Tusha Yakovleva

“The Good Food Movement is Now a Revolution” / CIVIL EATS

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

(Published at Civil Eats.com)

Last week, right in time for fall harvest, I found myself in the company of Will Allen, an urban farming pioneer, Annie Novak,  co-founder of the country’s first commercial rooftop farm, Fritz Haeg, an edible landscaper, and 1,500 others at the first international urban and small farm conference. The weekend was hosted by Will Allen and his organization Growing Power, an educational farm organization that he founded in a food-desert neighborhood of Milwaukee 18 years ago.

Retracing my steps to Milwaukee: a few months ago, in time for spring planting, I had seen the same three urban-agriculturalists speak in New York City. I had left that evening with the strongest desire to change the world that I had ever felt: All I had to do was plant something green.

That night in New York, Will Allen said that there are enough people talking about growing food, but not enough growers. Even though the closest thing I had to farming were the articles I occasionally wrote about it, I responded by joining Annie Novak’s apprentice team at Eagle St. Rooftop Farm. Suddenly, my mostly sedentary Brooklyn life was filled with kale planting, chicken feeding, delivering produce to restaurants via bicycle, and picking up buckets of coffee grounds from local cafes for composting. Moreover, it was filled with a community of eco-agriculturalists, who were propagating my northeast surroundings with inspiring projects.

As summer went on and plants reached up to my waist, my desire to delve deeper into the agricultural field solidified. But, the question of whether this still small world of alternative farming was a solid field grew, too. The Growing Power conference was all the proof I needed to rid that doubt. The mere fact that over a hundred speakers deemed it worthwhile to trek out to the Wisconsin fairgrounds for a weekend and over a thousand audience members parted with the nearly $300 attendance fee shows that something fertile is growing. It shows that the official conference shirt, with its fistful of worms raised in the air and the words “The Good Food Movement is Now a Revolution” is not just Will’s fantasy but the reality that everyone doing “good food” work must face.

The gathering took place at “Ag Village” a remote corner of the Wisconsin fairgrounds devoted to agricultural events. It seemed the perfect setting: a recognition of the already existing and deep-stretching agricultural roots, and a positive and radical addition to them. The conference had many moments like that, ones that seemed almost normal, and yet, revolutionary. The buffet, for example, consisted of–among other items–300 pounds of wild rice, gathered by harvesters at the White Earth Reservations in northern Minnesota. Growing Power had supplied the greens, and meat came from Richard Cates, a Wisconsin dairy and livestock farmer who opens his land for Growing Power students to explore. Cutlery was indeed disposable, as one would expect at a conference, and yet, trash was divided into three containers and all dishware went into the bin with the banana peel taped to it–compost. There was merchandise for sale–it included worm poop, Milwaukee urban honey, and shirts with phrases like “I heart worms.” Seeds and liquid fish fertilizer were given out for free, as samples.

Will’s purpose in bringing these people together was to collect all the fragmented warriors of the revolution and encourage them to work with one another. For the purpose of building well-rounded troops, Will invited a diverse range of folks, not just farmers and educators, but government representatives, urban planners, social activists, the medical community, and members of the corporate world among many others. By the end of the three days of actively discussing the state and future of sustainable agriculture and overwhelming amounts of skill sharing in breakout workshops, it became clear that the good food army is not only real but strong too.

Will believes that the energy created, or rather, harnessed by the conference must now be taken back to communities. “We have this wonderful thing called food that we have to eat. My family’s legacy is to make sure that everybody eats good and everybody has access to the same healthy, affordable, good, food, that is culturally appropriate,” said Will. “The food that’s going to help our gardens, the food that’s going to help our youth.”

He emphasized that this is not the start of the revolution, but rather, a point of continuing. He said all are in it, since all are united by food. And, most importantly, that there is space for everyone to be involved. He reminded us that job creation is an essential factor to consider because the food revolution is a new industry. I thought back to my spring desire to plant. Planting something green, I realized, had little to do with the possession of a green-thumb; instead, it was using whatever thumbs are available for the growth of a healthy food system, from supporting local farmer’s markets, to starting healthy school lunch programs, to–yes–putting hands into the soil.

