Tag Archives: urban

Composting Greens into Green in San Francisco

finished-compost

Yesterday’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a key part of both food and sustainability – what to do with organic waste.  The solution, working remarkably well in the Bay Area – composting!  (And this was on the front page yesterday!  Exciting – or maybe the economic news is just too depressing.)  The comments to this article are particularly good – generally thoughtful, and often providing a lot of interesting info.

Food scraps are collected by residents and businesses, then put in the green bin for pickup with the garbage and recyclables.  Made into compost, it’s then sold to area farmers for $12 a cubic yard.  Because area resisdents and businesses pay for trash, but not compost or recycling pick-up, this system benefits everyone – less trash is put out, costing residents and businesses less.  This drop in business is off-set by the income the companies get from selling the compost – and diverts about 105,000 tons of compostable matter from the waste stream each year.

105,000 tons out of landfills is a huge amount, and this is with far from everybody participating.  Mayor Gavin Newsom is advancing an ordinance to the City Council making composting and recycling mandatory.  How much organic matter would be prevented from going to landfills, if 105,000 tons is diverted with only 50,000 residential and 4,080 restaurants and large buildings are currently participating?

Best of all, this compost is apparently exceptionally rich in micronutrients and health fungi and bacteria.  The crops fertilized with it have grown extraordinarily well and vibrantly, producing a bounty of vegetables to be sold and eaten within the Bay Area.

To re-cap:

  • significant progress towards re-using the food scraps that make up about 1/3 of San Francisco’s solid waste
  • less food waste in landfills means less methane emitted in its decomposition
  • cheaper garbage  pick-up for participating houses and businesses
  • green practices making a profit for the waste companies – sustainable for businesses, not just the environment
  • exceptional compost, produced and sold locally, and very well-suited to Bay Area conditions
  • delicious vegetables grown from the compost, sold to restaurants and individuals around the Bay.

Win-win-win-win-win-win!

bin-interior

(More images associated with the article availible here.)

The Edible City

I recently stumbled across this trailer for Edible City, which looks to be a well-crafted, detailed look at urban farming in the Bay Area.  The trailer is a bit long, at just over nine minutes, but is well worth watching.

I know there’s a lot of really wonderful urban food organizations in the Bay Area (as well as other places), and it’s great to see the topic treated so well in film.  The movie should be released in Fall 2009.

An Apology and a Relocation

Alas, I have fallen victim to the scourge of so many bloggers and so need to apologize for my extended absence.  I have relocated from Brooklyn, NY to Santa Cruz, CA, and have been busy settling into my new environs.

Santa Cruz is postively bursting with local food.  It’s part of the Eat Local!:  Cental Coast division, has a waiting list for several of the five or so local CSA’s, has an abundance of local (within 2 counties) produce in the regular supermarkets, and three awesome farmers’ markets.  It’s a very hippy dippy crunchy earthy local kind of place, which is a total change from the hustle and bustle and citiness of New York.  But I’m adjusting.

Santa Cruz has a crazy growing season:  it’s mild mediterranean climate, and many things grow nearly year-round.  Walking around town, you can easily spot figs, lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit hanging off trees, as well as mysterious cherry-like fruits and something that looks kind of like a pomelo.  In the summer, there’s peaches and plums in super-abundance.  Frankly, this place is almost begging for the kind of local fruit-harvesting program not far from the tree is pioneering.

In other news, I’ll be posting more regularly and more scheduled-ly, hopefully every Thursday.  Food issues are still big, even in light of the recent economic panic/meltdown/crisis.  A Minnesota farmer got a MacArthur genius grant!  Exciting things are ahead, folks.

Fruit Harvesting in the City

Free peaches in Santa Cruz, CA

Free peaches in Santa Cruz, CA

I’ve learned about several more urban fruit harvesting groups since my first post on the topic back in March, and my excited discovery of a prolific mulberry tree on my block in June.The charming and thoughtful Sage turned me on to another urban foraging group, this one in Portland, Oregon.

