Making Bread In 2019

Bread.jpgHelen Rosner, surprisingly appearing for only the second time in our pages, catches us just after our new year’s resolution to take up bread baking.

Well timed.

For a few minutes of bread love, click the image above. For a few minutes more of bread geek-out, read on:

In the immeasurable history of people talking about food, has there ever been a single statement more raw and moving and real than Oprah Winfrey, sitting before a television camera, flinging her arms emphatically forward, narrowing her eyes with fevered intensity, and declaring, with a passionate roar, “I! Love! Bread!” Continue reading

Organikos & Coffee Circa 2019

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Organikos2.jpgWhen we returned from India in 2017 I mentioned the word organikos in the context of coffee. I am remembering now that just prior to moving to India, in early 2010 we were completing our second year assisting the Patagonia Expedition Race–we not only assisted with their contracting a title sponsor, but Organikos was itself a Race sponsor. Somewhere I have photographs of myself serving coffee to racers, Race staff, and with our logo displayed at the finish line where we also served coffee (even as champagne corks were popping in the pre-dawn darkness). I will post those photos another time, but the reason those images come to mind is that we had developed a graphic statement of how we wanted Organikos to look on a coffee label, and it is very different from what we want today. 2019 is starting out with its own equivalent of corks popping, as last evening we finalized the first draft of what our first coffee shipment in Costa Rica is going to look like. You saw it here first (label feedback welcome):

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A Sense Of Costa Rica

SilkCoastal1Amie and I recently met with an artist who paints on silk. In a post about Authentica after that I displayed a couple of her pieces that feature coffee farm themes, and here are a couple more featuring coastal themes. By introducing Authentica in these pages I also want to link it to our practice, over the last 20+ years, of entrepreneurial conservation. We have posted frequently on this theme over the years. Less frequently we have mentioned sense and sensibility, words we work by.

SilkCoastal2Authentica will be an extension of our work in the realm of experiences for travelers away from home, and our assumption is that most people want to sense how a place they visit is different from where they normally live. Commonalities are also helpful for the sake of comfort and the travelers we have gotten to know through our practice in the last 2+ decades are much like us: interested in the balance between things we already understand and things that make us wonder.

When I saw these silk pieces I had a sense of Costa Rica that would be difficult to find words for. The artist has an ecological and socially responsible orientation, backed with actions that represent what make this place unique. This is the aspect of Costa Rica that inspires and motivates not only those of us who have chosen to live here, but those who choose to visit here. We want such visitors to have the opportunity to take home with them items like these painted silks, that somehow represent Costa Rica. Little reminders.

Authentica, A Few Of Our Favorite Things

FransCoffee.jpegYesterday’s coffee sample from the Brunca region got me thinking it is time to talk about Authentica. It is a new business that grows out of our interest in foods and beverages that represent the taste of a place we have gotten to know through our work. Today I am sampling a friend’s coffee grown a few hundred meters away from where I sit typing this.

It is an arabica varietal, known as Castillo, that has resisted the rust plaguing Central American highland coffee farms. And this glass of freshly brewed Castillo makes me realize that Authentica is also an outgrowth of the much broader array of work that led to our original interest in taste of place.

In 1995 I gave a lecture based on some ideas that came out of my doctoral dissertation, ideas which I now simply refer to as entrepreneurial conservation. Costa Rica had recently committed to the then-new sustainable development model. I made sure that the ideas from my dissertation could be clearly understood within Costa Rica’s framework. Based on the lecture I received an offer to lead an initiative, based in Costa Rica and serving the countries of Central America, that would facilitate the adoption of sustainable tourism development strategies in the region.

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When we moved to Costa Rica in 1996, tourism was limited but there was enough of an industry that I could analyze of all its component parts. This highlighted pre-existing strengths on which to build a national tourism strategy. One of those components was handicrafts. I have not gone back to look at the findings, but my memory tells me that handicrafts was a small but thriving sub-sector of tourism, and some of it was spectacular. The bowl to the left was the first I had seen made of the local wood called cocobolo.

Pia pitcherI also will not review here the details of the 2+ decades since that analysis, which have been difficult for the artisans of Costa Rica even as the tourism sector as a whole has grown dramatically. It is enough to say that Authentica has been formed in Costa Rica to valorize the artisans who have been able to hang on, and to likewise showcase the remarkable renaissance of artesania here. The campesino in the photo to the right is from an artisan who carves coffee wood, with coffee farmers his primary subject. I received that carving as a gift in 1998 and I recently met the artisan who made it. He has managed to hang on.

