Get Ready to See Hemp Fields Cropping Up in New York

By spring, New York farmers may be able to grow hemp legally for the first time in decades.

The Hemp Research Bill, introduced in Albany by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and Senator Tom O’Mara, was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. As its title suggests, the bill allows researchers to grow and study “industrial hemp” — that is, cannabis with less than .03 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, the chemical that causes cannabis users to feel high).

New York’s bill follows the Agriculture Act of 2014, a federal law that legalizes growing hemp for research by state departments of agriculture and universities under the guidance of individual state laws.

Once the regulations are finalized by the end of this month, ten hemp growing licenses will be awarded by the Department of Agriculture. Universities or colleges can apply for a license and do research on their own or partner with a farmer. Already Cornell University and Morrisville State College have expressed interest in participating in the research.

“We’re at the very beginning for a new and exciting crop for New York State,” Lupardo tells the Voice. She says states need to take steps on their own while the federal Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 makes its way through Congress: “We must take advantage of every opportunity we have while waiting for the federal government.” The federal bill would remove industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which currently regulates it as a form of marijuana. “Hemp is a form of cannabis and it’s caught up in this big mess,” Lupardo says. “Eventually — we hope sooner rather than later — the federal government will release the prohibition on growing hemp and get us back to where we were decades ago. We were a primary source of growing hemp for the country and the world.”

Industrial hemp is used for a variety of products: fiber, oil, wax, seed foods, paper, cloth, and fuel. Recently, many have started to grow hemp for high-cannabidiol (CBD) medical products as well. Cannabidiol, the second most prominent chemical compound in cannabis, is non-psychotropic and has been found to be useful in treating pain, inflammation, anxiety, and seizures.

Lupardo, who represents Binghamton, Vestal, and Union, says she was inspired to propose the bill when she learned of hemp’s economic potential and its broad applications. “We think that hemp is a potentially lucrative crop for our area of farmers,” she says, “but also the uses of hemp are so vast and beyond what most people would realize.”

The bill itself is aimed at researching which “cultivars,” or different types of hemp plants, grow best where, says Lupardo. “We’re trying to find out whether the Southern Tier is the best place to grow textile or biofuel hemp, or what might be best in Long Island or in North Country.”

Despite the vast uses for hemp, Lupardo had to work to educate her colleagues in the assembly and the senate. The law enforcement community, she recalls, was particularly concerned about the bill. Many were concerned that hemp looks similar to marijuana, making it easy to grow marijuana in the middle of a hemp field to disguise it.

Hemp field
Hemp field

But those fears are unfounded, she says. When placed next to each other, hemp and marijuana can cross-contaminate; one plant can’t even be within blowing distance of the other. “If you plant marijuana around hemp, the hemp would nullify the psychoactive properties of marijuana,” says Scott Giannotti, founder of the Cannabis and Hemp Association, a New York–based cannabis trade association. The security regulations in previous drafts of the bill, such as high barbed-wire fence and security cameras, made cultivation more difficult and went above and beyond what was necessary, according to Giannotti. “What do you think is really going to happen with the hemp crop — people are going to run in there, try to get high, smoke one joint, realize it doesn’t work, and leave?” he says. The visible difference between hemp and marijuana is very distinct, Giannotti adds. Hemp stalks usually grow between fifteen and twenty feet, he says, while marijuana grows between four and five.

“It’s a completely harmless crop,” he says of hemp. And its nutritional value (which includes large amounts of amino and fatty acids), its utility in making strong textiles and even concrete, and its high CBD levels make it a sustainable source of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.

“I think the potential is really big, but we have to also keep in mind that the industry is not going to grow overnight,” says Susie Cody, who runs the New York chapter of the Hemp Industries Association. The bill is primarily focused on research, she adds, while commercial interests will develop over time. “If we have people who are willing to put the time in and the effort in, I see a huge possibility of New York having an industrial hemp crop and the supporting businesses to uptake the supply and get into the market and manufacture different products.”

