While New York City was spared the wrath of last summer’s hurricane (and you got a cool parka in the closet to remember it by), it was no Belinda Carlisle version of “Summer Rain” for Upstate farms. In September, a bunch of foodies, led by Gabriella Gershenson of Saveur, beseeched the public to Dine Out for Irene on September 25, 2011. Many of you did, and those profits from all participating New York City restaurants have just been appropriated to the affected farms. In total, the effort from one day’s worth of dining out amounted to nearly $50,000 for hurricane relief at the farms most affected, many of which supply food to such restaurants,and NYC’s Greenmarkets. You can pat your back for taking part in that, but the greater lesson learned might just be to participate in fair and foul weather with your local food system. We spoke with Gabriella about that and about how the campaign got started.
The L: We all heard the sad stories about farms affected by the hurricane. What was the craziest thing you heard that made you decide to take action?
Gabriela Gershenson: Seeing aerial shots of entire swaths of farmland submerged underwater pretty much did it for me. It seemed it was time for food writers like me who preach local to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.
The L: Did you think Dine Out Irene would raise almost $50K through the efforts of all the restaurants?
GG: Because I am so ambitious, I was hoping we would raise even more! But this still totally blows my mind. It’s a lot of money, a “pinch me” moment.
The L: How exactly is that money being distributed? What do you think it will go towards the most at the farms who receive the relief funds?
GG: I’ve trusted that judgement call to GrowNYC and Just Food, the nonprofits that agreed to distribute the funds raised by Dine Out Irene. Their work brings them in close contact with local farmers on a daily basis, and I knew they would make good choices. They requested that farmers fill out grant applications for Dine Out Irene funds, and the money was distributed based on need. Each farmer received anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 dollars, which assisted in all sorts of things, from rebuilding greenhouses to helping with mortgage payments and other basic living expenses for farmers that had lost revenue as a result of the storm.
The L: Where did you dine out for Irene? Did you try to make it to all of them?
GG: I hit two spots! I started at Salumeria Rosi on the Upper West Side for appetizers and a drink, then continued onto Northern Spy Food Co. for dinner. I was there with a party of maybe ten people, and we ordered practically everything off the menu and toasted with prosecco and hard cider. It was a great meal—the kale salad and Concord grape crumble are two dishes that still stand out in my memory.
The L: Dine Out Irene made it so easy. But how else can we participate in maintaining our local foodshed as consumers, chefs, or whoever, on a regular basis?
GG: The easiest way for us to continue supporting our local farmers is by shopping at the Greenmarket, and/or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I belonged to one for the first time last year, and it made cooking such a joy. The reward really goes both ways.