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Festival of New Ideas: The Art of Food and Farming

The New Museum may be known to most thanks to its impressive architecture – the cool translucent-stacked-boxes-like building is a welcome visual treat on the Bowery. But the museum and its standout structure house contemporary art, which means that however cool it may be, it’s likely that not all of New York City’s diverse population is interacting with it. Enter the Festival of Ideas for the New City, the five-day-long “experiment” bringing together groups of all kinds – downtown organizations, community groups and the like – to imagine a future, better New York City and to discuss the ways in which to make this utopia possible. The focus may seem to veer toward art and community betterment, but NYC foodies should take note: the May 7 StreetFest (happening along the Bowery and in Sara Roosevelt Park) is just as much about food and the complex joys and issues that envelop it.

However you prefer to interact with your food – whether it be viscerally, quizzically or actively – you’ll find something to sate you. Want to imbibe the best that Brooklyn has to offer? Sip some artisanal sodas from Brooklyn Soda Works or on-tap kombucha from Kombucha Brooklyn. Learn about rooftop and unique gardens from those who maintain them -- Bowery Mission’s Rooftop Urban Farming Project and Truck Farm especially -- to see that city-grown food doesn’t have to be relegated to the kitchen windowsill or fire escape (though you can learn how to care for such limited-space plants from Tenth Acre Farms). Revive your passion for baked goods by checking in with Audrey Berman’s mobile bakery thesis or with Hot Bread Kitchen, where flatbreads are the on the day’s syllabus.

Sugar Baby Watermelon Seed Pack by Ryan Cronin Sugar Baby Watermelon Seed Pack by Ryan Cronin

Yearning for the hands-on approach? Learn how to fridge pickle with author Kate Payne, or learn about seeds while making plantable art with the Hudson Valley Seed Library (where I work, incidentally) and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (who will help you fashion a bag for your seeds and provide a map for you to mark your personal garden or seed bomb target). Watch the Greenhorns create a big-top tent out of the city’s recycled fabric, which will eventually house the seed circus, an agrarian celebration. Discover how to spontaneously cook using local ingredients with Anne Apparu or consider community gardens while feasting on dishes made from hyper-local ingredients affiliated with the StreetFest’s park location.  Even foragers can rejoice – join Cathy Erway (of Not Eating Out In NY) to make pesto from park-foraged dandelion greens and homegrown arugula.

You can think critically about the state of both America’s and New York City’s food and their potential betterment with Meatless Monday’s hopeful “Meatless Monday – Mission Accomplished” celebration; explore the place of honeybees in the greater ecosystem with HoneybeeLives or use maps and other illustrations to visualize both the region’s present and future food systems (with Green my Bodega and Foodshed Market).

The nature of the events appears jovial (and tasty) but also hopeful: while guaranteed fun, they speak to a more critical exploration of local food, and the faith that New York City can improve its own. It’s only natural that food issues be a major part of a community-betterment street festival -- what is a healthy community without an honest, healthy food system?

Alison Baitz is a writer currently learning how to farm in the Hudson Valley.

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