Stewart Borowsky sells his grass out of a yellow school bus parked in New York City’s Union Square. And no, it’s not that kind of grass.
Borowsky (AKA the “Union Square Grassman“) sells his famed wheatgrass, as well as sunflower, pea, buckwheat, and radish greens to an all-star roster of devotees, like ABC Cocina, Jivamukti Cafe, and Per Se every week at the (you guessed it) Union Square Greenmarket. Those sunflower sprouts that have helped make ABC Kitchen’s roasted carrot salad the salad of the moment? Thank Borowsky.
We got a chance to quiz this unassuming groundbreaker—who was peddling wheatgrass before places like Juice Press, Juice Generation, and Organic Avenue were even in diapers—about what it’s like to be a pioneering urban farmer and this city’s juice scene. —Jamie McKillop
(Photos: Jamie McKillop for Well+Good)
From 1989 to 1993 I worked as a truck driver, but I was feeling unfulfilled, so I drove out west to “find myself.” I ended up working on an organic peach farm in Northern California. It really opened my eyes to the rewards of farming and the amazing beauty of a properly grown food that tastes good and that nourishes you.
I drove back to New York, moved upstate, and found work on a fish farm, as well as with a big sprout grower. I started growing wheatgrass and sprouts, and in 1995 I moved to a farmhouse in Sullivan County and started my own business. I was fortunate to get a spot at the Union Square Greenmarket, and the business took off right away. In 1999, I rented a warehouse space in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn and began transitioning the farm down here.
We use a superior variety of certified organic seeds and grow the sunflowers in soil so they’re crisp, not soggy. We harvest them at the market, to provide the freshest possible product (they keep a week after harvest).
We’ve been selling to ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina since 2010. They buy our sunflower greens and pea shoots for the carrot salad and other dishes. When Dan Kluger puts us on his menu, that’s the best feedback of all. We’ve also sold the sunflower greens to Per Se, but I’m not clear on what they used them for.
I’d say five or six years ago. It was always present, but the appearance in pop culture—Sex And The City, Iron Man, and, I suppose, plenty of other media—really heralded the arrival of juice trucks and carts, as well as healthy juice deliveries and chain stores. The popularity of green juice has brought many incidental customers—tourists and travelers—to our table. It has raised awareness.
I don’t believe that anyone else was urban farming in New York City [when I started]. There were a few non-profits, like Queens County Farm Museum, which operated a field farm near Douglaston, and John Bowne High School, possibly one of several schools with gardens or greenhouses….
Now there are quite a few for-profit farming ventures, as well as businesses, like restaurant gardens and rooftop greenhouses for large grocery chains. The urban farming trend has benefited from all the interest in local produce—a yearning for accessible pastoral.
Union Square Grassman, Union Square Green Market, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 8:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
For more information, visit www.unionsquaregrassman.com