The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

What’s Organic About Organic? Well, I’ll Tell You July 9, 2010

“The pesticides are made to stay on even in a rainstorm….So how big of a rainstorm are you giving in your kitchen?” – A farmer on pesticide use in apple orchards

Whew, this post is late. Things just got a little out of hand, what with my trip out of town and all that stuff I had to attend to, like watching ten episodes of Lost. (I have a lot of catching up to do.)

Anyhoo, last Thursday – shoot, the Thursday before, actually, I scooted down to the Here Theater to see What’s Organic About Organic? a sort of low-budget Food Inc. The little theater was packed with people, despite it being the fourth showing of a whole week. Apparently there are a lot of very aware and curious people in NYC.

The movie didn’t teach me a lot of things I didn’t already know, since I’m already a voracious reader of blogs on the topic. Still, it’s good for me to watch this stuff, because sometimes I need a boost in my determination to be more aware about what I eat. It’s like going on a diet – you need to keep trying on those skinny jeans in order to remember why you gave up dessert….and hamburgers…and anything not organic…

I did pick up some choice facts about conventional farming (aka, “not organic.”) THey’re a swift kick in the pants to all you Luddites still enjoying McDonald’s. Please enjoy:

  • Farmers and their families on conventional farms frequently suffer from pesticide poisoning
  • Pesticides are the same chemicals used in chemical warfare. They are just watered down to put on our food.
  • Chemicals from those pesticides can get into our water supply
  • The estimated health and environmental costs of our farm chemical usage in the US is estimated at $9 billion
  • Arsenic is often put in chicken feed. The chicken poop is then fed to other animals.
  • Industrialized farming (think large-scale farms with produced shipped hundreds of miles) currently depends on cheap fossil fuel, something that is getting harder and harder to come by.
  • Switching to all organic farming could reduce 25% of our carbon emissions
  • Produce loses 40% of its nutrients within three days of being picked. Unfortunately, most produce doesn’t reach your shopping cart until after that.
  • 70% of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals. (Which makes your next round of needed antibiotics less effective, by the way.)
  • Sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in conventional agriculture

The movie was equal parts hope and frustration. Farmers talked with a fierce pride about sticking to their guns, even as everyone told them they would do better if they used fancy pesticides and GMOs. They tut-tutted other farmers who are deep in debt and battling super weeds and crazy infestations of bugs, even as they douse fields with Roundup. They talked about their hope for the future, about the quality and beauty of their food. But even so, the sheer scale of the problem was sobering. Sadly, one farming cooperative that the movie focused on had shut down by the time the movie was done being produced.

After the lights came up I chatted with a girl my age next to me with masses of long curly hair and fun bracelets that clinked on her wrist. Her name was Rose, and she is even more into food issues than I am. She also already knew about most of what the movie had to say, “I mean, images of CAFOs are burned into my brain,” she said “so…”

While we talked the panelists came up on stage. Restaurants was the topic of the night. I was curious to hear more about sustainable restaurants, but even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have left. Not a person in the theater budged from their seats, eagerly looking up at some of the most well-respected members of the farm-to-table movement.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

My ears perked up at the name Batali. I had just written a post about his wonderful pizzeria, Otto Enoteca, where I enjoyed some of the best pizza I had ever had, and heavenly cheese with truffle honey. Of course if you’ve heard of Mario Batali, you might know he has a small restaurant empire. I was so pleased to know that his restaurants embrace sustainability. They source from local farms, use organic produce, and avoid using fish that are being overfished. In order to convince all of the chefs – chefs always being averse to being told what to do – Elizabeth brought them all in and showed them videos of the impact of food decisions. They were converted. I think I have found my new favorite restaurant.

Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s No. 43

Jimmy’s love of good quality food came through as he talked. Far from being a gimmick, his seasonal variations on his menu evolved slowly as he acquired more and more food from local farms. One day, he said, he woke up and realized his summertime menu is composed almost entirely of food from within a hundred miles, save for the olive oil and lemon. Now he gets CSA deliveries right to his restaurant, which has become a hub of activity has other restaurants stop by to pick up their own produce. His fave farm? The Piggery.

Carlos Suarez, owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant

Love this guy. He worked in finance for a year, but decided it had a lack of value (no, really??), so he quit and started a restaurant, Bobo. I had never heard of this West Village restaurant before, but believe me, it’s on my list. His restaurant doesn’t even serve bottled water.

Ian Marvey, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Added Value

Added Value is an urban farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and from what I can tell it is an amazing venture. Teenagers staff the field and the produce table. The owners of The Good Fork, which sources from Added Value, walk three blocks in the morning from their home to open up the restaurant. The restaurant, in turn, is three blocks from Added Value. The point of Ian telling the audience this is that all that money made from the farm circulates within Red Hook. The implication? Real, local people get the benefit of this agriculture, instead of faceless corporations hundreds of miles away.

Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods

Patrick seems to be more of the pragmatic and sober type, instead of the pie-in-the-sky breed of organic evangelists. He caused a ruckus when he said that Purdue has value in that it “feeds the world.” Boy did that get everyone riled up, especially the farmer in attendance, Marty Mesh. What Patrick was trying to say is that famines used to be a way of life, and the sheer scale of conventional agriculture has made those a thing of the past. That’s a good thing, even if there are a lot of abuses and serious drawback to the system. After getting raked over the coals by other panelists, he reiterated that he dislikes Purdue and Smithfield as much as anyone. They are, after all, the enemies of the movement.