There is space for more rooftop farms and subterranean farms (like aquaponics), vertical farms (like the five story one that Growing Power is planning on building in Milwaukee) and good old-fashioned horizontal ones. Space for more partnerships with hospital, government organizations, corporate philanthropists.

There is space for amazing leaders. They are inclusive and ever-willing to train new forces. The conference–and the general way of communication in this field–allows for someone like me, an incredibly novice farmer, to spend time with my heroes, ask them endless silly questions, and in the case of Annie Novak, to even become friends. I share my story not to pat myself on the back, but to give credit to people like Will, whose simple statement made all the sense in the world and was a direct call to action; or Annie, who provides Brooklyn with such a beautiful model of a healthy food system and a space where aspiring farmers can learn. Revolutionary indeed, and yet so heirloom.

East River by Paddle / SNOB MAGAZINE

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm

(Originally published in Snob Magazine in Russian.)

At 6 o’clock on a clear-sky New York City evening, filmmaker Julia Lokteva and I found ourselves in Queens, lowering a two-person kayak into the East River. Yes, the same river that has had the reputation of being a graveyard for tons of pollutants as well as for dead gangsters. Once, it even hosted the corpse of a giraffe, who had died on his way to the zoo. After his undertaker deemed the river the best possible resting place for him, the giraffe corpse floated down past the Manhattan skyline. Julia was there not to shoot a movie, she wasn’t part of some twisted contest; she wasn’t making a political statement. Simply, she deemed kayaking down the East River the best excuse to take a break from working on her new film – The Loneliest Planet.

Julia is not new to urban kayaking. She has paddled down the Gowanus Canal – a small stretch of water in Brooklyn known for it’s awfully polluted state. She has taken the train to New Jersey and canoed in a nearly deserted stretch close to Newark – a body of water that not only combines man-made trash oddities with natural ones (like crabs with small bodies and one extra large claw but also happens to look like the setting of the opening scene for The Sopranos. Most impressively, Julia has circumnavigated the island of Manhattan. Along with a group of kayakers, Julia spent 10 hours on the water, leaving in the evening and coming back to the boathouse as the sun rose up.

Kayaking and canoeing in New York City has been around for years, but just as with city biking, it was mostly left to the realm of the more extreme enthusiasts. Recently, however, it has gained popularity. A few years ago, I kayaked from Manhattan to New Jersey over the Hudson River as part of my college orientation program. On the trip that Julia and I went on, 30 people had signed up, and by way of a lottery, 12 were picked for the trip. Last week’s Friday night paddle collected a pool of 80 willing participants from which to pick. Even more unusual for New York then exploring its waters is the fact that it is completely free. The majority of boating venues throughout the boroughs are non-profit organizations, staffed by volunteers, and using donated equipment. They do it for the love of the New York waterways – that is all.

For Julia, kayaking is a way of reconnecting with the city in a completely new way, seeing in from a new perspective. Her face lit up when we paddled past her house and said – I had seen it from the same angle for over ten years, it’s amazing to see it from this new side! On our four-hour trip from Queens down to the Manhattan Bridge, we also talked a lot about the changing relationship between city and river, and the changing riverside landscape that follows it. Julia counted at least three relatively new parks on the waterfront. We passed two groups (one north, one south) of newly constructed condominiums and speculated that eventually the two groups will connect with more condominiums. For now, however, in between the new residential projects, are mammoths of industry. Old docks, no longer needed for receiving shipped goods, are slowly drowning in the river. The deserted Domino Sugar factory, once a provider of jobs, now stands alone, unlit and creepy in the night light, with its large “DOMINO” sign, still displayed for the city to see. It has been sold and is destined to become converted-factory living space that New Yorker so desire. Brooklyn Navy Yards are undergoing a bit of a renaissance, though still look very shabby, which is no wonder, since their new slogan is “We used to launch ships, now we launch businesses.” The river didn’t used to be something people wanted to look at, said Julia. A highway was built right alongside, and the water itself served as little more than a highway for ships. Now, perhaps with a rising concern for ecology, it has become a desirable living environment. This is evident, not just by the rise of riverside residences and green spaces, but, also, by the fact that kayaking in New York City exists. The shear fact that people – many people – are braving East River water shows a very new, and at the same time ancient, direction that the city is flowing in.

