Many of us participated in the inspiring People’s Climate March on 9/21/2014 in New York City. Marchers represented a wide variety of religious, educational, environmental, energy, social justice, peace, health, labor, cultural and other organizations. Though they all had their own agendas for solving problems and making the world a better place, they agreed that climate change is very serious and needs to be addressed.
From right, soil scientist, permaculturalist and CT NOFA founding Board member Cynthia Rabinowitz, CT NOFA Executive Director Eileen Hochberg and former executive director Bill Duesing at the beginning of the People’s Climate March.
Organic farmers and consumers marched with the “We Have Solutions” section. We’ve known for a long time that organic food and agriculture are an important part of the solution to many of our environmental problems. Organic methods and systems are valuable tools for building health and biodiversity in the soil, in our communities and in our bodies.
We are just now understanding how organic agriculture not only slows down climate change and increases our resilience in the face of it, but also actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil. Organic agriculture even has a powerful potential to reverse some of the damage we’ve already done to the atmosphere.
The key organic methods which encourage carbon storage reduce or eliminate tillage and bare soil, keep the soil covered with a diversity of growing plants and eliminate synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Soil that is not disturbed encourages greater soil biodiversity, especially more fungal growth. Fungi function as liquid carbon pathways, carrying energy-rich carbon compounds from plant roots to the billions of soil organisms surrounding the roots. Between 30 and 60 percent of the carbon plants take out of the air flows out through the roots. This carbon energizes nitrogen-fixing and other soil organisms which eventually turn it into long-lived humus, a safe carbon repository which greatly increases the soil’s water-holding capacity.
The Chemical Contrast
This organic advantage is nearly the opposite of what chemical agriculture does. In many ways, from its production to its leaching into the environment, synthetic nitrogen damages our planet.
University of Illinois scientists studied the nitrogen fertilizer records and soil carbon levels at the Morrow plots, the nation’s oldest experiment field with records going back 100 years. Researchers found that chemical fertilizers deplete the soil’s organic carbon. They discovered that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer had not only stimulated decomposition of all the organic residues (corn stalks, soy plants) that had been added to the soil over fifty years, but also had volatilized almost five tons per acre of carbon from the native soil. Read the study HERE
All told they found that chemical nitrogen fertilizers had driven about 100 tons of carbon out of the soil, and into the air as carbon dioxide, from each acre of the experiment farm. Inorganic nitrogen, especially when combined with tillage, greatly damages the soil ecosystem. It inhibits nitrogen-fixing organisms and the fungi that feed them with carbon exuded by plant roots.
In contrast, studies on four continents have shown that organic farming can store from just under a ton to over three tons of carbon, per acre, per year. Multiply that by the number of crop acres world wide and you get a number close to the amount of excess carbon we need to remove from the atmosphere to stabilize the climate. Only the ocean can hold more carbon. Amazing!
After all that pollution from its making and application, 60 to 90 percent of the applied nitrogen fertilizer is leached into water, volatilized into the air or immobilized in soil. Nitrogen pollution is responsible for dead zones on our coasts and undrinkable well water in the heartland. (See photo.)
Notice in a Kansas State Park, August 2014. Nitrates are from nitrogen fertilizer.
Look at the Summer and Fall issues of NOFA’s The Natural Farmer for more details on the soil, carbon and nitrogen connections. Dr. Christine Jones’ articles are especially helpful. (While you are looking at the Summer issue, be sure to read Connecticut “carbon farmer” Bryan O’Hara’s article, “No-Till Vegetables at Tobacco Road Farm.)
Put simply, chemical agriculture releases great quantities of greenhouse gases while organic agriculture sequesters them.
Despite the dismal reality, don’t expect a swift change away from chemical nitrogen to organic methods without a lot more activist pressure.
We’ve known about many of the advantages of organic agriculture for over 100 years. Knowledge alone won’t do it in the face of some giant corporations wanting to make and sell more chemical fertilizers (and pesticides and the seeds that need both). Other corporations demand access to low-cost feed for confined animal feeding operations, and to low-cost ingredients for soda, junk food and even beer.
Some rich and powerful entities are able to manipulate government programs and public opinion for their benefit while financially squeezing farmers and driving them off the land.
