I get lots of questions from Followers and Readers, here are some answers to the most common questions that turn up in my inbox or on my Twitter Feed.
I hear horrible things about the fresh produce available in Spanish Harlem. Is it really possible to eat locally and with a focus on organic/sustainable food without it being a major inconvenience?
Absolutely, you just have to know where to look. If you tried to feed yourself and your family off of what they have available in the grocery stores in East Harlem, you would be extremely disappointed. Though I will conceded that the produce has improved immensely since I first started living in (Central and then) East Harlem in 2003, most of the grocery stores within walking distance of my apartment (Fine Fare, Pathmark, Compare Foods, Associated) have small and sub par produce sections with very few (if any) organic options. When they do offer organic options you might be forced to pay more than $6 for a half gallon of Organic Milk or $5 for a dozen Organic Eggs (Yes Fine Fare on 1st Ave and 120th St, I am calling you out! Your organic milk is a full $1 more than Organic milk at the only Gristedes in the Financial District–the FINANCIAL DISTRICT). Now that Farmers Markets and CSAs are bountiful in Harlem you can pick up good produce or join a CSA with ease. You just have to be willing to change your routine a bit and I promise you will be happy you did!
When deciding where to purchase your food, what do you find most/least important.
I prioritize my purchases according to the below criteria:
If I’m at Farmers Market:
#1–How is it grown/raised? Certified Organic, Onery, antibiotic and pesticide free? Ask the farmers. They will tell you. In fact, they will want to talk with you about their life’s work.
#2–How far from NYC is the farm? For example: Around 3 years ago a Farmers Market popped up in Marcus Garvey Park. Since it was one of the only markets Uptown at the time, I ran right over there and started asking the farmers a million questions. I found out one Farm was driving up from VIRGINIA so they could sell at a Farmers Market it Harlem. Though Virginia is much closer than California, Idaho, Mexico, Chili, or China (where a whole lot of grocery store produce comes from), I wasn’t thrilled with how far away they were, and I felt that coming from that far away was a bit of a deception when it comes to buying ‘local’ produce. You can rs assured that most of the markets in Manhattan have farmers that aren’t coming from more than 200 miles away.
If I’m at a Grocery Store:
#1–Is it USDA Organic Certified? I know there is a lot of contention about how costly and corrupt the USDA Organic certification process is–but there is value in knowing that the orange juice I’m buying isn’t made from Oranges that were sprayed with loads of toxic chemicals. I don’t want to eat those pesticides, nor do I want to the soil that said produce was grown to have years of pesticides built up in them. By the same logic, if I can’t get meat from my CSA for whatever reason (is it any surprise they are often out of bacon and pork belly?), I never buy meat that doesn’t have a high animal welfare rating (at Whole Foods) and that are not certified Organic.
#2– How does it look? How does it smell? How does it feel? I’m not talking about always finding the perfectly red and perfectly shaped tomato–I’m talking about firmness, a smooth skin that is tight (not wrinkled or shriveled), and it should smell fresh and clean without a hint of rot or decay (if you have tried to buy peppers in Harlem recent you know why this is so important).
Where do you get most of your produce?
I would say that the majority of the produce that I eat (between May and November) comes from my CSA or Farmers Market. If I had to attach a number to it, I would say that 75-80% of the fresh produce Keith and I eat is from a farm that is no more than 150 miles from our front door, and is grown with either organic, pesticide free, or ornery (beyond organic) methods. I do, however, go to grocery stores as well. Mainly Fairway, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes where I pick up most of my organic spices, indulgences (Salt & Vinegar Kettle Chips and Three Twins Organic Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream are a serious weaknesses), my citrus, organic dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk), condiments, and toiletries at one of these three locations.
Why do you always go on and on about your CSA? Is it really that cool?
If you’re me, yes, it IS that cool.
Why is it that cool?
So many reasons!
#1—my CSA pick up location is closer to our apartment than any grocery store, and all of the produce that is delivered is grown within fresher (therefore more nutritious), and tastier than ANYTHING I can buy at one of my local grocery stores. And, because both the produce and the meat are grown/raised and slaughtered less than 1oo miles from my front door, I can feel confident about financially supporting our Local New York economy and we’re reducing our carbon footprint.
#2—Since all of the CSA members descend upon Papo’s Garden every Thursday, it’s a great way to get to know other people who live in your neighborhood and to catch up with your neighbors that you don’t get to see enough.
#3—It is very affordable. For the high income share (there are also reduced medium and low-income shares available) it costs $440 dollars. That’s 21 weeks of produce (no delivery on July 4th) which works out to be $20.95 a week. Can you get super fresh and pesticide free garlic (and garlic scapes), swiss chard, scallions, beets, turnips, carrots (with all of their greens attached), celery, and arugula at Whole Foods or Trader Joes for $20.95? I didn’t think so.
#4—Because we never quite know what we are going to get each week, CSA pickup every week is like a vegetable grab bag. Sometimes we get produce I’ve never heard of (purslane?) or produce I wouldn’t normally buy (beets) and it’s fun to figure out how to cook vegetables I’ve never cooked before.