Friday, April 24, 2015

To market, to market! Or: Daybreak over the (New) Fulton Fish Market


Photo courtesy of the NYC Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC)
Set your alarm clock early for a trip to the New Fulton Fish Market with OHNY and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), where you’ll see the principal wholesale market for seafood in the New York City area in full swing. Learn about the history of the market, located in the historic South Street Seaport area until 2005, on the bus ride there, and then walk the massive market shed with Security Director Victor Seguinot. Talk to vendors, jobbers, buyers, and other market regulars and hear about life in the city’s food hub.
--the description of today's Open House New York tour, in
the series The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York
by Ken

It was, chronologically speaking, about as an unusual outing as I can recall ever undertaking. I tore out of my apartment building in Washington Heights a little after 2:45am on whichever day it was (yesterday? today?) and ambled back in the downstairs door in broad daylight a little before 8:30 that (this?) same morning.

The "little after" 2:45 is important, because according to what I'd gleaned from the MTA's online schedule information, there should be a train coming through my station about 2:56. Of course, that didn't mean there'd be a train at exactly 2:56, so I'd hoped to make it a little earlier just in case, because the information I tended to trust more from what I'd gleaned was that at that hour the train was running every 20 minutes, and while I probably would have been okay with a hypothetical train coming through at 3:16, that would be cutting it close. After all, I still had to do a change of trains at Times Square.

The time I was aiming for was the start of check-in at the office of Open House New York, at Broadway and 26th Street, at 3:45am, but if I could be screwed if I didn't make it by 4am, at which time the bus was supposedly leaving for sure for the trip up to the Hunts Point peninsula of the South Bronx for our visit to the (New) Fulton Fish Market. Meaning that if I'd been out of the house really and truly at 2:45, I should have had a fairly easy time catching a train that passed through at 2:56. But the few minutes I lost to slow-motionness with the three hours' sleep I'd notched put that schedule in jeopardy. Hence the "tearing out" of my building.

Where there's a will there's a way, sometimes, and I actually got to the platform a good minute before the train, which actually arrived maybe a minute early! Score! According to the station countdown clocks, the next train was indeed 20 minutes away. The rest looked to be easy, and it was. I had placed myself almost perfectly on the train to head up the stairs at Times Square for the walk to the southbound BMT platform and even made a good connection to an N train that was indeed making local stops (in the event of an express, I was prepared to walk the distance from 34th Street), and a little after 3:35 I approached a cluster of people outside a bus parked at the sidewalk, with the OHNY people on the job to check me in and pass me through to board the bus!

For the outing we were given excellent "dress code" instructions, which called for "hard-soled, closed-toed shoes that you don't mind getting a little dirty" ("the fish market will be at its most active during our visit, so it may be a little messy") and included this advisory:
The fish market is, as you might imagine, a pungent place. You may want to bring a change of clothes if you are planning to go directly to work after the tour. According to people we've spoken with who've been to the market before, the smell of fish will linger on your clothes.
Luckily, I had cleared the day from work and didn't plan to continue on to the job, in either smelly old or fresh new clothes.

Of course the bus didn't leave on the dot at 4, but not that much after we indeed had our busload of hardy nocturnal adventurers in place, and we rolled out in time to roll into the parking lot not much after 5 for the final stage of the day's market activity. They get going, we learned, at midnight, and for a good part of that time there's a lot of activity, as the day's procession of buyers -- wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, brokers, even the odd retail buyer -- arrive to inspect the offerings of the more than two dozen purveyors lining the two sides of the well-refrigerated indoor grand allée that is the (New) Fulton Fish Market, make their choices, and have their purchases loaded onto forklifts for conveyance out to their waiting trucks for the trip on to, well, wherever the chosen fish and seafood -- most of it on ice but still fresh is destined.

It's an incredibly complex symphony, this meeting up of sellers and buyers, as buyers choose when during those hours of market to arrive for their hoped-for optimal combination of ultimate freshness, choice, and pricing. The sellers are, as they have been since the Fulton Fish Market came into existence down on South Street, and certainly since the new market at Hunts Point opened in 2005, in competition with each other, and the most obvious thing they have to compete with during each day's market is price. All of the buyers know what they're looking for, and what they're looking at. At the end of each day's market everyone packs up and prepares to do it all again the next day.

