Posts tagged ‘Michael Grady Robertson’

The Rise of the Portable Farm

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

© Photos by Margarida Correia. See captions at bottom of article.

Manhattan is not the world’s best place for a restaurant to build a farm.  But Riverpark Restaurant, a new restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, did just that — thanks to an open-minded, eco-conscious landlord and some out-of-the-box thinking.

The 15,000-square-foot farm — located 100 feet from the restaurant at Alexandria Center for Life Science, a new but unfinished biotechnology complex on 29th Street between 1st Avenue and the FDR Drive — is not your typical farm.  It’s portable.  The hundred different crops that grow there — everything from arugula and collard greens to eggplant, zucchini and squash — are raised in thousands of double-stacked milk crates. (more…)

August 13, 2011 at 6:48 pm 1 comment

Former NYC Farmer Opens Farm in Hudson Valley

Michael Grady Robertson of Grady's Farm

© Photo by Grady’s Farm. Michael Grady Robertson, founder of Grady’s Farm, tends to laying hens in a vintage-van-turned-chicken coop. Grady’s Farm is located in Red Hook in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Michael Grady Robertson, the former agriculture supervisor of Queens County Farm, has branched out on his own and opened a 62-acre farm in Red Hook in New York’s Hudson Valley. The newly opened farm — it’s but three months old — is offering a CSA egg share program this summer and a “meat and potatoes” CSA program next winter.

The eggs, according to Grady, are top-notch in quality.  Grady’s hens eat organic, non-GMO feed, forage on clean pastures, and drink clean water. And they have the hippest coop in all of chicken land — a vintage van that Grady bought not long ago. The mobile chicken coop, or rather “egg-creational vehicle,” nicknamed the Vagabond, provides a bright, roomy space for the hens to roost.

The eggs, which will go for $5 a dozen, or $2.50 a half-dozen, will be available starting in May for pick-up from the farm and at the Greenmarket in New York City.  “Farmer Michael,” as Grady likes to call himself, encourages CSA members in New York City to contact their CSA farmers if they’re interested in adding the eggs to their summer shares.

For the 2011 winter CSA program, Grady will team up with vegetable growers to add storage crops to the meat products he plans to provide. He is raising pigs and cows on strict grass and pasture diets.

The farm was named after Grady’s grandfather who once had a truck farm in Atlanta.  “We work and live in his spirit,” Grady writes in the farm’s brochure, “providing for our friends and family, nurturing our land and our communities, and acting so that our children and grandchildren may find the world bountiful and joyous.”

To find out more about the Grady’s Farm, click here.

March 6, 2011 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

Wrap-up of a Year’s Worth of Blogging: Power of the People and a Politician Propel New York Local Food Movement in 2009

Sheer public support for local food and small farms made 2009 a banner year for New York City locavores.  Farmers markets and community gardens flourished, and new urban farms emerged, including the city’s first rooftop farm — a 6,000-square-foot site that drew scores of eager volunteers each Sunday throughout the 2009 growing season.

The local food movement had the power of the people behind it, and gained extra momentum, thanks to the power of a colorful and forceful politician:  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

“New York City must be front and center in the international debate over food,” Stringer told some 1,000 foodies at a conference earlier this month at New York University.  He proposed forming a New York City Department of Food and Markets that would report directly to the mayor and pushed for a more regional food supply system.

“Food policy will be a top priority for my office,” he rallied the crowd of urban gardeners, nutritionists, chefs, teachers, civic leaders, community activists and others with a stake in food and farm policy.

The conference, which sold out within hours of its announcement, came only days after New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn launched “FoodWorks New York,” an initiative to analyze the city’s food system and tap its potential to create jobs by working with local farmers.

New York locavores found more than champions in positions to shake things up.  They also discovered what could turn out to be a symbol for their movement:  the city’s heirloom apple, the Newtown-Pippin.  The green-yellow apples originated on a farm in Maspeth, Queens, in the 1700s and became popular throughout the country.  Now a campaign is underway to reintroduce the apple tree in parks and gardens citywide and even name the Newtown-Pippin the city’s official apple.

