FARMLAND: Part 2(b) – ‘Somewhere’ Farms exist in NYC’s Concrete Canyons

FARMLAND, the film, was about to come to New York City in the evening, but in fact ‘farmland’ already had.

Even in those tall concrete canyons collectively called the Big Apple, Farmland is everywhere. It is found on every street corner, in every high rise, on every fashion runway, in every sidewalk food stand, on every morning show. How so, one might ask?

All a person has to do is look beyond the visible, to the invisible farms that are found in every cop’s doughnut to the most elegant gourmet dinner to the cotton in designer dresses to see the foundation of the hustle and bustle of city life. Much as blood courses through the veins to keep a human body alive, farmland courses through urban byways everywhere to provide their lifeblood.

The sad part is – most city-dwellers seem to never comprehend that fact. The two previous blog posts, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here have begun to connect those dots; read on to connect a few more.

Compelled to visit the World Trade Center site (to be featured in a later post), after breakfast I headed down the street towards the Financial District. I didn’t have to walk far before seeing Farmland on (west) Broadway, in the form of a bucolic pasture scene on a FreshDirect truck. That company’s 2,500+ food-delivery jobs are dependent on farmland – somewhere.


Around the corner and down a few blocks, to America’s commerce center.


43 companies – ADM, Dean Foods, Tyson, and Pilgrim’s Pride among them – are directly categorized as ‘food’ companies which are traded on the NYSE. In addition, there is an unknown amount of other companies, such as Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Walmart, and Kroger, who include food sales or food methodology in their portfolios, that are valued or devalued daily in the nation’s most prestigious exchange.

And then, the BULL!


While some think this global icon is merely a signatory for an active, expanding market, there is real reason for the symbolism: The food companies traded on Wall Street account for TRILLION$ of BIG DOLLAR$, and those Dollar$ are dependent on Farmland – somewhere. The farmland may be in Brazil, or Europe, or New Zealand, or coffee plantations in the tropics ($tarbuck$, anyone?). Best thing about this Bull? In the eyes of a farmer, he’s a low maintenance kind of livestock, since he requires no actual feed!

Onto the subway for a first time, and a few minutes later I arrive at Grand Central Station. Yep, Farmland here, too, and quite colorful!


Why not a Farmer’s Market in one of the nation’s busiest rail hubs? Workers from the city grabbing something fresh for supper as they catch a train on their evening ride really makes a lot of sense when you think about it. But what about the food sold in the Market? Could the tomatoes be some of those grown by one of my Tennessee neighbors? (We know they go to NYC through a broker).

At any given time of year, the lovely produce could come from any part of the globe, all starting on Farmland. Some will be traceable to the point of origin, some will not. Some will be grown in the States using plant protection agents that are monitored and approved by the FDA and the EPA, while some will be grown in countries with food safety standards not nearly as stringent as ours. Some will be organic, and some local (NY, CT, PA, or NE). All will require the fertile soil that is Farmland.

The Grand Central Dairy Case featured some wonderful regional milks:


One brand, Ronnybrook’s “Beyond Organic,” is processed on the farm where the cows live – a farmstead milk! This is about as local and fresh as you’ll find in New York City. I ‘sort of’ already knew the farm through registered Holstein circles. Hudson Valley Fresh is processed by a small family farm cooperative. One of the ten member-farms of the co-op, Dutch-Hollow, has just been announced to be the 2014 Dairy of Distinction by National Dairy Shrine!

On for a special lunch – I was meeting a treasured ‘long-lost’ Tennessee cousin, who works in New York City, at Fonda Del Sol, on Vanderbilt Avenue. Beef – from a farm and ranch somewhere – was on the menu, at a ‘Mad-Men’ kind of restaurant (Charles’ description, not mine!).


Hanger steak was plated, and what a treat! This cut has been promoted by farmer’s organizations such as National Cattlemen’s and Beef Industry Councils across the country. And since Tennessee is one of the nation’s leading cow-calf operations, this delicious bit of protein could have started on a farm in my neighborhood! Farmland – close to home – contributing to the New York Food economy. With beef quality and food safety measures all along the way, this delicious morsel could be eaten with no fear!

Time to head back to Tribeca to get ready for the purpose of the trip: Farmland, the Film. And for the umpteenth time, another coincidence. On top of the Tribeca Film building where the film was to be screened – well, see the sign:


Several years ago, I had the privilege to help launch a farmstead cheese operation. I had to wonder what launching would occur from this trip. No doubt, the previous 24 hours had set the stage for the screening.

New York City is not the only metropolis that has Farmland – somewhere – that runs through concrete canyons. They all do, but do their residents know how close they are, or how dependent they are – on Farmland?

Next up: a post about the screening event itself, and my impressions of Farmland, the Film.

Farmland: Part 2(a) – NYC Food Faces its Farmers!


