Ceres arrives in NYC today!
Now that urban rooftops are buzzing with beehives and C.S.A. deliveries are the new FreshDirect, where does the slow-food movement go next? One key issue confronting the locavore movement is transportation — the “to” in “farm to table.”
Before the Industrial Revolution, most food was regional by necessity, shipped via wind-powered boats. Urban waterfronts were vibrant centers of commerce and community. Seeking a more sustainable way to get his grain to market, the Vermont farmer Erik Andrus conceived the Vermont Sail Freight Project to find out if this model could work again today. In April, he raised more than $15,000 on Kickstarter to build a 39-foot-long plywood sail barge named Ceres (after the Roman goddess of agriculture). The Greenhorns, an Essex, N.Y.-based farmer advocacy group, and the Willowell Foundation, a nonprofit education organization, signed on as partners to raise additional funds, handle the project’s logistics and recruit farmers and volunteers.
“We’re at an inflection point,” said Severine von Tscharner Fleming, the founder of the Greenhorns. “Can we, as farmers, collaborate on a distribution system that matches our values and preserves the craft economy?”
The boat, loaded with 15 tons of cargo from 30 farms, is about to complete its maiden voyage down the Hudson. The crew has been hosting daily dockside markets at port towns from Hudson to Yonkers, selling pantry staples, like wild birch syrup, heirloom beans and Atlantic-harvested seaweed, and fresh produce, like blue fingerling potatoes from Juniper Hill Farm in Wadhams, N.Y., and shiso from Grange Co-Packer Cooperative in Essex, N.Y., which von Tscharner Fleming co-founded.
On Saturday, Ceres will arrive in the city, docking at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for a market and party in the warehouse of the seafood importer Agger Fish (3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Building No. 313). The local rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange will sell produce at the event, which features rickshaw delivery service, pumpkin carving, art and music. On Sunday, the festivities cross the East River to the New Amsterdam Market on South Street (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), located at the defunct Old Fulton Fish Market. On Monday, a prix fixe dinner using ingredients from the boat, with cider and beer pairings, takes place at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. (Tickets are still available.) To make the most of the return voyage, Ceres will head north carrying fair-trade cocoa beans and pickling jars for its producers. The partners plan to repeat this journey several times next year.
Is this a publicity stunt or a workable new paradigm for feeding the world? Von Tscharner Fleming freely admits that it’s a bit of both. “Nine million people live within walking distance of the boat’s markets,” she said. “Frankly, it shouldn’t be a luxury to eat regional food. We’re allowing ourselves to imagine what it might mean to reshuffle the system and move toward a compelling, regionally appropriate, affordable, satisfying diet.”