Fields brings you the stories of people who are working in urban agriculture—for money, for fun, to feed the hungry, and for entirely other reasons. In each episode, hosts Melissa Metrick and Wythe Marschall delve into different foods grown in cities. Moreover, we investigate the whys behind getting up in the morning and working as a farmer in the shadow of skyscrapers. You don’t need to be a farmer to enjoy this podcast, or even a foodie! With their expert guests, Melissa and Wythe break down the realities and possible futures of urban farming to their elements.
Henry Gordon-Smith on the State of Indoor Farming
Following up on their review of recent bad news in the field of vertical farming, Melissa and Wythe catch up with an expert: Henry Gordon-Smith, founding CEO of the urban and controlled environment agriculture consultancy Agritecture. Henry relates his thoughts on recent shifts in commercial indoor and urban agriculture, reflecting on some of Agritecture’s experiences and what could happen in the near future. It’s a short, fun, and informative conversation!
Catching Up with Wythe: The Recent Troubles in Vertical Farming
Melissa and Wythe catch up with each other regarding a recent trend in urban agriculture: the closure or financial restructuring of several high-profile indoor farms in urban areas. We look at recent news articles on this topic, theorize why the indoor ag-tech sector is struggling, and speculate about what could happen next. We’ll return to this important topic with guests over the course of the season, so subscribe!
Catching up with Melissa: Harvest Time at the NYU Urban Farm Lab
To kick off a new season of Fields, Wythe and Melissa chat about Melissa's current work as both an instructor of urban agriculture at New York University and the manager of the school’s Urban Farm Lab on Houston Street. Recorded in October 2023, just before harvest time, this informal conversation covers a range of subjects, from the crops students grow to how Melissa’s syllabus has covered different aspects of the history of urban agriculture over time.
Michael Treglia on Green Roofs, Birds, and Pollinators
To round out Season 3, Melissa and Wythe talk about the concept of the “urban forest” in NYC with scientist Mike Treglia of The Nature Conservancy. Mike was trained as a herpetologist (reptile scientist), but he now focuses on the total ecological systems of cities, especially trees. The Nature Conservancy itself works to study and protect land in many different ways, including in New York City. Mike also works with Forest For All NYC, supporting policy that can create and realize a comprehensive plan for NYC’s treescape. Mike also co-organizes the Green Roof Researchers Alliance (GRRA), with NYC Audubon. The GRRA coordinates research on green roofs in the city, including the mapping of these roofs and helping us know what animals live across these heterogeneous spaces. Mike tells us all about the types of work that different research groups are up to, and how these individual scientific efforts connect with a larger social movement to create green roofs and steward them successfully. We also talk a lot about policy, especially given extreme temperatures and the roles green roofs can play in keeping buildings cooler. (Plus, lightning round: pizza in Staten Island!)
Joseph Charap on the Ecosystems of Cemeteries
In what ways are cemeteries like parks? How tall should the grass in a cemetery be allowed to grow? Following up on some of the themes from our discussion with NYC Microseasons about urban plants, animals, and fungi not typically thought of as farms or gardens, Melissa talks with Joseph (Joe) Charap, Vice President of Horticulture at the Green-Wood Cemetery, about the history of cemeteries as green spaces in NYC and the broader United States.
They discuss the rich and biodiverse ecosystem found at Green-Wood—which comprises over 8,000 trees of over 800 species, including many native species! Joe and Melissa talk about everything from “charismatic megaflora” (trees) to turfgrass, touching on long-term scientific collaborations with Cornell, different kinds of green burials (including mushroom burials, which are not yet practiced in Brooklyn), “Sweet Hereafter” honey, and what exactly a “managed meadow” is. What could be a somber subject is instead a lively and dynamic conversation that you won’t want to miss!
Allison C. Meier and Erin Chapman on NYC’s Microseasons
(Note, this one was taped when it was still cold, and now it’s hot!) As author Allison C. Meier states, “There are no seasons, only microseasons now.” What are microseasons? They’re a different way of viewing time as local, marked not by arbitrary flips of the calendar or the coming and going of major weather patterns, but by more ephemeral and sometimes obscure environmental shifts that only last a few weeks.
With Erin Chapman, Allison writes a newsletter called NYC Microseasons that investigates these ephemeral seasons with a mix of wit, humor, and scientific rigor. Wythe and Melissa talk to Erin and Allison about their project overall, many specific plants that live in NYC, shadows/smoke/smog and their effects on plants, cooking possum meat, the seasonality of CSAs, and—of course—algae. We explore all sorts of changing weather patterns and discuss what they mean not only for growing food and foraging in cities, but how we culturally understand and value different parts of the year. We also talk briefly about Allison’s new book, Grave, which fans of urban planning and green design (among others) will definitely enjoy. Check out the episode, and pick up Grave!