As a University of Minnesota ecologist notes in another Philpott article: …the problem lies not with farmers but with farm policy and the market/political power of agribusiness—a “behemoth largely created by lobbyists, trade associations, big businesses and the government.”
Posted: September 29, 2014 Based on FDA’s outreach efforts and public comments, the FDA is proposing revisions to its proposed rule on produce safety. It is very important to submit your comments if you want changes in the rule!
1. Water quality standard and testing more flexible
The FDA is proposing various revisions to the microbial standard for water that is directly applied during the growing of produce (other than sprouts). The agency is updating the microbial quality standard to reflect data that supports the 2012 Environmental Protection Agency recreational water quality criteria.
Farmers with agricultural water that does not initially meet the proposed microbial standard would have additional means by which they could meet the standard and then be able to use the water. These options include establishing a sufficient interval of days between last irrigation and harvest to allow time for potentially dangerous microbes to die off. They could also apply an interval of days between harvest and the end of storage using appropriate microbial die-off or removal rates, provided there is adequate supporting data. And there is an option to calculate and apply appropriate pathogen removal rates for activities such as commercial washing.
A number of commenters felt that the FDA should allow for microbial die-off that occurs naturally in the field before the crop is harvested. This provision provides that flexibility. However, any of these options would have to provide the same level of public health protection and not increase the likelihood that the covered produce will be adulterated.
Recognizing that water sources have different levels of contamination risk, the FDA is proposing a tiered and more targeted approach to testing each source of untreated water that will be less burdensome on farmers while still protective of public health. The revisions reduce how often the water is tested, with the frequency depending on the water source (i.e. surface or ground water) and on the results of prior tests.
2. Manure strategy to be further studied
The FDA is removing the nine-month proposed minimum-time interval between the application of untreated biological soil amendments of animal origin (including raw manure) and crop harvesting. The agency is deferring its decision on an appropriate time interval until it pursues certain actions. These include conducting a risk assessment and extensive research to strengthen scientific support for any future proposal, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other stakeholders.
At this time, the FDA does not intend to take exception to farmers complying with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards, which call for a 120-day interval between the application of raw manure for crops in contact with the soil and 90 days for crops not in contact with the soil.
The FDA is proposing to eliminate the previously proposed 45-day minimum application interval for compost (also known as humus), including composted manures. Properly treated and handled compost is safer than raw manure from a public health standpoint and this change to the proposal would help facilitate its use while still providing an appropriate level of public health protection.
3. Covered farms better defined
The FDA is proposing that farms or farm mixed-type facilities with an average annual monetary value of produce sales of $25,000 or less will not be covered. The original proposed rule defined that monetary threshold in terms of all food sales. The FDA is also proposing corresponding changes to the definitions of “very small business” and “small business” to base those monetary thresholds on produce sales rather than food sales. The monetary threshold for the qualified exemption with modified requirements, however, would not change because that exemption is defined by statute.
The definition of “farm” would be revised; a farm would no longer be required to register as a food facility merely because it packs or holds raw agricultural commodities grown on another farm under a different ownership. The FDA is proposing that such activities would be subject to the produce safety rule rather than the preventive controls rule for human food.
4. Withdrawal of qualified exemptions process further clarified
The proposed revisions would establish procedures to guide the FDA in withdrawing an exemption for a farm for food safety reasons as specified in the proposed regulation:
The FDA may consider one or more other actions to protect public health prior to withdrawal, such as a warning letter, recall, administrative detention, or seizure and injunction.
The FDA must notify the farm of the circumstances that jeopardize the exemption, provide an opportunity for the farm to respond, and consider actions taken by the farm to address the issues raised by the agency.
The revisions also provide procedures for reinstating a withdrawn exemption.
5. Clarifying provisions on wild animals
The FDA states in the proposed revisions that the proposed produce regulation does not authorize or require farms to take actions that would constitute the “taking” of a threatened or endangered species in violation of the Endangered Species Act. There were concerns expressed that growers would interpret the original proposed rule in ways that would harm wildlife, including taking measures to exclude animals from outdoor growing areas or destroying animal habitats. This clarification is intended to relieve those concerns.
The FDA is accepting comments for 75 days after the publication date. The comment period opens September 29, 2014.
