Monday, July 29, 2013

Hey, folks! Rachel Ett (CC ‘14) and Laurel Cohen (BK ‘16) here. This week had a jam-packed schedule, but perhaps our most memorable day was Wednesday. We spent the morning and afternoon with Bren Smith and friends of the Thimble Island Oyster Co. —check out some pictures of the trip below!

First photos by University Photographer Michael Marsland

Tim Le ‘14 clamming.

Austin Bryniarski ‘16 with a surprise stowaway.

Laurel Cohen ‘16 and Bren raising up an oyster cage.

Rachel Ett ‘14 guiding the oyster cage into the boat.

Jackson Blum ‘15 with his catch of the day!

Next photos by Rachel Ett

A beautiful view on the way to catch invasive Asian shore crabs.

Rachel Ett ‘14 fishin’.

Maya Midzik ‘15 being hoisted up onto the boat after a refreshing swim.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zan Romanoff, our Program Coordinator, writes about economy & community in the wake of natural disasters:

Last year I wrote about sitting with Bren Smith while members of his Community Supported Fishery program picked up their first post-Irene shares; while the Connecticut coast had come through that storm relatively unscathed, Bren’s Thimble Island oyster grounds had been closed for the better part of two months, 80% of his crop destroyed by mud churned up on the ocean floor. It was a tough moment for him and his business and so particularly heartening to see customer after customer come by with nothing but sympathy and an eager desire to help: it served as an important reminder that community supported agriculture programs of every kind are as crucial for their economic impact as the actual sense of community and kinship they can create.

Bren used the money he got from those shares to tide him over as he replanted and started again. Oysters take two years to come to market size, and it’s a long waiting game with a lot of work to get them there, so he diversified his crops, adding in faster-growing mussels, clams and seaweed in case of another huge event. Last week Sandy caused storm surges nearly double the height of those seen in Irene; as Red Hook flooded and Breezy Point burned, Bren’s comeback crop was drowning down below. Oysters need to be able to filter water continuously and the muck kicked up by huge waves effectively choked them; suspended longlines growing mussels (and awaiting a winter seaweed crop) snapped in the storm.

It’s all too easy, in the modern food system, to see failed farmers as isolated economic events; when the farmer is part of our community and food is part of your consciousness, however, you begin to see a much larger, and very different, picture. What’s going on with Thimble Island Oyster Co. is happening to farmers up and down the eastern seaboard; it happened when Irene flooded hundreds of thousands of acres with contaminated water, making produce grown there unsalable, and it will happen again. These disasters put our friends out of business but they also destroy the local food supply— and bigger operations are not immune, as we saw when drought swept the country this summer and prices for commodity crops soared. When farmers are failing, we need to be afraid for their economic viability but also for our own health and safety. When natural disaster strikes, there is no safety net. Science has given us huge advances, but we’re still planting and growing in the ground: there is no alternative food source.

Farmers who grow commodity crops are well-supported by crop insurance payouts; small, independent farmers like Bren, who grow things other than wheat, cotton, corn and soy can’t necessarily depend on the government to keep them going when disaster strikes. It’s up to us, his community, to do that, to support not only a smart, sustainable business model but also the kind of food we’re comfortable consuming. CSF shares for 2013 are available, and again the cash infusion Bren gets from them could be the difference between staying in business and closing up shop. Each of us has a stake in a future of a better food system, one that doesn’t cause further climate change, and that can deal robustly with the effects that we’re already feeling. A CSF payment literalizes that stake, making it clear to us exactly what we lose when small farmers go under: the choice to eat better, and the chance to be a part of the community that makes good food possible.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Looking for follow up from last week’s New York Times Magazine food issue? Look no further: here’s Mark Bittman, talking about his experiences in the Central Valley on LA’s KCRW.

(Plus check out his list of food-related links for autumn and beyond— Farming the Urban Sea, which Program Coordinator Zan Romanoff co-wrote, is right at the top!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 Friday, September 16, 2011
Last Saturday I sat outside of Miya’s with Bren while members of his Community Supported Fishery program came to pick up their shares. It could have been a pretty tough series of encounters; there had been no August delivery, as heavy rainfall triggered state-mandated closure of his acres, and the September boxes contained only clams, since his oyster beds were still closed. There had been a disclaimer when we signed up for the program, letting us know that farming was unpredictable and there would be no refunds, but it had been easy to ignore with visions of freshly-caught, freshly-shucked oysters beckoning— now came the test of just how Community Supported the program really was.
And you know, everyone who came by was lovely. This was likely in part, Bren pointed out, because Irene was an understandable catastrophe that had affected all of us in one way and another; people were still in disaster-relief mode, eager to be helpful. But it was also a mark of the kind of economic and social community that CSFs and CSAs can build: Bren was not just an oysterman but also a businessman, and a neighbor whose livelihood was being threatened; the threat of a month without oysters was subsumed by the threat that the CSF might end entirely. We weren’t just dissatisfied consumers; we had become, in the language of Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food, co-producers, without whom the business of good food was impossible. I’ve explained CSAs countless times: farmers need money at the beginning of the season, and it’s far less risky when they don’t have to rely on the success of a single crop to make a living. Now I watched it in action: it was that money that I’d paid out in advance that would help keep Bren and Thimble Island Oysters going after nearly 80% of his beds had been wiped out. 
I’m always a little wary of the “co-producer” model— there’s so much more work to being part of the Food Movement, whatever that is, than buying things— but it is important, and I think expresses a particular piece of what this thing is for me and why I care about it. If I’m going to spend money on food anyway, I want it to go to Bren and men and women like him, people I know, people in my community, who literally and figuratively weather the same storms. It encourages me to be sympathetic to them; it reminds me that food is not produced in a vacuum. If I want someone else to grow my food— a difficult and risky business at the best of times— then I should know all of the costs, and be prepared to pay for the privilege. 
bunlai:

80% of the oysters of CT’s first Community Supported Fishery, Thimble Island Oyster, was wiped out by the Hurricane but our members will still be receiving clams in the interim; we are all trying to think of ways of helping oysterman Bren Smith rebuild in the aftermath.  The best way way we can help is by signing up for a 2012 CSF membership.  Help out and get the freshest seafood back in return!  http://www.etsy.com/listing/75395775/thimble-island-oyster-csf-share   The above photo is of Captain Ben Kerzner and I with seaweed that we had dived for on the grounds of Thimble Island Oyster.  The invasive seaweed, deliciously called Dead Man’s Fingers, is used as a soup base at Miya’s.

Last Saturday I sat outside of Miya’s with Bren while members of his Community Supported Fishery program came to pick up their shares. It could have been a pretty tough series of encounters; there had been no August delivery, as heavy rainfall triggered state-mandated closure of his acres, and the September boxes contained only clams, since his oyster beds were still closed. There had been a disclaimer when we signed up for the program, letting us know that farming was unpredictable and there would be no refunds, but it had been easy to ignore with visions of freshly-caught, freshly-shucked oysters beckoning— now came the test of just how Community Supported the program really was.

And you know, everyone who came by was lovely. This was likely in part, Bren pointed out, because Irene was an understandable catastrophe that had affected all of us in one way and another; people were still in disaster-relief mode, eager to be helpful. But it was also a mark of the kind of economic and social community that CSFs and CSAs can build: Bren was not just an oysterman but also a businessman, and a neighbor whose livelihood was being threatened; the threat of a month without oysters was subsumed by the threat that the CSF might end entirely. We weren’t just dissatisfied consumers; we had become, in the language of Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food, co-producers, without whom the business of good food was impossible. I’ve explained CSAs countless times: farmers need money at the beginning of the season, and it’s far less risky when they don’t have to rely on the success of a single crop to make a living. Now I watched it in action: it was that money that I’d paid out in advance that would help keep Bren and Thimble Island Oysters going after nearly 80% of his beds had been wiped out. 

I’m always a little wary of the “co-producer” model— there’s so much more work to being part of the Food Movement, whatever that is, than buying things— but it is important, and I think expresses a particular piece of what this thing is for me and why I care about it. If I’m going to spend money on food anyway, I want it to go to Bren and men and women like him, people I know, people in my community, who literally and figuratively weather the same storms. It encourages me to be sympathetic to them; it reminds me that food is not produced in a vacuum. If I want someone else to grow my food— a difficult and risky business at the best of times— then I should know all of the costs, and be prepared to pay for the privilege. 

bunlai:

80% of the oysters of CT’s first Community Supported Fishery, Thimble Island Oyster, was wiped out by the Hurricane but our members will still be receiving clams in the interim; we are all trying to think of ways of helping oysterman Bren Smith rebuild in the aftermath.  The best way way we can help is by signing up for a 2012 CSF membership.  Help out and get the freshest seafood back in return!  http://www.etsy.com/listing/75395775/thimble-island-oyster-csf-share   The above photo is of Captain Ben Kerzner and I with seaweed that we had dived for on the grounds of Thimble Island Oyster.  The invasive seaweed, deliciously called Dead Man’s Fingers, is used as a soup base at Miya’s.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

We’ve written a certain amount about sustainable seafood, so yesterday the YSFP crew went out with Bren Smith, of the Thimble Island Oyster Co., to try our hands at oystering and see firsthand what it takes to get those mollusks from sea to table.

Bren leases 60 acres of deep water near the Thimble Islands, which are located off the Connecticut coast in the Long Island Sound. The waters there are a natural spot for oyster beds in terms of salinity and temperature, but overfishing combined with environmental degradation mean that the native population died out long ago; now Bren brings in oyster cages to farm his crop. He fills them with tiny oyster spat and then lets them mature over a period of months, checking the cages regularly to clean off debris and remove starfish and other predators. The oysters help clean the water around them and absorb excess nitrogen that would otherwise cause algae-choked dead zones; the cages act as reef replacements, attracting tons of tiny creatures into a robust ecosystem. Bren guesses that the water around his cages has the best fishing for miles.