On that same shelf is a small ceramic pitcher made by an artist of the next generation, who is a perfect representative of the renaissance I see, now that we are back in Costa Rica after many years living in other parts of the world. Authentica is the business we have formed to share these things that we see and love about Costa Rica, things which we believe represent this place well, and put them in a place where they can be purchased, in order to valorize the artistry and craftsmanship.

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Above is a hand-painted silk scarf made by a local artist whose life on a coffee farm inspired this particular image, and the one below. I will be more specific about these and other artists in future posts. For now it is just enough to say that we believe in local artists, artisans, farmers, roasters, chocolatiers enough that we have formed Authentica as a marketplace for their products, to be sold mostly to visitors who want to take home with them a sense of the place they have visited.

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Looking Forward Requires Rethinking

Olympia1The new morning, the first of the new year, started just like any other. Coffee. But a theme related to looking forward was set in motion yesterday, and so it was time to taste this new coffee. I was drinking mostly coffees from the Tarrazu region for all of 2018, but today’s coffee is from the Brunca region.

Olympia2It is organic, washed (as opposed to natural process, or anaerobic or other new fangled methods) and medium-roasted. I use a nondescript filter brew machine, and I grind the beans slightly on the coarse side. Maybe I just woke up ready to enjoy the new year, but this tastes like one of the best new coffees I have sampled in the past 12 months. I lost track of the count, but certainly I have tasted several dozen varietals. This one stands out, perfect for my palate. The fact that it is organic, selected and roasted by friends for their own cafe, makes me think that we should consider it a candidate for offering it in the Organikos portfolio, in the Authentica shops. I realize now that I have not even hinted at this new medium for sharing what we love, so will use this week’s posts to explain the rethinking we have done in the process of looking forward.

Birds, Beacons Of Good Fortune

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Necklace, designed by Tone Vigeland (Norwegian, born 1938)

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Book, Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis et des rolliers: suivie de celle des toucans et des barbus (Natural History of Birds of Paradise and Rollers: Followed by that of Toucans and Barbets), Volume 2; 1806; Written by François Levaillant (French, 1753–1824); Illustrated by Jacques Barraband (French, 1767–1809); Smithsonian Libraries, QL674.L65 1806

An exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt comes to my attention thanks to Dylan Kerr, whose essay The Mandarin Duck and Avian Art at the Cooper Hewitt makes an interesting link between the choices Rebeca Mendez made as a curator and a recent unusual bird sighting in New York City:

For the past several weeks, New Yorkers have been abuzz over a mysterious visitor. A mandarin duck, an intricately colored waterfowl native to East Asia, has taken up residence alongside the mallards in the Central Park Pond, drawing crowds and inspiring memes, dog costumes, and a Twitter account (bio: “I’m not from around here”). Pundits have argued that the frenzy betrays a desire for good news. But perhaps, the Mexico City-born designer Rebeca Méndez suggested the other day, something deeper is at play. “In our own normal life, we have patterns that we are so used to.

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Sidewall; 1905–13; Manufactured by Zuber & Cie (Rixheim, Alsace, France); Block-printed on paper; Gift of James J. Rorimer, 1950-111-10

My immediate reaction is yes. We are bombarded with more negative information more quickly, more constantly than ever in my lifetime. We need relief, and nothing like an exotic bird coming to town to bring it:

When something”—an anatine interloper, say—“comes in and breaks that, it’s incredibly exciting,” she said. “The world suddenly collapses—it’s like a wormhole from far-east Asia to Manhattan.”

Méndez recently curated an exhibition of avian art at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, across the street from the Park. It’s part of the “Selects” series, in which the museum invites a guest to put together a show from objects in its collection. Continue reading

The Upped Ante Of Vegan

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At Sans, the former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef Champ Jones gives vegan food the fine-dining treatment, offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairing, in addition to an à la carte selection.Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

In her review titled An Eleven Madison Park Alum Does Vegan Fine Dining at Sans Hannah Goldfield asks in the header Would an omnivore give up meat if she could still have foie gras?  and then at the end of the first paragraph shows the image to the left below. This question rings out to me because from the days when I worked for a chef known for his preparation of this delicacy, I have thought it the ultimate test of whether I could swear off animal protein permanently.

