NYC Food Politics and CSA Update
Politics and Our Dinner Tables
This week's home page photograph features cupcakes artfully made by Crumbs, a favorite New York City bakery -- with special thanks to Crumb's cupcake artists Wise and Natalie -- we're using some sweetness to be political this week at The City Cook.
There are many reasons to vote this coming Tuesday. The right to vote is precious and if you don't exercise it, to my mind you give up the right to complain -- about anything -- for the next four years.
Your vote will also directly impact what's on your and my dinner plates because whoever is in the White House and in control of Congress has more to say about how and what we eat than we do. Their policies and decisions determine where we buy our food and what it costs, as well as the big related issues of global warming, trade policies, food safety, labor practices, incentives for organic farmers, food labeling practices, environmental protections, and the enforcement of the food and farming regulations already in place. Not surprising, the two Presidential candidates have very different positions on all these issues and you can get more information on their respective web sites. If you care about food policy, it should be an easy choice.
So if you're worried about the deteriorating quality of our food supply or what it now costs to buy a dozen eggs, it's another compelling reason to show up at your local polling place on Tuesday, November 4. I predict no meal will leave you as satisfied as when you pull that lever.
The Politics of Food: A Conference on New York's Next Policy Challenge
Continuing with politics but with a local interest, Manhattan's Borough President Scott Stringer is joining with Columbia University to co-host a one-day event on the food challenges facing New York City. The Politics of Food: A Conference on New York's Next Policy Challenge will take place on Wednesday, November 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at Alfred Lerner Hall, 2920 Broadway at West 114th Street in Manhattan.
There will be keynote speakers, including: Maya Wiley, Director of the Center for Social Inclusion; Miguel D’Escoto, President of the United Nations General Assembly; and Thomas Forster of The New School's Food Studies Program Faculty.
Break-out sessions will be:
- From Field to Market: A Blueprint for Food Distribution in New York City
- Finding Healthy Food: Supermarkets, Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Food Deserts
- The Importance of Nutrition Education
- Urban Farming: What does it look like? What makes it work?
- How Schools, Hospitals, and Other Institutions Can Serve Healthier Meals
- Recession’s Consequences for the Food Safety Net
- The Urban Food Agenda: Shaping City, State and Federal Policy
The conference is free to attend but you must register in advance. The conference web site will be live next week where you can register on-line. We'll have more information soon on TheCityCook.com but in the meantime, you can go to Scott Stringer's web site at mbpo.org (look under "events").
You have to love an elected official who has enough vision to take on an essential topic that has no easy answers.
CSA -- The End of the Season
I've received more notes and questions about my CSA (community supported agriculture) experience than almost anything else I've written about at The City Cook.
Since early June, I'd trek every Thursday afternoon to a church on West 57th Street to pick up a bag of vegetables -- the variety and quantity were determined by our farmer, Zaid Kurdieh, at Norwich Meadows Farm in Norwich, New York. Every other week I'd also get fruit and a dozen eggs. I volunteered twice, each time staffing our depot and helping my fellow CSA members weigh, bag and collect their weekly shares. One week I also helped greet the farm truck, off-loading flats of produce, poultry, cheese, milk, yogurt and eggs, racing against any traffic officer looking to hand out a ticket for double-parking. Total volunteer time? Five hours.
I'd use part of these hours to talk with my fellow CSA members, gathering their insights, opinions, and recipes, and comparing this season with ones past. As this year's growing season comes to an end and with only three weeks left in the fruit and vegetable share I purchased in the Columbus Circle CSA, I thought it was time to share some lessons and tips:
- Value. CSA can be a very good financial value. I paid $444.00 for organic vegetables every week and organic fruit and a dozen eggs every other week. The season began on June 26 and is set to end on November 13, which means 21 weeks for an average cost of $21.14 per week. I'd still buy other produce to supplement the share, but my food budget definitely benefitted.
- Convenience. For busy people, a CSA is a pain. The pick-ups are on a strict schedule: ours was on Thursdays between 2:15 and 6:45 p.m. No exceptions. You could send a friend if you couldn't make it and any leftover food was given to the Church For All Nations, which housed our depot. If you miss a pick-up, there are no make-goods. And volunteering for at least four hours is a membership requirement. I have a flexible schedule and could do it; I know that others couldn't, despite best intentions.
- Quantity. The volume increased as the summer progressed but most weeks we'd get enough vegetables for two persons for three to five days (example: 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes, 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, approx. 6 cups of salad greens, 2 peppers, 2 onions, 1 small squash). The fruit shares were generous; last week we were given 1/2-peck bags of Macoun apples and Bosc pears, each with about 15 fruits. The eggs were free range and most weeks were extra large. The biggest downside to the quantity is that you don't choose how much of anything you receive. So if you love Macoun apples and wanted two bags, you were out of luck.
- Variety. Here the CSA came up short. Despite the tremendous variety of fruits and vegetables sold all summer and fall at our Greenmarkets -- where the CSA farmers also sell their crops -- our CSA received a very narrow selection. Combine this with the cap on quantity, and this is the biggest downside of using a CSA as your primary produce source. Although we received lots of baby greens, kale, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes, we only got bits of garlic, few onions, and only a week here and there of such basics as green beans, carrots or parsley.
- Administration. Ours was not well managed. There was poor communication, our distribution location and times changed twice, there was no effort to create a community among we 90+ members, and it took until August before weekly pick-ups seem to be problem-free. It's always a case of the people in charge and frankly, ours just weren't terrific. If you plan to join a CSA I strongly recommend that you first investigate who will be running it and how long they have been in charge. The people at JustFood.org who oversee New York City's CSAs should be able to help you with this.
- Quality. Without exception -- the fruits, vegetables and eggs I received were superb. This only made it more frustrating to have limited quantities and variety. I wanted more of almost everything.
If you support the politics of a CSA and love the quality and flavor of food bought directly from a local farmer but you don't want to be tied to a weekly pick-up or limited to what's in a share, you have options.
- Join a CSA but expect to supplement from Greenmarkets and grocery stores.
- Research the farmers who supply New York's CSAs -- there's a list on JustFood.org -- and instead buy from them at the city's Greenmarkets. Nearly every CSA farmer supplies both CSAs and Greenmarkets. At the Greenmarket you'll get access to the full selection of what's in season, but you'll also pay a higher price -- about 15% more. The trade-off of control versus price may be worth it to you.
- Market CSAs. This is a very appealing and flexible concept and one that is just starting to be available. Instead of joining a CSA you can buy a season's farm share directly from the farmer and then apply this credit to your purchases over an entire season. For example, Norwich Meadows Farm sells shares in any amount, with a minimum of $275, and makes its products available at the Union Square, Tompkins Square Park, and Stuyvesant Square Park Greenmarkets.
Members receive a 10% discount and you can buy as much as you like, of anything you like, until you use up the value of your share. It costs a bit more than being a CSA member but you do not have to volunteer, there's no regimented pick-up time and place, and you have the huge advantage of buying what and how much of anything that is available. We've added a link below to Norwich Meadows Farm's Market CSA information.
For more information about CSAs in New York City, visit JustFood.org. Their 2009 information isn't yet available but check in with them over the winter as shares will become available by early spring. If 2008 is any indication, most New York CSAs will sell out quickly so keep an eye on what will be available.
We are so lucky to have all these options. At a time when the nation's food supply is under stress and when hunger -- around the world and in our own neighborhoods -- is a tragic and growing problem, we are grateful for our bounty.
Let's not take it for granted: go vote!