The New York ‘on-the-ground” Food Journey Begins

The roadway to Farmland (the movie) is paved with Farmland to Food connections. And even though I’ve spent a lifetime connecting the trails from producers to brands to end users, and back again, I would never in a million years have anticipated what happened next. (Note: you may need to refer to the previous post to completely follow this post).

Caught up in all the emotions brought on by the first sight of the Freedom Tower, the grumbles of my hungry stomach reminded me that I was on a mission to find lunch. At this point, just anyplace that was clean would do. After passing a couple of places that were little more than dives, I saw some happy-looking diners, and looking up, I saw this sign:


Looked like a winner! And in yet another moment of random surprise or ‘it was meant to be,’ this happy food cart signage made me certain I would eat at this place:


Never before, in any region of the country had I ever seen a restaurant that so boldly acknowledged that FARMS and FARMERS were something to be grateful for! I was hooked from that moment on! Of all the places in the world, NEW YORK is perhaps one of the last that I would have expected to see something like this! This restaurant sources food from both organic and conventional growers (emphasis on organic), but makes a real effort to source as many ingredients as possible back to it origin – the FARM from which it came! How serious – well – see for yourself . . .


American Flatbread is a chain of approximately 12 Vermont-based restaurants in the Northeast, founded purposely to source food from as many regional growers as possible in their immediate foodshed. Not only do they say they do, they go to the trouble of identifying their growers with nametags and where they can be found. I LOVE this effort, and this belief in bolstering their local food economies! If you walked into a restaurant in your area of the country, and asked them where the farms were that produced the food they sold, how many restaurant managers or servers could answer the question? (Why not try that the next restaurant you go into?!?!)

A closer look at the Foodshed map revealed there was an additional reason to love American Flatbread – I was startled to realize I have actually met one of their cheesemongers!


Cooperstown Creamery is owned by Gina Tomaselli, a cheesemaker I had met a year earlier in Raleigh at an American Cheese Society conference. She had entered an award-winning tomme, an Alpine cheese, in the ACS competition. (I have no idea which of her cheeses that American Flatbread has chosen to serve). She told me she sourced her milk from a herd of nearby Brown Swiss cows – the protein in their milk helps create her unique cheese flavors. Gina’s cheeses have even been served at the last White House Inaugural Luncheon that began President Obama’s second term.

A bit more about American Flatbread’s philosophy on foods and farming was found on another wall:


The pizza was one of the best I’ve ever had, perhaps because it had the added ingredient of ‘sourcing from your farm neighbor!’ But as I left, I had to laugh, because I realized the pineapple on this pizza probably was not grown in a tropical forest in Brooklyn!

During the evening, the Angel of Music drew me to Broadway. The Phantom of the Opera has often been a companion on driving trips to cattle shows and sales, but to experience the elegant production up close and personal, Music of the Night, indeed!

Just down the street from the Majestic, the Phantom’s home stage, a police horse and mounted NYPD officer calmly monitored the crowd in front of a world-famous restaurant.


Yet again, another connection to Farmland, and the foundation for this journey. The Bright Lights of Broadway would be very dim, and a lot less safe, without hay and oats for horses. Where would Sardi’s and other gourmet restaurants be without the beef, chicken, and grains, fruits and vegetables plated which are the origin of their deliciousness?

And the last Farm-Foodland connection for the evening, but certainly not the least – one of my all-time favorite food pleasures:


Through the years, I’ve enjoyed many encounters with farm friends in Vermont, mainly through dairy cattle and dairy industry efforts. Those beloved Woody Jackson images are a vivid reminder that FARMS and FARM ANIMALS are the launching pad that enabled Ben and Jerry’s gourmet ice cream to ride the carpets of pop-culture puns to an affiliation with a global food company. Unilever, now the parent company of Ben and Jerry’s, operates one of the world’s biggest ice cream plants in my home state of Tennessee.

Whew, what a day! Much as the Phantom is the muse in the background that inspired Christine’s beautiful melodies, so is FARMLAND the muse for the GREAT AMERICAN LIFESTYLE.

More to come.

Farmland is Foodland.


FARMLAND – a Journey: Part 1(a) – Coincidences, or Serendipity?


Farmland is the cornerstone of my life.
“Farmland” is a film, recently released by Allentown productions.

Through a series of fortuitous events in one of the world’s biggest cities, seeds were sown that would grow into my future perspective on ‘Farmland’ the movie.

Farmland the film, a documentary directed by award winner James Moll, has thus far met with mixed reviews. The farm-for-a-living community is thrilled that a film champions their life quietly, eloquently, and factually. Six young farmers represent the collective farming population as folks who do their job well despite challenges. The ‘food movement’ has reacted in a full-spectrum manner; some have been respectful with sincere questions and comments prompted by their attendance at screenings, while others have been nothing less than vilifying and condemning with their comments.