We certainly saw a variety of creatures while helping to haul and clean cages: the dreaded starfish were joined by various kinds of crabs, sea squirts, and the occasional blackfish. The work was intensely physical and we ended up filthy, covered in muck and saltwater. It was a good reminder of how tough sustainable farming can be on the folks who do it: “most days I have to crawl out of bed on all fours,” Bren told us as he wrangled a cage onto the deck, straining at the effort.

He’s a freelancer who works without health insurance, but he loves what he does and believes in it fiercely; he’s passionate about advocating for the ocean, finding a way to make it a working space for human farmers without destroying the homes of its multitude native species. His methods aren’t perfect, but they’re thoughtful and considered, and certainly smarter than any large-scale commercial operation out there. This Saturday brings another CSF delivery, and we’re all pretty impatient to taste the fruits of our labor (well, actually, the labor was still mostly Bren’s)— we’ll let you now what we end up making with the bounty next week!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Community Supported Fisheries & The Thimble Island Oyster Co.

There are basically two options for farmers who want to avoid the massive, impersonal supermarket system: selling at farmers’ markets, or starting a Community Supported Agriculture program. We’ve talked about how CSAs run here before, and why they’re such an important tool for small farmers looking to build a strong customer base and get the cash they need upfront at the beginning of the season. So what happens when you apply this system of exchange to another changing industry? What about fishing?

According to an article in YES! Magazine, the first Community Supported Fishery was started in Port Clyde, Maine in 2007, and it worked just like a traditional CSA: consumers paid a lump sum directly to the fishermen, then received a weekly allotment of seafood caught in local waters. Since then, more than 20 CSF programs have started up in the US and Canada, each of them dedicated to provided fresh local seafood and supporting shrinking fishing communities, many of whom can’t or won’t operate at the scale required by industrial buyers.

It’s a tough time for those fishermen as well as their catch: human demand for seafood of all kinds is quickly outstripping supply, leaving many global stocks in critical condition as their numbers dwindle and their habitats suffer the effects of pollution. Agricultural runoff creates nitrogen-choked dead zones that expand every year; the 2010 Gulf Oil spill was neither the first nor, sadly, likely the last of its kind. So when we eat seafood, it’s crucial to eat conscientiously, consuming species that aren’t dangerously overfished and that have been harvested or farmed responsibly.

Bren Smith, of the Thimble Island Oyster Co., does just that. His refrigerators are solar-powered; he uses recycled gear and farms shellfish like clams and oysters, which actually help clean the contamination in the waters where they live. Plus for which, the cages he grows them in act as an artificial reef, providing habitat for other creatures.

Luckily for us here in New Haven, Bren and Bun Lai, chef and owner of Miya’s Sushi Restaurant, have teamed up to bring us Connecticut’s very first CSF. CSF members pay an annual fee toward the oyster farm’s operating costs and receive a dozen oysters and two dozen clams weekly for 6 months, from June through November. The YSFP is a proud member, and we’ve already experimented with making clam pizza of our very own with the CSF’s bounty.

Interested in learning more? Check out their website for more information about how the Thimble Island Oyster Co. benefits the marine ecosystem and the local community.

Looking for a CSF near you? The Northwest Atlantic Marine Associate (NAMA) features a list of CSF locations. (If  you don’t find one, don’t despair. The Thimble Island Oyster Co. isn’t there yet either!)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

YSFP Clam Pizza

Forget New York’s splintery, cracker-thin crusts and Chicago’s doughy deep dish; New Haven’s signature apizza splits the difference between the two, producing slender, crusty slices that give way to a sweet, springy interior. There’s plenty of lore around the city’s oldest pizzerias (Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan are famed fans), but that’s never stopped us at the YSFP from trying our hand at the city’s most iconic dish— and there are many who would argue that ours best the classics. 

The trick of a New Haven-style apizza is to form a thin crust and cook it quickly at a high temperature, allowing for crisp char on the outside and a little lightness within. Pepe’s and Sally’s use coal, but the Farm burns hardwood logs in our oven; we harvest them from the Yale Meyers Forest, an hour outside of New Haven. We also make our own dough, adding in a little whole wheat flour for wholesomeness and plenty of white to keep it from getting too heavy.

We usually keep our toppings vegetarian and stick to what we can grow ourselves, but this week we had fresh clams from the state’s first Community Supported Fishery program and it seemed only fitting to try the most iconic pie of them all: Frank Pepe’s brainchild, the white clam pizza. Above are some photographs of the process, which, from lighting the oven and starting dough until we had pizza ready to eat, took just about three hours.

The photographs are lovely, but they don’t do the pizza justice— it was insanely delicious, a simple crust with preserved lemon pesto and oven-roasted clams, intensely salty and just sweet enough. We also had pies topped with mozarella and arugula, ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, and a dessert version that involved apricot jam and currants.

If you’re in town, we’ll be making pizza again this Friday (though sadly sans seafood) to serve as lunch to volunteers during our open work hours— so come by to get your hands dirty, and stick around to sample a slice!