‘Food Forward’ PBS Series Debuts With ‘Urban Agriculture Across America’ Episode

cowsIn less than a century, the United States has gone from being a mostly agrarian society to an urbanized one. Most of us live in cities and, despite our growing cultural fascination with food, most Americans have no idea where the ingredients on their plate (or in that wrapper) are actually coming from.

That’s where “Food Forward” comes in. After a three-year effort, the premiere episode of this innovative new PBS series, as first reported by the Huffington Post, is airing nationally throughout April (see schedule after the jump). In “Urban Agriculture Across America,” the “Food Forward” crew travel from the Bay Area to Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City, talking to urban farming innovators such as Abeni Ramsey, a single mother in West Oakland.

Formerly relegated to feeding her family Top Ramen, Ramsey was inspired some years ago by a farm stand she spotted in her neighborhood, operated by West Oakland’s City Slicker Farms. As part of City Slickers’ initiative to nourish under-served communities, their staff and volunteers build garden boxes (designed for small-scale, intensive production) in residents’ yards.

Ramsey got her garden box and soon had a backyard full of produce. Next, she got chickens to provide her family with protein in the form of meat and eggs. Today, she’s the farm manager of the East Bay’s urban Dig Deep Farms. Dig Deep sells and delivers produce to local communities through its CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program and works in collaboration with Oakland’s acclaimed Flora restaurant.

Says Flora chef Rico Rivera, “We order the produce, she picks it and it’s here the next morning.” Adds Ramsey, “It’s a modern idea that you get all of your food from the store. People have been farming in cities…since there were cities.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user Martin Gommel]rooftop gardenJohn Mooney, chef and rooftop hydroponic farmer at Bell Book & Candle in Manhattan’s West Village, is another interesting subject as is urban beekeeper Andrew Coté, who collects specific blends from hives around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

While the idea of keeping bees in the midst of a metropolis may seem an unnecessary objective, or a somewhat precious craft food enterprise, it’s anything but, as Coté points out. “Bees help pollinate the city’s community and rooftop gardens as well as window boxes.” Localized honey also contains pollen that helps allergy sufferers living in these neighborhoods.

Of Detroit, “Food Forward” co-creator/producer Stett Holbrook says, “It blew my mind. It’s a city that has been devastated by industrial collapse and the exodus of half of its population, but the resilience of the residents still there to remake the city – literally from the ground up – was truly inspiring. Urban agriculture is a big part of the renaissance.”

According to its website, the objective of “Food Forward” is to “create a series that looks beyond the world of celebrity chefs, cooking competitions,” and formulaic recipe shows. From my perspective, it also goes beyond the seemingly endless variations on scintillating (not) reality series on baked good empires, riffs on “Homo sapiens vs. Arteriosclerosis” and “Twenty Crappy Things You Can Cook With Canned Goods.”

Instead, “Food Forward” looks at what it calls the “food rebels” across America – farmers, chefs, ranchers, fishermen, food artisans, scientists and educators – who are dedicated to changingurban farm the way we eat and finding more sustainable alternatives to how food is produced and procured.

“Food Forward” succeeds (if the pilot is any indication) in a way that documentaries of this genre haven’t (despite being excellent on all counts: see, “The Future of Food,” “Food, Inc.,” etc.).

It’s mercifully not about food elitism, either. Rather than leaving you depressed, angry or guilty, the show inspires, entertains and sends a message of hope. Future episodes will focus on school lunch reform, sustainable fishing and meat production and soil science. Some segments are animated, either to better illustrate a point or to engage a wider age demographic.

“Food Forward” is “written, produced and directed by a veteran team of journalists, cinematographers and storytellers that includes: director Greg Roden (PBS, FOX and National Geographic channel’s “Lonely Planet” and the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and San Francisco Chronicle); aforementioned creator-producer Holbrook (Food editor for Metro Silicon Valley and The Bohemian in Sonoma County, and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur and Chow.com); Brian Greene (Food Network, Discovery Channel, NBC), and director of photography David Lindstrom (PBS, National Geographic and Discovery channels).

On April 22, the pilot will air on WTTW in Chicago at 5:30 p.m. and WLIW in New York at 2:30 p.m. On April 28, it will air on Washington DC’s WETA at 5:30 p.m. For future episodes, check your local PBS listings, visit the “Food Forward” website or www.PBS.org/foodforward.


SkyMall Monday: Leaf Rake Hands

skymall monday leaf rake hands gadlingAs kids, it’s natural to imagine ourselves as superheroes. Heck, some of us still fantasize about that as adults. How cool would it be to have super powers and to defend the world against supervillians. Sadly, however, reality is such that this isn’t really possible. Even if you tried to be a superhero, you’d probably just end up in trouble with the law. At the end of the day, there are no supervillians and vigilante justice is frowned upon. So, even if you had otherworldly powers, you’d still be stuck in your humdrum life. Even if I could fly, I’d still be writing SkyMall Monday every week, albeit from different places around the world. Even this week’s featured SkyMall product, which resembles Wolverine’s claws, will simply make landscaping your yard only slightly cooler. Even X-Men need to keep a tidy lawn, and that’s why you need the Leaf Rake Hands.Raking leaves is tedious, backbreaking work. No matter how much you rake, more leaves just fall from the trees. Most rakes are flimsy and appear to have been made 30 years ago. Today’s leaves require modern solutions. While superpowers would help, manpower most important.

