I attended the NYC Food and Climate Summit
this past weekend and was shocked and awed by the sheer number of people globally that have begun to wake up and see our food system for what it really is. It was only recently that I woke up myself. And I have to say, it was like waking up from the matrix. Suddenly grocery stores look like the bleak world from the movie to me, and making decisions about how and where to eat has taken on so many more questions that I never even knew that I had!
I have to admit though, I always had an idea that something was wrong, this nagging suspicion in the back of my head that perhaps we shouldn't be eating tomatoes all year long or that meats should not have long expiration dates on the packages when they had already made a long trek through a processing plant and on a truck and to the pallet to get to the shelf. I swatted these suspicions away, choosing not to know, because it makes it easier right? But I also must fess up that I never found it easy either. Going to the grocery store to pick out my dinner used to be a relatively daunting task for me. I could never figure out, from the endless possibilities, what I wanted to eat. I find that too many choices makes it harder to pick. So all too often I ended up eating dried pasta and sauce from a jar. Easy right? But healthy? Good for the environment? How do you know?
I was raised in a household where most everything was organic. The meat we ate was free-range (back when free-range meant free roaming), and we ate vitamins every day. I always wondered why it mattered so much to eat organic, and when I was old enough to make my own choices about what to eat I of course chose by price. Because they are all the same right? Just one costs less? Then about six months ago I read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dillemma,"
and that was when suddenly all of my nagging little suspicions all made sense. As much as it pains me to say it, my mother was right (actually, I ALSO have to admit that she is usually pretty much right about everything, which gets to be a little annoying sometimes. ;)). Organic vegetables ARE better. They are better for you they are better for the environment and they are better for our future. And sustainably grown non-monocrop vegetables are even better than organic. At this point you might be saying "WHA?? Who is this hippie chick??". I know, because six months ago that was how I felt, that all tomatoes were the same, and whoever told me different was selling something.
Why is it better? Lots of reasons. Factory farms are the number one reason for water pollution in this country. Yes, you heard it, number one
. Normally when cows, chickens and pigs are running around in pastures and woodlands their waste replenishes the ground as fertilizer to grow more of what they eat for the next time they come around. On factory farms the sheer number of animals prevents them from being pastured, so instead they stay inside the barn in very tight spaces and their waste is piled in a shed nearby. The rain comes, and the waste runoff gets into nearby streams and waterways. The excess nitrogen in the water promotes algae blooms which create areas where there is no oxygen in the water . . . thus killing off all other life in those areas. There is a "dead zone" the size of Connecticut right now in the Gulf of Mexico. Similar things happen with industrial fertilizers which are used in an attempt to replenish the nutrients that are stripped from the soil by crops such as corn or soybeans. These plants would not be evil if the crops were rotated (non-monocrop) and plants that replenish the nutrients naturally were grown in their place for a period of time. Because of federal regulations where these plants are subsidized farmers get into a poverty cycle where they have to produce a monocrop to get the subsidies which requires more and more fertilizers and promotes soil deterioration and runoff which reduces crop yield and so on and so forth. Phew!
So why does this matter and how does it have anything to do with Urban Oyster?!? you say. So my fiance and I recently decided to change the way that we interact with the food system. Not the way we eat, but what we purchase and from where and of course it means we are eating seasonally. We eat all of our meats, fish and vegetables from the local farmers markets (only where the farmer's practices are sustainable of course. Amazing, even at the farmers market you have to ask the questions! Do you overtill your soil? What types of fertilizers do you use?) and we joined a CSA
(Community Supported Agriculture)(actually, multiple potentially . . . did you know that there is a CSA farm
serving Williamsburg that serves up sausage, salami, sopressata, and all other yummy things that come from pigs GOURMET STYLE??? Wow!!!). And we have both lost weight and are healthier. It is amazing. The two rounds of flu that went through the office passed right over me! And when you start to look you start to see that there is an entire underground movement to buy and eat food that is separate form the industrial food system that is not unlike the underground craft brew market that is now just beginning to thrive in this country. People realized that beer could taste good, could be good for you, could be different than just piss-water pilsner, could actually taste . . . .well, like beer SHOULD taste! And that is just what is happening with food. Did you know that you can buy tomatoes that do not taste like sawdust and lettuce that does not require dressing . . . .it is so spicy and crisp I throw a little bit of lemon and a touch of olive oil and sea salt and it is a FABULOUS lunch! I cannot believe that this has happened to me. Forget the environmental and health benefits . . . . food tastes . . . . well I think that the word is AWESOME.
