Dig

——-

Our story
is buried beneath
piles of books.

Books filled with a kind of knowledge
so depending on the moral state
of the author, the editor and of the time within it was written.

But a story.
A story
is timeless.

It can be told and retold
over, around, through
and foreverly over again.

For the moral of the story,
like history
itself repeats in principle;

transcending beyond
individual moments and belief
into the commons.

There are no best-sellers in the story world,
just one’s we’ll remember, one’s that get us dirty in a good way,
like grass stains on a pair of khaki pants.

And so when things get too serious
and the days begin to pass
without their brilliance,

remember the story underneath,
take off your gloves
and with your bare hands

start digging.

——-

digger

Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.

Harmony’s Sweater

——-

A mind at peace

clear
and
beautiful

will keep the body warm
through the coldest of days.

——-

digger

Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.

Faces of Farming: A Conversation with Sarah Sproule

This is the final installment of our series, Faces of Farming: Exploring Urban Agriculture in New York City, where New York-based photojournalist Maggie Gorman will share photographs, stories and thoughts from her recent visits with people behind the farming scene throughout the five boroughs. In this series, she explores the identity of urban farming through a rich, youthful perspective – spotlighting New York City as a pioneer in the urban agriculture movement. This series is a part of our Urban Agriculture Project, which is aimed at connecting individuals, increasing farm based education and raising awareness through creativity, partnerships and research.

IMG_8924

Sarah Sproule on the top of her rooftop in Manhattan.

How did you get started with all of this?

So, I remember the exact moment. I was at Union Square Greenmarket and I just finished up working at Colicchio & Sons as a line cook – before that I was a chef so I was always thinking of how to incorporate more local things into my diet. I knew all of these great farmers after a couple months of doing cooking demos at Union Square, like Rich from Lucky Dog and Kevin from S & SO Farms. I realized that for every dish, I would season it with a salt from the corner store. I just thought everything else – even the cooking fats and things like that, the sunflower oil from Cayuga – if we have cooking fat and all of these other basic ingredients, but don’t have sea salt then I’m just going to go out and do it. So, basically how I got started was with a five gallon bucket. I went to the beach with a Zipcar because I didn’t have a car back then. I just filled up a couple buckets and was going to see if this works. It’s not a big investment, you know, buckets are like $10 for 4 or whatever. Six weeks later, I actually let it evaporate in my friends apartment stairwell, going to the roof. After four weeks he called me and said that it wasn’t evaporating, it’s not happening. But, it’s ocean water, it has to make sea salt. So, after six weeks, he says that it’s crystallized, it’s ready so I said that I’m going over. It makes this beautiful sea salt, perfect little cubes and we gave it to family and friends to see what everyone thinks. After that, we started going to different beaches and then I started to realize that at every beach there was a different color, different flavor, different texture. The salt was different everywhere I went.

Basically, I didn’t start selling to the public until I partnered with a fishery because a Zipcar can only hold so much water. All of these sea salts were kind of off-color – you have French grey sea salt and salts that aren’t stark white and you don’t know why – so maybe if I partnered with a fishery that fishes thirty miles East of Montauk, I might be able to come up with a better product because my only ingredient was water. I went to two different fisheries and one of them didn’t think I was crazy. They said they they would bring be buckets the next week. I’m still really great friends with them and they’ve gotten my water for me for at least a year until I found my next source. Every time they would go out thirty miles East of Montauk, they would bring me back five gallon buckets, I’d meet them at market and get the water. Then, I’d bring it up here, which we walked up the stairs so you know sixteen floors up is an elevator but then you have to walk up two flights of stairs with like twenty buckets of water, which is really heavy.

