play in keeping the local food movement strong.  She appealed to consumers of local food as well at the broad network of CSA organizers and community activists in New York City.  “We can never rest,” she said.  “We need to make this movement as strong as we can.”


*Look for my article in the dining section of dated Feb. 6, 2008, entitled, “Community Supported Agriculture Takes Off.”

March 19, 2009 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

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