What New York Dogs (and people) are Doing for the Oil Spill / SNOB MAGAZINE

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 at 6:01 pm

(Originally published in Snob Magazine in Russian.)

My dog recently made her annual radical change: she cut off her luscious chocolate brown locks to sport the more summer-appropriate buzz cut. This year, however, her spring haircut had an added impact, not as conspicuous as a brand new look, but despite its subtlety, a far more important one. The fur coat that she was liberated from at the groomer’s was packed into a box and mailed to Louisiana. There, her hair joined a colorful stack of other dogs’ fur, human hair, sheep wool, and the like. It was stuffed into a nylon sausage made out of old stockings and dipped into the oil-sick Mexican Gulf.

Hair, human and animal, attracts oil. This is why we shampoo it. After Phil McCrory, a stylist from Alabama, discovered that it can be effective in cleaning up oil polluted waters, a nonprofit organization called Matter of Trust set up a volunteer based system for implementing this idea.

Here’s how it works.

Now, Matter of Trust is directing all of its efforts toward the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Individual, salon owners, pet groomers and wool farmers around the have joined this independent janitorial army and are constantly sending boxes of hair to Matter of Trust’s collection points in Louisiana. In New York City alone, over 200 human and pet salons have signed up to participate.

The couple Lisa and Patrice Olivier Gautier co-founded Matter of Trust in 1998 as a charity that focuses on using manmade and natural surpluses for ecological purposes. Hair happens to be one of them: in the U.S., 300,000 pounds of it are cut in one day.  The Gautiers are taking advantage: their donor numbers has increased from 35,000 to 90,000 in the past three years.

All five boroughs are represented in the city’s donor’s base. Over in Brooklyn, for example, Dog Addiction, a dog grooming and boarding service founded by Priti Punjabi has teamed up with Mischa Anderson, of Williamsburg’s favorite people salon – Woodley and Bunny – to get the message out about the hair. “While BP is trying to figure out how to fix the situation, we will keep doing the clean-up,” said Priti. Her and Mischa, like many others, have an oil cleanup special deal… At Dog Addiction, a dog who comes in for a complete shave gets a 20% discount and 3 free days at the boarding facility; and at Woodley and Bunny, the customers also get a break on buzz cuts. Meanwhile, a Manhattan chain – Bumble and Bumble (in partnership with Hair on Broadway) organized a “cut – in,” which was a day where they gave away free haircuts for the Gulf. They collected 50 pounds of hair.

In the Bronx, Suzanne Axelbank who runs the Someplace Special children’s salon took a lesson from history: “During the Exxon Valdez disaster, I remembered that people collected hair. As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I saw someone talking about Matter of Trust on Facebook.” She joined in immediately and quickly collected two tremendous boxes. Her customers were all too eager to help. One young boy who had come in for a trim asked, “Is my hair going to help all the oil?”

On Staten Island, Neo Salon is planning a benefit for Matter of Trust as well as collecting hair. Erica, the owner, has a simple reason for joining in, “I want to help out the animals,” she said. And over in Queens, Camp Bow Wow, a national dog spa and daycare chain, is taking the benefit idea even further. Soon, Camp Bow Wow will host a week long furmination (a complicated dog hair cutting procedure which basically involves hours of combing) service for one third of its regular price. Not only will the collected hair be sent off, said Cody Osbourne (who is in charge of the Queens Camp Bow Wow outpost) but so will all of the revenue this campaign generates.

My dog is much happier with her new haircut. I doubt she has idea about the adventurous life her fur has led after leaving her. I doubt she even knows what an oil spill is. But in a way, neither do most New Yorkers. We are told there is a disaster, we are shown pictures of it, but it has not touched the lives of our city. For now, the only way any of us here, in Moscow, or anywhere other than coastal Louisiana can feel any inkling of connection and hope is by making hair sausages.