I recently found a salt water well on Long Island, so I’m actually now pumping my salt water from there. It is a naturally occurring salt water aquifer, but it’s 250 feet deep. I pump the water up, but before I pump the water up it’s naturally filtered through sand, silt and clay. It’s basically untouched salt water. Every other company that I know of is pumping their water from the beach and I go to the beach during the summer and I’ve seen the difference between beach water making salt, salt water thirty miles East of Montauk and then the salt water aquifer. It’s obvious what’s more pure and what you would want to put in your mouth. So, yeah, that’s basically my story.

What’s your favorite part about gathering salt water?

It’s unique. You can make salt from three different ways. You can mine it, you can get it from the ocean and harvest it two different ways from that – you can either cook the ocean water or you can solar evaporate. The ocean is vast, it’s huge, but if you gather water from the beach it’s still going to take on the characteristics of where it comes from – the elements in the sand or if it’s a rocky beach or if there’s cliffs or a forest next to it. I’ve just been fascinated by all the differences, how it is different. The ocean is bigger than land mass on Earth, but yet it’s still segmented, it’s still different.

What is the most unique salt that you have came across?

There’s this pink salt from Australia. It’s actually from a pond in Australia that they pump the water from. The salt turns out pink naturally because of the different chemicals or elements in the water. I find that really interesting. Also, just getting more in depth with salt. Really, you’re just studying the water because that’s where the salt comes from, and when you cook the water to make the crystals, you can actually manipulate how the crystals look. I found when I’m doing the solar evaporated salt, the crystals look different according to the seasons. In spring and fall, the crystals will be a lot larger and cubed shape, which in nature salt is supposed to be a perfect cube. And then, in summer and winter, winter will be smaller crystals because it evaporates so quickly because of the lower humidity. In the summer, there is a higher humidity so the crystals are more flat. It just changes from the weather. That’s been the most fascinating part of it, that even though it comes from one ingredient, it can be manipulated because of man or nature.

Which season salt is the most interesting to you?

I love what happens in the fall because it’s the perfect weather, the salt isn’t going to evaporate as quickly. It’s actually my best harvest. The cubes are just perfect. They’re just perfect cubes. How does that happen? It’s just the weather. (Laughter)

I love the garden up here. Are you growing stuff for Urban Sproule?

Yeah, I’m growing some stuff up here that I want to play with. I want to do a tomato salt. I was talking to this chef, John Besh, he’s from Louisiana, but he has this chef box of special ingredients you can subscribe to and he really wants me to do a tomato salt. I want to use these tomatoes. I’ve tried all the herbs in my salt. I just like to have green things around, it’s just exciting.

What kind of herbs do you have growing?

I have lemon verbena in the corner. I have sage, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, chives, two different kinds of peppers, lavender, which is my favorite scent. A little bit of everything.

What are you looking forward to the most with infusing the salts?

My favorite infusion is the grilled ramp salt, which is super seasonal and obviously can’t grow ramps. It’s always something that I can’t get easily that I love the most. I’m working on a smoked salt because I’ve had a lot of smoked salts and they just don’t deliver the flavor that I like. So, I’m trying a couple of different methods. Even smoking the water before I evaporate. then, smoking the crystals. Just playing around with a couple different things.

Do you have a specific strategy or formula to develop different flavors and textures?

I have two different methods – wet and dry infusion – which I kind of just made up. I do a squid ink salt and I’ve done a maple (syrup) salt, and those are wet infusions so the water actually evaporates with these ingredients in them. You see a lot of salt where they just stir the powders in or whatever. I actually want the infused flavors to be crystallized in the water, so it’s not just on the outside. And then, the dry infusions are basically with tomatoes or herbs or anything like that, they’re just sun dried and pulverized and stirred into the salt before they crystallize. I look at every ingredient different. I know how the salt works now so I treat them all individually.

What’s the most difficult part about being in an urban environment?

