the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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farm or three ring circus? maybe both

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Greenhorns correspondent Julia Caruso spoke with Anastasia Cole Plakias of Brooklyn Grange about the farmer’s perspective on the relationships between urban and rural farms and Brooklyn Grange’s biggest challenge.

It is undeniable that real estate is skyrocketing in metropolitan areas with New York City arguably leading the pack. City dwellers are being pushed out, businesses are being forced to move, and urban farmers’ creativity is being tested. That’s why when Anastasia Cole Plakias, Ben Flanner, and Gwen Schantz, co-founders of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm were looking to purchase land in New York City in 2010, they looked up towards the sky.

Brooklyn Grange began as the largest rooftop soil farm in the world with one-acre of land atop a commercial building in Long Island City. They broke even their first year and two years later they expanded and purchased 2.5 acres of rooftop space above the Brooklyn Navy Yard on a 20-year lease. Anastasia, VP of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, said that the only way they could be fiscally responsible and create a replicable and scalable urban farm, was by purchasing land closer to the sun. But even with their success it is becoming exceedingly difficult to sustain.

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island farm oasis in the middle of NYC

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Here’s an island you’d be down-right lucky to get ship-wrecked on! Greenhorns correspondent Julia Caruso spoke recently with Gabrielle Hayes, the Farm Coordinator at GrowNYC’s urban educational farm, Governors Island Teaching Garden, about the rewards and challenges of educational urban farming and– an idea we especially love– the need for and incredible potential of fostering active relationships between urban and rural farmers. 

Farming and Teaching Against the New York City Skyline
A Walk Through the Governor’s Island Teaching Garden
by Julia Caruso

GrowNYC is an environmental organization most well-known for operating Greenmarket, 52 farmers’ markets around the city, also works actively throughout the city to build community and school garden where they promote hands-on horticulture education for all ages. One such garden, the Governors Island Teaching Garden, is a working urban farm in its fourth year as part of the GrowNYC organization. In a single growing season, April to October, with a half-acre of land they grow 100+ crops and teach 5,000 students between grades K-12 the process and importance of growing and consuming whole foods.

The mission of Teaching Garden is to teach the value of healthy eating, how to grow and use productive green spaces to be better stewards of the environment, and to make sure students always leaving having had a positive experience with nature.

 “Urbanization is making us all extremely disconnected from what we eat,” she said, “we need more educational farms.”

Though visitors are at the mercy of the hourly Governors Island ferry schedule, the planning and traveling is worth it. The reward for the journey can be immediate; some students exclaim that the ferry is their first time on a boat! Taking the ferry and walking around the island gives visitor a fresh perspective of the Concrete Jungle, a closer look at the Statue of Liberty, and a chance to experience food from seed to mouth.

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Gabrielle chose to farm in an urban environment instead of rural because she loves the opportunity to interact and educate the next generation. (The balance between living in a city and escaping it 5x weekly on the island helps to). She is able to create lessons that vary from healthy eating and growing crops, to food justice and ethnobotany, depending on the grade level of the kids.

The Teaching Garden is a wonderful resource for public school children; especially those underprivileged and undernourished as it can open their eyes to food beyond processed and packaged calories. The biggest problem, Gabrielle says, is that with a staff of only two full-time and three seasonal part-time employees, they can only accommodate 100 students a day, three days a week. Many teachers ask to bring their students again, but Teaching Garden cannot accommodate repeat visitors. This is where you lovely rural farmers come in!

Gabrielle would love to see more partnerships between rural and urban farms. “Urbanization is making us all extremely disconnected from what we eat,” she said, “we need more educational farms.”

More and more people do not know where their food comes from. Seeing a “real life farm,” as she put it, might further inspire children to care more about the environment and eating whole, nourishing foods. A school could explore an urban farm and then travel out of the city to see how a large acreage farm operates and how the principals of small urban farming translate. “Urban farms and farmers and rural farms and farmers are very disconnected,” Gabrielle lamented. She believes that the more kids can be exposed to farming, the more they’ll want to be a part of it.

In a nonchalant manner Gabrielle concluded our discussion, “I think it’s [Teaching Garden] the coolest place in New York City.”

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greenhorns feature: resilient farming in a changing new england

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by Bonnie Rubrecht

Concord, Massachusetts might be known primarily for its ties to the Revolutionary War, but today it’s a thriving and affluent Boston suburb of a population of nearly 20,000. In the midst of historic mansions and some of the most valuable property outside of Boston, Hutchins Farm has been cultivating 65 acres of organic fruit and vegetables since the early 1970s. Greenhorns had the opportunity to talk to Liza Bemis, the great-great granddaughter of Charles Hutchins, who originally purchased the land that became Hutchins Farm in 1895 for his New England dairy. Liza didn’t envision herself working on the farm she grew up on, but after six years working in an office, she was ready for a change.

“The bigger question,” Liza explained, “is how do we deal with more severe weather events? Whether it’s plant breeding, cover cropping to keep the soil in place … just this past year we had a tornado [in Concord]. What does that mean for us?”

When Liza returned to Hutchins, she began helping out with farmer’s markets and now manages all of the farm’s sales, overseeing select wholesale accounts with local restaurants, dealing with their accounting and managing their farm stand on Monument Street. Family-owned for five generations, Hutchins was originally a dairy called Punkatasset Farm. “But in our grandparents’ era, dairy in New England was dying,” Liza explained. “More than half of the land was sold off, leaving just the original homestead—about 65 acres.” The remaining land was leased out to other farmers, or used for growing hay.