Without a doubt, 2009 gave the local food movement a big boost.  Here’s a look back at some blog posts that chronicle turning points for advocates of a more localized food system:

  • Report Champions Local Farmers:  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer releases a report calling for a “radical overhaul” of New York City’s food system.  The report makes several recommendations that would make it easier for local farmers to sell their produce in New York City, including requiring government food buyers to purchase a certain percentage of their food from farmers in the city’s foodshed.
  • New York Urban Farmers Draw Large Crowd:  A panel discussion on urban farming draws a huge crowd of local food enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Participants hear from a Brooklyn-based indoor grower of wheatgrass and sprouts who “moved his farm to the city” from upstate New York “to be closer to his customers.”  A few weeks later, the keynote speaker at a conference on community supported agriculture — upstate farmer Cheryl Rogowski — noted that “farmers are rock stars” and that “it’s never been a more challenging or exciting time to be farmers than now.”  Not so fast, I say, in this post.  An unrepentant doubting Thomas, I question what many are calling a U.S. “food revolution.”
  • Farmers in Training:  This post profiles Michael Grady Robertson, the farm supervisor of the Queens County Farm Museum, and the opportunities the farm provides for breaking in would-be farmers.
  • Battalion of Volunteer Bee Keepers Invade City Parks and Gardens:  Local papers and blogs (including this one) covered efforts to legalize beekeeping in New York City.  Less well-covered was the Great Pollinator Project, a citywide effort to better understand and raise awareness of the importance of city bees.  The blog post describes my participation in the project.
  • The Greening of City Rooftops:  Farming on rooftops may become a hot new trend in New York City.  The post reflects on the development of green roofs in the last two years and where they’re likely to go. In this post, urban farming leaps ahead with visionary Dr. Dickson Despommier’s notion of a “vertical farm,” one in which crops grow indoors in multi-story buildings.
  • Phoenix Community Gardens Brings Neighbors Together:  This account of a refurbished community garden in Brooklyn peers into the lives of the people who garden there.  There are other posts on urban gardeners, including this one about Karen Washington, founder of the Garden of Happiness, and this one about Abu Talib, director of Taqwa Community Garden.  There’s also an account here of “wild man” Joe Gonzalez, a backyard gardener and community leader.
  • What Price Milk?:  The troubles facing today’s dairy farms recall the 1930s when dairymen were getting a raw deal on the price of milk.  They, too, we going bankrupt, even as consumer milk prices were going through the roof.  The turbulent time in New York milk history is documented in the online exhibit New York Bounty describes in the post.
  • Visions of Urban Farmland for the Grand Concourse: A proposal to transform the Grand Concourse, a nine-lane motorway in the Bronx, into four miles of contiguous urban farmland won second place in a global competition to remake the 100-year-old thoroughfare.  Farming inspired other artists in 2009.  In September, artist Leah Gauthier celebrated the close of a five-borough micro-farm installation consisting of modest growing spaces donated by New Yorkers.  In return for the spaces, Gauthier became a “sharecropper,” paying donors with a portion of the produce she grew on individual locations for the season.  It’s the ultimate high-concept art project.
  • The Nature Nut: I introduced former organic farmer and certified holistic health counselor Susana Correia as New York Bounty’s resident expert on organic farming and nutrition counseling.  The “Nature Nut” received and answered several questions throughout the year, and is waiting for more.  Have questions about what to grow in your community garden or your roof or terrace or even in your kitchen?  Questions about nutrition?  Try asking the Nature Nut.  She’ll know.

It’s been challenging keeping up with all that’s happening in urban agriculture in New York City, but I’ve had quite a bit of fun.  One day, though, was the highlight of the year – the day my blog got noticed.  In April, New York Bounty was listed in the information section of the Manhattan User’s Guide, a daily e-mail that keeps readers on top of the city.  Here’s how MUG described New York Bounty:  “With refreshingly few bells and whistles, thoughtful commentary on food, health, and the environment, particularly the ways in which urbanites are trying to reconnect with the good earth.”

The praise sent me over the moon — at least for a day or two.  It’s going to be hard to live up to the description, but I’m sure going to try, every single day of 2010 and beyond…

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 31, 2009 at 3:32 am 1 comment

Farmers in Training

Sheep graze in orchard of 47-acre Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park, Queens.

