Grown with Pride

June 7, 2019
Posted in Greenmarket

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and, essentially, the birth of the Pride movement in the United States. 

Since the opening of the first Greenmarket in 1976 at 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, GrowNYC has endeavored to create community spaces where everyone is welcome. At the Greenmarket, neighbors gather not only to buy fresh food, but to mingle and check in on each other. It creates a feeling of belonging; the composition of the many Greenmarket communities throughout the City reflects the invigorating diversity of NYC itself.

We are honored to count a number of LGBTQ Producers and stand workers among our farmer community.

Members of Transgenerational Farm, City Saucery, Moxie Ridge, and Rise & Root Farm have graciously shared with us their experiences as LGBTQ farmers, and every Tuesday during Pride Month, our Union Square Greenmarket publicity team will post one of their stories on the Union Square Greenmarket Instagram account.  

You can also read the unedited versions here on our blog. We’ll be updating it every week as they come in.

Our first Pride Month profile is with Jayne of Transgenerational Farm. Here’s the complete transcript:

GrowNYC:  How did you become a farmer?

Jayne: I come from a long line of conventional farmers in rural Kansas. My dad is a county extension agent, and as a kid my two older sisters and I were always involved in 4-H from ages 7-18.  I grew up in southwest Kansas where the prairies and wheat fields are so vast and flat you can see your dog run away for a week. My first jobs were working on local farms, and I learned how to drive a tractor before I could drive a car.

When I was a sophomore in college my uncle, a farmer, passed away from cancer most likely caused by conventional chemicals, and my family moved to the northeast part of the state to take over the farm. We grew conventional corn, wheat, soybeans, and beef cattle. I spent countless hours fixing fences, checking cows, cutting hay, tilling fields, and drilling grains. While I loved this work, and excelled at it, this was also the time that I was beginning to understand my feelings of gender dysphoria and starting down the long and difficult road of transitioning. I always felt like I didn't have a future in rural Kansas. While I had found a small and close trans family at college (Rock Chalk Jayhawk -- go KU!!) there were no trans farmers; people like me didn't exist in rural Kansas. So when I was offered a job with AmeriCorps in New York City, I jumped at the chance, hoping to find queer and trans community. I spent seven years in the city working at various non-profits and eventually found my way to GrowNYC where I worked as a Fresh Food Box coordinator. Being involved in food access and food justice and seeing the farms in the Hudson valley reinvigorated my passion for agriculture.

Suddenly I could see a future where queer people grew food for each other and worked the land and used our magic to nourish our community, and I wanted that. So I took the FARMrots program at GrowNYC, and then was accepted into the pro-farmer program at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, where I am now in my third year. The pro-farmer program allowed me to make connections with Sustainability Farm through a mentorship program, and now I am co-stewarding land with them in Accord, NY, in the shadow of the beautiful Mohonk Ridge with clear slight of the Mohonk Mountain House, and a stone’s throw from the Rondout Creek!   

How long have you been a Greenmarket farmer and what is your experience as a part of the market community in NYC?

This is my first year selling at Greenmarket and I am EXTREMELY excited to be a part of the Greenmarket family. I have a long history with GrowNYC, and now to see that relationship come full circle and reunite as a producer feels like coming home!

How has your experience as a part of the LGBTQ community informed your experience as a farmer?

One of the main driving forces and philosophies in my work is the desire to connect people with agriculture who are traditionally excluded from it. As a rural queer I felt a lack of safety in my home rural spaces which ultimately left me to leave. LGBTQ people should know that we have a right to rural life as much as anyone.

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Next, we heard from Michael at City Saucery.

GrowNYC: How and why did you start your business?

Michael: Back in 2010, our careers were going nowhere (our backgrounds are both in design--me furniture/interiors and Jorge with graphic design--so we're both very visual). At the time, my Italian mom, a native of Calabria (who is an artist in the kitchen), started cooking at a local restaurant and gained kind of a cult following, so we started cooking classes. Jorge and I would both organize and promote these events to get our minds off of our (then) aimless careers, and my mom would teach--people just loved her. One thing led to another and people started inquiring about the sauces that we would pair with the food my mom cooked. That inspired us to create more sauces. After operating out of a shared incubator for several years, and a short stint with a poorly managed co packer, we finally decided to take back 100% control and get our own facility. Luckily, we found one in South Brooklyn, and the country’s first Saucery was born. The idea was (and still is) to produce specialty food products with a modern twist since we are, after all, a modern family.

How long have you been a GrowNYC Greenmarket producer and what is your experience as part of the Greenmarket community in NYC?

This is our third season with Greenmarket, and it has been one of the best experiences we've ever had as producers. The platform we are so fortunate to access weekly has helped us gain significant brand awareness and a level of customer interaction wholesale could never provide.