“I’d certainly hope that we get started with a foothold in this industry,” says O’Mara, a Republican representing five counties in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. New York is behind states like Kentucky, leading the way, and Colorado, which already have robust hemp industry research and manufacturing programs. “I wish it was a more wide-open ability for farmers to get into growing industrial hemp,” O’Mara says. “This is what we were able to come up with to at least get things started.”

The potential financial profits for the ten licensees will remain to be seen, O’Mara says, and will come down to how aggressively the agricultural sector engages the program. “I think it’s imperative we get going with these pilot programs as soon as possible and expand from pilot setting to actual industry activity in New York,” he says. “To get it up and running, [we need] to show that it can be done effectively and properly, to show that it cannot be abused. I really don’t think that this is controversial at all.”


Find Sustainable NYC Restaurants With the New Eat Well Guide

Looking for a hot dog that doesn’t use beef from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)? What about ice cream with hormone- and antibiotic-free milk or a grass-fed burger with free-range bacon on a bun made from local wheat? There’s an app for that. GRACE Communications Foundation’s newly revised Eat Well Guide helps customers find restaurants and businesses that specialize in sustainable fare.

First introduced about ten years ago, the guide has been completely revamped using new technology. The app now joins the ranks of Greenhopping (an app dedicated to finding plant-based eateries) and other GPS-enabled sites that help users find healthy, environmentally friendly restaurants and businesses in neighborhoods across the country. Currently, there are 25,000 listings in cities ranging from New York to Nashville and Boulder to Boston. “People want locally grown, sustainably produced food, so we’re making it easier for them to find it,” explains Dawn Brighid, project director of the Eat Well Guide. “Most American shoppers take into account where their food came from when they’re grocery shopping. They want to support food producers who are doing their best by their customers, their workers, and the planet.”

In NYC, you can use the app to find Bark Hot Dogs, which tops the list for frankfurters because of its commitment to local purveyors and for its conscious comfort food. For burgers, Grazin’ comes up first; the Tribeca outpost of the Hudson Valley diner has cut out the middleman by using products sourced from its own ranch and neighboring farms (these guys are so committed to the local ethos, there are no tomatoes served in the winter months). In the ice cream category, which has seen a lot of sustainable growth over the past decade, Van Leeuwen is the winner, in large part because all of their disposable goods are 100 percent renewable and recyclable and they use local hormone-free milk and cream, with no preservatives, unnatural emulsifiers, or stabilizers.

To be included in the Eat Well Guide, vendors must demonstrate a commitment to supporting sustainable agriculture. For the folks at GRACE that’s considered to be a vital step toward protecting the environment, public health, animal welfare, and local economies. It’s not a perfect science as the organization is not a certifying agency, but they seek out seals of approval from others in the vetting process, including Slow Food, SPE, Animal Welfare Approved, and listings from Edible magazines.

When these credentials aren’t advertised by a restaurant or purveyor, the Eat Well team conducts research to fill in the information gap. They look for new farm-to-table restaurants and then comb the internet, reading articles and checking out restaurant websites for clues. If a place looks promising, GRACE asks them to send in information about themselves for review. And if consumers see something about a restaurant or entity that doesn’t look right, they can utilize a button on the entry page called “Help Improve This Listing.” Users can even submit their favorite restaurants to be reviewed. The aim is to make it easier on customers, but another objective is to start a sustainability snowball that combats the big advertising budgets of large food corporations attempting to greenwash products. “The ultimate goal is to support these businesses so they can continue to grow more and more with other sustainable businesses,” Brighid says. “We’re looking to hook customers up with them.”

While new technology is a culprit in the shift in food production toward GMOs, CAFOs, pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics — all despised by certain chefs and food activists — organizations and entrepreneurs are now using the same force to find food that’s being cultivated with age-old techniques.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera. Follow @forkintheroadVV.