Carly of Urban Edibles leading a edible plant walk in Portland, OR

Urban Edibles is a collaborative, community based project to make good use of the abundant urban fruit trees and other food sources that would otherwise be underutilized. As their website states, “Urban Edibles is a cooperative network of wild food foragers. By creating awareness of what is in our neighborhoods, we hope to re-establish the connection between people, environment and food.”

They way they do this is really cool: their website functions as a community database, where anyone can add a source of wild food, or search by category, ranging from acorns to walnut trees, with everything from cherries to dill to hops to grapes to mangoes in between. There’s a guide to the ethics of harvesting from (potentially) private property, and a wiki. The Urban Edibles people lead regular community scouting missions and some guided identification walks. The best part, is that all of these food sources are also searchable by location on a well-done map

Another very awesome group I just learned about is Toronto’s not far from the tree, organized by Laura Reinsborough, which harvests fruit from trees in the Toronto.

Volunteers picked over 100 pounds of apricots on July 21

not far from the tree ensures that Toronto’s fruit doesn’t go to waste. When fruit tree owners can’t harvest their bounty, we dispatch teams of volunteers to harvest it for them. One third goes to the fruit tree owners, another third goes to the volunteers for their labour, and the final third is distributed (by bicycle or cart) to community organizations in the neighbourhood who can make good use of the fresh fruit.

2008 is our first full season of fruit harvesting, beginning in the neighbourhood of Ward 21/St. Clair West. After the fruit tree owners and volunteers split 2/3 of the harvest, we donate the remaining 1/3 to food programs in the neighbourhood. In Ward 21, fresh fruit is delivered to NaMeRes and Wychwood Open Door. As we expand, we hope to become a network of neighbourhood-based fruit tree initiatives around the city, with our combined efforts encompassing education, training, mapping, preserving, and celebrating.

So far this year they have picked an astonishing 1340 pounds of fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste, just from the one neighborhood of Ward 21 and St. Claire West. Unpicked, lots of fruit just falls to the ground to rot.

And they have beautiful photos!

Some cherries from the July 2 pick

Some cherries from the July 2 pick

Picking pears on August 21.  Photo by Clayton Turner

Picking pears on August 21. Photo by Clayton Turne

All of the fruit looks superb, and those volunteers look like they’re having lots of fun.

The benefits of this kind of organization are really kind of hard to overstate.

  • Community food programs, like homeless shelters get beautiful fresh fruit.
  • The owners, who may be busy or elderly, get their fruit harvested, in exchange for not far from the tree keeping two thirds of the harvest.
  • The volunteers get to keep one third of the harvest.

On a more macro level, everyone involved learns a little bit more about where their food comes from, and what a ripe apricot looks like, the most effective cherry-harvesting methods, or how delicious a fresh pear can be. You learn to look at your neighborhood with fresh eyes, knowing that many of the trees have an edible bounty.

Moreover, this is a great way to build community: the tree owners meeting the organizers and the volunteers, people interacting with the food programs and the homeless shelters, and explaining to curious passers-by that this tree being harvested is actually an apricot tree, overflowing with ripe apricots. As I learned when I was harvesting mulberries on my block in Brooklyn, people love to come up and ask what you’re doing, or tell you the story of their grandma’s mulberry tree. The people in not far from the tree have met a lot of their neighbors on their harvests and scouting missions, and they’re the richer for it. And I can’t wait for their map to go live!

Back in Action

I’m back, after much traveling and many adventures, with a surprising amount of maps and local foods goodness involved. More about that will be up soon, as well as my commentary on a lot of food-related news.

In the meantime, one of my first stops when I got back to the city was the Grand Army Plaza farmers’ market, where there was a super-abundance of delicious things to eat. Pastries, peaches, nectarines, pork, wine, cheese – it was stupendous.

And this photo doesn’t even include the corn on the cob, pork belly, tuna, squid, half and half and ice cream that I also picked up. Mmmmm, August! Tomatoes, peaches, plums and corn!