How has your experience as part of the LGBTQ community informed your experience as a business owner/GMKT producer?

Well, as proud members of the LGBTQ+ community, we understand that money equals both freedom and sustainability, so we decided to start our own business to help navigate our future together as both business and life partners. I would never leave our future in the hands of politicians, and no member of the LGBTQ+ community should.

As producers, it’s fueled our creativity further by inspiring us to recreate what it means to be a pasta sauce honestly. The classic sauces are great so why touch that? It’s not our style or inspiration, so we produce a very familiar pantry item …but with a modern twist. This is why you’ll find very unique flavor profiles at our Greenmarket stand and never the classic sauces typically found in grocery stores that are produced for celebrity chefs and inaccessible restaurants. The American pantry needs some updating, and we’re here for it.

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Third up in our Pride series is Lee Henessy.

Lee is the farmer and cheesemaker behind Moxie Ridge Farm. You can find him slinging cheese every Friday at GrowNYC’s Union Square Greenmarket.

This is what Lee has to say about finding happiness and selling at Greenmarket, as well as how the solitude he’s found while farming has helped him get in touch with who he is:

“I’m a first generation farmer, and I got into farming through sheer force of will. Before I was doing a lot of creative and corporate work. I hadn’t found happiness through trying to be successful, so I decided to focus on happiness first then work on the success part later. And that’s what brought me to goat farming.

I joined GrowNYC’s Union Square Greenmarket in August 2018. I’m a little bit fanboy about the Greenmarket because it is such an important and influential market. I was a little starstruck when I started to be selling with producers that helped to start it. It means a lot to me to be a part of this community -- in an emotional way but also as a point of pride, like ‘hey look, this little farm in Argyle NY with this crazy person who makes these ridiculous cheeses is standing shoulder to shoulder with these other producers.’ The market is also the backbone of my farm. It’s why I drive 3 hours and 45 minutes every Friday morning at 3am with my product that I have to pack up for an hour before I leave. I do it because it allows me the flexibility and support financially to make the types of cheeses and do the type of farming that I want to do.

I came out as bi when I was 19, and it was very recently, at 38, that I came out as a trans man. It wasn’t until I started farming and gave myself the space and support I needed running the farm that I was able to make some realizations about who I am. I’m not sure being trans or bi affects my farming more than any other part of me. What I hope people understand is that it’s more of the effects of living as a queer person in this world that affect my farming and business decisions. There’s a difference.

I can’t really say that being queer has affected my farming. I think good farmers are very individual. Being a bi, trans man has informed me as an individual, and that’s how I farm. That’s how I raise my animals, that’s how run my business. But I would say farming has affected my ability and strength to be out and queer in a weird way. It’s all connected somehow.”

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For our final installment of this series during Pride Month, we talked to Michaela Hayes of Rise & Root Farm. Here’s what she had to say about farming as a member of the LGBTQ community:

Rise & Root Farm is in the Black Dirt region of Orange County, NY. We moved here from NYC in 2015 to start the farm. My wife Jane and I, along with our partners Karen Washington and Lorrie Clevenger, started the farm together. We all met through urban farming and community gardening in NYC. One of our farm goals is staying connected with our NYC communities, and being at GrowNYC’s Union Square Greenmarket is a big part of how we have been able to do that. Another way we stay connected is finding ways to bring people to the farm. We hold monthly community work days and lead tours. This year we've started hosting events, and on June 29th, we are holding a Farm Pride Tea Dance to bring together our farming and LGBTQ communities.

We're not afraid to do hard things - being gay and out where we live, being farmers, starting a business, running a cooperatively-owned farm that is interracial and intergenerational, gay and straight. Every step of the way we have chosen our path because we believe in it. We're proud to be who we are and to expand the representation of what farmers look like in the U.S. We started our farm in large part because of our commitment to social justice and our belief that everyone should have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. We know we can't work that out on our own - we need widespread, systemic change to make this reality come true. Growing our farm in a way that models the world we want to live in is one way we contribute to that change. 

We picked the name Rise & Root Farm for a lot of reasons, but the visual that we need to root down while rising up runs deep with us. Our roots make us who we are - the communities we come from, the people who came before us that helped us walk our path, the activists who fought for our right to exist and have agency, the people who have taught us what we know, our families and our ancestors. Our roots are growing to include our new neighbors, other local businesses, our farmer neighbors, and our market community. These are the roots that we rely on to help us thrive.

We started out at Greenmarket with our sister fermentation business, Crock & Jar, in 2012 at GrowNYC’s Fort Greene Greenmarket. In 2015, we started selling at the Friday Union Square Greenmarket, where we have stayed since. The other NYC-based market you can find us at is La Familia Verde Farmers Market in the Crotona/E. Tremont neighborhood in the Bronx. 

Rise Up and Root Deep!

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