See Food Chains, and Then Join the CIW’s Tomato-Pickers Cause

After being locked in the back of a U-Haul truck, Mariano Lucas Domingo saw a literal light at the end of the tunnel — he punched his way through a small opening in the roof and freed himself. An illegal immigrant from Guatemala, Domingo expected to make about $200 a week picking tomatoes in Immokalee, Florida, a town not far from wealthy snowbird communities like Naples and Fort Myers. Domingo found himself, however, bound by the chains of modern slavery. When the United States Department of Justice released its indictment, Domingo’s captors, Cesar and Giovanni Naverete, were accused of threatening, slapping, kicking, and beating the men they held on the family property. The report claimed the Navaretes chained people to poles, locked them in U-Haul trailers, and forced them to work for free.

From 1997 to 2010, more than 1,200 farmworkers have been freed from similar slavery rings in the area. Food Chains, produced by Eva Longoria, Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation and Food Inc.), Smriti Keshari, Hamilton Fish, and director Sanjay Rawal, tells the story of those at the bottom of the chain.

As a result of the everyday abuse they experienced while picking tomatoes (Florida supplies the majority of the United States in the winter months), migrant workers banded together to form the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). And while they are no longer being held in bondage — or not as frequently, at least — there’s still a long way to go. These workers earn well under the poverty line — the average worker picks and hauls 4,000 pounds of tomatoes per 12-hour day, and, because they’re paid by the pound, they bring home less than $12,000 a year — even while grocery and fast-food chains bring in hundreds of billions annually.

For women, it’s even worse. One in four women in the U.S. workforce experiences sexual harassment; on the male-dominated farms, it’s estimated that 80 percent of females deal with inappropriate sexual behavior or even rape.

Such horrific conditions are what motivated this film. “A lot of us in New York and San Francisco and other metropolitan areas around the nation are really interested in food right now,” producer Keshari tells the Voice. “A lot of questions are being raised about how animals are treated, organics, sustainability, but not the hands that pick their food.”

And while Florida was ground zero for worker abuse, the CIW has been working on solutions to create fairer working environments. However, it’s not the only place that has faced problems; millions of farm workers are still vulnerable to exploitation. Food Chains also crosses the continent to California to highlight the vast socioeconomic differences between wealthy Napa Valley residents and prestigious wineries — and the hands that pick some of the world’s most illustrious grapes.

Food Chains – Trailer from Screen Media Films on Vimeo

Archival footage sets the current state of the agricultural workers against the backdrop of history, from the civil rights movement (including excerpts by Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy) to news coverage of César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and their fight for better working conditions with the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and clips from Edward R. Murrow’s celebrated documentary Harvest of Shame, which exposed the plight of migrant workers during the boom-time economy of the 1960s.

Following in the footsteps of journalist Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, this film explores the problems and presents a solution — so you’ll be upset, but won’t feel forlorn in the end.

In the beginning the CIW targeted farmers in search of higher wages and working conditions; the group quickly discovered the farmers were being pinched just as hard (albeit not physically beaten) by the $4 trillion supermarket industry. To achieve its goals, the coalition moved to the top of the food chain, aiming for two things: an additional penny per pound of tomatoes to increase workers’ wages, and a code of conduct on the retailers’ end, called the Fair Food Program, to ensure workers have a voice. “They realized the retailers and the consumers held the power,” says Keshari. “It uses the power of market consequences to drive the system.”

So far, more than $15 million has been paid in premiums to workers, 600 workers have complained about unfair workplace situations, and 100,000 have received materials on their rights. “As basic as it seems, there was nothing like this,” Keshari says.

After years of protest and public urging, the CIW has brought many retailers into the fold of the Fair Food Program, including Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods Market (which is releasing a Fair Food label sometime soon); however, the organization is looking to grow. Currently, it’s targeting one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, Publix — which is, ironically, known for being worker-friendly — and fast-food chain Wendy’s. “We’re really asking consumers of Wendy’s to put pressure on them,” says Keshari. “We created this film to be a tool. The engagement and impact is really big for us.”

In an effort to persuade the burger giant, the CIW and Community Farmworkers Alliance are staging a Fair Foods March in New York on Saturday, November 22 at 1 p.m. The plan is to meet at the Union Square Wendy’s (20 East 14th Street) and march to the Broadway Wendy’s (650 Broadway #1).

