The Rainforest Alliance talks sustainable eating at Union Square greenmarket


Shoppers browse the produce at the GrowNYC Union Square Greenmarket, which played host to the Rainforest Alliance's Follow The Frog Week chef panel.

Shoppers browse the produce at the GrowNYC Union Square Greenmarket, which played host to the Rainforest Alliance’s Follow The Frog Week chef panel. Photo: Alexis Nedd.

The Union Square Greenmarket, sponsored by GrowNYC, hosted members of the Rainforest Alliance and a panel of celebrity chefs on Saturday, September 21 to highlight the Alliance’s third annual Follow the Frog Week, which is dedicated to supporting environmentally sustainable consumer practices.  The Rainforest Alliance started Follow the Frog Week three years ago to promote farms that work with the organization to minimize deforestation, pollution, and economic inequality in the areas surrounding the Amazon rainforest. The event, which was promoted throughout the market by volunteers in Follow the Frog tee shirts who handed out pamphlets and samples of sustainably-made chocolate, began at noon and lasted until 4 p.m.

The Follow the Frog campaign is one of many efforts made by the Rainforest Alliance, a 26-year-old nonprofit organization, to encourage everyday consumers to make ethical choices. Products marked with the project’s “Green Frog Seal” are certified to contain ingredients that come from sustainable farms; in order to become Green Frog certified, the farms must meet social, environmental, and economic standards that ensure that all levels of production are carried out responsibly. The Rainforest Alliance focuses not only on the environmental impacts of the products, but also on ensuring fair labor practices for workers.

An hour before the panel began, a small crowd had already gathered around Union Square’s north pavilion, a space that had been lent to the Rainforest Alliance by GrowNYC free of charge. A flat screen television showed this year’s Follow the Frog video,which dramatized the effects of ignoring the Alliance’s efforts: in it, a man who chose a no-brand chocolate bar over the Follow-The-Frog approved label had his backyard razed like an Amazonian forest. A backdrop with the Rainforest Alliance logo was set up for a staff photographer to take pictures of guests accessorized with green feather boas and Follow the Frog-themed merchandise. Members of the Rainforest Alliance ushered shoppers down a green carpet that led up to the pavilion, where chairs were set up for the chefs’ arrival.

By holding the event during the Union Square Greenmarket, the organizers at the Rainforest Alliance hoped to appeal to an “instant audience” of people who “already care about sustainability,” said Clint White, the President of WiT Media, which is the marketing agency that helped pair GrowNYC’s market with the Alliance. “These are the people who would be naturally interested,” he said. Rainforest Alliance volunteers had no trouble getting customers from the market into the event space, though there was some confusion among some of guests when they arrived. “Is this about organic food?” one woman asked Rainforest Alliance assistant Anna Clark as they walked in. “It’s more than that,” Clark replied, and explained the concept of Follow The Frog Week.  

While WiT Media helped secure the venue, GrowNYC was responsible for the afternoon’s roster of chefs. Chefs Marco Moreira of Tocqueville, Larissa Raphael of Telepan, Karl Franz Williams of 67 Orange Street, and Galen Zamarra of Mas spoke withRainforest Alliance chairman Daniel Katz about their personal relationship to sustainable cooking. Williams noted that sustainable cooking is “a policy issue,” and that supporting farm-to-table habits both “provides for a healthier lifestyle [and] serves a greater purpose.” Raphael expressed the hope that “affordable pricing [would] make a difference” in how consumers relate to their food, but acknowledged that local markets can be expensive.

Mike Betit, owner of Tamarack Hollow Farm, who sells produce at the greenmarket, explained the value of sustainable produce by saying “it’s worth it to be accountable…knowing what [unsustainable farming does] to the land and livestock.”

At the end of the panel, audience members were invited to ask questions. John Miscioni, a Rainforest Alliance volunteer in the crowd, expressed concern that farm-to-table eating is merely a trend, but Moreira addressed the question succinctly: “[Farm-to-table] can sound a little gimmicky and pretentious,” he said, “but the chefs understand that if you work this way it shows on the plate” via better flavors. “Every dollar I spend is like voting,” said Zamarra as the panel wrapped up, and likened having a popular, sustainable restaurant to “forcing others to spend their dollars and vote for that [kind of food].”