Sheep graze in orchard of 47-acre Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park, Queens.

It was mid-August, just weeks before the peak tomato harvesting season, when I visited Michael Grady Robertson last year at the Queens County Farm Museum, a 47-acre working historical farm in Floral Park, Queens.  Robertson was bracing for a bumper crop.  He expected to harvest more than 1,000 pounds of tomatoes a week. 

Dressed in a snug T-shirt and jeans, his hair cropped tight, he almost passed for James Dean.  He strode along the penthouse-size pens of pigs, goats and sheep, reflecting on the goals he sought to achieve as the farm’s recently hired full-time supervisor.  Aside from increasing agricultural production, he wanted to implement the highest standards of organic farming practices for fields and livestock and create an environment where animals could be “happiest and healthiest in.”  In addition, he wanted to become a long-term resource for people who wanted to transition into farming from city jobs.

“I want to be here years and years and years,” said the Kansas City native, a resident of Green Point, Brooklyn.

For Robertson, 33, a philosophy major from Boston University, the position at the Queens County Farm Museum was the culmination of a string of volunteer jobs and apprenticeships on farms in the U.S. and abroad, including a nine-month “labor of love” in a rural community in Guatemala. 

“It’s by far the most rewarding,” said Robertson of his job as farm supervisor. 

Robertson followed the path that many recent college grads are taking to explore their vocation for farming.  Many are working as summer interns or apprentices on farms, some even dropping out of school to work as farmhands. 

According to the Northeast Small Farm Institute, a non-profit that runs an apprenticeship and other programs for aspiring farmers, the number of young adults applying for farm apprenticeships is on the rise.  Last year, 60 people applied to the institute’s NEWOOF apprenticeship program, up from 36 the previous year.

Having learned the ropes of organic farming, Robertson is now at a point where he can train and educate others.  Soon after he joined the farm in February 2008, he hired a farm assistant, Keha McIlwaine, a Bed-Stuy resident originally from Utah who one day would like to have her own farm.  McIlwaine, 26, plants, harvests, weeds, irrigates and does all the “basic farming things.” She dropped out of college when she realized that she wanted to study agriculture and the school didn’t offer any courses.  Since then, she’s been “learning farming by doing it.”

“All young people thought they were growing up at the end of the world,” she said reflecting on the issues that influenced her generation.  “We were looking for alternative ways of doing things.” With farming, people can put lost skills and knowledge to use, so that “everyone knows how to shear a sheep or plant a garden,” she said. “We’ve lost so much of that common knowledge.”

To Robertson’s deep satisfaction, the farm is quickly becoming a “go to” place for urbanites who want to learn about organic farming or think they might want to farm.  Robertson reports that people — restaurateurs especially — often approach him for opportunities to work or volunteer on the farm to “see what it takes” — physically, intellectually, financially, and emotionally — to be a farmer.   

As farm production expands, Robertson hopes to have a small seasonal apprentice-like program. “I would like to expand to the point where I need three, four, five dedicated people who want to do this with their life,” he said. 

Competition for choice farm apprenticeships is as fierce as the battle to be the next Apprentice or American Idol. McIlwaine lined up several farming gigs through Willing Workers on Organic Farms – WOOF – an international organization that gives participants room and board on organic farms in exchange for their help.  After “woofing” for a while, she worked on farms in Vermont, California, Spain and Argentina. 

Her experiences helped her confirm her life’s calling.  “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said of farming. 

Neither can Robertson. When I left him that mid-August day, he was planning ahead, thinking way beyond the upcoming tomato season.  He stood in a field of mixed crops, – the “night shades” – tomatoes, peppers and eggplants – plucking hot peppers into a white bucket.  The peppers fell in one by one under a gentle noonday sun. 

“We’ll hang them in one of the wings of the greenhouse to dry,” Robertson said holding out the bucket.  “We’ll have dried hot peppers to sell at the Greenmarket.”

May 28, 2009 at 1:32 am 1 comment


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Categories

Twitter: Recent Tweets


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.