“This is my favorite quote from Greg Asbed, co-founder of the CIW,” says Keshari. ” ‘There’s a revolution happening in America’s fields, and it’s a peaceful one.’ It’s a beautiful way to look at the change that is happening; it’s working and it’s real.”

Food Chains drops in theaters on Friday, November 21. Visit


There’s News About Olive Oil — And It Sucks

You might want to consider laying in a little extra olive oil.

What was looking like a lackluster 2014 olive oil harvest got even crappier late last month when news filtered out of Italy that — following a hot spring (bad for olive trees) and a wet summer (bad for olive trees) — groves in Tuscany have fallen prey to a pest known as the olive fruit fly (very bad for olive trees). Add that to droughts in Greece and Spain, lower-than-expected harvests in Turkey and Tunisia, and bone-dry conditions in California, and — well, it’s enough to make a grown gourmand weep.

A Wall Street Journal article in late May raised the specter of tree troubles in Europe. Last weekend’s Daily Mail outlined the particulars of the blight in Italy, where Bactrocera oleae lay their eggs inside olives and the larvae eat their way out. (Go ahead and click the link. It looks as gross as it sounds.)

Predicting a drop in production of as much as 80 percent in some areas, a spokesman for a Tuscan growers’ cooperative told the Mail prices in Europe might rise up to 40 percent.

On this side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, the American Olive Oil Producers Association isn’t ready to sound the alarm. Although U.S. olive-oil production this year has been well under half that of last year — it’s estimated to hit 2.3 million gallons, compared to 5.3 million gallons in 2013 — the association’s executive director Kimberly Houlding and others in the industry say it’s too soon to tell what might transpire when all’s said and done. “It’s a little early to say how that will affect consumer olive-oil pricing,” Houlding cautions. “We’re still looking at overall olive oil production and still looking at oil content as crops continue to be mulled.”

Houlding also notes that California is best known for its high-quality extra-virgin olive oils, the production of which depends more on quality of yield as opposed to quantity. She points out that while production is typically volatile, it doesn’t always directly translate to price hikes. “You can look back to the 2012 harvest year, when Spain was down quite a bit. Imported-olive-oil prices were up about 8 percent,” she says.

On that score, the website IndexMundi offers some interesting data. This chart, for instance, shows that from October of 2013 through September 2014, the price of extra-virgin olive oil in the U.S. has risen 14.5 percent:

That’s a lot. But olive production, being a crop-based process, is notoriously fickle. Here’s a graph showing the vagaries in Italy from 1964 to 1990. With peaks representing 60 percent to 129 percent increases and valleys denoting plummets of up to 70 percent, it looks like a cartoon mountain range, or a vampire with really bad teeth:

Here’s one that illustrates what happened in Spain in 2012:

Back in California, while it would seem most obvious to blame drought for the loss of fruit in the state, experts say rainfall isn’t the biggest factor. Olive trees are the hardiest of all stone-fruit-bearing plants, with very low water-consumption requirements. But several freezes in growing regions last winter, paired with a warm and windy spring (while the blooms were setting in), took their toll on the crop. Patricia Darragh, executive director of the California Olive Oil Council, says this should not affect the industry over the long term. “Olive trees are alternate-[year]-bearing crops,” Darragh explains. “This was an off year, but production is still increasing overall.”


Lessons in Sustainable Agriculture on Houston Street

Pass by the I.M. Pei-designed Silver Towers on Houston Street, and you might notice a gaggle of students elbow deep in dirt. Depending on the season, they could be planting seedlings, tending crops, or harvesting tomatoes while an instructor looks on and lends wisdom and suggestions. This is NYU’s urban farm lab, a working produce farm that’s part of the university’s food studies program.

“We envision it as a research, teaching, and community space,” says Amy Bentley, an associate professor of the food studies program who helped establish the farm with Jennifer Berg, the director of the graduate food studies program at NYU Steinhardt. “Students are really interested in it, because they’re interested in urban agriculture, sustainability, and green production. These are really key, important issues for these students. They think about future of the world, and they’re so engaged and interested in them. So students have pushed us to become more involved in issues of production, sustainability, and urban agriculture.

