Category Archives: interviews

Race and the “good food movement”: a conversation with Sam Bloch

Sam Bloch is a reporter for the digital magazine The New Food Economy (and an ’09 graduate of Vassar College). He visited our class to talk about his reporting on agriculture big and small, the economic and agricultural sustainability of small farms, and the question of whether the larger “good food movement” that we’ve seen in the Hudson Valley  has a problem with race.

Digest of topics in this video:
0:00:00 what The New Food Economy (the digital magazine) covers
0:08:18 what the “new food economy” (the concept) encompasses
0:15:35 the Hudson Valley and other centers of the U.S. food movement
0:19:25 how sustainable is “small acreage” farming
0:26:04 Mark Bittman, race and the good food movement
0:35:52 the industrialization of “good food”
0:39:08 food trends in Vassar College dining

Sam co-wrote a widely shared article for the New Food Economy about the December 2017 Young Farmers Conference (held at Stone Barns in Westchester County), where prominent food writer Mark Bittman and and Ricardo Salvador (of the Union of Concerned Scientists) gave a keynote address calling for radical land redistribution for young farmers as a means to remedy, among other things, the agricultural land that government and white farmers have seized from farmers of color. In the Q&A that followed, controversy erupted when Bittman answered a question posed by chef/educator Nadine Nelson, “How do you hold yourself accountable to communities of color, and vulnerable communities?”, with what many felt was an inadequate and dismissive response.

For our readings and discussion, Sam pointed us to two further articles that elaborate on the challenge to Bittman and other prominent “good food” advocates who (it’s contended) are unreflective of the privilege they wield in this movement:

Zenobia Jeffries, “What White People Can Do for Food Justice,” Yes! Magazine, January 24, 2018.

Nathan Rosenberg and Clay H. East, “Sorry, pretty much everyone: young farmers are the least diverse – and smallest – group of farmers in the country,” New Food Economy, March 20, 2018.

Our engaging and wide-ranging class conversation ended with the students telling Sam about all the new dining trends at Vassar’s All Campus Dining Center, a.k.a. “The Deece.” After class, I took Sam to the Deece where he took note of how the college is adopting (perhaps superficially) many of the marketing and preparation practices associated with the good food movement. We await his critical follow-up to Malcolm Gladwell’s famous podcast about Vassar’s dining priorities.

Union Square Greenmarket

Last week, I boarded the green line of the Metro North Railroad and embarked on a scenic train ride down the Hudson River to 14th street and 5th avenue.   After emerging from the subway stop in the middle of Union Square park, I was greeted by many rows of colorful tents and farm stands occupied by equally colorful proprietors.Union Square Greenmarket

I initially took one cursory stroll down the main thoroughfare in order to waft the sweet smells of crisp produce and observe the diversity of local merchandise.  The products varied from morning-baked muffins, specially-cured meats, home-made iced teas, and even freshly-potted plants! However, the main focus is obviously locally-grown fruits and vegetables.  I conducted some secondary research on the Grown NYC website and learned that after its founding in 1976, the Greenmarket now boasts 140 regional farmers, fisherman and bakers and approximately 60,000 regular attendees.  While the patrons are mostly local Manhattan and Brooklyn residents, some vendors travel from as far as Burlington, Vermont in order to participate in the exchange.

One such vendor was Chris Wheat from the Hudson Valley Duck Farm, whose agrarian surname pre-destined his tenure at the Greenmarket.  Mr. Wheat told me that the 200-acre, cage-free operation, originally a chicken farm based out of Allenville, Pennsylvania, is now located in Ferndale, New York, and they’ve been doing business for close to 20 years.  They specialize in Moulard ducks, but they also raise a special heritage breed called Lola.  Not surprisingly, their main commodities are various duck meats (breasts, legs, sausage, bacon, salami, prosciutto), but they also export value-added products like rendered duck fat and foie gras.

I also spoke with Lou from Roaming Acres Farm in Montclair, New Jersey, whose idiosyncratic focus is ostrich meat.  Although this exact business was founded in 2005, its primary owner Todd, has been in the meat industry for 15 years.  Like Mr. Wheat’s duck farm, their feed is notably 100% vegetarian, and their output varies from standard cuts of ostrich meat to eggs, leather, oil and even soap! Lou particularly sold me on his ostrich jerky, asserting that it was both higher in iron than beef and lower in fat than chicken without its skin.  I tried a little of this red meat poultry for myself, and it was indeed very delicious.

These two merchants numbered among dozens of different farmers and artisans that constitute Wednesday’s market.  However, on other days of operation, there is an entirely different cast of characters offering their unique, local merchandise, so I would encourage all enthusiasts of local agriculture to hop on a train to the city and check it out!

Wild Hive Farm

On May 7, I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Wild Hive Farm, a mill and bakery located in Clinton, NY. This farm was founded to promote sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley through grain based local agriculture.