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A beautifully marbled disk of black-plum terrine—made with plum jam and fair-trade palm oil and served with slices of fresh and pickled plum and neat rounds of toast—is as silky as foie gras. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

Long gone are the days when vegan restaurants in New York were limited to places like Candle 79, a sort of bistro on the Upper East Side trading in unapologetically hippie-ish fare like black-bean burgers, seitan piccata, and spaghetti and wheat balls. We have vegan diners now, serving comfort food like vegan tatertachos and Nashville Hot Chik’n sandwiches, vegan fast-casual chains and bakeries, vegan omakase counters, and vegan dim-sum parlors. We have big-name chefs—Jean-Georges Vongerichten, John Fraser, and Brooks Headley among them—operating buzzy vegetarian restaurants (abcV, Nix, and Superiority Burger, respectively), where it’s easy to eat vegan. We even have vegan foie gras.

This review continues a trend of raising the stakes for going vegetarian, including gauzy photos that project status with simplicity.

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At Sans, the former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef Champ Jones gives vegan food the fine-dining treatment, offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairing, in addition to an à la carte selection. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

I am all for that. Bring on the images that make vegetables and greens and other non-animal edibles look as tempting as their meaty counterparts:

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Grilled onion in a pool of smoked-onion purée, garnished with fried shallot and dandelion leaves. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

 Does a vegan want to eat foie gras? And would an omnivore give up animal products if it meant she didn’t have to give up things like foie gras? The latter question, in particular, seems to be what Champ Jones, a former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef and an omnivore himself, is exploring with Sans, which opened in September and is described on its Web site as a “dynamic one-year project where non-vegans do vegan food.” Much of vegan food culture centers on substitution, on manipulating plant-based ingredients to approximate meat, milk, eggs, and cheese, a challenge that Jones seems to be facing with particular ambition.

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From left to right: Maine seaweed with “frothy ocean broth” and tapioca pearls; the onion; parsnip cake with pear and cashew-milk sherbet; and the black-plum terrine.Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

In fact, if you didn’t know going in, it wouldn’t necessarily be apparent that Sans is a vegan restaurant. Continue reading

Textiles, Traditions & Renaissance

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A collection of Kanji Hama’s beautifully hand-patterned and indigo-dyed fabrics along with tools of the craft. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Styled by Theresa Rivera. Photographer’s assistant: Garrett Milanovich. Styling assistant: Sarice Olson. Indigo pieces courtesy of Kanji Hama

Two stories today about textile and tradition, the first more in keeping with our norm, but both heavy on the blues:

How a Japanese Craftsman Lives by the Consuming Art of Indigo Dyeing

There are some traditions that are universal. Here, we highlight a single craft — and how it’s being adapted, rethought and remade for the 21st century.

26tmag-indigo-slide-9B7X-superJumboKANJI HAMA, 69, has quietly dedicated his life to maintaining the traditional Japanese craft of katazome: stencil-printed indigo-dyed kimonos made according to the manner and style of the Edo period. He works alone seven days a week from his home in Matsumoto, Nagano, keeping indigo fermentation vats brewing in his backyard and cutting highly detailed patterns into handmade paper hardened with persimmon tannins to create designs for a craft for which there is virtually no market. Nearly identical-looking garments can be had for a pittance at any souvenir store.

Indigo is one of a handful of blue dyes found in nature, and it’s surprising that it was ever discovered at all, as the plants that yield it reveal no hint of the secret they hold…

The story from Japan is about maintaining traditional craft and the story about flannel is about industrial renaissance.

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Blue state: Charlie Richmond pulls yarn from a dyeing machine on the floor of the Burlington Manufacturing Services plant in Burlington, N.C. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

I am not partial to either story. They make fascinating bookends:

The Annals of Flannel

Told that the cozy shirting fabric could no longer be made in America, one man began a yearlong quest.

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An American Giant flannel shirt. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

Three years ago, Bayard Winthrop, the chief executive and founder of the clothing brand American Giant, started thinking about a flannel shirt he wore as a kid in the 1970s. It was blue plaid and bought for him by his grandmother, probably at Caldor, a discount department store popular in the northeast back then. The flannel was one of the first pieces of clothing Mr. Winthrop owned that suggested a personality.

