CLASSES & RESOURCES IN NYC
GrowNYC’s Farm Beginnings — a comprehensive agricultural training program developed for new farmers by the people who run the Greenmarket. Designed for a people looking to start farm enterprises, including urban farmers looking to scale-up and second career farm entrepreneurs.
Brooklyn Grange hosts a whole range of workshops and classes for rooftop farmers. If a full roof installation process is more than you want to take on, their Design and Installation arm will build you your very own backyard or terrace garden, rooftop farm, or green wall.
Just Food’s Farm School NYC — urban agriculture training through a certificate program and a wide range of individual courses from social justice to urban farming to grassroots community organizing. Mission: to build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and social, economic, and racial justice issues.
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities — training towards certification in green roof and wall installation.
Eagle Street Farm — Greenpoint. This rooftop farm welcomes visitors from second graders to graduate students to learn about sky-high agriculture.
Cornell Cooperative Extension — free gardening and farming support run by NYS with offices in every single county – including Manhattan. Offering everything from soil testing to 20c processing licenses.
HUDSON VALLEY INTERNSHIPS AND INCUBATORS
Stone Barns’ Growing Farmers Initiative — Westchester. Comprehensive program to help beginning farmers get the training, resources and guidance to create economically and ecologically resilient farm enterprises. Offers apprenticeships, a virtual grange, workshops on everything from beekeeping to seed saving, and an annual Young Farmers Conference which draws hundreds of beginning farmers from across the country and beyond.
Glynwood’s Farm Incubator — Cold Spring. Provides the tools and resources aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs need to develop and manage viable farm enterprises in the Hudson Valley. Provides access to land, housing, shared equipment, infrastructure, low-interest capital, business mentoring and training in sustainable farming practices.
RESOURCES & NON-PROFITS SUPPORTING NEW FARMERS
Cornell’s Beginning Farmers Program — a comprehensive clearing house of resources, internships, job postings and land opportunities.
Northeast Organic Farming Association — This seven-state non-profit teaches, certifies and supports organic farms. Their semi-annual conferences offer sessions on everything from raw milk to fermentation to homesteading, complete with contra dancing and camping.
The Greenhorns — A unique resource helping young people make the transition into a career of farming. Provides information about everything from where to find an apprenticeship to how to repair a tractor. Complete with mentor matchmaker.
National Young Farmers Coalition — represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers. Supports practices and policies to sustain young, independent and prosperous farmers now and in the future. Co-founded by an ex-Manhattanite who now grows organic vegetables in the Hudson.
Richard Wiswall’s The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook — widely-prized bible on the business end of running a farm. Expert advice on how to make your vegetable production more efficient and how to better manage your employees and finances.
The USDA’s (great) new website for new farmers — Yes, even the USDA is focusing on new farmers. This site offers in-depth information on how to increase access to land and capital, build new market opportunities, participate in conservation opportunities, select and use risk management tools, and access USDA education and technical-support
American Farmland Trust: Transitioning Farmland to a New Generation — This longtime, stalwart non-profit is bringing its forces to bear for new farmers, offering everything from training to land links as well as targeted offerings for women landowners and conservation.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Become a Farmer
New Yorkers' interest in where their food comes from and how it is raised has led to a robust farmers' market system, a growing interest in communty gardens and backyard enterprises like raising chickens and keeping bees, and a surprising number of urbanites who are ditching their pots of basil on their fire escape to become farmers.
While there’s not what you’d call a mass exodus from New York City, there is a perceptible upward trend in the number of people wanting to learn more about agriculture. With the number of farmers nationwide in decline, support programs are cropping up to help in that transition: Just Food runs Farm School NYC, the Stone Barns Center in Westchester County runs farmer training programs and hosts an annual sold-out Young Farmers Conference, and a growing number of other non-profits help new farmers find everything they need to take root — from land to capital to customers.