It took the duo seven years to surmount the obstacles to establishing the lab, from convincing NYU to jump on board — questions, Bentley says, included, “Was it going to attract rats? Was the soil contaminated?” — to dealing with bureaucracy in the city, including the Landmarks Preservtion Commission, since the Silver Towers have landmark status. “We didn’t even know if we could change the grounds at all,” says Bentley.

After clearing those hurdles, the farm was ready to plant last year, and it became the setting for the school’s urban agriculture class, taught by adjunct food studies professor Laurel Greyson. Greyson describes the course as a “mini crash course in urban agriculture,” though she says the class covers challenges that present themselves in both urban and rural settings. “We go seed to seed,” she says. “We cover everything from sowing to composting; we grow a variety of vegetables, and focus on cover crops in the winter.” Students follow the cycle of the seasons at the farm, spending as much time outside as possible, and supplementing their hands on experience with classroom lectures when necessary.

Once harvest season starts, students learn to can and pickle with what they pull from the earth, and then Greyson gives much of the produce to the faculty of the food studies department. She’s also working on partnerships with food banks, though she says there’s not so much coming from the farm at this phase that there’s a lot of extra. “But that’s something I’d like to implement in the future, especially at the height of the season,” she says.

Greyson also takes her classes on field trips to other urban farms in New York City as well as production facilities, like Mast Brothers Chocolate, where students can hear from a maker’s prospective the importance of sustainable farming. “It gives them an awareness of the urban consumer,” she says. And the trips also provide fodder to discuss food justice, food access, and community gardens.

It’s been a successful experiment. Greyson started with one section of the course, and she now teaches three — and each of those fills up on the first day of registration. Which means Berg, Bentley, and Greyson are thinking about how to develop the program for the future. “We’re hoping to gradually add more of a research component,” Bentley says. Greyson adds that she’d like to institute a more advanced class, where students can follow the farm for the whole year instead of just for a semester.

And the professors are adamant about this being a community space, too. “Every time I’m out there, passersby ask, ‘What are you doing? What’s going on?'” Bentley says. “It’s such a conversation piece. The sensory experience is calming beside the deafening roar of traffic on Houston Street.”

And that means there’s excitement over it’s growth: Greyson cites public workshops and events; Bentley says the team is thinking about bringing in classes from public schools. “It’s all in the experimental stage,” she says.


Here Are This Week’s Four Best Food Events – 5/27/2014

Not ready to say goodbye to the long weekend just yet? Ease into a four-day week with these, the best food events this week.

Farm Tour, Brooklyn Grange, BLDG 92 — Brooklyn Navy Yard, 63 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 1 or 2:30 p.m.

The world’s largest rooftop farm is conducting free tours every Wednesday at its Brooklyn Navy Yard location. Tours will cover the basics of Brooklyn Grange’s business model along with its operations and the environmental benefits of urban rooftop farming, and guests will also have time to explore the grounds unguided. Pre-registration is required, and a contribution of $10 to support the farm’s efforts is suggested.

Burger Challenge, Professor Thom’s, 219 Second Avenue, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Think you have what it takes to beat out a professional competitive eater? If you can find a few friends to stuff their faces, you may just be able to defeat pro-eater Crazy Legs Conti in the finals and achieve everlasting glory. For $60, teams of four to five people receive two pitchers of beer and four burgers total, one for each team member. Burgers get progressively larger (double patty, triple patty, etc.), so distribute the goods accordingly. The finals will pit one member from each of the three top teams, who all must eat the bar’s grand slam go blue! burger, against Conti. The competitive eater will have to eat the bar’s wolverine burger — 20 patties, toppings, and super-size bun — before everyone else finishes their own burger in order to win. Prizes will be awarded, and those who wish to watch the festivities can enjoy a two-hour open bar for $20.