“I thought it looked great,” he said, “and I thought it said something about me. That I was cool and physical and capable and outdoorsy.”…

Herbaria, Preservation & Science

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Charles Davis, director of the Harvard University Herbaria, looks at specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau. Davis was a co-editor of a special issue of Philosophical Transactions B, which advocates for the continued preservation of biological collections. Jon Chase/Harvard file photo

Collecting plant specimens and pressing them for further inspection is a pastime many of us have tried at least once in our lives. It was fun while it lasted. And some beautiful mementos may have survived to tell the tale. The opportunity to look at and learn from plant specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau? Priceless. Thanks to Peter Reuell, a writer and publicist at Harvard University, for this:

Critical collections

Importance of biological samples and their preservation goes beyond the obvious

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The Harvard University Herbaria holds a specimen of trillium collected by Henry David Thoreau. Jon Chase/Havard file photo

More than a century ago, when botanists and naturalists were in the field collecting plant and animal specimens, they couldn’t have imagined that scientists would one day be able to extract DNA from samples to understand how plants and animals are related to one another.

They couldn’t have imagined that their collections could one day shed light on the effects of global climate change, or the emergence and spread of pathogens, the spread of fungal-driven amphibian extinction, or the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing pollution in the U.S. Continue reading

Japan, Paper & Tradition

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Washi paper at the store Ozu Washi in Tokyo. Credit Courtesy of Ozu Washi

Thanks to Nikil Saval for asking, and to the New York Times for publishing his answer to this question:

Why Is Japan Still So Attached to Paper?

Washi is to the Japanese something like what wine is to the French — a national obsession and point of pride.

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The architect Shigeru Ban’s emergency shelters are made mostly of paper.CreditBrent Boardman/courtesy of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF)

ONE OF THE CLICHÉS of modernity — but a cliché we nonetheless have to live through — is that new forms of technology make us nostalgic for prior ones and the eras they connote. When smartphones emerged, they brought the internet into spaces that were once free of them, so that a poorly functioning flip phone now inspires a hint of wistfulness. The pileup of digitized music since the emergence of the MP3 has prompted a retreat, however niche and ultimately minor, into the world of vinyl records and even tapes. The ransacking of the physical texture of the world — books, newspapers, retail stores, maps — has been so enormous and sudden that it becomes possible to see what we are losing and no longer regard the onrushing future as progress.

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Japan’s centuries-long fascination with traditional papermaking means there’s still a robust analog culture in a country known for its embrace of the modern. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Set Design by Arielle Casale and Maxwell Sorensen. Altered images: Daj/Getty Images; Bernard Allum/Getty Images. Origami: Beth Johnson. Photographer’s assistant: Jonah Rosenberg

Because of the sheer accumulated weight of its past, and the velocity of its rush into the future, Japan offers these contradictions and anxieties of modernity in particular abundance. Japan was geographically isolated for centuries, so the time between the country’s opening — thanks to the gunboat diplomacy of American warships’ arrival in 1853 — and the postwar miracle of reconstruction produced a linear and especially propulsive narrative of an agrarian society becoming one defined by urban futurism. The contrast (and conflict) between ancient and modern is the primary tension in Japan’s modern literary and filmic traditions: rural families experiencing the shock of the city in Yasujiro Ozu’s films of the ’40s and ’50s, or Noh drama in the novels of the Showa-era writer Fumiko Enchi. Everything, from the perfervidness of the country’s electronic manufacturing, the proliferation of its pop culture, the aggressiveness of its building booms — even as a three-decade-long economic decline strips these characteristics of their sheen — seems to serve as a reminder that throughout the postwar era, Japan was a byword for the future. Continue reading

Dan Barber On Future Food

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‘Restaurants can become these cathedrals of ideas.’ … Dan Barber chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurants in Manhattan and upstate New York. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

Thanks to Emma Brockes for this article, another in this important Guardian series:

Dan Barber: ’20 years from now you’ll be eating fast food crickets’

In the latest from our series on biodiversity, the Blue Hill chef says we’ve got sustainable agriculture wrong. It’s not a question of sacrifice, but deliciousness

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Barber holds a staff meeting. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

How does it taste?” says Dan Barber, regarding me expectantly in the garden of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, his restaurant in the Hudson Valley just north of New York. I am gnawing the crust of a large piece of bread that has been grown from Barber Wheat, a hybrid seed developed by Barber and his partners to be nutrient dense, high in yield and – a radical thought in seed breeding, apparently – full of flavour. (Whereas clapped out old seeds might yield 30 bushels an acre, Barber Wheat will stretch to 95). The bread is simultaneously light, and dense, and intricate in flavour in such a way that I can’t think of a single word to do it justice. Barber, who at 49 has the manic energy of someone for whom no plate of food will ever live up to the ideal in his head, looks at me gloomily. “That’s the whole problem with food writing,” he says.