1. Divest UMass – The UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign (Divest UMass for short) is a dedicated student-led campaign organizing to confront the present and future issues created by climate change. Here is how to GET INVOLVED.
2. Divestment Massachusetts – College students, people of faith, environmentalists, economists, unions, mothers, and others converged on the State House on Sept. 10 to support S. 1225, a bill that requires MA to divest from fossil fuels! To support the effort to divest sign here – Divest Massachusetts from Fossil Fuels.
3. Mothers Out Front are mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future. To connect to the Amherst group, go to; Amherst Mothers Out Front.
4. No Fracked Gas in Mass is working to stop the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts and to promote expanded efficiency and sustainable, renewable sources of energy and local, permanent jobs in a clean energy economy. Here are some suggestions on what you can do!
5. Climate Action Plan in Springfield – support the community actions of our neighbor to the south (and the biggest polluter in Western Mass). Help us to plan the march from the North End of Springfield to Springfield City Hall on October 20! Join the planning meeting October 1, 2014 at 6:00 pm at the South Congregational Church, 45 Maple Street, in Springfield.
Many people are motivated to take action around climate change out of anger or fear, and this is a powerful force. For those of us who are motivated out of love for all of creation and concern for our sisters and brothers living in poverty, you are invited to join us on Saturday, October 4 from 2:00-4:00pm to learn from each other and ask…..
This workshop and discussion will focus on climate change from the perspectives of “the two Francises” – St. Francis and Pope Francis. If you are curious about the Catholic position on climate change and its impact on the poor, PLEASE JOIN US!
SUBJECT: Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602 – Support Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants
Dear Administrator McCarthy:
As someone who takes climate change seriously, I have committed myself to advocate on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and all of Creation.
Unfolding climate change caused primarily by our consumption of fossil fuels threatens both the planet and poor people. In light this,I believe that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants (Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule) can help limit damaging greenhouse gas emissions, uphold human life and dignity and demonstrate a greater respect for the planet.
At the same time, I urge the EPA to offer clear guidance to states on how to protect low-income individuals and families from undue suffering under potential energy rate hikes. Additionally, I encourage the EPA to work with policymakers to help workers impacted by the Plan transition to other employment.
If such steps to protect poor and vulnerable populations are taken seriously, then I support the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602.
Send the email to: email@example.com
Or send a letter to:
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W. Mail Code: 1101A
Washington, DC 2046
Speculation to Advocacy: Reducing Carbon Pollution
In advance of a community conversation at the University of Massachusetts Catholic Newman Center on Saturday, October 4, 2014 from 2:00pm – 4:00pm, this article is being shared to help us think about “what would Francis do” about climate change?
For information on the public workshop and discussion,
From St. Francis to Pope Francis to You – Creating a Climate for Solidarity
In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between two facets of human intellect: “speculative intellect which directs what it apprehends, not to operation, but to the consideration of truth; while the practical intellect is that which directs what it apprehends to operation” (I, q. 79, a. 11). Although each aspect has unique characteristics, Aquinas insists that the speculative and the practical “are not distinct powers” but together constitute the fullness of human intellect (I, q. 79, a. 11, s.c.). In other words, speculation and application are two sides of the same coin.
For political theologians, it is often a challenge to translate abstract speculation into concrete political advocacy. Although there are likely many reasons for this reality, it is a situation with which we should not be satisfied. It is always necessary, therefore, to identify and take action in situations where a direct connection between the speculative and the practical exists. One such opportunity arose earlier this summer with respect to climate change mitigation, and political theologians should now advocate around the proposed policy.
Clean Power Plan and U.S. Catholic Bishops
On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Clean Power Plan by which to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The EPA is accepting public comments about the Plan until mid-October, and Republicans in Congress are working to block, interfere with, and/or otherwise eviscerate the Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards.
The Catholic Church has explicitly and repeatedly recognized climate change as a moral issue that threatens to compromise the commitments of Catholic Social Teaching (to learn more, visit the Catholic Climate Covenant). As such, the Church continues to call on persons of faith and goodwill to address this issue through both individual efforts and coordinated public policies.