Beer Making Class, The DUMBO Spot, 160 Water Street, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

The Brooklyn Brew Shop is inviting the curious DIY crowd out for an evening of beer making conversation. Founders Erica Shea and Steven Valand will take attendees through a step-by-step process of making beer at home, and guests are invited to stick around for samples afterwards. The couple’s book, Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes From Brooklyn To Bamberg, is also included in the cost of a $40 ticket, which can be purchased through the brew shop’s website.

Chocolate, Pops, and Live Bluegrass, Cacao Prieto, 218 Conover Street, Friday, 7 p.m.

Celebrating the launch of the chocolate factory’s new partnership with People’s Pops, guests are invited out for an evening of small plates, chocolates, and a first look at the latest pop flavor to hit the streets just in time for summer. Then head over to Botanica next door, where you’ll find an after party with custom curated cocktails and a chocolate-centric menu. Tickets are $35.


A New Magazine for the Modern Farmer

Urban chicken enthusiasts! If you’re trying to figure out what kind of birds to put in your coop, check out the newly launched print quarterly and website, Modern Farmer. The answer is tucked away in Karen Leibowitz’s “Which Chicken Is Right for You?” (where you’ll find that city coops are well-suited for gentle, miniature varieties).

MF looks like a great new place for well-reported food journalism–we were delighted to see a story by Peter Andrey Smith on the state of Florida’s citrus farming.

Watch editor-in-chief Ann Marie Gardner, formerly of The New York Times and Monocle, introduce the new magazine after the jump.



Windowfarms: Apartment Farming Technology Coming in August

Check out this cool new gardening technology. Windowfarms is a Brooklyn-based company and they are, with the backing of their Kickstarter supporters, launching a “vertical, hydroponic garden” for growing food in your apartment

It’s farming technology for the space-starved urbanite. How it works: You set it up at your kitchen window. Nutrient-spiked water is pumped up from a reservoir at the base of the system and trickles down from bottle to bottle, bathing the plants’ roots along the way.

“Some friends and I built the first Windowfarm in my apartment window,” founder Britta Riley told SmartPlanet in a Q&A. “At the time, it was just a bunch of leaky buckets and plastic things that we had cobbled together, but the goal was to use ordinary materials so that we could make something that was replicable.”

With the system, you can basically grow your own vegetables in your kitchen. The result: healthier roots and nutritious vegetables without the dirt and mess. The company has encountered a couple of glitches and manufacturing delays, but announced as of last week that shipments will begin on August 27.



Court Dismisses Organic Farmers’ Case Against Monsanto

A New York federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of organic farmers, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, against the agricultural company Monsanto on Monday.

The farmers, who do not use Monsanto seeds, wanted the court to revoke Monsanto’s agricultural patents of strains of soybean, corn, and alfalfa. They were concerned that Monsanto would sue them if pollen from the company’s patented crops strayed into their fields.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled against the farmers, saying that Monsanto had never threatened to sue the plaintiffs and that they had engaged “in a transparent effort to create a controversy where non exists.”

According to the Times, the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Daniel B. Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation, said that the group will probably take the case to the Federal Court of Appeals.


FDA Says ‘No’ to Drugged Up Livestock

Cows, chickens, and pigs in America are on lots of drugs — and even account for 80 percent of the country’s antibiotic consumption, Time reports.

But now, Food and Drug Administration officials have called on the ag industry to limit antibiotic use in livestock, as they think it might lead to the growth of deadly, drug-resistant bacteria: On January 4, the FDA banned farmers from using a class of these medicines in excess or for preventative reasons.

This particular group of antibiotics, cephalosporins, gets used frequently in humans to treat strep throat and bronchitis, Time notes.

The livestock industry commonly doses animals with antibiotics before they get sick, though they are not intended to prevent disease.

About 100,000 Americans die each year from infections related to drug-resistant bacteria, Time reports, and many fear that the situation will only worsen if animals routinely ingest antibiotics in their food and water.

This is not the first time the FDA has moved to enact such a rule.

In 2008, the administration tried establishing a similar regulation, but got too much flack from the über-wealthy ag lobby.