Urban Agriculture From Seed to Tart – Growing Basil Indoors at Square Roots

In two weeks, I start my first classes in NYU’s Masters of Food Studies program (true). I’ve got my backpack (true – I already own this), notebook (someone buy this for me), and pens (can I have this too?). I’ve done my summer reading (true) and I’ve sourced the most sustainable, artisanal, local, and organic apples to bring to my teachers (false – I’m not THAT big of a nerd).

Today I visited Square Roots, an urban agriculture incubator in Brooklyn founded in part by Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk’s brother. Square Roots has an office in the old Pfizer building at 630 Flushing Ave in Bushwick, home to many of your favorite artisan NYC food brands like McClure’s Pickles, People’s Pops, Cinnamon Snail, Joe’s Pizza, and the list goes on…

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Can you find Maple? (RIP )

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Josh and his farm

The bulk of Square Roots’ operation takes place in the parking lot inside large shipping containers that house indoor vertical hydroponic farms. Myself and another volunteer met up with Josh Aliber, one of the 10 entrepreneurs currently in an intense year-long entrepreneurship program with Square Roots. We helped him harvest, package, and plant new basil crops.

Fun facts about indoor vertical farming:

  • You can control everything about the climate of an indoor farm including temperature, humidity, and lighting, so the produce is extremely high quality and farmers aren’t at the will of the weather gods for earning their livelihood.
  • This method of farming uses a lot less water, but still uses a lot of electricity. Since it’s a relatively young technology, there’s a lot of room to grow in efficiency and automation. We harvested the basil plants, removed the leaves from the stems, packaged, and seeded new plants by hand.
  • It takes about 7 weeks from seed to harvest for a basil plant grown this way, which is less time than a traditional outdoor farm.
  • A lot of the advancements in hydroponic farming thus far have come from one of the early adopters of the technology: the marijuana industry. Thanks dude bros!

So what do you do with all this super high quality basil? Josh sells it direct to local grocery stores and restaurants. What did I do? I made the most beautiful fucking tart and sprinkled fresh basil all over it like a dog on their favorite fire hydrant:

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This tart was made with heirloom tomatoes and cipollini onions from the farmers market, fresh mozzarella from BKLYN Larder, and genovese sweet basil from Josh’s 8/23 harvest. I HAVE REACHED PEAK BROOKLYN. (Recipe adapted from Taming of the Spoon.)

Learn more about Square Roots here: Kimbal Musk — Elon’s brother — just opened a shipping container farm compound in New York City

A Love Letter to Cooking Your Own Damn Food

November 9th, 2016 was a day few Americans will ever forget. And now we’re all looking for ways to feel less helpless, less at the whim of a government that doesn’t seem to share any of the values of the majority of its constituents. We can and should protest, write letters, make phone calls, run for office, and donate to the charities that need us to keep fighting. But sometimes it feels overwhelming. Every day spent not doing something to resist the new administration feels wasted. And you get deeper and deeper into a shame spiral about your inaction, which makes you do less, and then you feel guilty again, and YADA YADA you get the picture.

So here’s a radical idea if you’re feeling like you’re not in control of your destiny:

COOK YOUR OWN DAMN FOOD BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING EMPOWERING.

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Queen Bey agrees.

Make choices. Go to a farmer’s market and speak to the growers about their work. Take home some ugly produce because you’re not shallow – you care about what’s ON THE INSIDE. Buy organic meat at the supermarket. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you vote with your dollars. Organic, local farmers are going to need our help when agriculture gets even more deregulated and garbage meat filled with hormones and poison floods the market. Get a beautiful cookbook, a real one, in print, written by a person that cares about their work and their environment. (Might I suggest Small Victories by Julia Turshen who is a true boss?)

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My most prized possession

Spend a day figuring out an ambitious recipe. Roast a whole fucking chicken. Make something slowly with ingredients you’ve never used, like this Slow Cooker Coconut Lemongrass Chicken (pictured below). Prove to yourself that you are an effective human, and even if the whole world goes up in flames, you have the control to create something beautiful and nourishing for you and your loved ones.

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Did you know you’re supposed to smack the shit out of lemongrass before you use it to release the oils?

This is what I’ve done so far. But I know my knowledge of the food issues affecting our country – food waste, industrialized agriculture, the cost of healthy food, food deserts, unfair wages, and many more – is limited. So I’ve applied to the Masters of Food Studies program at NYU, and G-d willing, I’ll be starting part-time in the fall.

Moving forward, this blog will have a bit more substance. It’ll still be snarky and weird and sometimes crude, but there’s a time and place for lists of the 22 Best New Cantaloupe Dishes of January 2017 (maybe?), and this isn’t it.

The universe might keep throwing 🍆 at us, but let’s not be afraid to make a damn good 🍆 parm.

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Eggplant, not dicks, you sicko.