Shortly before the release of the Clean Power Plan, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami wrote a letterto the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as chair of its Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. There, the Archbishop highlighted the USCCB’s awareness that “the best evidence indicates that power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the United States, and a major contributor to climate change” (indeed, carbon dioxide is the most pervasive greenhouse gas, and fossil fuel power plants—which account for 38% of U.S. carbon pollution—are the largest collective domestic source of this pollution).
In light of this reality, Archbishop Wenski emphasized that “the USCCB recognizes the importance of finding means to reduce carbon pollution.” Towards this end, the Archbishop insisted that carbon pollution standards be guided by key aspects of Catholic teaching: “Respect for Human Life and Dignity, Prudence on Behalf of the Common Good, Priority for the Poor and Vulnerable, Social and Economic Justice, Care for Creation and Participation.”
On July 30, 2014, Archbishop Wenski followed this initial letter to the EPA with anotherthat he co-authored with Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace. There, the two bishops declared: “We … welcome the setting of standards to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants and thereby mitigate climate change. We support a national standard to reduce carbon pollution and recognize the important flexibility given to states in determining how best to meet these goals.” Towards this end, the bishops reiterated the ethical criteria for carbon pollution standards that the USCCB articulated in its May letter to the EPA. Finally, the bishops “call[ed] upon our leaders in government and industry to act responsibly, justly and rapidly to implement such a [national carbon pollution] standard.”
Catholic Advocacy around Carbon Pollution Standards
In light of the Clean Power Plan and the Catholic bishops’ advocacy around a national carbon pollution standard for existing power plants, political theologians have a distinct opportunity to practically engage in an active policy debate. Although their contributions to the discussion might take several forms, there are two immediate steps that political theologians are able to take. First, political theologians can submit faith-based public comments to the EPA. In addition, political theologians can contact their elected officials and urge them to support a national carbon pollution standard for existing power plants that is animated by Catholic teaching.
In his 1990 World Day of Peace Message, St. John Paul II recognized that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue” (emphasis in original). Guided by this awareness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asserted in his encyclical Caritas in veritate that “the Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere” (# 51). The current debate around the Clean Power Plan is a unique opportunity within which to bring Christian theology to bear on an active policy debate. As such, I urge political theologians to, at the very least, submit faith-based comments about the proposal to the EPA and let their elected officials know that they support a national carbon pollution standard guided by Catholic teaching.
Daniel R. DiLeo is a Flatley Fellow and Ph.D. student in theological ethics at Boston College. His interests lie at the intersection of Catholic social thought, virtue ethics, political theology, environmental ethics and economic justice. He is especially focused on the issue of climate change and discernment of how Catholic theological ethics can contribute to deliberations about national climate policy. He has worked as Project Manager for the Catholic Climate Covenant since 2009, and was also a Mission Intern at the Catholic Health Association from 2009-2011. He is also a regular contributor to Millennial Journal.
Wait a sec. Nick, Caspar and Jared: Are those unconventional girls’ names now, like Kennedy and Reagan? Because if you’re looking for a farm-fresh tomato in the city this summer, you’re likely to find a woman growing it.
In recent years, chefs, writers, academics, politicians, funders, activists and entrepreneurs have jumped on the hay wagon for urban agriculture. New York now counts some 900 food gardens and farms, by the reckoning of Five Borough Farm, a research and advocacy project.
Yet city farmers will tell you that the green-collar work on these small holdings is the province of a largely pink-collar labor force. Cecilia, not Caspar. And they’ll provide the staffing numbers to show it.
This is where the speculation begins — and, inevitably, the stereotypes. Are women more willing to nurture their communities (and also their beet greens)? Are men preoccupied with techie farm toys like aquaponics? Is gender the reason the radio at the Queens Farm washing station is always stuck on Beyoncé and Alicia Keys?
More significant, if urban ag work comes to be seen as women’s work, what will that mean for the movement’s farming model, mission and pay?
Counting New York’s urban farmers and market food gardeners can seem like a parlor game: part math, part make-believe. Data on gender is scarce to nonexistent.
The federal 2012 Census of Agriculture isn’t much help. It suggested 42 farm “operators” in New York were men and 31 were women. But the census published data from just 31 city farms. (Under confidentiality rules, it doesn’t reveal which farms participated.) And its definitions fail to capture New York’s unique abundance of nonprofit farms and community gardens.