Well, I started this as a hobby. The building manager is friends with my husband, they were in Afghanistan together. I wasn’t planning on being on a rooftop, but I remember Matt (the building manager) asked me, ‘How’s the salt going?’ Everyone knew that I was dabbling in it. I told him that it was good and I was actually looking for more space, I was looking in Brooklyn at little farms. The next day he text my husband and said that he might have an idea. Then we came up here. I wasn’t trying to be a rooftop farm at all. I was just looking for space. I came up here and I was done. It was a great space so we’ll just make it work. And, it’s definitely the traffic, which is probably the response from everyone. Then, it’s also that I had to build up and not out. I have a new location in Long Island and I was able to spread the salt out on the same level. Here, I need to build up because I need to maximize the space. I have 525 evaporation trays in there (Manhattan rooftop). Out in Long Island, I only have 144, but they’re four foot by five foot, all harvested at once. Here, you have to rotate everything because the sun is the most important component. It’s actually a lot more work here to do fifteen pounds than it is to do one-thousand pounds out in Long Island. I might want to do another rooftop out here, but that’s kind of nuts. (Laughter)

What’s the best part about being in an urban environment?

I think just the people that are here. I love the people that I know in Long Island, but the people here, they’re just completely different sets of entities. Here, everyone is super well-connected and you always know someone that works somewhere that is interested in salt. Like you. You just graduated, you know Derek from Eat Local NY, you’re going to be doing this series and a gallery thing. Everybody has ten billion things going on. That’s what I like the most.

Do you see yourself staying in this building for awhile?

Yeah, definitely. This is where I started so I definitely want this to represent my flagship. I’ll show you around the corner how I first started. I didn’t have this greenhouse at first. I had this four foot tall rolling ‘greenhouse’ with fourteen trays in it. That’s how I started and it’s just worked out. I like the space. I’m enjoying it.

How long does it take for salt water to evaporate?

Here, about three to four weeks. And in Long Island, I don’t know yet. Because it’s set up differently it might be two to three weeks, a little bit faster.

When did you finalize the space in Long Island?

I signed the lease at the end of April. The construction is taking a long time because I had some guys put up a greenhouse that’s 120 feet by 35 feet. And, I’m working out of these thousand gallon tanks. Everything out there is much bigger, but it’s the same concept. The evaporation trays here are plastic, but out there they are – like I said, 4 foot by 5 foot – stainless steel. They’re being built by a ship builder so everything is handmade, really different. It’s just taking a lot longer than I thought, but since I can trace a person back to everything inside of the greenhouse, I feel good about it.

How do you find people using your salts?

I think a lot of people use the infused salts as a garnishing salt. And, also my price point has been higher because I can only harvest twenty pounds a month. One of my goals, when I get out in Long Island and get production growing, I can actually lower my price and people can look at it on a shelf and say, ‘Why not?’ instead of ,’Oh, I don’t know.’ I hope it becomes more of an everyday salt rather than just a garnishing salt, but I think people are really interested in the fact that you can infuse this salt with super interesting ingredients. I did a lot of retail online and then I did retail to a couple different stores in the city in Brooklyn. And then, I actually love working with restaurants. It’s not where I make the most amount of money at all. I work with the Water Club on the East River, Monument Lane, Back Forty West with Peter Hoffman and then Pacifico’s, which is a brand new restaurant in Brooklyn. It’s been fun.

Where do you see the future of urban farming?

I think it’s going to become more streamlined. In the beginning, it was more whimsical because it was a struggle. Even what I’m doing now, people ask why don’t you come to my rooftop or why don’t you do this or that, it’s not so weird. When I was looking out in Long Island, everyone would look at me so strange. What are you talking about? Especially people like me, and I think you’re the same way, we’re put in the city and we love the city, but we also love to look at green. I love to grow things. When you get desperate enough, you look for a solution, and I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger. I hope moire buildings adopt the whole green space idea because there are thousands of rooftops here that could actually be growing things. Not even for production for farming, but for employees and showing them you don;t have to stand on the sidewalk to take your breaks. You can come to the rooftop and look at a tree. (Laughter)

What’s one thing you want people to know about salt?

