Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort) Hosts Its 4th Annual Urban Agriculture Conference (UAC)

The UAC will offer hands-on demos at several sites including (pictured) Randall's Island Urban Farm, a 3,000 square foot urban farm created through GrowNYC and the Randall's Island Park Alliance that offers environmental education and nutritional learning
Double-down for homegrown. For two blissful, farm-fueled days – and evenings -- Thursday, May 29 and Friday, May 30 -- The Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort) and attendees will travel to working urban farms in Manhattan and Queens for its fourth annual Urban Agricultural Conference (UAC), promising to break records for attendance.
The program will focus on urban farming as a viable and successful business venture and an additional, augmented food source for urban dwellers.

The Urban Ag Conference will feature hands-on demonstrations on all aspects of urban farming from bee pollination to wicking beds, cover crops, youth empowerment and aquaponics, at various sites including, Smiling Hogshead Ranch in Long Island City, Battery Urban Farm at Battery Park, Randall’s Island Urban Farm and Wards Island Farm on Randall’s Island, and Boswyck Farms and Build it Green! in Astoria.

The conference will also include a film on European urban and organic farming, along with a panel discussion led by Billy Polansky, general manager, Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

“Today, urban agriculture isn’t the little known entity it was when we launched the conference in 2010,” says The Hort’s Director of Horticulture and Public Programs George Pisegna. “This year, we are focusing on educating the food industry, consumers, environmentalists, and many others on ways to make urban agriculture succeed as a viable business,” Pisegna explained.
It is wouldn’t be wrong to note that the burgeoning commitment to urban agriculture here in Gotham – and across the country -- has been ignited by The Hort, its leadership, and networking community support.

The UAC opens May 29th at Mombucha’s Magic City, a kombucha-maker’s facility in Greenpoint, with a screening of Guerilla Cycling: Growing on a Bike, a short film by urban grower Tom Boyden from F.H. King & University of Wisconsin Madison Horticulture Department. The film chronicles Boyden’s 5,000-mile bike journey through organic and urban farms in western and central Europe.  Guests will enjoy locally sourced food and cocktails.

The next day (Friday, May 30th), at NYU’s Kimmel Center (Rosenthal Pavilion, Washington Square), boasts a full day of robust Urban Ag content, kicking off with keynote speaker, Polansky.
Following Polansky, moderator Adam Saunders, public outreach coordinator, Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture will lead a discussion: The Business of Farming: Organizational Structures & Operations, focused on the tools needed to support successful urban agriculture ventures from incorporation as a non-profit, land access, paid labor and volunteers, programming, design in urban food systems, as well as the ways urban dwellers can support viable food economies.
Panelists are Kelsey Ripper, Equal Justice Works Fellow, from the Lawyers Alliance for New York; Community Food Lab’s Erin White, principal; Feedback Farms’ co-founder Thomas Hallaran, and Daron ‘Farmer D’ Joffe of Farmer D Organics.
In the afternoon (1:30 to 5:30 pm), participants will choose a workshop track offering hands-on, on-site demonstrations.  Attendees choose one of five locations:

1. At Smiling Hogshead Ranch in Long Island City, they will learn how Container Gardening can develop alternative gardenscapes to grow abundant, healthy food in limited spaces.  

2. At Build it Green! in Astoria, Composting & Soil Management will offer a first-hand view of small and large scale composting operations and techniques that maximize the complex ecosystem underneath crops. 
Riverpark Farm
3. Outdoor classrooms on Farm Education at Battery Urban Farm in Battery Park will show how to practice food sovereignty and make healthier choices.  
Battery Urban Farm

4. Farm Practices will demonstrate varied techniques from chickens to bees, mushrooms to propagation, to establish balanced farms at Randall’s Island Urban Farm and Ward’s Island Farm.  

5. Hydro & Aquaponics at Boswyck Farms in Astoria will show how alternative designs; new technology and sustainable systems support high productivity.  
Boswyck Farms

Demonstrations will be led by known professionals including Zachary Pickens of Riverpark Farm; Thomas Hallaran and Clare Sullivan, Feedback Farms; Jonathan Wilson, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden; Gil Lopez, Smiling Hogshead Ranch; Erik Martig, Build It Green! Andrew Blancero, NYC Compost Project on Staten Island; David Vigil and Cameal Tapper, East NY Farms!; Cara Chard, City Growers; Esther Gottesman and Perri Erlitz, Edible Schoolyard NYC; Anna Ellis, Camilla Hammer, and Josie Johnson, Battery Urban Farm; Nick Storrs, Randall’s Island Park Alliance; Lily Kesselman an Yanet Rojas, City Chicken Project at Just Food; Andrew Coté, Silvermine Apiary; Andrew Casner, Project EATs; and Lee Mandell, Boswyck Farms.

Further, conference attendees have the rare opportunity to visit these examples of urban farming and see that farming in town is not only doable but vital – and doable.
A bus will be provided to the Randall's Island demo.  The Hort staff will provide MetroCards to the attendees for the other four locations to amplify how a quick subway ride will transport you to a bucolic farm right in the heart of New York!

The closing reception will allow for a discussion of the day’s events and a preview of the future over complimentary beverages from 6 to 9 pm at Good Co. in Williamsburg.
For a complete agenda, visit

About The Hort
The mission of the Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort) is to sustain the vital connection between people and plants. Social service and public programs educate and inspire, growing a broad community that values horticulture for the many benefits it brings to our environment, our neighborhoods, and our lives.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Homegrown Garden Glamour at Afternoon Tea: How to Grow a Summer Herb Garden

My scheduled talk, “How to Grow a Summer Herb Garden” for the United Way of Great Mercer County (UWGMC) has been moved to the garden!

Originally planned to be held in the pretty pink room of the Victorian home that is now Laurie House (at Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center), the crackerjack professional of United Way of Mercer County, Jodi Inverso, Vice President Brand Management & Communications, told me the event was sold out.

Wonderful news for a spring afternoon tea, herb talk, and potting-up demo.

Shortly thereafter, Jodi wrote that in order to accommodate more guests and the burgeoning demand, they moved the event to a beautiful tent near the lake, in the gardens.

It doesn’t get much better, does it?

Except to learn the invite read, “Back by Popular Demand.”
Reading that I couldn’t help feel Sally Field channeling her “You like me. You really like me!” speech exclamation.

In fact, everything about this invitation is screams lovely: Butterflies, herbs, scones, afternoon tea, and gardens.
And the honor of autographing my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook for the garden guests…

It’s all about Building Bridges

While the afternoon tea’s garden guests find their way down the garden path to build a bridge to a healthy, tasty, herb lifestyle, this is a benefit, after all, with the ticket price and 10% of my book sales going to the Mercer County United Way’s Summer Bridge program.

Jodi wrote me to explain. “The money raised at this event is going toward a Summer Bridge program. This is a summer reading and literacy program with students (Age5- 6) who are English Language Learners (ELL) and entering 1st grade in September. The purpose of the program is to avoid the growing disparity and gaps in literacy that occurs between ELL children when compared with their counterparts especially during the summer months when there is no exposure to structured learning. This program will help children maintain and/or strengthen their school year academic learning, specifically reading skills

How to Grow a Summer Herb Garden

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about one of the plant world’s most fascinating topics. 

Herbs possess a compelling and sometimes mysterious history.
From potions to elixirs to hallucinogens to religious ceremonies, herbs play a leading role.

Their use in culinary, medical and spiritual applications is widespread but more often misunderstood and in my humble opinion, herbs are not used frequently enough.

Crops in Pots

I will talk about how herbs can be used in grilling, cooking and cocktails.

I will share how it is that herb plants are easily grown and add subtle flavor, nutrition and visual punch to most every dish.

I will show how to pot up herbs, and to create a Summer Herbal Composition utilizing the “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller” guide to creating beguiling container and windowsill plantings that are beautiful to look at, while adding pizzazz to the menu.  

I will also talk about growing and nurturing an herb garden.

The homegrown team at UWGMC secured the following herbs to sell at the afternoon Tea and Herb talk:

Nufar Basil

Triple Curled Parsley

Greek Oregano

Garlic Chive


Summer Thyme

Santo Cilantro

Fernleaf Dill

Their thoughtful herb selection was in part determined by the timing of the Herb talk.  Jodi told me the team figured that guests might have already planted their more commonly used herbs so they looked to get ones to sell that might not be as well known.

For example, most summer herb gardens include the “King of Herbs:” Basil, most frequently, Genovese Basil or Common Basil Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese.’  
Genovese Basil, photo courtesy of Sweet Valley Herbs

The Nufar Basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Nufar F1 Hybrid’ for sale at the UWGMC Herb event is a wilt resistant variety of Sweet Basil. 
It is said to have a bit more anise or licorice, peppery, minty flavor.  The Nufar grows to two feet and the leaves are correspondingly, very big.  
Nufar Basil, photo courtesy of Sweet Valley Herbs

Both types are wonderful for pesto. 

Parsley is a must-have herb in the garden.  It’s a culinary draft workhorse used in a plethora of recipes.
Most recognize it as a garnish. 
While it’s true that a sprig placed just so on the plate like a flower behind the ear adds romance and drama, remember that the herb is also nutritious, flavorful and aromatic – adding taste to stews, sauces, soups, cocktails, egg dishes, and pesto, too.
Face it; everything tastes better with cheese and blended!

There are three types of parsley and the two most common ones are: 
Curled Leaf (Petroselinum crispum)   
Curled Leaf Parsley, photo courtesy Eden Brother

and Flat Leaf (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum).

Flat Leaf Parsely, photo courtesy Garden Shop Telegraph, Co.UK

Flat Leaf or Italian parsley is considered more robust.  
See the difference: Flat Leaf Parsely (L) & Curled Leaf Parsely (R)

Parsley is related to carrots, parsnips, celery fennel and dill.

The Triple Curled Parsley that is to be featured at the Summer Herb Garden Tea Party is heat tolerant with a pleasant flavor, and sporting a croptop that would make Shirley Temple blush, it is the prettiest of the parsleys. 

The featured Santo Cilantro is a popular, versatile, “global” fresh herb grown for the leaves (cilantro) and the edible seeds (Coriander). The raw, fresh, flowers of Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) are also edible and add to the plating of a favorite dish.  

Fernleaf Dill is a rather diminutive herb that like a good wine – goes with just about everything, including pickling. 
Because its feathery leaves are so attractive and lush it is also a container garden favorite marking it as a composition ornamental.   
Fernleaf Dill, photo courtesy Pantry Garden 

We Love it in our herb garden not only for its culinary grace but also because it is a “butterfly hotel.” 

The glamorous Swallowtail butterfly take up summer residence in dill. 
Plant enough for both of you.  
Butterfly Hotel, photo courtesy PantryGarden


An herb-shopping tip: Get there early, select and purchase. No deliberating.

From my experience - whether it was at the BBG Annual Plant Sale or last week’s trip to a Garden State nursery for garden clients Peter & B, and Maria, there was almost a clash of the “Herbies!”  A food fight of sorts. 

Here, it was a smack-down with local Master Gardeners who were grabbing – er – scouring - the nursery for their own plant sale.  Like locusts, they wrested the last of the basil and rosemary.  I had to post "Sold" signs to keep their thymey-fingers off!

Looking forward to a lovely afternoon talking about how to plant a summer herb garden.