A “farm,” by census standards, is any place that grew and sold (or normally would have sold) $1,000 worth of agricultural products in a year. Yet surveys from the parks department’s GreenThumb program suggest that some 45 percent of the city’s hundreds of community food gardens donate their harvest to neighborhood sources and food pantries. Blair Smith, who compiles New York’s data for the U.S.D.A., explained, “Those are not farm businesses, at least from our standpoint.”
New York’s urban farmers — the people who actually work in the field — offer a sharply different head count of what you might call bulls and cows. Of the 19 farms and farm programs that contributed information for this article, 15 reported having a majority of women among their leadership, staff, youth workers, students, apprentices and volunteers. (Of the remaining four, one claimed gender parity and another hired two men this summer from a seasonal applicant pool of 18 men and 30 women.)
It’s a snapshot, not a statistically rigorous poll. Still, the farms, from all five boroughs, represent a broad sample of New York’s particular growing models: a commercial rooftop farm; community gardens; and farms attached to schools, restaurants, parks, churches, housing developments and community organizations. The sample included two city-based farmer-training programs and two out-of-state sustainable farm-education schools and fellowships. These are the types of programs that mold future urban farmers.
Describing their own farms and gardens, managers suggested that women make up 60 to 80 percent of field workers, organizers and educators. Applicant pools are similarly unbalanced for summer postings, internships and certification programs.
Farm School NYC, an affiliate of the food-access nonprofit Just Food, “is 100 percent female-run,” said its director, Onika Abraham. But then, she added, “I’m the only staff person.”
More important, Farm School NYC receives 150 to 200 applicants annually for professional agriculture instruction. For this year’s entering 30-person class, Ms. Abraham said, “the breakdown for applicants was 76 percent women and 24 percent male.” (Applications for next year are open through Sept. 15.)
The gender divide appears to exist in salaried posts and volunteer work alike. For 18 years, Steve Frillmann has led Green Guerillas, which provides support and materials to more than 200 community garden groups. Most of these sites lie in central Brooklyn, Harlem and the South Bronx, and three-quarters of their volunteer leaders, he estimates, are women. So, too, women typically represent 75 to 80 percent of the applicants who want to join Green Guerillas on an AmeriCorps stipend.
It’s challenging work, and Mr. Frillmann, 49, is happy to hire whoever wants to do it. “To be honest with you, we’ve never really lifted and looked under the hood and tried to figure out why,” he said.
At the extreme, Edible Schoolyard NYC runs a food and garden-teaching program with two growing plots and a staff of 16. Sixteen of these employees are women.
Kate Brashares, 40, who is the group’s executive director, said: “It’s a little unusual we don’t have any men on staff at the moment. There are usually one or two.”
Ms. Brashares believes that the diversity of her employees should reflect the low-income communities where they work. That diversity includes gender. “We talk about wanting to get a few more men in the place,” she said. “It’s funny, we haven’t talked about it that much, though. It’s one of those things that just sort of happened. As we’ve gotten bigger, it’s gotten more obvious.”
Less obvious is why the discrepancy exists. Ms. Brashares speculated about the prevalence of women in education and nonprofit careers. But ultimately, she concluded, “I honestly don’t know.”
Karen Washington has been observing the community garden scene for more than 25 years from her plot in the Garden of Happiness, a couple of blocks from the Bronx Zoo. She also organizes the Black Urban Growers conference and a long list of other food and neighborhood initiatives. This roster may explain why Ms. Washington, 60, is prone to make work calls at 10 o’clock at night, say, after teaching a class on season-extending hoop houses, or on the way home from running La Familia Verde farmers’ market.
Nowadays, she sees a cohort in her gardens that she gauges to be 80 percent women. “It was more 60/40 back in the early days,” Ms. Washington said. “Mostly Southern blacks and Puerto Ricans. They were in their 40s and they’re in their 80s now.”
Explaining the gender gap on a community garden level, she said, “a lot of it, from my point of view, had to do with the fact women lived longer than men.”
The stereotypical image of an American farmer may be a white man of late middle age captaining a $450,000 combine in an air-conditioned cockpit, high above a flokati of corn. But this profile is a poor match for farmers in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa — that is, the groups that often predominate in New York’s community food gardens. Nevin Cohen, 52, an assistant professor at the New School and an expert on urban food issues, points to a telling statistic from a United Nations special rapporteur: “Women are 80 percent of the global agricultural labor force.”