Oh, yes. More to come soon.

It’s Mulberry Season!

I don’t know this because I am a font of horticultural knowledge. Rather, I know this because on my way to the library Monday I ran into a very kind fellow called Jeff who was out harvesting mulberries from a tree near my apartment. We got to chatting about food and the co-op and free markets, as well as the intricacies of mulberries. Intrigued and delighted, I convinced Jeff to let me tag along on his next urban foraging expedition.

Apparently, mulberry season is in full swing here in New York city, and will be for about another two weeks. Mulberries are like a sweeter, more oblong, more intense blackberry, with fewer pits (but an edible stem!) and a slight hint of blueberry flavor. In other words, completely delicious. The easy way to identify a mulberry tree is to look for the mess underneath it, along with the sweetish odor of crushed and rotting fruit. Most mulberries are ripe when they’re black (they gradually change from white to red to purple to black) and release easily from the tree.  There are quite a few mulberry trees in New York city, mostly planted decades ago.

This is particularly exciting as fresh ripe raspberries are very difficult to come by- I’ve never seen them for sale. This is probably due to the extreme fragility of the fruit; they are far more delicate than the blackberry or raspberry. Consequently they aren’t often used for cooking, though they are delicious eaten out of hand. Joy of Cooking, whose 1973 edition discusses fruits like the litchi and the even more exotic akee, acerola and mangosteen, has only the following to say about mulberries:

The mulberry, despite its close resemblance to members of the Rubus family, is not in the least related. As everyone knows, the leaves of the white-fruited tree make up the traditional diet of the silkworm. Purple-fruited mulberry trees are best suited, in our opinion, for varying the diets – and flexing the muscles – of marauding schoolboys.

Despite the disapproval of Joy of Cooking, Jeff and I set out to harvest mulberries this Wednesday. As we got started, we attracted a lot of attention, and many people stopped by to chat and enjoy the fruit themselves.

This last fellow is Muhammed, a charming builder who saw us harvesting, ate his fill, and lent us a very capable hand. Below is our very high-tech harvesting technique:

After about an hour of thwacking and catching, we had amassed quite the tidy pile of mulberries, from just the one tree. I’m excited about the haul; in addition to just eating them and putting them on ice cream, I’m going to attempt a mulberry compote.

If you spot a mulberry tree, do try some mulberries, as they are intensely delicious. But be careful, as they do stain terribly!

NYC Food Deserts: Talk and Action

The folks over at Slow Food USA recently highlighted this blog in their recent post about the troubling incidence of food deserts nationwide. You can see my previous writing on both rural and urban food deserts here.

They mentioned two articles from last week’s New York Times that I’ve been meaning to talk about. The first, The Lost Supermarket: A Breed in Need of Replenishment, has an awkward title but is a good article. Instead of just chronicling the distressing lack of supermarkets in areas that need them desperately, talks about why supermarkets are conspicuously absent in neighborhoods such as East Harlem. The article, a by-product of a recent study by the New York City Department of City Planning, shows some shocking numbers:

According to the food workers union, only 550 decently sized supermarkets — each occupying at least 10,000 square feet — remain in the city. [The study] estimated that as many as three million New Yorkers live in what are considered high-need neighborhoods — communities characterized by not enough supermarkets and too many health problems. Within those dense, urban areas, the study estimated that 750,000 people live more than five blocks from a grocery or supermarket.

“Many people in low-income neighborhoods are spending their food budget at discount stores or pharmacies where there is no fresh produce,” said Amanda Burden, the city’s planning director. “In our study, a significant percentage of them reported that in the day before our survey, they had not eaten fresh fruit or vegetables. Not one. That really is a health crisis in the city.”

The study, which was released last Friday, found that there is enough need in the city to support another 100 groceries or supermarkets.

