May-June 2012: The Eat Drink Local Issue

EM23-LowRes (dragged)Didja hear? Farm School NYC—an upstart urban ag education initiative run by the Midtown-based CSA masterminds at Just Food—was recently awarded a three-year grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. That uber-competetive federal funding isn’t just making it possible for the community garden set to geek out on crop science and soil fertility. The cash is also cold, hard evidence that ag experts in our nation’s capital regard New York City as fertile ground for growing new farmers.

As well they should. We might be short on open acres but here in the shadows of skyscrapers we’re enjoying a bumper crop of agricultural innovations.

Many are the product of entrepreneurial ingenuity, which has recently given rise to everything from an upstate alternative to olive oil (hello, pumpkin seeds) to a gardening company that only sells varieties that thrive in our microclimate (hello, Marketmore 76 cucumber seeds).

And farming fever isn’t just for the fringe. As evidence, we profile a Per Se alum who’s launched an ingredient-driven grilled cheese truck, two Manolo Blahnik execs who founded a dairy farm, and Eataly’s rooftop brewer, whose spent hops become pig slop.

But there are bigger ideas germinating here too, the kind aimed at systemic change. Like a Flatiron-based AmeriCorps-inspired initiative whose members built 168 school gardens in less than a year. Or an NYU grad student who’s spreading the word that food stamps can be spent on seedlings instead of Snickers.

Even Baldor, the Bronx-based behemoth that wholesales to thousands of East Coast restaurants, is now as locavore-lucrative as the city’s farmers markets. And just a 36-minute train ride from Grand Central, the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture welcomes thousands of eaters each week to walk the fields, help with chores and envision a better way to feed America.

Not that you need to leave town to find fresh food springing from the soil. As the USDA has noticed, there’s some serious farming happening here in Manhattan. You might not spot any tractors on the FDR Drive, but from restaurant rooftops to stalled construction sites, we’re growing lots of food—and yes, even farmers.

PS: It’s the most edible time of the year! June 23 to 30, hundreds of restaurants, farmers, wineries, bakers and brewers participate in our annual Eat Drink Local Week with special menus, tastings and experiences. Sink your teeth into the details at

Here in the shadows of skyscrapers we’re enjoying a bumper crop of agricultural innovations.

Photo credit: Riverpark

Betsy Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley writes about New York City history and culture. She hopes to find Tiffany blue dragees in her Christmas stocking this year.

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