Many of the women who farm in Bushwick with Maggie Cheney possess experience in small-scale agriculture. They’ve long fed their families out of extensive kitchen gardens (as Colonial-era immigrant women did in New England). Ms. Cheney, 30, is the director of farming and education for the food-access group EcoStation:NY. And on the group’s two growing sites, she said: “I tend to work with a lot of recent immigrants from Africa, Mexico, Ecuador. And the islands: Jamaica and Haiti, the Dominican Republic.”
Ms. Cheney’s youth interns (five boys and nine girls) include the children of some of those immigrants. Yet wherever they were born, the youth growers at the Bushwick Campus Farm do not approach New York gardens as virgin soil.
Their fathers may have experienced farm labor as a harsh and exploitative activity, Ms. Cheney said. These men are not necessarily the easiest people to recruit for a hot afternoon of unearthing potatoes. By contrast, “I see a lot of girls interested because they may have that positive relationship to being the ones who cook in the family and buy the food in the market.”
She added, “The ones that I see, their roles at home are very gendered.” The politics of the New York “food justice” movement start at progressive and run to radical. But the connection between women and urban farming can appear traditional and even conservative.
Born and raised on the Lower East Side, Ms. Abraham, 40, recalls visiting her family’s black farmstead in Alabama. She said: “My grandfather grew row crops: cotton, soybeans and corn. He worked the fields. My grandma was home with a large vegetable garden and chickens.”
Put another way: “My grandmother grew the food; he grew the money. And I think maybe the scale of what we do in the city relates more to this kitchen garden.”
Maggie Cheney, center, the director of farms and education for the food-access group EcoStation:NY, at the Bushwick Campus Farm in Brooklyn with Kristina Erskine, left, and Iyeshima Harris, garden managers. Credit Erin Patrice O’Brien for The New York Times
The Five Borough Farm project identified three commercial farms in New York, all of them sophisticated rooftop operations. Gotham Greens, for example, runs two (and soon three) climate-controlled hydroponic greenhouses in Gowanus and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Next stop: Jamaica, Queens.)
Of the company’s 50-odd employees, more than two-thirds are men, said the company’s 33-year-old co-founder, Viraj Puri. “At Gotham Greens, our approach is more plant-science and engineering focused and less ‘gardening’ focused,” Mr. Puri wrote in an email. He posited that this orientation may account for the different gender skew.
Beyond these few enterprises, the city’s farms exist not just to grow okra, but to advance a shopping list of social goals. These include recreation, nutrition, public health, environmental stewardship, ecological services, food access and security, community development, neighborhood cohesion, job training, senior engagement and education. We ask a lot of our gardens.
Mara Gittleman, who jointly runs the Kingsborough Community College farm program, at the end of Manhattan Beach, often sees urban farming likened in the news media to “the new social work, or this thing you do for poor people.” In response, Ms. Gittleman, 26, founded the research project Farming Concrete to record and publicize the surprising yield raised in community gardens. These are vegetables that come not from the glittering glass on high, but from the ground up.
Be that as it may, if you’re trying to account for why so many college-educated women are attracted to urban agriculture, nearly everyone agrees that a social calling is the place to start. “Definitely, the most visible influx is young white people, and I’m one of them,” Ms. Gittleman said.
If urban farming were just about the crops, it would be cheaper and easier to do it 50 miles north. Urban farming, however, is not a solitary or single-minded activity. Along with the weeding and pruning, the job description includes sowing community interest and reaping grants.
Kennon Kay, the 31-year-old director of agriculture at Queens Farm, said: “What makes this farm different is the element of public interaction. We have over half a million visitors a year.”
The farm staff currently numbers two men and five women, which is actually a bumper crop of gents. And Ms. Kay takes pains to say: “I don’t want to knock the guys. They’re great.”
That said, in her experience, “Women have been extremely effective in multitasking, planning, communicating and being the representatives of this public organization.”
Inevitably, there’s an inverse to saying that women are attracted to work that involves children and the elderly, caring and social justice. In short, you’re implying that men don’t care, or care a lot less.
