by: Matthew P. Moll
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Zaid Kurdieh left a successful university post to work 200-hour weeks and earn a combined sum of $4 per hour with his wife, Haifa.
Kurdieh is not a victim of downsizing in higher education, but is rather, a willing career changer to the ancient craft of farming.
“You can make a lot of money doing other things,” said Kurdieh, who started Norwich Meadows Farms in 1998. “But we farm because we enjoy what we do and want to do a good job doing it.”
Norwich Meadows Farms is just one of the approximately 200 farms that transport their harvests to the land of skyscrapers and concrete so New Yorkers can purchase fresh, locally grown produce at the 44 farmer’s markets around the city.
According to the Council on the Environment of New York City’s website, Greenmarket, the overseeing organization for farmer’s markets around New York City, was founded in 1976. Union Square, which is known for political protests, skateboarders and artist stands, is also Greenmarket’s original farmer’s market.
Kurdieh and his wife load their truck full of fruits and vegetables from their certified organic farm in Norwich, New York three times a week for the five-hour truck ride to Union Square.
In addition to the Union Square site, Norwich Meadows Farm sells produce at four other markets around the city and also has around 1300 (over double from a year ago) CSA shares around New York City. Kurdieh says that the amount of produce that is sold continues to increase.
“We have seen our sales increase every year since we started coming to the City in 2001,” Kurdieh said. “Most people want good food for health reasons, but with oil prices, environmental awareness and more talk about agricultural issues there is an emphasis on eating locally.”
Ben Borkovitz, who has worked for Hawthorne Valley Farm’s Union Square farmer’s market stand for the past eight years, also says that he continues seeing higher demand.
“It’s a growing movement,” Borkovitz said. “We have to keep growing along with it to stay viable, which is true of any small business, but we are always introducing more products trying to find ways to improve.”
Kurdieh said the long hours and the return pay is a probably a deterrent to those curious about entering the profession. Without new providers, Kurdieh does not know how the increase in demand will be met.
“Farming you could say has always been a dream of mine,” Kurdieh said. “Unfortunately the only way more people will continue to be attracted to farming is price. The prices will have to go up to make it economically appealing for more people.”
While the hours are more than double what the government would consider a full-time schedule, Kurdieh does not complain about the rigors associated with tending to soil.
“There are no regrets,” Kurdieh said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but someone’s got to feed the people.”