4.27.2008

To market in Brooklyn

On NPR the other day, I heard a story on a Brooklyn market working to sell only local, trace-able, and sustainable food. As it happened, I was scheduled to arrive in Manhattan the very next day. With my encouragement, two friends set off with me down the Subway, towards the North 12th Street market, and emerged from beneath the river for an adventure in localism.

The market was easy to find. Located just down the street from a city park, it was nestled into a neighborhood with a close-knit, family feel. As the brainchild of former filmmaker Aaron Woolf, who decided to open up shop after putting out a documentary on frightening world of high fructose corn syrup, Urban Rustic was a place where the story behind food came alive. The walls were lined with hand-built cubbies, each of which offered a food item and a tacked up explanation of the people and place behind it. The tomatoes were from a hothouse in the North Fork of Long Island, the Katchkie Ketchup from Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, and the milk from the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Hudson Valley. It was as good as a corner store could get.

Still, upon leaving we all agreed that it hadn't been quite what we were hoping for. The shelves still boasted the standard eco-chocolate bars, rice from an environmentally friendly farm in California, and mass produced Heinz ketchup. It was clear that the local foods hadn't been enough to take the market all the way—even in a place as populated as New York City—an observation that was less a reflection on Urban Rustic, and more on just how far it is we have to go to make our food choices sustainable.

The hype perhaps had heightened my expectations to an unrealistic point. I was hoping for nothing from beyond a hundred mile radius—an expectation that I suppose was impossibly narrow. But it seems to me that if you're going to do a local market, you ought to go all the way. I'd rather walk into a store with fewer choices that I know are local and devise a meal plan from the available options than have everything at my fingertips, and have to hunt for where it came from. In light of that realization, I realized that perhaps in today's world a corner grocer isn't the spot for me. Until we make the shift on a large scale, Cape fish and farmers' markets still offer a better bet. After all, it doesn't get more local than harbor to home.

To listen to Food Footprint: A Truly Green Grocer, hosted by NPR's Marianne McCune, click here.

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