Despite his parents prodding to go into a different career, Liza’s father, Gordon Bemis, was smitten with farming.
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biodynamics in idaho on greenhorns radio this week

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In case you missed it, this week on Greenhorns Radio, we spoke to Miles Teitge, of Syringa Mountain School in Idaho about Waldorf Education, biodymanic farming, and why young farmers should think about moving to Idaho. Enjoy a bonus interlude of fun ambient noise from 8:08 to 12:46.

Miles has interned at the Herb Pharm in Williams, OR, and continued his education at Seed School (with local legend Bill McDorman), and the Fungi Perfecti mushroom cultivation course (with visionary Paul Stamets). He joined the Mountain School shortly after it opened, inspired to learn and teach principles of permaculture and the gardening arts; be it cultivating vegetables, gathering medicinal herbs, grafting trees, laying out hugelkultur beds, bee-tending, greenhouse design, poultry care, humane composting, worm wrangling or the like, there is a lifetime of learning on this path!

Listen to the full episode here: http://heritageradionetwork.org/…/miles-teitge-syringa-mou…/


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know your abattoir: there’s a shortage of local slaughterhouses, and it’s kind of a big problem

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The following cross-post comes from Field Notes from Maggie’s Farm, the blog from the Learn to Farm Program at the Farm School, and serves as an announcement of an exciting ongoing future partnership between this program and the Greenhorns Blog. Today, Farm School student Sophie Mendelson gives us a compelling run-down of the current quiet bottleneck crisis in sustainable meat– and what to do about it. 

Now in its 28th year, the Farm School in Athol, MA provides comprehensive educational programming in agriculture for youth, visiting schools, and adults. (Read more on their programming here!) Watch for more original posts on this blog from Sophie Mendelson, a student in their Learn to Farm Program, talented writer, and past and future farmer.

Know Your Abattoir: How to Keep Sustainable Meat Sustainable
by Sophie Mendelson

If consumers want local meat, they need to go to bat for local slaughterhouses.

At Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol, MA, they play classical music on the kill floor. Cattle carcasses—seemingly as big as dinosaurs—hang by the hock from metal hooks fitted to a track in the ceiling that winds around the perimeter of the cathedral-like room. As the carcasses move along the track, they are divested of their blood, their skins, their internal organs, their heads, their hooves, and ultimately their integrity as a saw divides the animals neatly down their line of symmetry. This is how a “side” of beef is made.

The door to the holding pen opens and there is a great rattling as a cow enters the first segment of the indoor chute. A worker steps forward to urge the animal into the final compartment of the stunning pen, but this is a smaller cow, and instead of proceeding smoothly through the Temple Grandin-designed system, it begins to turn in the chute—an option not available to a larger animal. The worker attempts to redirect by prodding the cow from behind; metal clangs as the animal presses against the bars in resistance. The worker prods again, with little luck.

Noticing the commotion, another worker makes his way over to the chute. Instead of pushing from the rear, this man approaches the cow’s head. He reaches through the bars and strokes the cow’s chin. The animal stills. The man leans forward and appears to whisper something to the cow. Then, gently, he takes the cow by the ear and guides it into the stunning pen.

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in defense of hydroponics

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The latest post in our ongoing discussion about the inclusion of hydroponics in the National Organic Production standards comes from Helen Lee, a sustainability specialist, consulting and promoting local and sustainable businesses who currently works as a brand ambassador for a maple water company and holds a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. While her opinions diverge from the Greenhorns’ stance that hydroponics should not be included in organic, we’ve reprinted her submission here today on account of its well-researched facts and the spirit of lively debate. Also, of note, another nuanced opinion in favor of hydroponic inclusion comes from Food Hub manager Michael Powell and appears in the comments section here.

I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with Matthew Hoffman’s opinion. I have recently obtained my MS in Sustainable Food Systems and, at Green Mountain College, I studied with one of the people who helped write the original NOP standards.

Hydroponics is neither the ultimate nor the hackneyed solution to solving our current food system crises. A better question to pose would be, “when and how do hydroponic systems fit into a sustainable food system?”

It is a fallacy to think that any system, hydroponic or otherwise, can ever be fully removed from its surrounding environment or from the rest of the supply chain. From the construction materials used to the resources utilized in production and distribution, everything is ultimately connected.  There can be no one ultimate solution in such an interconnected ecosystem. Furthermore, it is misguided to think the NOP standards specifically focus on soil health or that all organic certifications are equal. Continue reading


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new farmers almanac III release feb 14: preorder while supplies last!

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This Valentine’s Day, skip the imported roses,  bad movies, and the woeful commodification of romance: instead, pre-order the third edition of the New Farmers Almanac for your radically regenerative community-seeking friends, family, and self! The Almanac is set to release February 14, and trust us when we say that nothing else says love quite like 360 pages of original agrarian content in the search of a just alternative economy and lifestyle.

Volume III: The Commons features essays, cartoons, imagery and historical snippets and harnesses the wisdom of over 120 contributors from our community of new farmers and ranchers. This volume explores the theme of The Commons, drawing from folklore, mathematical projections, empirical, emotional, and geographical observations of theory and praxis.

This tidy volume holds a civil, lived testimony from people whose work, lifeworld, and behavior patterns beamingly subvert the normative values of the macro economy called America.