Actually where it comes from. I wish people knew that. When I was doing research about this, there wasn’t a lot that I was getting from the Internet or books or anything. It’s a regulated industry, but they regulate it in a way – if you read through, it’s called the Kodak standard for salt making – it doesn’t give you comfort to put it in your mouth. They’re basically saying if you put it in a jar you need to label it salt. And, if you make salt, it needs to be at least 97% sodium chloride, which that’s what salt is, that is the element. After that, if you’re saying it needs to be at least 97% sodium chloride, which it already is, you’re saying that most companies put in additives, which is true. They don’t even have to list that they beach the salt with chlorine and all of these different chemicals that you’re putting on your breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s just like not knowing where your water comes from, it’s that prevalent in your life. You shouldn’t just be thinking about where your kale is from, you should be thinking about where your salt is from.

What is your definition of creativity?

I know a lot of creative people, but the ones that actually make it into a business or make a difference with it are he people that no matter how crazy they feel, they keep pushing towards their creativity. That’s kind of what I’ve done. This is kind of a crazy concept, but I just kept doing it, having enough confidence to talk about it. To be like this is how I’m creative, this is how I want to portray it and I want to tell a bunch of people about it. When I first started, I knew it was a cool concept but I was just too inside of it. I was kind of nervous to talk about what I’m doing, I don’t know how to talk about it, and then you just get used to it. Why would I be embarrassed about my own creativity? It’s part of who you are.

Maggie Gorman is a New York-based photojournalist. Follow her on Instagram.

The World Is One

——-

If the intent of your solitude
is to be alone,
may you go about it by yourself.

But if it is to join that hallow space
you share with all things,
then I will meet you there.

——-

digger

Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.

 

Faces of Farming: A Conversation with Clare Sullivan

This is the fourteenth installment of our series, Faces of Farming: Exploring Urban Agriculture in New York City, where New York-based photojournalist Maggie Gorman will share photographs, stories and thoughts from her recent visits with people behind the farming scene throughout the five boroughs. In this series, she explores the identity of urban farming through a rich, youthful perspective – spotlighting New York City as a pioneer in the urban agriculture movement. This series is a part of our Urban Agriculture Project, which is aimed at connecting individuals, increasing farm based education and raising awareness through creativity, partnerships and research.

IMG_8356Clare Sullivan at Feedback Farms in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

What is your favorite crop to grow?

I really love to grow tomatoes just because there is so much variety and they are so beautiful. (Daughter: I like to grow kale!) Why do you like to grow kale? (Daughter: I like to plant kale and flowers!) Is that because you like to eat kale? (Daughter: Yeah!) I like to grow tomatoes because I like to eat tomatoes too. And, tomatoes are one of the crops that taste so much better when they’re fresh and fresh picked than when you get them from the super market where they’ve been picked green and have sat forever. They are not the easiest crop to grow, I’ll say that. They are a big part of our production – we grow usually about twenty kinds all heirlooms all different colors all sizes. They are super high maintenance, we have to tend to them.

I was going to ask what is the most difficult crop to grow or hardest to maintain, but it sounds like tomatoes.

I would say tomatoes is one of the most difficult crops to grow (Daughter: Or the flowers are the difficult thing to grow!) Flowers are also difficult to grow. (Daughter: Or kale is difficult) Kale is pretty easy. You spend all this time managing them and keeping them disease free but… who can turn down a basket of these beautiful jewels. (Daughter: They’re pink and orange and red and yellow.)

What are some of the programs that you offer at the farm?

We are a production oriented farm so we grow for market. We do a lot of tours with schools groups, interested people. We’ve evolved a little bit. This year we are working with The Doe Fund. They have four very large shelters in the city and they’re coming up with these green social enterprises to train people so they can have a regular income and transition out of the shelter system. (Daughter: Look, mommy, my hand print!). I can see it. That’s kind of our main program this year. We are working with crews from The Doe Fund and we are doing training. Hopefully, giving them skills that are applicable to a kitchen, nurseries, urban farming. They also are interested in it as an education and therapeutic thing – even if it doesn’t provide job training. It has a big psychological benefit.

