One of Columbia County’s most serene stretches of unspoiled open land can be found at the border of Claverack and Churchtown. County Route 12 bisects two vast, undeveloped fields—uncluttered by anything but one small barn, a handful of cows, a couple of Percheron horses, and clusters of grazing deer.
So when residents suddenly saw earthworks underway on the north side of CR12, there was naturally some alarm and upset.
However, it now appears that the plans for this valued landscape is not cause for alarm, and maybe something quite welcome. Minutes of the County Planning Board from last February reveal that the Rockefeller-backed Foundation for Agricultural Integrity is establishing a dairy farm there, to be limited to a hoop barn, greenhouse, and farm store/farmstand. “We’ll be able to walk in and get fresh milk and cheese,” said one enthusiastic neighbor on Taghkanic-Churchtown Road, who tipped me to the plan.
With Churchtown having lost its general store some years ago, it also may be nice for this sleepy corner of the County to have something of a gathering spot. It’s sort of a shame to see anything built on this greenspace, but at least this will maintain its pastoral character—rather than being littered with spec homes; and if they’ll serve their cream with a side of coffee, they’ll get my business...
The board of Acres Co-op has announced to supporters that organizer Peter Pehrson has “resigned from the board and the co-op” after he and a “majority of the board disagreed on how to proceed” in creating a cooperative food market in Hudson.
Some signs of friction between the Board and its director are evident in the message, which otherwise praises Pehrson’s vision as an “inspiring” attempt to address “real needs.”
But the Board suggests that it was mistaken when it “assumed that [Pehrson] understood all that this project would require – the nuts-and-bolts as well as the good ideas. We followed his lead, more or less uncritically. When it came time to commit to the lease, however, we had only a fraction of the money required for inventory, equipment, and other expenses needed to establish a store.”
This comes on the heels of two false starts on market locations—one uptown, near the 7th Street park, and downtown, at the former Hudson Electric. Finding itself at a late stage in this year’s growing season, the Acres Board concludes that “it would be self-defeating to open without adequate funds to operate for at least a year.”
Acres has thus suspended activity to devote itself to formulating a more “realistic plan” while promising to “refund what remains of membership fees received.” (It isn’t indicated how large or small those remains might be.)
Meanwhile, a non-coop market along the lines of Guido’s in Great Barrington is said by some to be the goal of the new owners of the former Ackerman’s location in the uppermost block of Warren Street. Also, the Filli family from Claverack is reportedly exploring the idea of occupying a building currently owned by Eric Galloway in the 400 block, though questions about the buildout of the proposed location remain. (Experience advises against any breath being held over market and hotel rumors in Hudson, though one can always hope.)
And of course, the Hudson Farmer’s Market is open and seemingly thriving on Saturday’s. It remains, however, that Hudson still has not had a steady food market in town since the early 1990s.
Handpicked Nationhas a web feature up about Grazin’ in Hudson, including an extensive interview with manager Andrew (Chip) Chiapinelli explaining their “farm-to-table direct” philosophy and status as the only Animal Welfare Approved restaurant in the entire United States.
Claims about organic, sustainable, locally-sourced and humane food practices are notoriously hard to verify, but this place is the real deal.
Mid-Hudson News is spreading the word that $1 million in Federal funding is "being made available to enhance the competitiveness of New York specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, maple, honey and horticulture crops.”
Grants will range from $30,000-$100,000 each to government units, “not-for-profits, and educational institutions” for “research and grower education, food safety and marketing focused projects” intended to boost the State’s estimated $1 billion specialty crop industry... According to the State, New York ranks in terms of gross revenues, 2nd for apples ($224 million), 2nd for maple syrup ($17.8M), 3rd for wine and grape juice ($58.4M), 3rd for cabbage ($54.5M) and 4th for tart cherries and pears ($7.3M).
Check out this new packaging from pickle giant Vlasic, a subsidiary of Pinnacle Foods—which also owns Bird’s Eye, Aunt Jemima, Swanson and Lender’s Bagels among other things, and is in turn owned by the multibillion financial group Blackstone Group.*
Someone in Vlasic’s marketing department realized that artisinal, farmers’ market “look” would be a good move in the current market... And indeed, the packaging did momentarily fool me into thinking that Aunt Mabel canned these in her root cellar high in the Catskills, or something like that.
Major food companies have been biting natural food store style for a while now. Even the potato chip aisle of the supermarket is now crammed with sea-salt encrusted fried taters packaged in plastic that looks vaguely like a paper bag. And there is, of course, also a blog devoted solely to tracking this stuff.
Anyway, a term for this is needed, along the lines of “astroturfing” (for fake grassroots groups organized by big business). Probably one already exists, but for the moment and for lack of a better term, I’m going with f’artisanal—for fake artisinal. Or maybe that should be phartisinal, the “ph” standing for “phony.” (I’m leaning toward the f’, as the apostrophe lends it that extra ersatz air.)