Which is how, if I got the figure right, some 50 percent of the fish and seafood coming into the Greater New York area, is passed on in the chain from the fishermen who made the catch to the consumers who eat it. I believe that was Victor the security director mentioned in the tour description who accompanied us on the tour, but we were led by the manager of the market, on behalf of the company that runs it on lease from the city.

En route to Hunts Point we had been briefed on the history and operation of the food-oriented markets and other facilities occupying the city-owned Hunts Point campus by the alarmingly well-informed Julie from the NYC Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit org whose board is appointed by the mayor, and whose many functions include overseeing the Hunts Point operations, including the Produce Market (of which there will be an OHNY tour on May 28; see below), the cooperative-run Meat Market (which is very differently organized and not amenable to tour visitation), and the Baldor Specialty Foods facility (of which there will be an OHNY tour on June 10; see below), and a host of others.

The new Fulton Fish Market, we learned, was built to house 30 vendors from the old Fulton Street site, which was impossibly cramped, unhygienic, and without temperature controls or loading faciilities. Some 70 percent of those original vendors remain tenants; there has been steady turnover (and, yes, vacancies) in the rest of the space.


The New Fulton Fish Market tour description I've put atop this post continues:
The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York is a year-long series of public programs, organized by Open House New York as part of its ongoing Urban Systems Series. The Final Mile is intended to shed light on New York City’s dynamic and multi-layered food economy while introducing and exploring approaches to render this invisible system more tangible.
The linked Final Mile page expands on this:
Why are we doing it?

In the age of superstorms, rapidly rising inequality, and global distribution systems, we are all increasingly aware of the connections between food, public health, and environmental stewardship. The Final Mile helps New Yorkers to better understand how food shapes the city in critical ways that all too often go unnoticed.

How can you participate?

The Final Mile will be comprised of a series of tours and events over the course of 2015. Tickets for individual programs will become available two weeks in advance. Watch the Schedule for updates and details as they become available, or subscribe to OHNY’s Mailing List. You can also follow our Blog to learn more about how the city’s food system operates.


The announced plan is:

Spring 2015: Industrial-Scaled Distribution in the Global City
Summer 2015: Uncovering the Remnants of Historic Food Systems
Late 2015: Exploring New Models for a Sustainable Future

Already scheduled are:

Lecture-discussion: How Great Cities Are Fed
Wednesday, April 29, 6:30pm
SVA Theatre, Chelsea, Manhattan
"A very special public talk and discussion to kick off The Final Mile," featuring Karen Karp ("New York-based food systems expert, president of Karp Resources") and Robert LaValva ("founder and president of the New Amsterdam Market").

Free for OHNY members, OHNY volunteers, and students; $10 for general admission. Registration in progress.

Tour: Hunts Point Produce Market
Thursday, May 28, 8am
A cooperative market through which 60% of the produce consumed in the New York Metropolitan Area passes every day. On this morning tour, you’ll walk one of the four massive “row” buildings, each a third of a mile long, then visit a variety of packaging plants within the facility. Afterwards, market manager Myra Gordon will lead a group discussion of the role that the produce market plays in the city’s food system.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on May 14.

Tour: Baldor Specialty Foods
Wednesday, June 10, time TBD
Tour the facility of Baldor, a major regional food distributor that started off as Balducci’s Fruit Stand in the Village in 1946, to better understand how private firms fit into the mix in the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. Explore the sprawling warehouse with food systems expert Johanna Kolodny, who works directly with suppliers to expand the company’s diverse offerings to the New York market. Participants will learn how the company keeps track of the thousands of varieties of fresh food on-site, and how they bring food from a thousand partners around the world to plates across the five boroughs.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on May 27.
For the tours, OHNY members are likely to get a discounted price, and registration as close as possible to the start of the on-sale time is advisable; my guess is that they'll fill up fast. For the other Hunts Point tours, as with today's Fulton Fish Market one, round-trip bus transportation is provided from OHNY's office at 1133 Broadway (at 26th Street).


It's called Monographs in Motion>, and it's a series of events "that highlights the work of firms that have had a significant impact on New York City's built environment through public tours of the firm's most exemplary projects." First up is the architectural firm FXFOWLE, and we've already toured the substantial renovation and major expansion of the Juilliard School at Lincoln center undertaken by the firm in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and a host of outside experts in a host of fields.


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