And going to the Food and Climate Summit, I realized that we are not alone. Like the craft brewers there is a whole world of people out there that are standing up and demanding that food be produced and delivered in a different way. A way that makes it taste better. A way that does not destroy our world. I just hope that those folks in Copenhagen are standing up and listening.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Cate Lloyd.
While sitting at my desk this afternoon writing a different post for this blog, a flash of bright green across the street caught my eye. Then I saw another, and another, and it appeared as if the tree across the way had been swarmed by some sort of tropical parrot. I threw on my coat and rushed outside, where I discovered that, indeed, our street in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, had been visited by South American Monk Parakeets
Also known as the Quaker Parakeet, these birds have been present in large numbers in New York City for 40 years. They gained a foothold in the United States in the late 1960's, when the birds began to be imported as pets – many escaped their captors, or were released, and their numbers quickly ballooned. It is believed that the population in New York was established when they escaped from a shipping container
at John F. Kennedy Airport in either 1967 or 1968 – the exact date and circumstances of this incident remain shrouded in mystery
(that may be due to a connection with organized crime and some of their shenanigans gone awry).
Originally confined to the vast marshes of Jamaica Bay that border the airport, the birds have settled on Brooklyn as their favorite borough. One of the largest and oldest colonies is in Green-Wood Cemetery
, just a block from our front door. If you walk to the front gates of the cemetery on 5th Avenue, you can see the massive nests they build atop the Gothic spires – these are the only variety of parrot that build large communal nests out of sticks. Though they are year-round residents of the city, from what I can tell this is one of their more active times of year, at least in our neighborhood. The super of our building, known affectionately as "the Mayor of East 2nd Street," said they usually gather in large numbers on our block in December.
Though they are an invasive species, there is some dispute as to whether these birds are a nuisance. Their massive nests can cause problems, and some power companies often remove them from utility poles
. New York City embarked on an eradication program in the early 1970's, but to no avail, and today the birds are established in at least 15 states from Massachusetts to Florida and as far west as Oklahoma. I just think they are a welcome, if raucous, splash of color and sound on a dreary winter day.
Interestingly, once the prattle of parakeets
had departed, their scraps were mopped up by a group of European Starlings, another invasive species that gained an American foothold in New York City. Now numbering 200 million in the United States, Starlings first came to America as a small flock of less than 100 birds that was released into Central Park in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin, who was supposedly trying to introduce all of the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. Though the Starling thrived, Schieffelin failed in his mission, as by my reckoning, there are no wild Choughs, Jackdaws, Wagtails or Ostriches in the US – there is a complete list of all 45 of the Bard's birds here
If you want to learn more about the tropical birds that flourish in wintry New York, there are a couple of websites you should visit. BrooklynParrots.com
organizes birdwatching trips to their regular hangouts; their next outing will be January 9th at Brooklyn College, which has one of the longest-established colonies. Wild Parrots of New York
also posts sightings with photos and other information, so send them your hot tips.
New York City is actually a wonderful place for a birdwatcher. The city is ideally situated for viewing migratory birds – the Atlantic Flyway passes right through here, as most northeastern birds head south through New England, then bank west and fly the length of Long Island to avoid flying over open ocean. That makes what little green space the city has prime real estate in this migratory bottleneck, meaning urban parks like Central Park and Prospect Park are packed with birds. The city's waterfront parks, like Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park, are also great for birdwatching; Jamaica Bay
in Queens is a massive bird sanctuary within the city limits, and it is a wonderful site for viewing marshland and shore birds of all varieties. Once the weather turns warm again and the ferry reopens, Governors Island
is a great spot as well, and the National Park Service
has regular free birdwatching programs run by volunteer Annie Barry.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 10th Street in Manhattan’s East Village, standing at an angle offset from the surrounding city streets, stands St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery
, the oldest building of continuous worship in New York City. Built in 1799 by Peter Stuyvesant II, the great-grandson of the 17th-century Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, the parish became the first Episcopal church independent of the famous Trinity Church in America. The church was actually built atop the burial vault of the elder Stuyvesant, who had been buried on the family farm that once occupied the land (Bowery comes from the Dutch word for farm, bowerij
). This explains the building’s north-south orientation, as the grid of streets that now surrounds it had not yet been laid out.