This is what you might call the men-as-sociopaths hypothesis (M.A.S.H.), and Nick Storrs, 29, who manages the Randalls Island Park Alliance Urban Farm, does not buy it. “I would refute the claim that guys are sociopaths,” he said.
Having cheerfully dispensed with that libel, he struggled to explain why men seem less interested in the social goals of community agriculture. “I don’t know, because I am interested in it,” Mr. Storrs said.
So where are the men?
“Wall Street,” Ms. Washington said (a theory that may not be inconsistent with M.A.S.H.).
The Bronx’s vegetable plots, she will tell you, are not insulated from what goes on outside the garden gates. “A lot of our men of color are incarcerated,” she said. “Huge problem. If you tell a 21-year-old man just out of jail to go into farming, he’s going to look at you as if you have two heads.”
Or in the words of Esther Liu, 25, a rooftop farmer at the Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project: “Men? Perhaps they want a living wage.”
The time has arrived, as it always does, to talk about money. The pay for community-based agriculture starts low and climbs over time to not much higher.
Ms. Cheney endeavors to pay her youth interns $8.30 to $9.30 an hour and the Bushwick farm managers $17 an hour. Farmers with longer tenure may earn $20. These are decent wages in agriculture, Ms. Cheney said. Yet they’re hardly enough to keep up with the climbing rents in a gentrifying neighborhood.
Deborah Greig, 32, oversees the crowded market at East New York Farms, leads the gardener-education program, manages dozens of youth workers, and cultivates specialty crops like dasheen and bitter melon. (And some 65 to 70 percent of her farm staff, apprentices and youth interns are women.) “I get paid $37,000 a year,” Ms. Greig said. “I started at $28,000 or $29,000, which was huge at the time. And I have insurance included.”
The permanence of the job, which she has held for seven years, is a boon to Ms. Greig and to the community where she works. Ultimately, Ms. Abraham, of Farm School NYC, argues that only stable employment will make urban farming viable for neighborhood women — and men — who lack the safety net of a college degree and family support.
For her part, Ms. Greig is probably underpaid. Don’t tell anyone, but she would do the job for less. “People don’t expect to be paid very much doing this work,” she said. “It’s a labor of love to a certain extent. I don’t think we’ve come up with a hard and fast model to pay people exceedingly well for doing nonprofit urban-farming work.”
The way we eat — the kind of food we buy, where we get it, how it’s prepared — has become a part of our identity, a guiding force that shapes how we live. It unites us. And divides us. Food brings people together in communal functions. But it also pits ideologies against each other: vegetarians vs. carnivores; all-natural evangelists vs. the convenience crowd; calorie counters vs. indulgence seekers.
No matter where individuals fall on the spectrum, we are a country obsessed with food. And with a seeming explosion in allergies, heightened concerns over obesity, increased scrutiny of chemical additives and growing environmental concerns, there’s more attention being paid to what we eat than perhaps ever before. After decades of stocking our kitchens with meat, cheese and noodles, while simultaneously dieting to reverse the effects of all those fatty, starchy foods, we may be realizing that food isn’t just a way to live, it’s a lifestyle choice.
“We’re beginning to get to where Eastern culture has been for thousands of years,” says Mark Erickson, provost at the Culinary Institute of America and a certified master chef, “which is the idea that food is medicine, and we cannot disassociate our health with what we eat.”
So where is this all headed?
USA WEEKEND asked some experts: How will Americans be eating in five years? Here’s what they said about the future of food:
Food that’s good for us will taste better
A growing number of chefs, food bloggers and restaurateurs have started dedicating themselves to promoting healthy food that’s also delicious. They’re finding ways to cut down on fat, sugar and meat and still make money. Vegan bakery Sticky Fingers in Washington, D.C., won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, and restaurants such as New York City’s Dirt Candy and Philadelphia’s Vedge are making vegetables the star of great meals.
“There are plenty of restaurants and food purveyors out there that are working to make nutrient-dense food delicious and appealing and exciting,” says Trish Watlington, owner of two farm-to-table restaurants in San Diego where she supplies most of the produce for the menu from her garden.
At Andrea McGinty’s vegan restaurant chain, Native Foods Cafe, most customers aren’t even vegan. “I bet one person would raise their hand,” she says. “All the rest are looking for a better way to eat.”
