Posted Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 3:37 pm
Farm Apartment Is In New York!
I get to travel here a couple of times a year since my husband, a die-hard New Yorker, still has his roots here and his parents have a farmhouse about two-hours north of the city. On this trip, I am excited to check out the urban gardening scene – to see how people are claiming the land in this most densely populated metropolis with the most expensive real estate in the country.
As it turns out, New York is turning into the Big Organic Apple. Last night, we went to the standing room only “Hungry Filmmakers” event, an evening of provocative documentaries about the new generation of dedicated agro-warriors, scrappy urban-farmers and uber-locavores on the forefront of the new agrarian movement.
All proceeds went to benefit Just Food, which “works to promote access to fresh, seasonal, and sustainably grown food for all New York City residents.” Delicious.
After a scrumptious dinner at the Spotted Pig and a red velvet cupcake from Magnolia (sometimes I love this city) we walked through the wintery cold to the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. The place was jammed packed – standing room only. Surprised, in a good way, by the vibrant community here, we walked in and took a seat in the aisle as all the theater seats were taken.
Clips from six unreleased films were being shown:
WHAT’S “ORGANIC” ABOUT ORGANIC? by Shelley Rogers – untangling the complexities of this baffling word.
THE GREENHORNS by Severine von Tscarner Fleming – examines the lives of new farmers
GROWN IN DETROIT by Manfred & Mascha Poppenk – an award-winning documentary about teen moms becoming urban farmers in Detroit.
FACES FROM THE NEW FARM by Liz Thylander, Kat Shiffler & Lara Sheets – three women bike from D.C, to Montreal, interviewing farmers along the way.
[AS YET UNTITLED FILM ON CLIMATE CHANGE & FOOD SYSTEM] Sara Grady
While all of the films made these issues come alive, we were both particularly inspired by “The Greenhorns” a film which explores the lives of young farmers – kids who are basically going for it, with little knowledge and big ideals.
The couple that were interviewed in the short clip we saw were in their 20s, a few years out of college. The wife described moving to their farm with only their principles, a remark that got a fist pump from her husband. At first, her husband was determined to do all the work with nothing but hand tools – scythes, axes, hacksaws. He’d even built his own woodfire oven using found materials.
However, she went on to say that it wasn’t long before reality set in. “We just bought a chainsaw last week. It’s fine to have your head in the clouds as long as you’re willing to look down every once in awhile.”
During the panel discussion after the screening, the director, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, was asked about the idea of compromising on ideals in the face of real world problems. She gave a truly thought provoking response.
She talked about the “logistics of courage”, a phrase that beautifully illustrates the challenges faced by these agricultural pioneers. We all want to be brave, and fully intend to be. The trick is how to stay courageous when the difficulties of manifesting our ideals set in.
Von Tscharner Fleming (love that name) poetically described how these young farmers were entering into this lifestyle with innocence and purity and dreams – which she likened to “sugar”. Soon they realize that in order to sell their “sugar” to stay afloat, they need to engage in marketing and other business tactics, to engage the community and create a customer base. She called this interaction between people and the farmer an “organism.”
She explained that when these folks are using the sun to make “sugar” with their bodies, or farming, the organism of their business model forms around them. The organism is a very “honest animal” and takes the shape of whatever matrix it’s in, the business matrix, the cultural matrix, whatever. It’s up to the farmer to live with the organism, and keep it alive while staying as true to their original vision as possible.
Whoa dude. I never knew the farming business could be so psychedelic.
Her website, which she calls a hub “for adaptive young Americans…and hopeful greenhorns,” is definitely worth checking out.
This whole question of negotiating one’s values comes up a lot around the topic of food. I’ve been educating myself on how the USDA came up with the federal standards for Organic Certification, which set a new standard for compromise. So much so, that organic farming, as defined by the US government, can be just as damaging to the environment as industrial practices, but for different reasons. For more on this, read the Big Organic section in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Yet this new agro-movement is so energized and motivated, it’s hard to discount the progress that is being made. Yes it’s slow, like good food, but it’s progress nonetheless.
After the screening there was a get together at Jimmy’s 43, but our brains and our stomachs were already full. On the walk home my husband said that he could see us moving to someplace like Detroit and raising children and farming the land. Although it sounds so romantic, and like a possible dream life, the whole point of urban farming is that you don’t have to dramatically change your life, uproot and isolate yourself to grow your own food. You can find ways to do it right where you are, on the land beneath your feet or at the very least, in the back of a pickup truck.
So, for now at least, we are remaining city kids.