Last year, and were doing it again this year, we ran a working share CSA. We had people make a commitment to work a couple hours on the farm. In exchange for that labor, they got a CSA basket. We worked with a core group of people.  And, so by the end we had a really skilled labor force. We’ve had a research component. There’s not a lot of best practices. Where we’ve done crop trials and different styles of raised beds and container growing so we’ve had that as a big part of our programming too. Both doing that research, then analyzing the results, sharing them with other people.

Where are some of your other sites?

This site is in Bushwick. Our first site was on the edge of several neighborhoods – Gowanus, Prospect Heights, Boerum Hills, near the new Barclays Center. We have another site in Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy border and then we have worked with a restaurant in Carroll Gardens. It’s a little kitchen garden that they use.

What is the biggest setback about being an urban farm?

There is a couple things that are challenging. We are not a rooftop farm so we grow on the ground. Our site in Gowanus, there used to be a lead smelter there and the houses on that site got burnt down… thick layer of mulch. So, I think soil is a big constraint. Really limited in the amount of space. The private land owner that had given us access to the site wanted to develop it, but of course, it takes a ton of work. So, there is a big labor component and you can’t choose land based upon ideal agricultural characteristics, you kind of just have to take what you can find.

What’s your favorite part about being in an urban environment?

You have such great access to markets and people. It’s so easy to interface with people. Infinite opportunities for outreach and education. But, our first year we delivered only on foot and to restaurants within three blocks. There are huge benefits.

Where do you deliver your produce now?

Some of the produce has gone to the kitchen at the shelter. Then, we sell to a number of different restaurants and markets. And, I can give you the names of a bunch of those. This season our main client has been Rucola, which is a small, local – they buy a lot of local produce – kind of seasonal menu, Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill in Brooklyn. We also sell to Nightingale9, which is in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, they have a pretty seasonal menu and they’re a Vietnamese restaurant. We sell to Greene Grape Provisions, which is market, specialty grocery store in Fort Greene in Brooklyn. And, we sell to Brooklyn Martyr, which is a little specialty grocery store in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. We’ve had on-site markets, a more typical farmers market in the past, but we didn’t do it so much this season.

Is there a reason for that?

Well, you know, it has a little bit to do with that move that I had mentioned. At our first location, we were in this really prime real-estate area and it had great foot traffic. This site (in Bushwick) is a little more off the beaten path. And, it was new this year. It’s in the first year at that site so we were setting up and got started a little bit late. The other place that a lot of our produce goes to is our working share CSA program. So, a lot of like a typical community supported agriculture in that we give whatever is available when it’s available to people that commit to the program and they get this basket of goods. There is no fee, they just commit to doing a certain amount of work up front on the farm. So, that’s the other primary place that our produce goes to. We’re very small so we can’t have a ton of baskets, but we did about a dozen last year and this year had been really fun.

I love the website. Is there a story behind it? 

Our team has a number of software developers on it. So, our website is under construction right now, although it doesn’t say that. It has been for three months or so, which is silly because we have all these professional website developers on our team. (Laughter) So, what we put up was a time-lapse. We did that on our first season that was transforming this first space that we had from vacant lots – it had been empty since 1979 – into a farm. I think that video was over about four months. We put up a camera and then edited all the snapshots together. It was amazing to see how productive that space became in such a short amount of time.

What is the difference between a tomato that you buy from the supermarket in January and a tomato that you harvest from your farm in season? 

We, and lots of other small-scale producers, grow varieties that you’ll never find in the supermarket because they don’t ship well. So, that tomato that you get in the winter probably comes from California, maybe Southern Florida. And, they can only grow certain varieties that can be picked green and then ripen and then shipped. We can grow all different types of specialty varieties that have to be picked by hand and transported really carefully. You get varieties that have a lot more flavor and that are grown for things like taste (Laughter) rather than yield or shipping quality.