This review will be a bit different than others, due largely to my dual role as a life-long farmer and agricultural communicator. A great deal of my efforts have been spent in frequent interactions with consumers, answering their many questions about what we do on a farm, and why, and how that affected (or not) the food they ate. I have learned to view the profession of full-time farming from the perspective of a consumer three-generations removed from the farm.

The ‘official review’ post will come in a couple of days, but it will be much easier for a reader to understand if they first vicariously go on my trip with me, via a travelogue of photos of the jam-packed 48 hours on my trip to, and in, New York City. From the minute I received an invitation to the film’s screening (thanks, Lorraine Lewandrowski, for your references!), flights to and fro, to getting back on a return flight, this trip proved to mirror a lifetime of food-to-plate bridge-building.

And so, the journey begins.


The first leg of the flight took me over the rolling farmscapes of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The crystal-clear skies made it easy to see many farmsteads, many of which I was already familiar with due to drives to search out dairy cattle for consignment sales, or just to visit with farm friends. It’s highly possible I flew over dairies which are home to descendants of the Registered Holsteins I owned several years ago. A new friend, whom I met last summer at an AgVocacy conference, also pointed out I could have flown over her farm. And I was near to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, who not only was president, but an avid and forward thinking agriculturist.

This segment ended in Washington, DC, home of USDA, the government arm which implements farm policy, and Congress, who enacts that policy. While my neighbors and I have always lived the results of any Farm Bill, this recent Bill is the first on which I had dug into on a deep level due to reporting and communications for farmers and farm organizations. A Farm Bill affects both farmers and consumers, from commodity pricing to feed and supply costs to grocery prices. Farmland is affected by such a Bill.

Next stop: LaGuardia Airport and New York City.


Leaving the gate after getting off the plane, the very first sign I saw was this one: connecting Food and Farm with Film, albeit in a different context. Joe Ciminera is a celebrity chef from PBS, who has taken on the cause of fighting childhood obesity. However, I was a bit amused he is raising money for a noble cause through proceeds from Sci-Fi and horror films, another project of his! Oh well, at least he’s akin to a farmer in that he wears many different hats at the same time!


Just a few steps later, this “Welcome to New York” sign greeted vistitors by an airport quick-stop deli, with items that had to come from farms – somewhere. Industry estimates put sales of food and beverage at $6.6 billion level at North America’s top 50 airports alone. All that economic activity had to start – on farmland, of some size or span.

Next up, a cab ride that could only be described as “meant to be,” for whatever reason!


I had to laugh when I climbed into this cab! Of all of the million cabs which pick up passengers at LaGuardia, how in the world did I end up in one with a Cowabunga mirror ornament?!? What were the odds – me, with a lifelong affiliation with Holstein cows and cows of all colors and the farms that feed them, in a world’s shopping mecca, riding into the city in a taxi with a swinging Holstein! [The Italian driver and I did discuss the merits of mozzarella vs. parmigiana!] Random occurrence, or serendipity? I’ll leave that for you to decide! First the cow – then this driving by . . .


By this time, I was feeling a bit of “Really? Here?” Although this was my first time on the freeway from LaGuardia into town, one of the last things I expected to see was a load of pretty darn good hay through my cab’s window. Square baled, so the hay may have been destined for the iconic Carriage Horses or one of the area’s horse race tracks, or even headed to farms on the other side of the city, but this fact remains – the hay was grown in fields, on a FARM, somewhere.

After arriving at the hotel, my first goal was to locate the theatre where the screening would take place, mostly so I could gauge my ‘exploring time’ in order to make it to the Big Event on time the next evening. With suitcases safely taken care of, next on the list was to walk in the direction of the Theatre, (around the block and down a street), and then find lunch. Thanks to a scant breakfast, travel schedules, and busy trip prep the day before, I hadn’t eaten much at all in the previous 36 hours, and was ‘headache hungry.’ At this point, I didn’t care what kind of food, I just wanted someplace clean.

First things first – the theatre proved to be only a short distance away, on the backside of the block of the hotel. Although I had done a bit of searching on the internet before the trip, and despite the ‘glam image’ associated with the Tribeca Film Festival, this is the building put in context with surroundings:


A reclaimed, but unassuming building (on the outside), topped by an exterior of a mix of condos, offices, and storage space is the headquarters of one of the world’s most known Film Festivals. Since the Festival, the property has gone on the market for upwards of $1 million.

Now on to lunch – I turned around to make my way down the street, and to say I caught my breath is an understatement:


The new Freedom Tower, marking the site of the greatest modern-day American tragedy, is one of the most humbling sites I’ve ever seen. One is compelled to stop, and reflect, and say a prayer of gratitude.

Farmland is Foodland, and on to New York City food in the next post.