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‘At a restaurant you’re like a conductor in an orchestra.’ Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

There are bigger problems in the food world. With the possible exception of “financial regulation”, there can be few more deadly phrases to the casual reader than “sustainable agriculture”, a heavy-weather issue most of us recognise as increasingly important but nonetheless killingly dull. This is where Barber, who set up his restaurant in 2004, is hugely persuasive, a charismatic leader who, if you talk to him for an hour while walking around the kitchen and bucolic surroundings of Stone Barns, will have you genuinely excited about crop rotation, and soil conditions, and the fact that the food industry is a dying behemoth reliant on low-yield, agronomically risky seeds that produce ever more tasteless and nutrition-less food.

“There’s never been a time where there’s been such a wholesale decline in frozen processed food,” he says. “Ever. The only units of those companies that are actually increasing market share are prepared vegetables that are not processed.” Which isn’t to say we are all rushing into the open arms of the nearest farmer’s market, although it is Barber’s mission, through his restaurants, to change this. Continue reading

A Forager’s Guide To Making Natural Ink

Ink1Since 2011, foraging has been a favored topic here. We have occasionally featured stories with reference to natural colorants, mainly about their various possible uses, and even an exhibition where you could learn more; but not until now have we seen a book like this. It looks like it will be a perfect addition to any of our numerous coffee tables, suited to brighten up even the rainiest afternoon. Click on any image to go to the website for the book. Thanks to Jason Logan for its authorship, and to Amy Goldwasser for bringing it to our attention in the New Yorker:

Ink Foraging in Central Park

The founder of the Toronto Ink Company leads a group of pigment enthusiasts on a hunt for acorns, berries, beer caps, and other ingredients.

Ink2.jpgOn a recent drizzly Tuesday morning, a small group of ink enthusiasts—already rain-slicked, under umbrellas and ponchos—stood on Gapstow Bridge, in Central Park, admiring a brilliant-pink pokeweed bush. The Park was the first stop on a five-hour foraging trip that would take them up to Hudson Heights, to collect foliage and trash, which they would cook, to make ink. Their guide, Jason Logan, the founder of the Toronto Ink Company, was in town for the launch of his book, “Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking.” At a reading in the West Village, he had asked the audience if anyone wanted to go foraging. The city offers some attractive ingredients: acorns, wild grapevines, beer caps, feathers, subway soot.

Ink3.jpgLogan, who is forty-six, became interested in ink about twenty years ago, when he was living in New York, working as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines. He’d burned through a bottle of black-walnut ink, which he’d bought at Pearl Paint, on Canal Street. When he returned for more, the ink was gone. “Then I found black walnuts on my way to work one morning and realized it was easy to make my own deep, rich, delicious ink,” he said.

On the bridge, Logan addressed the foragers, four women of varying ages. He has curly gray hair and was wearing a windbreaker in almost the same hue. “I’m kind of in love with gray,” he said. “It’s interesting for me, too, in terms of ink. Gray is ashes suspended in water.” Logan speaks like a laid-back chemist, using words like “petrichor,” the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. He carried a backpack filled with ink pots and collection bags.

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“That is so bright!” Julia Norton, an artist who teaches a pigment class, said, examining the pokeweed’s fuchsia stems.

“It’s so beautiful it’s hard to believe it just grows like this,” Logan said. “Pokeberry ink was most famously used by Civil War soldiers to write love notes.” Continue reading

Urban Farming Meets Upmarket Retail

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Delia Danciu, 24, a gardener, works at the Galeries Lafayette department store rooftop in Paris. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

In our quest to brighten up each day with a story, a picture, or personal observation that helps us better understand the world around us, Doreen Carvajal is our source for this story in the New York Times from the former hometown of several of our long-time contributors:

Rooftop Gardens Are Turning the Urban Shopping Scene Green

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Galeries Lafayette rooftop garden is part of a plan to transform city farming into a deluxe shopping attraction. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

PARIS — It’s a swift ride by elevator from Galeries Lafayette’s perfume section to the grand department store’s 10th-floor luxury farm with its signature scent of sage, rosemary and compost.