Expect to see a lot more f’artisinal or phartisinal products on your market shelves in the next few months and years. As noted at Man Are We Screwed,
Marketers know that consumers buy into this artisan imagery. More than 800 new food products have christened themselves artisan something-or-other in the past five years, reports researcher Datamonitor. While fewer than 80 new foods dubbed themselves artisan just four years ago, the number more than doubled to nearly 200 in 2010.
“The word artisan suggests that the product is less likely to be mass-produced,” says Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor. “It also suggests the product may be less processed and perhaps better tasting and maybe even be better for you.”
As even USA Todayhas noted by now, you can start your day with a Starbucks Artisan Breakfast Sandwich, snack on Frito-Lay’s Artisan Recipe Tostitos, and have dinner in front of the TV with a Domino’s Artisan Pizza. For at least 20 years now, the real genius of American consumer capitalism has been its ability to quickly spot “fringe” trends which have mainstream marketing potential.
(Exhibit A: Urban Outfitters. Way back in the mid-’90s, I started work on a script for a never-achieved movie tentatively entitled The Thrifters. The story was about bunch of impoverished Williamsburg/Lower East Side hipsters who unknowingly get hired by a shady marketing guy to roam the country’s secondhand and vintage shops, prospecting for thriftstore finds. The marketing guy hasn’t told them that he works for J. Screw, which plans to convert their coolhunting into mainstream merchandising millions... They’d eventually wise up and sour on the enterprise, with their road trip then heading into Thelma & Louise or U Turn territory. The plot might have been slightly novel c. 1995; today it would just be a shrug-inducing documentary of existing reality...)
And even before this f’artisinal/phartisinal trend crests, already it’s being over: The New York Timesthis past week announced that authenticity is over—even as others try to reassert the validity and integrity of handmade goods.Take that, West Elm... Meanwhile, the phenomenon is hardly new. As Paul Goodman wrote more than 50 years ago in The Empire City:
If I was ready to vomit in those earlier days, what dirty words must I emply to mention the decades of 1920-1940, the sabbath of publicity and advertising, and every word of it an insult to honor and intelligence? Even the conceivable perfections of life are trivial; but what a degrading, ruinous and wasted effort to try for a single one in this sinkk of corruption! Who could have a clean taste?
Or, per a suggestion of a Gawker commenter, as Bill Hicks put it:
* A small-but-not-entirely-unexpected irony: per Wikipedia, Vlasic did actually grow out of a small local business based in Detroit, founded by a Croatian immigrant named Franjo Vlašić roughly 100 years ago.
Does healthy, organic food cost more than “regular” food? And what’s a hamburger supposed to cost around here, anyway?
Ever since Grazin’ revitalized a formerly-empty restaurant space on Warren Street, one has heard more than a few hyperbolic discussions about prices, with little actual relationship to the reality of the 21st Century cost of delivering a decent meal.
The chart below collects some representative menu prices for burgers in the region. For the purposes of a fair comparison, the price of a side of fries was included if those don’t come automatically with the burger:
As the hard numbers above show, the price of a burger in these parts can range from a low of $5.50 to a high of $13. The average burger price of the 15 establishments list above is $9.98—precisely 3 cents higher than than that of the Grazin’ all-organic, Animal Welfare Certifed burger.
In short, getting a healthy, organic, responsibly-created, locally-sourced, farm-to-table burger is no more expensive than eating at most any other non-fastfood restaurant in the area... which just points up the irrationality of some of the anti-organic voices in our midst. Those who denounce $9-$10 for a burger as outrageous clearly haven’t been getting out much lately.
Now some Rush Limbaugh listeners may cry foul, noting that they could get a slider and fries at McDonald’s or Burger King for even less than any of the prices above. Yes, you could... except those aren’t hamburgers. Those are reprocessed sewage patties masquerading as food. If you eat them regularly, you will almost certainly die early. And the price of that to your family and society far exceeds anything that buying organic ever could.
Shuttered since 2009, a Hudson institution reopened tonight as Grazin’—featuring ingredients almost entirely sourced from the most forward-looking growers within shooting distance of their Park location. (For example: Hamburger buns and cheese from Hawthorne Valley in Harlemville; ice cream and yogurt from the Hesse’s Milk Thistle Farm in Ghent, beer from Crossroads Brewery in Athens, produce and nuts from The Berry Farm and Tiera in Chatham, and of course meat from their own Grazin' Angus Acres.)
With burger plates that provide a solid day’s worth of nutrition starting at $9.95, it appears that the new proprietors are on their way to achieving their vision of delivering hyperlocal, healthy, farm-to-table meals at a reasonable price.