That’s a lot of new grocery stores – nearly 20% more. That’s also a lot of people who are un- or under-served by neighborhood grocery stores, more than a third of New York city’s population, according to the 2000 census. That’s an unacceptably high number. And it’s a safe bet that it’s the elderly, poor, and people of color who are the ones left holding the short end of the stick. Even if you’re mobile and well off it’s a pain to get to a supermarket that might be several miles away, but it’s even more challenging if you can’t walk far, or have to take the bus, or have to work so many hours that it’s very difficult to get to a far-away store before it closes. All of those factors make frequent grocery shopping, and hence eating perishable things, like spinach or fresh tomatoes, much less likely.

It’s unsurprising, really, that the lack of supermarkets and high rates of obesity and diabetes would be correlated, and particularly concentrated in minority and poor neighborhoods.

There’s a summary of the study, titled Going to Market: New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage here, and a slide show with more detailed analysis here. All of the above maps were taken from the slide show presentation of the study.

The second article, equally clumsily titled City Farmers’ Crops Go From Vacant Lot to Market, discusses several inner-city farmers and gardeners in New York who grow enough to both provide themselves and sell the surplus.

The city’s cultivators are a varied lot. The high school students at the Added Value community farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, last year supplied Italian arugula, Asian greens and heirloom tomatoes to three restaurants, a community-supported agriculture buying club and two farmers’ markets.

In the South Bronx a group of gardens called La Familia Verde started a farmers’ market in 2003 to sell surpluses of herbs like papalo and the Caribbean green callaloo.

At a less established operation, the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s Bed-Stuy Farm, mission staff members began growing produce in the vacant lot behind their food pantry in 2004, and ended up with a surplus last year. So they enlisted their teenage volunteers to run a sidewalk farm stand selling collards, tomatoes and figs; this year they plan to open a full farmers’ market.

How did this happen? Opportunity and assistance. The farmers and gardeners wanted to grow, and other groups pitched in to help make it possible. But the real drive, the factor that made these small plots a success, was their community. Its hard to farm in a city, but it is possible, and it can work well, as the story of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes shows.

The Wilkses’ return to farming began in 1990 when their daughter planted a watermelon in their backyard. Before long, Mrs. Wilks, an administrator in the city’s Department of Education, was digging in the yard after work. Once their ambition outgrew their yard, she and Mr. Wilks, a city surveyor, along with other gardening neighbors, received permission to use a vacant lot across from a garment factory at the end of their block.

They cleared it of trash and tested its soil with help from GreenThumb, a Parks Department gardening program. They found traces of lead, so to ensure their food’s safety, they built raised beds of compost. (Heavy metals are common contaminants in city soil because of vehicle exhaust and remnants of old construction. Some studies have found that such ground can be cultivated as long as the pH is kept neutral.)

They wanted their crops to be organic, a commitment they shared with many other farmers in this grimy landscape. They planted some marigolds to deter squirrels; they have not had rat problems, which can plague urban gardens; and they abandoned crops, like corn, that could attract rodents. They put up fences to thwart other pests — thieves and vandals — and posted signs to let people know that this was a garden and no longer a dump.

There were also benefits to farming in the city. The Wilkses took advantage of city composting programs, trucking home decomposed leaves from the Starrett City development in Brooklyn and ZooDoo from the Bronx Zoo’s manure composting program. They got free seedlings from GreenThumb and took courses on growing and selling food from the City Farms project at the local nonprofit Just Food.

“The city really has been good to us,” Mrs. Wilkes said. “All of the property we work on, it’s city property.”

The Wilkses now cultivate plots at four sites in East New York, paying as little as $2 a bed (usually 4 feet by 8 feet) in addition to modest membership fees. Last year the couple sold $3,116 in produce at a market run by the community group East New York Farms, more than any of their neighbors.

Clearly it will take more than a couple of small plots in formerly-abandoned lots to turn things around in terms of access to fruits and vegetables. But the example of the Wilkses and the other people growing appealing and nutritious produce for their neighbors, and working across all sorts of groups, offers a hopeful start.