The rooftop garden, lush with climbing plants, tomatoes, marigolds and strawberries, is part of a plan to transform city farming into a deluxe shopping attraction for customers yearning for an exclusive green refuge — and perhaps a taste of beer brewed from the store’s homegrown hops. Continue reading

Bringing More Vegetation Into Our Diets

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Layer bunches of herbs on an ornate oblong platter, and they will become the most decorative feature of any table. Photograph by Joe Woodhouse

Thanks to Olia Hercules for this:

A Case for Eating Herbs as if They Were Vegetables

On a whim one July morning in 1987, my family set off from our small town in south Ukraine in a stuffy old Lada. We drove through Crimea, then rode by ferry to Sochi, and then drove again through Abkhazia and Georgia into Azerbaijan, where our Ukrainian-Armenian extended family lived. My mum recently reminisced about that trip, how we enjoyed late-evening dinners on our relatives’ terrace. There were tandyr-baked flatbreads, katyk yogurt, grilled meats—the works. But what stood out to mum were the herbs. At each meal, a huge platter stood proud in the middle of the table, piled with bunches of greenery: raikhan (purple basil), mint, dill, tarragon, land cress, cilantro, and spring onions. They were long and robust, nothing like those sad, weedy clumps we now buy in supermarkets, and were meant to be eaten by the stalkful, as if they were vegetables. The adults—I was too young then to have a taste for herbs—would pick up a few sprigs of each, fold them in two, dip them into salt, and chomp on them along with fresh radishes and cucumbers, sometimes folded into lavash like a veggie kebab sandwich. Continue reading

Who Will Farm In The Future?

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Four-year-old Emma is already helping out at Field and Farm Co., doing things like transplanting onions. SNARE FAMILY / FIELD AND FARM CO.

Thanks to Madelyn Beck:

Handing Off: The Reality Of Land Transfer Between Older, Younger Farmers

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This farm near Springfield, Illinois, has been in the Curry family since 1886, though Kim Curry only moved there in 2008 when her father was dying of cancer. She, her sister and her niece grow and sell pigs, piglets, chickens and cows.
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As life expectancy increases, farmers are staying in the business, but there’s still a need to plan for what happens when they die. At the same time, young farmers who come from non-farming backgrounds are looking for the space to grow their own careers.

A land transfer may seem simple, but challenges abound: How do retiring farmers connect with beginning farmers? When does a farmer confront death? How can smaller farm organizations fit into the ever-growing 1,000-acre farm scene?

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Formerly a biochemist in Michigan, Curry now works in disability claims for the state of Illinois on top of helping run the family farm. She said dinnertime often comes late, about 8 or 8:30 p.m.
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Past the likeness of Western movie icon John Wayne etched in stone, a ways down North John Wayne Road and at the end of a long dirt driveway is Kim Curry’s place. A few of the farm’s seven dogs meander up to the gate to bark at anyone who pulls up, while chickens and occasional escapee piglet scrounge for food around the yard.

The Curry Family Farm is near Springfield, Illinois, but unlike most of that area, it has green, rolling hills, a few creeks and a few ponds. It’s been in the family since 1886.

“It’s just so restful and relaxing out here. We’ll have to show you the pigs,” Curry said. “They’re all eating.”

The 59-year-old lives there with her sister and niece, but the three of them can’t keep up with it all, especially because she has a full-time state job working with disability claims.

So, she is selling about 80 acres, which she said “really has potential with someone with younger, more energy.”

And that’s where it gets tricky for people trying to offload land in Illinois, which doesn’t have an online system like several other states — Iowa, Nebraska and Montana, for example — that specifically links older farmers with newer ones looking for land.

Continue reading

Lost & Found, Apples & Ciders

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The Harrison apple tree that Thomas Vilardi found near Newark in the fall of 2015. “I knew I had seen apples on a tree,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to find a Harrison.” Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Thanks for this article to Rachel Wharton, who is batting 1000 for our taste in food writing:

Finding Lost Apples and Reviving a Beloved Cider

George Washington was among the many fans of Newark cider, a long-missing treat now being recreated by a former ad man on a mission.

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Charles Rosen, left, and Cameron Stark in the new taproom they opened last week at Ironbound Hard Cider in Asbury, N.J. It will serve limited-edition ciders made by Mr. Stark, the head cider maker.CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

ASBURY, N.J. — Ironbound Hard Cider may seem an odd name for the business Charles Rosen has built here on 108 acres in central New Jersey. The farm, where a new taproom offers pastoral views of the still-ripening fruit, doesn’t appear to share much with the Ironbound, an industrial neighborhood 50 miles to the east in Newark.

Yet they do have common roots, thanks to four very old apple varieties now growing on Mr. Rosen’s land.

