I may be erring on the optimistic side in this column — I was just lucky enough to spend a few days in the Hudson Valley planting vegetables, communing with fruit trees, watching small birds fly around their leafy bowers, etc.
But I don’t think my optimism is just a result of beautiful, relaxing surroundings: as I perused the local paper and scrutinized the landscape driving to and from town (Sorry! We kept trips to a minimum…) I saw a lot of positive changes in the area, from an environmental point of view; local agriculture appears to be booming, with many formerly vacant fields plowed and planted. Land once marked by “For Sale” signs that seemed certain to bring a rash of shoddy development has instead yielded orderly rows of fruit trees, currant bushes and the promise of more-prosperous farmers.
The local farmers’ market, once the province of overdressed weekenders in search of dried flowers and $18/pound cheeses, has added a second day to its weekly calendar: now open in the late afternoon/early evening on Thursdays, it’s catering more and more to the local community. Speaking with the market manager last year, I learned that the number of farmers hoping to sell at the market had rocketed past the number that could be accommodated — hopefully this will help.
Our local market, the supermarket that time forgot, is now labeling some of its produce with good-sized green signs proclaiming “Local Product” — I’m especially glad to see them on the apples: driving through roads lined with abandoned or under-attended orchards to get to a market that sells only apples from China and Chile makes me a little bit queasy. Also on the apple front, a local entrepreneur has started a distillery, making vodka from same. Locavore martinis and V&Ts coming up… Herewith, then, is your Conscientious Objector Summertime 2008 Locavore Primer.
Food: I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, as the season begins: LOCAL. Sign up for a CSA (justfood/csa.org) and prepare to be amazed. Shop at the greenmarkets, and at farmstands if you leave the city on weekends. Don’t forget to check out the flourishing farms with markets right here in town — there’s a list of ‘em on the Just Food website. Local farms mean local jobs, money in New York’s economy (and New Jersey’s and Connecticut’s) instead of in the hands of multi-nationals. Plan to can or freeze or dry, providing yourself with a little bit of what you’ll need in the leaner seasons.
Travel: Try (more) local. Airline tickets are outrageously expensive, and a dollar won’t buy a pack of gum in most European capitals. Jet travel is a HUGE contributor to global warming — why not stay home? Take a train to somewhere in the Northeast (Maine, Vermont, the Finger Lakes). You’ll save money and time, and reduce your carbon footprint. Choose a destination that won’t require you to rent a car once you get there — rent a bike, or hoof it. You’re on vacation, what’s the rush? Spend the money you’d have blown on car, gas, plane and/or dismal exchange rate on nicer accommodations, fancier meals and cultural offerings. Or just save it. Try to stay away from chain motels, stores and eateries — they suck money out of communities instead of putting it back in.
Drink: New York, and neighboring states, are exploding with local breweries and wineries, and the aforementioned vodka distillery in Columbia County is now producing Core Vodka, from local apples. Commit to finding varieties you like — Ommegang’s Witte beer is a lovely white beer for summer, brewed upstate — and do good while you enjoy all those rooftop parties. If you’re a non-alcoholic type, forgo corn-syrup solutions in favor of local ciders and juices. Try producing your own kombucha drinks at home, or grow your own lemon balm in a window box and cold-brew it by soaking it in water for the world’s cheapest and most refreshing beverage.
Everything else: Keep it simple, cheap and local. Use the beautiful days and evenings just around the corner to explore new neighborhoods, find cool restaurants and bars, and just enjoy the city. Grab drinks at eco-eatery Habana Outpost in Fort Greene. Poke your nose into 3R Living in Park Slope, a green-living super store. Walk, don’t drive, or, if you don’t already have one, GET A BIKE, preferably from Recycle a Bicycle (.org) in Dumbo or the East Village. Riding a bike in the city in summertime is a transcendent experience. And the greenest transportation going will take you into fall, and beyond.