I just finished my interview with Annie Novak, and am blown away by all that she is doing and has done. When I asked her what brought her to farming, she said it was her love for the outdoors, and the desire to have a career that allowed her to be in nature. Annie grew up on the Great Lakes, which she describes as one of the greatest natural gems in the United States, in addition to being one of the more ecologically and politically complicated regions. She thinks growing food is a great way to interact with our natural landscape, as well as to inspire others to become more engaged with important environmental issues. I couldn’t agree with her more! Food is at the intersection of so many pressing issues that we are faced with today; from the rising rate of obesity and chronic illness, which plagues our country, to climate change and corporate control of our global food production!
Joseph Campbell, who’s motto, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” and his philosophy of thinking critically about our purpose in life, has informed and driven most of Annie’s work since graduating from Sarah Lawrence. (Joseph Campbell taught there for 38 years from 1934-’72)
Upon graduating from Sarah Lawrence, Annie took a part time job educating children at the Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Gardens, and founded the program Growing Chefs, a farm to fork education program. She is now the full time manager of the Edible Academy, which is expanding to a three-acre complex with two classrooms, a greenhouse, and a terraced amphitheater, so they can double the number of people they serve each year.
In 2009, Annie co-founded the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm with Ben Flanner, who has since gone on to start Brooklyn Grange Farm. Running an urban rooftop farm has many challenges, and Annie has documented them in her book, The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to Transform Your Roof into a Garden or Farm which outlines the modes and methods for rooftop and container gardening. Eagle Street Rooftop Farm has a volunteer apprenticeship program which has trained over 120 people over the past 8 years, and has been one of the organizations most successful endeavors. Eagle Street farm sells mostly to chefs and focuses on growing vegetables that do well in the rooftop setting, such as micro-greens, green leafy vegetables and peppers. One of Annie’s mottos is “right plant, right place.” Not all vegetables grow well in a rooftop setting, so rather then trying to grow everything, she focuses on the vegetables that do well on a roof.
Her latest passion is learning about Nocturnal Bird Migration, and understanding how the changes to our environment are effecting the birds. Ultimately, this endeavor has been one of many projects which aim to raise awareness of our current and continuing loss in the natural world. However, Annie is quick to remind us all that if we work together to take notice of our environment and take action, we can help to mitigate the negative outcomes that can come from our man made changes to the environment, which is comforting. Now we just have to do it!!
If you missed my interview, it is worth a listen. Check it out here!