Growing up, Cara Chard hated her last name. But by the time her wedding came around and she had the chance to change it, she couldn’t do it.
“It’s just so perfect,” she reasons. “I work on a farm.”
Chard is the executive director of City Growers, a nonprofit organization that transforms the Brooklyn Grange’s two massive rooftop farms (in Brooklyn and Queens) into classrooms, teaching New York City’s children about where their food comes from, what organic really means, sustainable agriculture, and what she calls “the fascinating world of honeybees.” (She once got a job offer while dressed as a bee at the New York City Beekeepers’ Ball.)
Since City Growers launched three years ago, the organization has grown tremendously. “There’s so much momentum behind it. When I first started, I really had to convince teachers that this was a worthwhile thing to do,” she says. “Now, we can’t even keep up with the demand from schools who want to work with us.”
This fall, City Growers even launched its first after-school program, which will give Chard and her team the chance to work with the same students from a Brooklyn middle school for a whole school year. “They’re just basically getting a major intensive education about the place of food in our lives and how important it is,” she says.
We took a peek inside her Sunset Park refrigerator to see what a healthy, sustainable food advocate stocks at home. And yes, she does have chard. —Lisa Elaine Held
Your job is to introduce kids to the farm. Does your own daughter go with you? She’s up there all the time and loves it—she acts like she owns the place. She knows where everything is, how to find the worms, she goes and visits the bees. It’s interesting seeing someone grow up and think that a rooftop farm is the norm. She doesn’t see anything unique about it. She eats every single kind of vegetable. When you ask her favorite food, she says “weeds,” because she’s always eating directly from the plants.
That’s hilarious. Do you get all of your produce from the Brooklyn Grange? We belong to a Sunset Park CSA. When we moved here, it was very new so we signed up to support it. There aren’t a lot of great grocery stores in our neighborhood. Basically, I kind of supplement my CSA produce with the rooftop produce.
What are the leaves in the jar on the middle shelf of your fridge? That’s lemon sorrel. I always try to have a jar on hand because my daughter just eats it constantly. It’s her favorite thing to eat.
The weeds! Does it keep longer when you store it that way? I think so. I’m obsessed with arranging vegetables in the way they keep the longest so I’ve been experimenting with that. I find that herbs do keep better when you just keep them in water, like a cut plant. I try to keep all the ethylene-producing vegetables separated from the rest. I found that will keep all my greens from wilting faster.
I see you have ground cherries in a bag on the bottom shelf. I just got a bag in my CSA and have no idea what they are. Help? They’re in the tomatillo family, and they’re in these little husks. They’re called ground cherries because you know they’re ready to harvest when they fall to the ground. The fruit ripens and turns yellow. We just pop them out and eat them as is, as a little snack, but I’ve heard that they’re really delicious pickled. And I’ve had them prepared in a tart, which was amazing as well.
Thank you! And are those little pints of butter? They’re from Ronnybrook. We have a dairy share at our CSA as well, which is amazing, so we get milk, yogurt, half-and-half, and butter. I’m definitely of the whole-fat dairy camp. I just find it keeps everyone satiated more. With Ronnybrook butter, it’s all different flavors—garlic, cinnamon, unsalted, salted. It’s pretty wonderful. And the dairy share is run by Milk Not Jails, which is a nonprofit that bridges the divide between dairy farms upstate and the city, and tackles social issues. If I had one major overarching food philosophy, it would be just to support as many local food producers as possible. If it’s coming from close-by, I’m more apt to buy it. I really dislike grocery store shopping. I find grocery stores depressing. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.citygrowers.org