Betting that she’d be able to make vegan food — or a plant-based diet, as she likes to call it — mainstream, McGinty moved the headquarters of Native Foods from the health-nut hills of Palm Springs, Calif., to Chicago (a city once known as “Hog Butcher for the World”). McGinty was confident she’d be able to change people’s minds about her “hippie dippie” food, and she has designs on growing from 17 stores across the USA to more than 200 in the next five years.
McGinty says vegan is going mainstream as people seek healthier, convenient options. Included on her menus is a “bacon cheeseburger” made with seitan, a gluten-based meat alternative; caramelized onions; tofu bacon; and battered dill pickle chips. “When you can have something that tastes delicious and it feels good in your body and you feel like you did something good for yourself, why wouldn’t it sell?” she says.
Farm-to-table will trickle down
The advent of farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants have brought food sourcing to the forefront of Americans’ consciousness. Not only are strawberries grown an hour away fresher and better tasting than the ones that spent days or even weeks being shipped across the country, buying that produce supports the local economy and a more sustainable way of eating.
But it’s also expensive. Access to locally grown produce is still relatively reserved for those who can afford it and have the time to seek it out. “Unfortunately, if you’re a single mom and work two jobs and can barely put food on the table, you don’t have time to think about where your food came from,” Watlington says.
That could change if the country collectively demands better food. Watlington hopes that support of local farmers and farmers markets, and programs that introduce kids to gardening, will help make access to better food a national movement. “If you can have this happen on a grass-roots level, then it spreads so it’s in the community. No one is dieting. They’re just eating better food.”
Erickson says the farmers market movement already serves a broader purpose. “As people begin to look for (fresh food) in their everyday dining occasion, they put more pressure on grocery and other fast-food segments of the industry.”
That has already started to happen, with companies such as Subway being called out for the chemicals they’ve added to food. Other major brands, such as Cheerios, are eliminating genetically modified organisms. And Panera Bread is removing artificial ingredients from everything on its menu by the end of 2016.
“I think the only way that it really changes is if it becomes a class-divide issue,” says Mary Beth Albright, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who specializes in sustainable food issues and a former contestant on Food Network Star. “Like, look, all these other people are getting better things than you. Either … the traceability movement is going to be reserved for the elite, or everything is going to have to go sustainable.”
We might see ads for broccoli
Another way to make produce cheaper? Get people to buy more of it. Processed foods dominate the grocery business, luring us with million-dollar marketing campaigns that show up on our TV screens as commercials with our favorite athletes or celebrities, in magazine ads and in eye-catching store displays.
“The problem is there’s no branding in produce,” says Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat, about the processed-food industry. “The power of marketing is huge.”
The produce growers could catch on, he says. “Absolutely we could see the produce association getting Madison Avenue-savvy and competing with snack foods and the rest of the grocery store in that arena,” says Moss, who last year challenged an ad agency that has worked with Coca-Cola and General Mills to come up with an ad campaign for broccoli.
Unfortunately, the government doesn’t necessarily make it easy, Moss says. “How do we level the playing field for people financially to make it possible for them to eat healthier in ways that aren’t going to cripple their budgets?” he asks. “One big way would be to totally rethink the Department of Agriculture. Because so much of that agency’s energy and research and development money is going into crops that fuel the highly processed food industry. And so little of it is going into making fruits and vegetables less expensive.”
We’ll see the end of the diet
Can a country that has built an entire industry around dieting decide to, instead, just eat healthier all the time?
Groups of people have adopted gluten-free diets even though they’re not technically allergic to gluten. Others prescribe themselves the Paleo diet, eating the protein-heavy, dairy-free foods of our Stone Age ancestors.
When it comes to eating, we are a country of extremes, Erickson says, opting for meat and potatoes or doing a complete 180 and going only for vegetarian and non-fat food. But what were once considered specialty diets are starting to be combined and adopted into a more balanced and manageable way of eating all the time.
“Somewhere in between is something we cannot treat as a diet, but treat as an accepted and sought-for lifestyle as it relates to what we consume,” Erickson says.
And as fresher, local food not only becomes more widely available but is prepared in ways that are appealing, “eventually people will make more choices of things that are better for them because it tastes good,” Watlington says, “not because they’re necessarily disciplined about it.”