Port Authority Bus Terminal, iconic portal and gateway to New York City. An estimated 58.3 million passengers (200,000/day) flow through these doors last year. Opened in 1950, it is an unremarkable building in a neighborhood once considered amongst NY's most dangerous areas. It is the place you never really want to go visit but cannot avoid especially if you need to travel through the Lincoln Tunnel (7,200 buses/day!)
Today the PABT has something green to crow about. Greenmarket (www.cenyc.org) in cooperation with the PA opened its first ever farmers market in the expanse of the terminal's first floor. I rolled out of bed at 5:15 AM to meet Jeff and the Katchkie Farm truck which left Kinderhook at 3 AM. (www.katchkiefarm.com) Along with Sally (Special Projects Manager), Dean (President, Great Performances), Chris (Executive Chef), Todd (Warehouse Manager), Josh (Operations Manager) and Liz G (Picklemeister), we rolled 50 farm baskets of fresh produce to our 25' stretch of tables. And whereas most people traversing the PA at 6:30 AM are fairly unsociable, we were greeted with raised eyebrows and lots and lots of smiles.
First sale was made at 7 AM, a cup of our homemade Spearmint Basil Iced Tea. 5 minutes later, a commuter bought a bag full of veggies. Official start time was still an hour away! Electricians illuminated our tables with extra lighting. We were getting a good feeling about this.
This is a good week for good food news.
The real estate section of the New York Times ran a feature on 6/17 detailing the effort in PA and NY to incentivize landlords and grocers to open 6,000+ sq ft stores in underserviced communities. There is no more critical need for access to fresh and healthy foods than in neighborhoods with the highest incidences of chronic diseases that are impacted by diet. Governor Paterson announced a $10 million loan fund to support investment in new local supermarkets.
Green Carts have hit the streets (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/cdp/cdp_pan_green_carts.shtml), another success story in the battle to bring fresh foods to the broadest array of New Yorkers. Spotting their logo'd green umbrellas is an urban version of Where's Waldo.
The WSJ had 2 interesting food features on Tuesday - the first about veggie boxes for the novice farmer (add water and grow) and the second about fortified food. And it's not that food and eating have ever been far from people's mind, it's a renewed focus on the connection between good health and good food along with a strong desire to connect to growing sources.
More news: NY is the first state to allow WIC (Women, Infants and Children Program) participants to use their monthly checks to purchase fresh produce at Farmers Market. This impacts over half a million recipients.
I call this the Obama Effect. And though decades of grassroots food system movements, with pioneers including Greenmarket, (www.cityharvest.org), (www.karpresources.com) (www.foodsystemsnyc.org) (www.justfood.org) and years of government involvement in exactly these issues - access to affordable, healthy food - are not as sexy as a sound bite from the First Couple with pitchfork and shovel in front of the White House, it is exactly those efforts that are the foundation of the Obama consciousness.
Take a look at the 4 workgroups established by the New York State Council on Food Policy (www.nyscfp.org):
1. Maximizing participation in food and nutrition assistance programs.
2. Strengthen the connection between local food products and consumers.
3. Support efficient and profitable agricultural food production and food retail infrastructure.
4. Increase consumer awareness and knowledge about healthy eating. Improve consumer access to safe and nutritious food.
Other recent victories include further development of the NYS Farmers Market Wireless EBT Program (accepting food stamps at more farmers markets); Health Bucks Program (incentivizing purchase of fresh produce in targeted neighborhoods); support for farmers in establishing markets and CSA's (from Just Food and from Farmers Market Federation of New York); the availability of $6 million in federal funds in 2009 for upgrading food service equipment in public schools participating in National School Lunch Program; and the federally funded Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, that provides grants to schools for fresh produce in addition to lunch/breakfast meals.
There is a full menu of legislation and commitment to change on the front burner.
Back to the Port Authority. It is lunchtime and the sandwich selection is drawing a crowd. (Hawthorne Valley Quark Cheese with Katchkie Farm Pickled Radish, Grilled Zucchini and Lettuce on Bread Alone baked goods). Thunder Pickles are in demand. Mizuna Pesto is a hit. Homemade Beet Soup and Cream of Broccoli Soup in pints are perfect for this rainy day. People promise to stop by on the way home. Ironically, these veggies which traveled downstate this morning, will take one more commute home. And there was a little media frenzy by the end of the day. (http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/port-authority-greenmarket-a-match-made-in-midtown/)
From the crowd:
We met a woman from Florida who is in NYC for a Fleetwood Mac concert at MSG. With the high cost of flights, she made more economical travel plans somehow involving the last leg by bus to NYC. She opted for salad.
Another buyer, shopped for her small dinner party tonight, picking up a head of lettuce, some cabbage and our first summer squash of the season, with intact blossoms. A true locavore, she asked about our 100 Mile Menu (www.100milemenu.com)
A commuter from NJ was delighted to trade in the long lines at her local Shop Rite for the produce at the farm stand.
A woman heading to Sante Fe bought a sandwich and pickle, sharing the comment that back home, there would be a chili pepper between the slices.
Next week - Bob-B-Q Sauce (in honor of Farmer Bob who likes it hot), squash blossoms (promised them to several new customers) and a sandwich/coleslaw/iced tea lunch special!
It is 40 years since Midnight Cowboy depicted decay, drugs and despair as the face of 42nd street. What would Ratso and Joe Buck think walking through the terminal this morning, greeted by wholesome greens and smiling faces?