At Just Food's annual Let Us Eat Local benefit next week, chef Michael Anthony will be serving Cured Arctic Char with Carrots and Chili Peppers. If you dine at Gramercy Tavern, you'll find his Heirloom Tomato Salad with Peaches, Pine Nuts and Cream; at Untitled, Ruby Red Shrimp with Emmer and Hot Chili Peppers.
What do all these dishes have in common? They're all made with produce from Rise & Root Farm, which sprouted from New York City roots this past spring when six city women decided to trade their Metrocards for tractors and in doing so, fulfill bigger goals—from growing organic veggies for top Manhattan restaurants and the local community to hosting classes on sustainable agriculture.
"Part of our goal is to always be connected to NYC, because that’s where our roots are," says one owner, Michaela Hayes, "and to help bring the city to the farm."
The black dirt backstory
The fact that Rise & Root's veggies will be enjoyed at a Just Food event is far from a coincidence. The six owners all met via the organization, which has various programs that contribute to creating a healthy, sustainable food system. And they didn't just show up with seed packets.
Although they lived in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, several of the women trained at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California Santa Cruz and worked on other farms prior. Hayes is a chef who worked in kitchens around the city (including Gramercy Tavern's), so they started with restaurant connections, too, and they used those and their network of food activists to fund an Indiegogo campaign last spring to get the farm off the ground.
The biggest help came from the fact that they were able to get a long-term lease for the three-acre farm in Orange County, New York, about 60 miles north of the city (in the black dirt region) through a program called Northeast Farm Access, a program dedicated to creating a new generation of successful organic farmers.
Now, just over six months after getting on the land, Rise & Root is selling its produce at the Union Square Farmers Market, La Familia Verde Farmers Market in the Bronx, a local market in Chester, NY, and to the restaurants mentioned earlier. They're in talks with many more restaurants and the veggies are also used for Hayes' fermented foods business Crock & Jar.
And Hayes says her and her partners have big goals for the future, including growing the size of the farm, adding animals like chickens and bees, and getting deeper into agritourism and education.
After all, the people and communities they left behind in the concrete jungle—like the students of Farm School NYC—could learn a lot from visiting, and retreats could benefit other city residents in deeper ways. "For us, the farm is all about healing," she says, "to have a space where people can come and find energy and get their hands in the soil and be reconnected with the land." —Lisa Elaine Held
(Photos: Rise & Root Farm)
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