What led you to urban agriculture? 

Well, I work with Columbia’s Earth Institute. I work at the center called the Agriculture and Food Security Center. It used to be called Tropical Agriculture and World Environment Center. For me, I work on agriculture all the time, but often in the tropics, places that are far away from here. I was really looking for a way to do things closer to home. And, I think other people in our group had worked on small farms throughout the Northeast and different urban agriculture projects in the city like Eagle Street Farm, Bronx Children’s Garden. We had all been involved in different ways in agriculture and wanted to get involved in something that was local and that was taking advantage of these vacant spaces we were seeing in the community.

Is that where the whole research component comes from?

Yeah, that definitely. That’s kind of my background. And, also, when we were starting the project we found that there just wasn’t information out there. You know, there’s all kinds of information to guide small scale farms or small scale organic farms, but a lot of it – a lot of it is applicable to urban agriculture – there wasn’t a lot of it to say, ‘Oh, these are the best types of beds, these are the best varieties for urban production.’ So, that was something we really wanted to include in Feedback Farms.

We have a few different things. Because we work with a lot of software people, they were really interested in doing some remote monitoring and seeing if they could use sensors, like moisture sensors and temperature sensors, to integrate them into the production and improve the production that way. That’s sort of one track, the software development side of things. And then, we’ve also done these research trials to evaluate bed kind, varieties and production practices.

We have one published paper that I can send you guys if you’d like to see it. We have a paper published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. It was published a couple months ago. That one is looking at different bed designs and different varieties of a pepper, kale and tomato variety. That was a pretty big project. And then, we have a couple smaller projects that were easier to integrate into the farm that we’ll hopefully publish in the upcoming year. We’re looking at planting density, we’ve looked at longer term management for raised beds, we’re really interested in looking at rainwater harvesting and whether any contaminants get into the soil through that. We’ve also worked with a researcher from New Paltz on heavy metal contamination.

What is your definition of creativity?

(Long pause) Making something new. A space where people can brainstorm, try things out.

How do you apply creativity to your project at Feedback Farms?

Well, it’s a really new project and I think we’ve tried to do a lot of different things with people that have very different backgrounds and different interests. So, that’s why we have all these different pieces of research and technology and vegetable production. I don’t know any that aren’t, but I think it’s safe to say that any urban agriculture has really strong community involvement just because it fits right into, it’s integrated right into where all of these other people are living and interacting with the space.

One of the things we have been really happy with has been our working share program because people always want to volunteer and it was a way that we could get people to commit to volunteering more than one time. And, we could really have a skilled labor force. It was also a nice way to give people a basket of produce. Otherwise, people have all different types of models for having their volunteers pay to work on the farm. They pay and get a farm tour then they volunteer for the day. People are exploring a lot of different models in the city. I think that’s one creative thing. It took us a couple seasons to figure out but we’re really happy with it and the way it worked out through interacting with the community of people that wanted to work with us.

Where do you see the future of urban agriculture?

I think there is tons of potential, especially for the social benefits, the community benefits of having those opportunities for kids to learn about science, people to get better access to local produce. I think there is a lot more research that needs to be done on the actual environmental benefits and the actual best practices for growing. It’s really growing and there is tons of interest and it would be really great if that translated into more science happening in those spaces. Whether it’s citizen science, which is kind of what we did, or lots of schools should integrate it into their programs.

Maggie Gorman is a New York-based photojournalist. Follow her on Instagram.

Clare Sullivan has a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, with a focus on environmental science and policy. Her work includes assessing land use land cover changes, developing indicators for monitoring environmental sustainability, and evaluating the potential of incentives programs to enhance ecosystem services and benefit local communities. She has worked on projects with the National Park Service in the US, the CGIAR system in the Peruvian Andes and Amazon Basin, and with UNEP in Haiti.