“Call Of The Wild”
by Isa Hopkins, editor-at-large
Brooklyn’s Bushwick section is ground zero for the blossoming of a particular kind of hipster urbanism: the appropriation and transmogrification of Rust Belt grit into something hip enough for New York City, a defiant underground sensibility belied by skyrocketing rents and the threat of encroachment by the Park Slope stroller set. Braden James lives in a the fourth floor of a brownstone walk-up.
“I was in Detroit last year,” says the tattooed law school dropout. “They’re doing so much there, it’s incredible. I mean, I didn’t see much — we were just driving through — but, still, it was pretty cool.”
James grew up outside of Providence, Rhode Island, in what he calls “suburban hell.” His live-in girlfriend and business partner, Isabella McClintock, hails from Seattle, another vanguard of the nascent food movement. “Seattle’s alright,” says McClintock, who met James at a Grizzly Bear concert three years ago when they were both ignoring the band with the same issue of The Believer. “But, you know, Seattle, Detroit: they’re not New York. It’s like nothing happens there even matters, right?”
James and McClintock have sought to bring the best of Seattle and Detroit into Bushwick, or at least onto their fire escape. In Ohio last year, returning from their short visit to the Motor City, the couple purchased three heritage-breed turkeys, now being bred and raised out of their apartment in what they say is the next evolution of the urban food movement.
“Turkeys are native to New York City,” says McClintock. “They were here first. Keeping these beautiful birds on farms upstate or in the Midwest is like putting Native Americans on a reservation: unconscionable.”
“You can define “local” really broadly,” says James, with elaborate scare quotes around the word. “Some people say, like, 100 miles is local. What? That’s not local. The local trains don’t go 100 miles. That’s just an excuse to keep the upstate small-farm cartels in business.”
“They’re vicious,” supplies McClintock, who cites as evidence the fact that they were denied a small-farm loan last year by the State of New York. “They’ve got everybody in Albany wrapped around their fingers,” says James. “It’s disgusting.” (According to the state agriculture office, James and McClintock’s loan was denied because their operation “did not meet the definition of a farm”: “Three turkeys is not a farm,” spokesperson Susan Wojta told me. “They don’t even have any land for those birds! Really, we should have called the ASPCA.”)
But the pair’s hyperlocal approach also has supporters. When they tweeted that they would be slaughtering and selling one of the birds this Thanksgiving, responses poured in from all five boroughs. There is currently a twelve-way bidding war to determine who will consume the Brooklyn bird, with a going price, as of this writing, of $7,700.
“That’ll just barely cover our feed and vet costs for the year,” says McClintock, who, like James, quit her last job to raise the birds full-time. “Braden’s parents got us for the rent, so we’ll be OK, but we’ve gotta get each bird to around 100k if we really want to make this work.”
“We’re looking at sub-varietals,” explains James. “Like, sure, a heritage breed is great — we raise Bourbon Reds — but by varying the feed we can create one-of-a-kind poultry experiences. The first bird we slaughter was raised entirely on bacon and Jack Daniel’s. We’ve got another one on microbrews and sourdough bread. We’re still learning. It’s a process.”
“An expensive process,” adds McClintock.
“Yeah,” says James, hands on his hips as the birds — kept on leashes — squawk against the window. “Farming is hard.”