ABOVE: Nicole Vidor, Rainer Judd & friend dig in; an already-full counter scene; and co-owner/farmer Dan Gibson with manager/firefighter “Chip” Chiappinelli.
After a frustrating wait, word is that the I.R.S. has finally cleared away the remaining liens left over from the former owner of Hudson’s Diamond Street Diner, which was seized by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finances in the Fall of 2009. This in turn clears a path for the diner to be revitalized by its new owners, the Gibsons of Grazin’ Angus Acres in Ghent.
Grazin’ is reknowned for grass-fed, biodynamic, animal welfare approved beef, raised with no hormones or antibiotics or GMOs (and said to have provided the only meat served at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in Rhinebeck). Organic ice cream and eggs are also in the offing, presumably at a reasonable price point since the owners are also producers. The farm’s website is here, and the diner’s website will be here.
With a lot of hard work, they may be able to open in time to catch some of the Fall season; when the diner closed, the owners (or seizers) failed to turn off the water, causing all of the pipes to burst. Otherwise, an early 2012 launch may be more likely... at which time, the articles (and arguments) about who has the best hamburger in the Hudson Valley will start getting slung around like hash browns on a griddle.
In the meantime, their products can be found regionally at the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, Honest Weight Food Co-op, or at the greenmarkets in NYC. For some rave reviews, check out the Yelp comments.
The former Diamond Street Diner (forcibly closed in 2009 under less-than-honorable circumstances) was acquired at auction today by a pair of accomplished Columbia County organic farmers.
The new Ghent owners—who supplied the only meat served at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding—plan to add a local “farm-to-chef” angle to the usual diner fare. No timetable for reopening has been set yet; but the diner has always been an important part of the community’s life, making this excellent news for Hudson business and stomachs.
Our region is fast becoming both a high-end breadbasket for gourmet New York City restaurants featuring top-quality ingredients, and also a culinary destination in itself. And for the most part, this is a great thing—as much for our economy as for our landscapes and our stomachs.
But as that status rises, so does the risk that excess and affectation will overrun the honest enjoyment of good, heathy food made well.
To that end, this controversial new article in The Atlantic Monthly is must-reading for Hudson Valley foodies, even though most will howl at it like an animal being led to slaughter.
In Fed Up: The Moral Crusade Against Foodies, critic B. R. Myers argues convincingly and searingly—pun intended—that “gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony.” Tweaking author Francine Prose (and the foodie movement’s habit of reporting non-critically on itself), Myers writes:
Not surprisingly, [Prose] regards gluttony primarily as a problem of overeating ... In fact the Catholic Church’s criticism has always been directed against an inordinate preoccupation with food—against foodie-ism, in other words ... A disinterested writer would likely have done the subject more justice.
The author reviews a host of recent books by chefs, foodies, and other authors like Prose, and with genuine flair pronounces them not merely lacking literary worth, but also any awareness of their own vanities and hypocrisies. From the elevation of gluttony into a quasi-religion, to the pretentions of ostentatious connoisseurship, to the false invocation of “tradition” to justify self-indulgence, Myers racks up telling point after point:
The Roman historian Livy famously regarded the glorification of chefs as the sign of a culture in decline. I wonder what he would have thought of The New York Times’ efforts to admit ‘young idols with cleavers’ into America’s pantheon of food-service heroes.
But Myers’ most biting critiques are saved for the foodie movement’s smug and self-affirming embrace of cruelty:
Restaurant reviews are notorious for touting $100 lunches as great value for money. The doublespeak now comes in more pious tones, especially when foodies feign concern for animals. Crowding around to watch the slaughter of a pig—even getting in its face just before the shot—is described by Bethany Jean Clement (in an article in Best Food Writing 2009) as “solemn” and “respectful” behavior. Pollan writes about going with a friend to watch a goat get killed. “Mike says the experience made him want to honor our goat by wasting as little of it as possible.” It’s teachable fun for the whole foodie family. The full strangeness of this culture sinks in when one reads affectionate accounts [of] children clamoring to kill their own cow—or wanting to see a pig shot, then ripped open with a chain saw: “YEEEEAAAAH!”
Again, many of us who support local, sustainable agriculture or just nutritious food—including the restaurants, growers, and distributors in our region who make it possible—may find this stiff rinse of mouthwash has a bit too much sting. No sacred cow is spared here, not Michael Pollan, nor even Alice Waters... But Myers’ polemic is an essential read for anyone who wants to get it right, cutting out the excesses and vanities of the foodie movement while keeping the more rigorous, useful core intact.
Columbia County’s own Harvest Spirits (makers of Core Vodka, et al.) are featured on the front of today's Times Dining section, in a story about specialty distillers in the Northeast. (Pictured here at Strongtree in Hudson.) Link here.