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Mr. Vilardi and Fran McManus at the old apple tree he found three years ago. An apple expert connected him to Ms. McManus, who had written an article about Newark cider in 2010. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Mr. Rosen, the former chief executive of a Manhattan advertising agency that promoted Svedka vodka and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, wants to reintroduce Newark cider, an 18th- and 19th-century alcoholic drink once famously compared to Champagne.

Newark cider was both a point of pride and big business for the region — requested by name, reportedly lauded by George Washington and produced by dozens of Newark-area cideries with acres of orchards. The secret wasn’t a recipe, but the blending of a quartet of superior apples born in the region: Campfield, Poveshon, Granniwinkle and Harrison, the most celebrated of the four.

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The 1- and 2-year-old apple trees in Ironbound Hard Cider’s nursery include the Harrisons shown here and Poveshons, a New Jersey-born variety thought to be extinct until 2015. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

As a result of urbanization and then Prohibition, when many of the nation’s remaining cider orchards were destroyed, Newark cider hasn’t been made for at least a century. But after years of planning and planting — not to mention the accidental discovery of two lost apple trees and the investment of what Mr. Rosen called “100 percent of all the money I ever had in my entire life” — Ironbound Hard Cider is on the precipice of bringing it back. Continue reading

Billion Oysters And Counting

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Our school programming puts students at the center of the movement to restore oysters to New York City waters. Explore our Billion Oyster Classroom program, currently in 70+ New York City schools, and high school at the Harbor School.

Every week or so since we started this platform in 2011 we have had too many opportunities to highlight water-based ecological challenges and they seem to outnumber solutions. But it has been our goal to balance the highlighting, neither hiding our head in the sand nor claiming false equivalence between bad news and good.

Given all the challenges facing our oceans and waterways we are always heartened to hear of another initiative that involves collaboration between enterprise, youth and civic organizations. Click the image above or the one to the right to see what the Billion Oyster Project is doing in this regard.   Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for bringing this initiative to our attention:

Oysters On The Half Shell Are Actually Saving New York’s Eroding Harbor

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The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor. Billion Oyster Project has collected more than 1 million pounds of oyster shells so far. Courtesy of Agata Poniatowski

Across New York City, more than 70 restaurants are tossing their oyster shells not into the trash or composting pile, but into the city’s eroded harbor. It’s all part of Billion Oyster Project’s restaurant shell-collection program.

The journey from trash to treasure begins after an oyster half shell is turned upside down and left on an icy tray. Once discarded, it joins hundreds of thousands of other half shells collected in blue bins and picked up (free of charge) from restaurants five days a week by Billion Oyster Project’s partner, The Lobster Place, a seafood supplier. The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor, just yards away from both Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. There, rolling shell hills sparkle in the sun while “curing” out in the elements for one year, a process that rids them of contaminants.

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Oysters at Zadie’s Oyster Room, one of the New York City restaurants participating in Billion Oyster Project’s shell-collection program.
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The shells then get a final cleaning and are moved to Billion Oyster Project’s hatchery at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island that offers technical and vocational training in the marine sciences. In an aquaculture classroom’s hatchery, student-grown oysters produce larvae in an artificially induced springtime environment. In one to two weeks, each larvae grows a “foot” — a little limb covered in a kind of natural glue — and then is moved to a tank full of the “cured” restaurant shells, which serve as anchors for all of those sticky feet. This phase is critical: If larvae can’t find a place to attach, they die. One reclaimed shell can house 10 to 20 new live oysters, depending on shell size. Continue reading

A Big Purpose In Utah

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Utah used to be home to the largest national monument in the continental United States. Now the owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill are fighting to restore it. Photograph by Jim Mangan for The New Yorker

We wrote once prior, a couple months ago, on this book but we see reason to post a bit more on it here. Here is a New Yorker profile-length detailed description of the story briefly mentioned in the prior post. Thanks to Kathryn Schulz for keeping our eyes on the prize that these two chefs have decided to fight for:

Why Two Chefs in Small-Town Utah Are Battling President Trump

The owners of an improbably successful restaurant at the gate of a vast wilderness are fighting to keep it unspoiled.

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Blake Spalding with two of her seven goats. Photograph by Jim Mangan for The New Yorker

In south-central Utah, where the topography is spectacular, desolate, and extreme, the pessimistic tradition in place-names runs strong. Head south from Poverty Flat and you’ll end up in Death Hollow. Head east from Dead Mare Wash and you’ll end up on Deadman Ridge, looking out toward Last Chance Creek and down into Carcass Canyon. During the Great Depression, when the whole state turned into a kind of Poverty Flat, the Civilian Conservation Corps sent a group of men to the region to carve a byway out of a virtually impassable landscape of cliffs and chasms. The men nicknamed the project Poison Road: so steep that a single drop would kill them. Midway up, the ridge they were following gaped open and plunged fifteen hundred feet to the canyon floor. They laid a span across it, and called it Hell’s Backbone Bridge.