That’s Shelley Rogers by the way, the documentary maker, laughing to the left of Patrick.

Classie Parker, founder of Five Star Community Garden in Harlem

This lady was adorable. Rose and I kept on looking at each other and practically squealing with delight as she held forth about the importance of community and good food, and her jam with Southern Comfort in it. Yum. She’s a main character in the movie as well. “Not enough people are talking about it. Go on Facebook. Go on Twitter,” she exhorted the audience. “I guarantee you it will grow!”

Marty Mesh – Farmer Advocate and Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers

Marty was another main character in the movie, a grower with very strong opinions. (At one point he claimed Swine Flu was caused by conventional pig raising. Urp.) But I loved his idea of installing organic farms in low income areas and homes, a great way to improve nutrition. He got a huge round of applause from the audience when he declared we should “get corporations out of the food system.”

After the panel disbanded, Rose and I exchanged info, promising each other that we would get up to Harlem to see Classie’s Five Star Community Garden, and maybe get our hands a little dirty!

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What’s Organic about Organic? Week-Long Kickoff in NYC June 18, 2010

Next week at the Here theater, the who’s who of the food, sustainable, and organic New York movement will be gathered around to screen the new documentary, What’s Organic about Organic? It discusses sustainable and organic agriculture and the myriad of issues that surround food. If you want to learn more about why what you eat is so incredibly important to the future of our country’s safety and happiness, (or you just want a fresh jolt of energy to keep walking past McDonald’s on your way home) you should check out at least one of the days for a panel discussion. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot.

As for the quality of the movie itself? I can’t find any solid reviews except for this very short one that says it doesn’t cover much new ground, though it is pretty interesting. Scroll to the bottom for the trailer and a synopsis.

I bought tickets for Monday through Thursday. I’m not going to watch the movie over and over, but all the speakers sound so amazing, I’m going to try to make as my panel discussions as I can! Unfortunately I’ll be out of town Friday through Sunday, so I’m going to miss the superfun-sounding benefit on Friday with fancy local food. But here for you is a list of the notable attendees and the topics:

(Buy tix here)

Monday, June 21 – 7pm screening
Topic: Bringing organic food to the NYC population, the trend of urban farming and the organic farming model
Jacquie Berger, Executive Director, Just Food, Hilary Baum, Co-Founder of Food Systems NYC and Founder, Baum Forum

Tuesday, June 22 – 7pm screening
Topic: Organic farming as a solution for climate change
Paul Mankiewicz, Executive Director, Gaia Institute, Karen Washington, President, NYC Community Gardens Coalition, Maria-Paolo Sutto, Director, Urban Design Lab of Columbia’s Earth Institute

Wednesday, June 23 – 7pm screening
Topic: Farmers’ markets & direct relationships between people, their food & farmers
Michael Horowitz, Director, Greenmarket Program, GrowNYC, David Hughes, Operations Manager, Greenmarket Program, GrowNYC, Bob Lewis, US Department of Agriculture and Markets

Thursday, June 24 – 7pm screening
Topic: Restaurants and organic farming
Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods, Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s 43, Carlos Suarez, Owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant, Ian Marvey, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Added Value

Friday, June 25 – 7pm screening
Topic: Reconnecting urban and rural food systems
Scott Chaskey, President, NOFA-NY, Peter Hoffman, Chef, Back Forty and Savoy, Member of Chef’s Collaborative, Adriana Velez, Brooklyn Food Coalition

Friday, June 25 9pm BENEFIT PARTY <– Fun alert!
Benefit Party for NOFA-NY.
Tickets are $20.

Saturday, June 26 – 2pm matinée
Topic: Fun with composting (bring the kids!)
Christine Datz-Romero, Founder & Director, LES Ecology Center

Saturday, June 26 – 7pm screening
Topic: The benefits of a field-to-fork relationship
Joan Gussow, Professor Emerita of Nutrition Education, Columbia University, John Gorzynski, Farmer/Owner, Ornery Farm and “character” in WOAO?, Claudia Keel, Director, Dr. Weston Price Foundation

Sunday, June 27 – 2pm matinee
Topic: The benefits of organic food for child health and development
Annie Novak, farmer and founder of Growing Chefs, Yonnette Fleming, Urban Gardener

Sunday, June 27 – 7pm screening
Topic: Organic nutrition and food retail
Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, New York University, Anne Saxelby, Owner, Saxelby Cheesemongers, Urvashi Rangan, Environmental Health Scientist, Consumer’s Union and “character” in WOAO?, Dennis Derryk, Founder, Corbin Hill Farm, Marty Mesh, Executive Director, Florida Organic Growers and Co-producer, WOAO?

WHAT’S ORGANIC ABOUT “ORGANIC?” rings the alarm for the need to develop an ecological consciousness.  The film illustrates that the organic food debate extends well beyond personal choice and into the realm of social responsibility.

Each of the film’s characters is intimately connected to the organic world; they’re farmers, activists, and scientists.  While many folks can easily endorse “organic,” the characters in the film take the discussion beyond just shopping for another eco-label. As we glimpse into each of their lives, we see how organic agriculture has the potential to solve many of our environmental and health problems.  The film will explore how organic farming can be used as a soil and air protection system, a healthy solution to toxic pollution, and an innovative means to combat global warming.

(Buy tix here)