Last week, we discussed the pros and cons of current CSAs and how well they fit into the lifestyle of today’s consumer. We spoke with Josh Cook from Nextdoororganics and got the inside story as he explained his new CSA model and what it means for the future of urban farming. If you’re interested in supporting the growing local community that exists right here in NYC, then this interview is a must-read!
What influenced you to start Nextdoorganics?
Nextdoorganics was dreamt up about a year ago when I met my business partner Kris Schumacher here in NYC. He was initially motivated to create a business that used land in a more sustainable way. I came to the project wanting to bring a community organizing background to urban farming, and our third partner, Joanne Colan, who joined us in March, is a professional nutritionist an journalist who is a very articulate advocate for local and sustainable food. Nextdoorganics touches on each of these passions and more and seems to be in a constant state of reinvention as we try to find a good place in the food chain from seed to mouth.
Itʼs a pretty unique concept. How does the land network function?
We are currently building a “land network” which has started with our farm outside Providence, RI. Thatʼs where we have been farming this season. We have been reaching out to homeowners, schools, and landowners to begin bringing in more land near the areas where we are selling: for now, New York City. Our goal with the land network is to be able to source as much of what we sell from as near by as possible.
Why do you think itʼs important to focus on building a land network?
We feel that our food comes from way too far away, travels thousands of miles to get to us, and then isnʼt as fresh as it should be when we eat it. We are building a land network, and advocating for local farming generally, because we want local food systems to become stronger and more sustainable. By growing and distributing food in our own neighborhoods, we are sharing the many skills of farming, supporting local jobs, and insofar as our farming is organic and natural (which we strive for), it is environmentally beneficial.
How does it fit into the CSA model that weʼre used to?
Weʼve taken a typical CSA model (pay for a full season upfront in exchange for the freshest, most-direct weekly produce) and tweaked it a bit to make it more customer friendly. Often CSA members get stiffed with 10lbs of eggplants in a week or the initial cost (which can range from $200-$700) can be too high. We tried to create a CSA model that is low-risk for our members (automatic weekly online payments, anytime cancelation) but is also very easy for us as farmers and distributors (predictable harvest quantities, little waste). We feel this is something our members have appreciated and that could help pave the way for creating stable, sustainable food systems.
What is the drive that keeps you guys focused on your mission?
Our mission is to help build sustainable local food systems. In judging how well we are doing, Nextdoorganics has a triple bottom line: we believe that urban farming must be profitable to be sustainable, it must be environmentally sound, and it must support local communities in terms of jobs and training. We are driven to fulfill all three parts of our mission because weʼve seen the results of a factory food system that is thousands of miles wide, detrimental to the environment and our health, and has isolated individuals and their communities from one of the most basic parts of our lives: the food we eat.
What are some of the biggest obstacles that you face?
There are many, as in any start-up. One practical obstacle that Iʼve found could stymie urban farming plans in NYC and other parts of the country, is the levels of contamination and pollution found in large cities. Iʼve talked with folks farming right here in NYC who have run up against heavy metal contamination, acid rain, and all sorts of issues that farmers in the countryside donʼt deal with that often. If bringing our farming closer to us is important, then making our cities more nature-friendly will be critical.
What have been some of the rewards of what you do?
There are a lot of positives when working in the food/farming business. Aside from spending a lot of time working outdoors, which I love, Iʼve met a lot of great folks in the food scene in NYC. Aside from that, there are our CSA members who love to share what they are cooking with the food we are growing and providing them as well as the folks who have recently discovered healthy/natural/organic foods and tell me often about how much better they feel because theyʼve changed their lifestyles/diets.
What have you learned since starting Nextdoorganics?
Iʼve learned that there are a lot of steps between seed and meal. Itʼs been humbling learning about the ways to properly grow all the various things we eat. Farming is so much more complex than itʼs given credit for. Every plant has its unique characteristics and doing it well takes years of practice.
What is your vision for the future?
We hope that Nextdoorganics continues to grow as a company that links farmers with under-used land and sells their produce as locally as possible. We plan to continue developing our model in New York City as well as other parts of the Northeast. We intend to continue to shape it in a way so that we can expand into lots of communities in a scalable and sustainable way.
Folks can now sign up for our Winter CSA which will feature freshly baked breads, farm cheeses, organic eggs, and a variety of items from local/NYC producers of jams, sauces, granolas, oatmeal, pickled vegetables, dry soup mixes, and herbs/spices. Everything you need to keep your pantry stocked throughout the winter.
Sign up is at www.nextdoorganics.com/eatblog comments powered by Disqus