Closer to home, Chris Wayne runs FARMroots, the new farmer development program at GrowNYC, the non-profit that manages New York City's Greenmarkets program. In their offices on Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan, they offer a USDA-funded, 10-week training class that Wayne said begins with a reality check:
“Can you spend 16 hours in 95 degree heat, working your tail off, for very little money? That's the first question.”
The question is intended to knock the stars out of people's eyes and get them to start thinking more realistically about farming. But Wayne said dreaming is still necessary, and is encouraged.
"One of the first things we have [students] do," said Wayne, "is look deep into their own values: Why are they interested in starting a farm business, and what's going to be that core, central piece that they can look back on at Hour 15 on their farm, and say 'This is why I'm doing this, this is why this is important to me.'"
Once you figure the why, Wayne said it's time to consider the what, the produce or product sector that you want to get into.
What are you interested in growing, or raising? Wayne said people often come to the class already inspired by a vegetable or fruit that they had success with in their community or backyard gardens.
What skills do you already have that you could utilize? Wayne explained that farming requires "an incredibly wide range of skills," from welding to marketing plans to graphic design work for that perfect label that's going to sell your pickled green beans. "You may not be coming to agriculture with a production skill, but there's probably a lot of other things that you don't realize, other skills and experiences that you already have, that are going to play into a successful farm business."
Is there a niche you can fill with your farm product? Wayne said beginning farmers can do their own market research. "What do you see when you walk through a farmer's market? Are there some products there that are lacking? What's one of the things that you can't seem to find?"
This Farm Beginnings course takes beginning farmers from mission statement to financial plan to marketing plan. But it’s not all Excel spreadsheets. Wayne said it's also important for aspiring farmers to get out of the classroom and into the field. He said farmers in the Northeast are increasingly accepting interns and apprentices who can earn a small stipend and learn on the job. He said he believes that kind of experience, under the tutelage of an experience farmer, is essential in learning the "true art of agriculture."
"I always say, if I decided tomorrow that i wanted to be an electrician, would I walk into a house the next day, after reading a couple books, and try to set up a house with electricity? Of course not. The same is true with agriculture."
Wayne said that at the end of the course, if participants decide they want to keep their office day job after all, he considers that as much of a success as helping to launch a Future Farmer. "We really want folks who are devoted to this to get out into farms," he said.
Check out our Farm School Resources Page for more farming classes, literature about starting a farm and organizations that connect aspiring farmers with internship opportunities.
Last Chance Foods: Stay Cool, Drink Real Food
It’s the high season for cool, slushy drinks. Nina Planck, author of several Real Food cookbooks, says her fermented watermelon basil cooler illustrates one of her key principles: when she processes food, she does it in ways that enhance nutrition, flavor, and shelf life.
Nina Planck / photo by Katherine Wolkoff
Nina's recipe for fermented watermelon basil cooler (Makes two quarts)
8–10 lb watermelon
8–10 Meyer lemons
small bunch of Genovese basil
1/4 c organic whole cane sugar
1/4 c fresh whey
1 T unrefined sea salt
3 c water
Make 3 cups of watermelon juice in a blender or food processor. Don’t strain the pulp.
Squeeze 1 cup of lemon juice.
Take 1/2 cup of basil leaves and gently bruise them using a mortar and pestle to release the oil.
Put all the ingredients in a 2-quart glass jar, cover with water, and close the lid tightly.
Stir and leave out at room temperature for 3 days. Allow a little carbonation to escape when necessary and replace the cap firmly. Chill and serve. Keeps up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
Last Chance Foods: The Ultimate Pickled, Smoked, Smashed, Fried Potato Salad
SMOKED PICKLED POTATOES WITH ANCHOVY AIOLI RECIPEby David Leite, Leite's Culinaria
Serves 4 to 6
INGREDIENTSFor the anchovy aioli
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
6 anchovy fillets, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
For the smoked pickled potatoes
2 pounds small red new potatoes, 1 to 1 1/2 in diameter, scrubbed and rinsed
4 cups malt vinegar
Peanut oil, for frying
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
DIRECTIONS1. Dust the garlic with a bit of salt and, using the flat side of your knife’s blade, rub the salt back and forth into the garlic to make a paste.