Wild Hive Farm was founded by Don Lewis in 1982. He started by selling honey based baked goods and other products at Union Square Greenmarket in New York. The Wild Hive Farm Bakery began in Don Lewis’ kitchen, where he experimented with producing local and tasty baked goods. In June, 2008, the business moved to commercial kitchen and store front premises in Clinton Corners. In November, 2008,  Wild Hive Farm Store, and Café Bakery opened and began serving customers with breakfast, lunch, dinners and baked goods. In 2009, as sales of flour and milled products increased, it became necessary to move  the milling operation to larger premises and Don began renovation of a nearby farm space to house his Grain Project. The farm now produces Wild Hive Farm eggs and chicken and in time, hopes to sell its own beef and pork. At the storefront location in Clinton Corners, the Wild Hive Farm Store and Café provides meals and products based on seasonal, locally grown ingredients.  Product offerings included Wild Hive brand grains, flours and breads, and both refrigerated and frozen prepared foods.


Wild Hive Flours are developing a strong following among chefs, commercial bakers and home bakers. Don plans to expand the offerings of the Wild Hive Community Grain project as time goes on and to use the Farm’s facilities as a means of teach sustainable agriculture.


Don Lewis is as committed today as he has always been to the building of a sustainable grain based food system here in the Hudson River Valley. He is frequently invited to speak to sustainable agriculture groups. Our Environmental Studies class was fortunate enough to hear a talk from Don Lewis on April 23. To hear the talk click here.

conversation with Jessica Applestone and Don Lewis

Two advocates for building local food systems talked to our class: Jessica Applestone (co-founder of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats) and Don Lewis (baker/miller at Wild Hive Farm).

Some references in this conversation:
01:42 how Jessica Applestone and her husband Joshua started Fleisher’s
02:12 the state of the Hudson Valley’s food system 10 years ago
03:53 most chefs and butchers don’t know how to cut meat
04:45 the value of marketing and publicity in managing farm business
05:36 Tom Schneller of Culinary Institute of America and Schneller’s Meats (Kingston, NY)
05:48 Fleisher’s butcher school and apprentice system
07:28 influence of Michael Pollan’s “Power Steer” (2002)
08:29 why Fleisher’s located in Kingston, NY
10:15 why Fleisher’s got out of wholesale sales to restaurants
11:42 Flying Pig Farm (Shusah, NY)
12:00 influence of Union Square Greenmarket
13:02 starting up an organic slaughterhouse, Applestone Meat Company (Accord, NY)
15:37 charcuterie and value-added meat products
18:18 opening a 2nd Fleisher’s butcher shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn
20:05 how Don Lewis started Wild Hive Farm
21:03 Union Square Greenmarket’s influence on his baking business
22:03 Daniel Leader (Bread Alone) and rustic European baking
22:45 how Wild Hive began using Hudson Valley-grown grain
23:50 Hudson Valley’s history as “breadbasket” of United States
24:59 stone-milled flour vs. roller-milled flour
29:00 politics of accessibility of local foods in the food system
29:28 “put food by/up”
33:15 evolution of consumer interest in goods baked with local flour
36:03 selling to Eataly New York (Mario Batali, Lydia and Joe Bastianich, Oscar Farineti)
38:57 expanding acreage for Hudson Valley grains
40:22 local grain system “removed from commodity structure”
41:29 supplying Eataly Chicago
43:22 promoting regional grain-based food systems elsewhere
45:23 the operation at Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners
46:13 organizing growers down the food-system value chain
47:40 what is a steer? where does veal come from?
52:09 what gets valued (and what doesn’t) in the food system
53:33 how old are other meat animals when they’re slaughtered?
55:56 can organic food become less expensive?
59:59 heritage grains and regional grain variety
1:05:53 how the Hudson Valley contributes to their operations

conversation with Eric Steinman of Edible Hudson Valley

Eric Steinman, food writer and editor of Edible Hudson Valley, came to our class this week to talk about what he does and how he thinks about food and sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley.

Some references in this conversation:
6:03 – Milk Thistle Farm dairy
9:53 – rate of farm loss in New York
13:17 – culinary traditions of the Hudson Valley and New England
19:30 – Quilted Giraffe restaurant (New Paltz and NYC)
20:20 – Depuy Canal House (Hide Falls)
24:24 – Sprout Creek Farm cheese
29:21 – changing interest in “local food” among food publications
33:20 – farm-to-table movement
35:40 – agri-tourism
38:15 – farmers markets in NYC and the Hudson Valley
39:20 – selling directly to restaurants
39:47 – Paisley Farm (Tivoli)
42:48 – Coach Farm (Pine Plains)
43:50 – No Goat Left Behind
45:03 – Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park)
47:15 – influence of NYC on Hudson Valley agriculture
51:48 – Michael White (chef)/Marea restaurant (NYC)
56:41 – local movement to bring “added value” to agriculture
57:41 – Farm to Table Co-Packers (Kingston)
59:14 – Glynwood Center’s Apple Project (hard cider)
1:07:43 – New York state’s Farm Distillery Law
1:08:30 – Hillrock Estate Distillery (Ancram)