Summer Solstice: Restaurants Farm Fertile Ground in New York City
The summer solstice marks the official start to summer, and for many cultures around the world, this seasonal change is met with celebrations of fertility, abundance, and plentiful sun. For New Yorkers, however, the start to summer signifies the arrival of days spent wading through thick air, dreaded sojourns on sweaty subway platforms, and staggering ConEd bills--reflections of our addictions to air-conditioning. In a city of concrete, brick, and steel, it is all too easy to forget the greener pleasures of summer--especially when contact with nature is limited to bodega flower stands and grocery store produce aisles.
Alexia Nader Happy Hour gets some help from the garden at Bobo
However, there are some places in the city that have made an effort to sow a few patches of green onto this gray patchwork. The following is an exploration of some New Yorkers' attempts at cultivating produce within the city's limits. While many restaurants and markets boast locally sourced food items, these urban pioneers are actively breaking soil in the five boroughs, making substantial contributions to their kitchens and farmstands from their own urban pastures. The question remains: Are all of these attempts genuine efforts to bring fresher, more sustainably sourced ingredients to a city with staggering consumption problems? Or, as the skeptics claim, marketing ploys, pitched to the politically correct urban liberal with bad habits, a guilty conscience, and a large bank account. You be the judge...
Rosemary's is a newcomer to the New York restaurant world (it opened just last Friday) but is already the subject of much speculation. The restaurant boasts a rooftop garden with beautifully manicured rows of vegetables planted in traditional soil beds. However, because the garden was only planted on May 5, many of the herbs and vegetables in the garden are not yet ready to be harvested, thus the restaurant must still source a fair amount of produce from outside their farm. With a "no reservation" policy and a packed house each night, it could be challenging to sample the offerings at this locale. Rosemary's big brother, Bobo, also has a bit of a green thumb. Although not entirely self-sustaining, Bobo grows a variety of herbs in its back garden, including rosemary, lavender, mint, and basil, which are used to supplement the herb consumption of its bar program. This West Village restaurant is also home to an apiary whose hives produce 50 pounds of honey twice a year that is collected for use in Bobo's Meade and various desserts.
Bell Book & Candle is a great example of a restaurant that approaches the constraints of urban space with ingenuity, sourcing 60 percent of the produce served in their restaurant from their own roof. The garden was not built with traditional soil-based planting methods but relies on aeroponic towers. These towers--futuristic white pods that evoke a sci-fi landscape--sprout everything from herbs to lettuce and tomatoes. The plants are fed a nutrient-rich water-based solution that's free of pesticides or artificial additives. Furthermore, when produce is ripe for the picking, it's plucked and consumed same-day, providing a product that's richer in taste than crops that are prematurely harvested for shipment.