We recently paid a visit to St. Mark’s during last month’s 5 Dutch Days 5 Boroughs
festival, which celebrated Dutch culture and the city’s historical ties to the Netherlands. Rev. Michael Relyea, as associate pastor who has worked at the parish for 40 years, led us on a guided tour of the church’s rich history and many ongoing projects and programs.
The offset orientation of the church creates open spaces around the building, including the East and West Burial Yards and a public triangle in front. The triangle is dedicated to Abe Lebewohl
, the owner of the famous Second Avenue Deli
(now located in Murray Hill), who was murdered during a robbery in 1996. Peter Stuyestant’s burial vault lies beneath the church in the East Yard, but unfortunately, no one has been able to access it since 1953, when his last surviving direct descendant, Augustus Van Horn Stuyvesant, was laid to rest. in his will, he ordered the chamber sealed, and he, along with 80 of his relatives (and perhaps a few slaves who worked on the Stuyvesant farm) were encased in a truckload of concrete.
In the West Yard, there is a curious burial slab marked Vault No. 95. The vault belongs to John Slidell, who died in 1854, but beneath his name is engraved “Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry.” Commodore Perry, famous for opening up Japan in 1854, spent a large part of his career at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
. He was second-in-command of the yard during the 1830’s, overseeing construction of the steam warship USS Fulton
. In 1841, he was promoted to commandant, a post he held until 1843. Perry died in 1858 in New York City, and though he was meant to be buried at his family plot in Newport, Rhode Island, difficulties transporting his body caused him to be temporarily interred at St. Mark’s in the burial vault of his friend John Sidell. In 1866, his body was disinterred and moved to its current resting place in Newport.
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery has long been a supporter of the arts, and the church has been transformed into a multi-use performance and exhibition space as well as a place of worship. Since the 1920‘s, the church has hosted cutting-edge dancers, actors and poets - the poet Khalil Gibran was appointed to the parish arts committee in 1919. The Poetry Project
has been in the church since 1966, and St. Mark’s is currently home to the Ontological-Hysteric Theater
, an experimental theater founded by Richard Foreman and housed in the church since 1992. St. Mark’s also has a long history of involvement in historic preservation and community outreach. In the 1960’s, the church took in active role in trying to revive what was a rapidly declining neighborhood by launching the Preservation Youth Project, a program which enlisted neighborhood youth in cleaning up and revitalizing the church’s outdoor spaces. The yards were transformed into parks for the community, and the West Yard was laid with cobblestones recovered from the construction of the 2nd Avenue Subway tunnel
(which remains unfinished).
The parish’s involvement in preservation has continued through its relationship with the Neighborhood Preservation Center
, which is housed in the church rectory. The center provides resources for research and meeting spaces for organizations and individuals engaged in efforts to “facilitate and encourage citizen participation in the improvement and protection of New York City’s diverse neighborhoods.” The center is currently holding an online auction
, which runs through December 7, to raise funds for its various programs. Among the items for auction are a trip to the oldest bath house in New York City
, a gift certificate and cookbook from Veselka
, a membership to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
, and four tickets for our Brewed in Brooklyn Tour
for the 2010 season.
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery does offer occasional guided tours, but they do have an excellent self-guided tour
of the church and grounds available on their website.Correction:
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery is not the oldest building of continuous worship in New York City, but it sits on the oldest site, as there was a Dutch Reformed chapel where St. Mark's stands today. Many thanks to the keen eye of Rev. Relyea for spotting our mistake.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact email@example.com.