Think that rakes are perfectly designed for the task at hand? Believe that Wolverine probably hires a landscaping crew to clean his yard? Well, while you clean your gutters telepathically, we’ll be reading the product description:

The deep scoop design of the Leaf Rake Hands allows you to grab huge amounts of leaves, brush, or hedge clippings at one go. Simply grip the handles and scoop! The Leaf Rake Hands use the power of your forearms to make grabbing and lifting nearly effortless.

Finally, years of working out your forearms while browsing the internet have paid off.

You might not be able to be a superhero, but you can be a look like one as you handle your domestic chores. Those leaves aren’t going to rake themselves and that spandex suit that you made for yourself deserves to be worn at least once.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Paris hosts annual agriculture fair February 19th-27th

Paris agriculture fairParis may be one of the global epicenters of fashion, but next week, the city will be more sow’s ear than silk purse (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). The The New York Times reports that the 48th annual Salon de l’Agriculture will run Feb. 19th to the 27th at the Porte de Versailles. The festival is a showcase for France’s finest livestock (over 3,500 animals will be in attendance) and farm-related events and activities. The featured line-up includes rare cow breeds; sheep-herding competitions; gardening workshops, traditional music, produce stands, farm machinery displays, a children’s area, and panel discussions.

The Salon’s theme for this year is “Farming and Food: The French Model,” inspired by UNESCO, which last November added the French gastronomic meal to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (whew). Food samples and farmstead products will also be available from the winners of the Concours Général Agricole, an annual competition of France’s signature food and drink products. And keep an eye out for Nicolas Sarkozy; the French president traditionally makes an appearance at the festival.

P.S. The twelve euro entry fee may just be the best deal in Paris. Try getting a good cheese for that.

SkyMall Monday: Slug Trap

This is the time of year when we all stop focusing on which sweatpants are most comfortable for when we’re watching TV and begin thinking about tending to our gardens. Am I right or am I right? From flowers to herbs to fruits and vegetables, it’s time for us all to thaw out our green thumbs. Those tomatoes aren’t going to grow upside down by themselves.

As we all look at our neglected patches of grass and soil, barren and ravaged from another long winter, we must develop solid plans for rejuvenation. In the past, SkyMall Monday taught you how to fend off one villain of the gardener with the Solar Powered Mole Repeller. Today, however, we direct our attention to an even more dastardly scourge of the backyard: slugs.

Slugs have wreaked havoc on human gardens since the dawn of time.* Don’t let their speed (or lack thereof) fool you. Slowly, methodically and with blatant disregard for all that we hold dear, slugs destroy gardens for no other reason than they just find destruction so erotically thrilling.** But how can one lowly gardener battle such an epic beast? For those of us who have tried to defeat slugs with traditional methods such as guerrilla warfare, trade embargoes and verbal abuse, we know that they are resilient. Thankfully, I’ve called in reinforcements. Leave it to SkyMall to finally figure out how to defeat our slug overlords. This week, we’re unleashing the Slug Trap.Slugs may be slow, but they are crafty. They lure you into a false sense of security and then strike when you least expect it. After a summer rain, you will often see slugs scattered around your yard seemingly overcome by the deluge. However, they are simply absorbing the Earth’s life force through the water.*** Strengthened and emboldened, the slugs unleash fire and brimstone on your flowers and crops. This is not only disheartening, it is life-threatening. For those of us New York City residents who rely on our gardens to sustain us through the long winter months, a slug attack in the summer can mean starvation for our elderly and children come winter.

Think that slugs can just be stepped on or ignored? Think that some salt will solve your problems? I bet you never had to stare a slug in the eye and wait until he blinked first. But, I’ll humor you (not that there is anything funny about slugs in your garden). Let’s take a look at the product description:

Slugs and snails can do a lot of damage in your garden, so use this charming slug trap to stop them in their tracks. No chemicals needed — simply bury the stem of the resin mushroom slug trap into the ground and add a few tablespoons of sugar water or your favorite beer to the tray inside. Instead of chewing on your plants, these destructive pests will be lured inside the slug trap where they’ll meet their end out of sight.

Beer is supposed to make you stronger, wittier and more attractive. The fact that beer kills slugs is proof that they are evil incarnate. And when evil incarnate is finally vanquished by beer and/or sugar water, it is best that they expire out of sight. Since slugs have no souls, their carcasses can turn humans to stone.****

Look, if you think you’re so smart, you can ignore the slug occupation and stand idly by as they destroy your garden, steal your wife and eat your children. But don’t come knocking on my slug shelter when your garden is overrun by those slimy angels of death. You’re on your own, buddy. I’m going to defend myself with the Slug Trap.

* Mike Barish does not employ a fact checker.
** Mike Barish has a wild imagination.
*** Mike Barish was never much of a biology expert.
**** Mike Barish may have dementia.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Buy seeds during your travels – Souvenir tip

If you love gardening, it’s fun to purchase seeds of flowering plants from distant lands to add uncommon beauty and interest to your landscape. If the plant blooms, you’ll get loads of compliments or questions, and that allows you to share the memories of your travels.

Try to purchase seeds that closely match your climate or gardening zone, but many times plants will flower in your area during a different season that closely matches their native land.

Pro tip: You can also grow them indoors or in your greenhouse. Harvest seeds from plants for the following year and to share with friends.

[Ed’s note: be sure to avoid introducing invasive species into your region!]