The Farmer in the D
In today's modern world, Detroit is the epicenter of the auto industry. It is, after all, the Motor City. To me, and to many Detroiters, there's so much more to the city than just Ford & GM. There's Motown, Techtown, Mexicantown, world class museums, iconic architecture, and fine food & drink. Detroit is so rich in culture, innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship.
Even if you're not a foodie or working in the food industry, it's hard to miss the fact that Detroit is a major player in the urban farming movement. It's a little known fact, however, that back in the day- like in the 18th century- Detroit's economy depended very much on farming (just look up ribbon farming later for a mini history lesson). Amidst the volatility in Detroit's government, infrastructure and manufacturing in the last few decades, the city is returning to its roots in agriculture and changing the way we think about food and community.
One of the many farmers making organic agriculture happen in Detroit is Andy Chae of Fisheye Farms. Andy grows amazing produce in Historic West Village on Detroit's East Side. The care he puts into growing and the quality he produces allow him to supply some of Detroit's notable restaurants, such as Craftwork, Rose's Fine Food, and Selden Standard. I had a chance to pick his brains a bit about what his experience has been as an urban farmer in Detroit. In the following interview we get a peek into his world, and hopefully it inspires all of you to go out and support our hardworking local organic farmers!
SD: How did you get into farming, specifically urban farming?
AC: First became aware of Urban Farming in 2012 when Detroit was getting a lot of attention around urban agriculture because of the Hantz Farm project (now the Hantz Woodland project). I was studying Political Science at DePaul University in Chicago and just started a class on Public Policy and Climate Change. I did my final paper and presentation on UA. After that class I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life. Become a farmer.
SD: Why detroit?
AC: Detroit was the first city that introduced me to UA and my family is from Metro Detroit. So it just made sense.
SD: What are some challenges you face as a farmer in the city?
AC: Scaling our farm up to a size that is financially sustainable is something we are working very hard on. But it isn't easy.
SD: What are some of the "wins" of farming in Detroit?
AC: Farming in Detroit connects you such a large community, there are a lot of farmers and people who care about out UA that make it a great place to be. It is also nice having access to the growing restaurant culture in the city and provides us with a great market for our produce.
SD: Future plans? Goals?
AC: Expand the farm, make a living from farming alone, take Feburarys off to travel.
SD: How can we support you and the urban farming community?
AC: Come see us at our farmers markets!
SD: How do you see the future of farming in Detroit?
AC: My hope is that farms will become common in neighborhoods in Detroit regardless of density or blight. Everyone should have access to fresh food grown in their neighborhoods!
So there you have it. There are many challenges to farming in a city environment, but it looks like the benefits far outweigh any difficulties. Now that you know, go out and support your local farmers!
In one of my most recent endeavors (girl gotta keep on hustling, you know?), I had the privilege of collaborating with Andy on a pop-up dinner featuring some of his amazing produce grown right across the street from me. The only way it's going to get any more local, guys, is if I grew all the produce myself in my own backyard, and we all know that's not going to happen (at least not anytime soon). I grabbed a friend from one of my other jobs with the promise of some cash and we got straight to work. Andy harvested some wonderful tomatoes that I used in a very basic spaghetti sauce, with lots of garlic, of course. I couldn't get myself to add very much to it because the flavor of the tomatoes shined on their own. They possessed unadulterated umami. Paired with hand made pasta, the sauce was perfect.
The food and the farm brought together a community of people. Everyone came out to support each other. Andy's mom, Susan Chae, set the tone for the magical ambiance: the tablescape, candlelight, china, and linens. Guests included family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, dining under a string of lights, among good company, on the land where most of the produce was grown. New friendships were formed. Many of us met up afterwards at the biergarten right down the street. I never imagined when I moved to West Village two years ago that all this would happen on my little street, in my little neighborhood, in my little life. It reminded me that this is why I do what I do: to build community. My pockets might be empty but my heart is so full. What else do you need? Perhaps just a glass of good Italian wine... and maybe something sweet!
Scroll to the bottom for a recipe for something light and delectable and don't forget to leave a comment! 💕
Toasted Pistachio Meringues (adapted from Manger)
Yield: about 15 3" meringues
- 8 large egg whites (240g), at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- A pinch of sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups (320g) sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped pistachios, toasted
- 1 tbs dried lavender
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Mix together Sugar and cornstarch in a separate bowl. With mixer running, slowly add sugar mix 1 or 2 tbs at a time into the egg whites until completely incorporated. Add salt and continue whipping at high speed until stiff peaks form. Prepare baking sheets by lining with Silpat or parchment paper. Using ice cream scoop or a large spoon, scoop meringues onto baking sheet to form approximately 3" mounds. Sprinkle each one with pistachios and dried lavender. Bake for one hour until meringues are dried and lightly toasted. Turn the oven off and leave meringues in the oven with door open for another 15 minutes and let cool.
Meringues should be dry and crispy on the outside and marshmallowy in the inside. They taste delicious on their own or served with ice cream, like I did. Use to decorate a cake, serve with fruit and/or whipped cream. The possibilities are endless!