Sustainable commerce includes varying definitions as the movement to eat consciously evolves. An unfortunate fact is that unless grown and purchased locally, consumer demand for organic produce often comes with a large carbon footprint. A few weeks ago I was able to procure organic flour from the The Vermont Sail Freight Project, an ambitious effort linking the farms and forests of Vermont with the Hudson Valley. Thankfully the project's newly constructed barge-hull sailboat the Ceres, is as romantic an idea as it is a practical solution to this dilemma.
The Saturday I retrieved my pre-order secured through Good Eggs, I found the casual but frenetic pace that ensued during the pick-up somewhat endearing. It was a sparkling blue day and friends also in attendance kept me satiated with hot apple beignets. I followed no less than three young men trying to sort my order with beers in hand and facial shadows suggesting recent sailing. It was obvious the system needed tweaking to meet demand. Computers were down and we resorted to an honor system of what I had paid for vs. what I would receive. This felt like community rather than a hard-sale purchase. I negotiated for bulk flour pricing and they seemed genuinely happy to get it into the hands of someone who valued its sourcing and delivery.
Indeed, the vision of this project harkens to a time when these port markets were necessity, not just a way to avoid burning petrol. Goods were sold at competitive auction and without failing wi-fi signals to muck-up the process.
Before those in attendance of this particularly lively event lay the contents of the ship, purchased directly from the source. Cleverly packaged in manageable sizes for the New York consumer, one could find amber jars of maple syrup, whole grain flours, dried heirloom beans, luscious jams, and exotic sculptural pieces of kombu and wakame. The amount of loot was somewhat surprising given the modest size the Ceres suggests in person. Patrick Kiley, one of several helmsmen and distributor of goods, fed my imagination by comparing the hull's 15 tons of cargo with the contents of a typical NYC bodega. Not a bad haul, most of which was sold in New York City, despite the other stops along the Hudson.
After room was made by selling the ship's contents, Kiley and his mates packed other goods to take back to Vermont including 1 ton of Brooklyn Roasting Co. coffee. BK17 is left with a substantial amount of rye flour, something I couldn't source locally in NY this year because of torrential spring rains resulting in crop failure.
After a winter of rest, reflection, and revision, Kiley said they intend to make 5-8 sails in 2014, including a possible leg from Maine down the St. Lawrence and then from Lake Champlain to NYC. I already have notions of how to harness this unique wind-powered opportunity. Liqueur laden fruit cakes curing on their way back North might just make some Vermonters very happy with their cups of Brooklyn java....