Today, the entire route built by those men is known as Hell’s Backbone Road. Still largely unpaved, still treacherous in bad weather, it connects the town of Escalante to the tiny hamlet of Boulder, long reputed to be one of the most remote settlements in the continental United States. As late as 1940, the mail there was delivered via an eight-hour trek by mule team; the first lights did not flicker on until Christmas Eve, 1947. Until the nineteen-seventies, locals had to spend up to forty-eight hours in transit to obtain any number of essential goods and services: a new pair of socks, medical care, anything beyond an eighth-grade education. Continue reading

The Visual Shero of Afrofuturism

A still-life of accessories from various films that Carter has worked on: the headpiece of Queen Ramonda, in “Black Panther”; cufflinks for Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Selma”; and the dancing shoes worn by Shorty, a character in “Malcolm X,” who was played by Spike Lee. Photographs by Awol Erizku

In film and theatre, costume design is often as important as a setting and script to craft the sense of both character and story. It’s debatable whether non-fiction or fiction is more challenging, but Ruth E. Carter’s work carries the story for either one, with an attention to detail that brings the viewer back into history or forward into new worlds.

Be sure to click through the article for more of Awol Erizku’s dynamic photos, as well as watch the video below for more images and Carter’s own explanation of her work.

RUTH E. CARTER’S THREADS OF HISTORY

Throughout her career, the costume designer for “Black Panther” has created visions of black identity, past and future.

Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is a rare thing: a big-budget superhero movie that is unabashedly serious about great clothes. The film’s costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, evoked the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda by melding sci-fi with global fashion history, drawing influence from sources including the color symbolism of the Maasai people, samurai armor, and the jewelry of Ndebele women. She realized her vision with the help of an international team of researchers, buyers, tailors, beaders, and engineers, and by exploring the possibilities of 3-D-printing technology. For her efforts, she has been lauded as one of the essential visual storytellers of Afrofuturism. Continue reading

Eye of the Beholder

The Berlin-based florist Ruby Barber of Mary Lennox created some of her signature cloud arrangements with once-neglected weeds. A composite of individual arrangements, from left, of weeping amaranth and fresh and dried wild grasses; an abundant gathering of the once-humble smoke bush, now a fashionable challenger to traditional hothouse flowers; and Queen Anne’s lace. Credit Photograph by Guido Castagnoli. Flowers styled by Mary Lennox

Ralph Waldo Emerson may have written that a weed is just “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,”  but another way of stating it is that a weed “is a plant growing in the wrong place”. The current revalorization of the “common weed”– aesthetically, culinarily and nutritionally — dovetails beautifully with much of what we highlight on this site.  Thanks to Ligaya Mishan of the NYTimes for the refocus.

How the Common Weed Has Grown on Florists (and Chefs)

From the flower arrangement to the plate, this is the era of the formerly unwanted plant.

A WEED IS UNWANTED: That is its definition. It is a plant that we have deemed to have no value because it contributes nothing to our life, neither nourishment nor beauty. Why should it help us when it doesn’t need us to survive, its seeds borne on the idlest gust, taking root and thriving in even the cruelest terrain? It stands wholly apart from human civilization, hardy and self-sustaining, mocking our hegemony, claiming the earth as its own. Worse, it is a predator, stealing resources — real estate, sunlight — from the plants we do value and rely on, crowding them out, threatening their existence and, by extension, ours.

A weed is never singular but an army. Its legions sweep across land like the Golden Horde, “always three steps ahead of the gardener, traveling underground, seeding by the million, smothering all in their path,” says the British writer and landscape designer Isabel Bannerman. Her husband and partner, Julian Bannerman, frames it slightly less savagely: The garden “is a bit like having a party. What we call weeds are the uninvited guests.” And in the Swedish writer and illustrator Elsa Beskow’s picture book “The Flowers’ Festival,” originally published in 1914 as “Blomsterfesten i Tappan,” they appear as exactly that, a rabble of thistles, chickweed, nettles and burdock, “scoundrels and beggars and ragamuffins” all, consigned to a ditch outside the garden to glower while the violets and orchids revel. “But we’re flowers, too,” the weeds roar.

But their time has come. Continue reading