2. Add the garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, and egg yolks to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.
3. Slowly drizzle a few drops of the oil into the bowl while whisking vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Add the rest of the oil in a thin stream, all the while whisking until smooth and light yellow. Season with salt.
4. Add the potatoes to a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Add the salt, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook gently until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and then add them the the ice water. Let them sit until cooled completely.
6. Drain the potatoes and prick each potato deeply with a toothpick or thin metal skewer numerous times all over. Pour the vinegar into a medium bowl and add in the potatoes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the potatoes hang out on the counter in their pickling bath overnight or for at least 8 hours.
7. Following manufacturer’s instructions, set up your smoker, smoker box, charcoal grill, or gas grill for cold smoking using sawdust, chips, chunks, or Bradley bisquettes. You make a makeshift smoker by heating a cast iron skillet until very hot, placing it on your turned-off grill, adding wood chips, and closing the cover.
8. Smoke the potatoes, making sure to keep the temperature under 100°F (38°C), for 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from the smoker. You can refrigerate the potatoes for several hours or you can immediately fry them.
9. Pour enough peanut oil into a heavy pot so that it reaches a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil to 375°F, using a deep-fry or candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. While the oil is heating, place the potatoes on a flat work surface and smash them with the palm of your hand just until they crack and split.
10. Fry the potatoes in batches, making sure the heat never goes below 350°F, until the potatoes are golden brown, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to paper towels to drain and season with sea salt and pepper. Serve immediately with plenty of the aioli on the side.
Last Chance Foods: A Compromise for Cilantro Haters?
Cilantro could very well be the world’s most polarizing herb. Those who vehemently hate it may have the aversion coded in their genes, while others happily add it to everything from salsas to soups. But maybe there’s a middle ground to be found in the cilantro wars. Perhaps cilantro’s cousin culantro is the herb diplomat to please both parties.
Culantro, with its long, narrow, slightly serrated leaves, is popularly used in Latin and Caribbean cuisine. “Culantro has kind of the base flavor of cilantro but it’s much earthier,” journalist and food writer Von Diaz explained. “It’s much more tame. It almost tastes like a hybrid of cilantro and parsley."
She described culantro as the cornerstone herb of Puerto Rican food. “We use it extensively in making what’s called ‘racaito,’ which is a component of sofrito, which I’m sure a lot of people have heard of,” Diaz said. “It’s basically a spice paste blend that’s garlic, onions, culantro, and peppers, which you then turn into a paste. You cook it down and it becomes really the base of whatever dish you’re making.”
Culantro, which can be grown in containers, has the added benefit of holding up better than cilantro in longer cooking methods. Diaz recommends adding a few leaves to beans and stewed meats, for instance. “It goes really well with things that you can cook for a while,” she said.
Diaz also offered a recipe for culantro pesto, which can be used to season chicken salad. Both recipes are below.
Any cilantrophobes out there who can report back on their reaction to culantro? Tell us your take on whether culantro is an acceptable substitute.
Culantro Pestoby Von Diaz
1 cup culantro leaves, stems removed (packed)
2 T pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup grated parmesan and/or pecorino romano
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
Grind garlic, salt, and pine nuts in a food processor. Add olive oil and culantro, and process until smooth. Add cheese and pulse to incorporate.
Chicken Salad with Culantro Pestoby Von Diaz
4 cups poached chicken (2 large breasts)
4-6 cups chicken broth or water
2-4 T mayonnaise
Juice from 1 small lime
Salt and pepper
6-8 T culantro pesto
Put chicken breasts in a saucepan and cover with broth or water. Bring pot to a boil, then remove from the burner. Cover and let sit for 17 minutes. Remove from liquid and let cool, then shred with two forks or by hand.
Mix in mayonnaise, lime juice, and culantro pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste.