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

So, what the hell is a Masters of Food Studies?

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Last week, I was accepted into NYU’s Masters of Food Studies program, starting Fall 2017. I’ll be going part time (not quitting my job) and it will take me anywhere from two to three years to complete. Ever since I shared the news, many people are confused about what the hell I’ll be doing, so I wanted to help answer some of the most common questions I’ve received below:

Q: Will you be bringing me soufflés?
A: No. This is not a culinary degree. Cooking is not part of the curriculum, although I’m sure I’ll be cooking more on my own due to being a poor grad student.

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Q: So if you’re not bringing me soufflés, what will you be doing?
A: According to NYU, studying “the ways in which individuals, communities, and societies produce, distribute, and consume food”.

Q: Okay, that’s pretty vague. Can you be more specific?
A: Gladly. The program has three suggested tracks: Media & Cultural Analysis, Policy & Advocacy, and Business & Social Entrepreneurship. I’m most interested in the latter, but I plan to take classes across all areas.

Q: What kind of classes?
A: Some core courses include Food & Culture, Food Policy & Politics, and Nutrition in Food Studies. Within the Business & Social Entrepreneurship track, I’ll take things like Economics of Food: Consumer Behaviors and Food Entrepreneurship. I’ll also be taking some of my courses at the NYU Stern School of Business like Financial Accounting and Foundations of Social Entrepreneurship.

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Q: But it’s not an MBA? Or a JD? Or an MD? Wait, what’s the point of this? What does someone do after they get this degree?
A: Nope, it’s not one of the more common graduate degrees that many of my friends and colleagues have gone on to obtain. Kudos to them, but if you’ve been reading this blog or know me at all, you know that food is my passion and this is where I belong.

People who graduate from the program go into a lot of different fields like food writing, food marketing, supply chain management, operations, nonprofit work, advocacy, and entrepreneurial food ventures.

Q: What do YOU want to do after you get this degree?
A: Great question. Right now, I’m really interested in reducing food waste, urban farming, and food policy. There’s a hell of a lot of problems in the US food system, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there. I’m sure my interests will change 100 times as I learn more about the issues and what I can do to help solve them.

Q: Cool. Thanks for the clarifications.
A: giphy1

 

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.

The Museum of Ice Cream is as great as it sounds

OMG did you know there’s a Museum of Ice Cream now in New York City? Are you just finding out about this? Do you think that would be a fun thing to do?

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Too bad. By the time the news hit The New York Times, all 30,000 tickets for the limited-time, summer-only pop up museum were sold out.

Thanks to being a loyal Gothamist reader, I found out about the museum on July 9th and promptly bought four tickets at $15/each face value. I put my tickets up for sale last week on Craigslist for a day for $150, a 900% markup, just to see if they would sell. I had 5 inquiries within 24 hours, and one threatening email telling me, “That’s honestly ridiculous, greedy and downright outrageous. I hope you have zero luck selling these tickets.” While the lady had a point, she clearly didn’t realize how far people are willing to go to experience this limited-time engagement.

If you’re shit out of luck and don’t want shell out one hundred fifty smackaroos, don’t fret: Little Girl Big Mouth is here to show you exactly what you’re missing. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

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Room 1: Ice cream! That you eat!

I had a pretty deep rooted fear that the Museum of Ice Cream was just going to involve looking at ice cream and talking about ice cream and there wouldn’t be any real ice cream consumption. Thankfully, my suspicions were proved wrong within two seconds of entering the building. You start the tour with a custom scoop of ice cream made especially for the museum.

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Blue Marble with Kellogg’s: Organic Vanilla with Froot Loops, Lime Zest, Marshmallows, Passion Fruit Jam

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Scoop shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different local ice cream vendors will be offering scoops of custom creations depending on when you visit the museum. Scoop schedule:

7.29 – 8.8: Blue Marble & Kellogg’s
8.10 – 8.15: Oddfellows Ice Cream Co.
8.17 – 8.22: McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream & Maman
8.24 – 8.31: Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
8.8 & 8.15: Black Tap

Room 2: Edible balloons that aren’t ice cream but are still fun

This room is called the “cone room” because it’s decorate with a bunch of waffle cone paraphernalia, but the real star of the show is the candy balloon filled with helium that they hand each patron. The balloon is pretty sticky and disgusting but the results are fun:

Room 3: Creating the world’s biggest sundae with freakish non-melting ice cream

This room was a dud. They tell you some history about ice cream and then ask everyone to pick up a sticky scooper and spoon out some magical non-melting ice cream to throw on top of a goblet. You don’t get to put anything in your mouth in this room, so it is inherently less fun. They also encourage you to take a selfie with the oversized bowl of unknown substance. Non-melting ice cream is an abomination and it upsets me.

 

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I know I look happy but I am truly terrified of the non-melting ice cream

Room 4: The chocolate room, where you can put things in your mouth again

Chocolate! Everyone loves chocolate! This was mostly a space filled with projector screens showing images of flowing liquid chocolate. There was a chocolate fountain in the corner but they tell you in advance not to touch it or drink from it, which I get for hygenic reasons, but still a bummer. Thankfully, there are individually wrapped Dove chocolates all over this room for you to eat while marveling at the melting imagery on the walls.

Room 5: This is what you came for: the (fake) sprinkle pool

The sprinkle pool at the MOIC is probably going to be in the top 5 things instagrammed in NYC this summer. The museum has been pushing this image hard in their promotional efforts, and for good reason: the thing is pretty fucking cool and everyone looks glamorous in a backdrop of rainbows. The caveat: it’s not real sprinkles. The pool is filled with little plastic beads that you find in between your toes hours later. Next to the pool, there are plastic bins filled with gummies, more chocolate, and other sugar delivery devices, so you can literally have your cake and eat it too, or in this case, have your candy and eat it in a pool full of imitation sprinkles.

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Dad wondering what the hell this is

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Even if I paid $15 just to get this photo, kind of worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Room 6: Take this pill and eat this ice cream that came out of nowhere, you’ll be fine, I swear.

As you enter this room, an attendant gives you a pellet of concentrated synsepalum ducificum, more commonly known as magic berries (you can buy them on Amazon for $15/pack). The chemicals in the pellet bind to the sweet receptors on your tongue and make sour food taste sweet for about a half hour. To test the effects, a spooky glove-covered hand appears from behind a wall and hands you tart frozen yogurt and lemon slices.

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Room 7: Tinder is here for some reason

The final room is sponsored in part by Tinder, which doesn’t have much to do with ice cream, but okay sure we’ll go with it. There’s a giant ice cream sandwich you can swing on and an ice cream scoop see-saw. But, again, nothing to put in your mouth, so kind of a lackluster finale.

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My parents are actually pretty cute on this giant ice cream sandwich

So that’s the museum! I got to put things in my (little girl big) mouth in 5 out of 7 rooms, and that’s more than I get in a normal museum, so this was an overall win. Go team!

 

 

A tradition continues: LGBM and family try Japanese KitKats

My brother recently traveled to Tokyo, and knowing my fascination with foreign junk foods, he brought back some treats: purple sweet potato KitKats:

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Apparently purple sweet potatoes are served whipped in a wonton wrapper?

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Ooohhh ahhhh presentation…

I first subjected my other family members to the confectionery experiment:

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And then summoned all of my bravery to try myself:

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See the full videos with all of the giggles and facial expressions here:

A Short Video Series: LGBM and Family Eat Weird New Zealand Gas Station Treats

While traveling with my family through New Zealand, we picked up some traditional and newly developed Kiwi snack foods at a local gas station. This gas station wasn’t quite as special as the one in Australia because that one had kangaroo tails in the freezer next to the ice cream.

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While we didn’t buy the frosty Aussie appendages, my family members were kind enough to sample their other New Zealand snacks on camera. Varying results below.

SPOILER ALERT – Pineapple lump face:

THE FULL REACTIONS:

Pineapple Lumps

Vanilla Shake M&Ms

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LGBM is going DOWN UNDER!

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G’day mates. As of this Friday, I will be embarking on a two week journey to Sydney and Ayers Rock in Australia and Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand with the fam. I will eat shrimp on the barbie and Vegemite (but not really) and whatever they eat in New Zealand. Are there kiwis in New Zealand or just the birds called kiwis? Is that an ignorant question?

Also, THIS:

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Baonana Split aka fried bao w/ice cream, fresh bananas, salted peanuts & Nutella from Belly Bao in Sydney. Yaaaaaaassss.

Any other reccos?