Last night at Sotheby’s, the bidding for the live fowl began at $1,600. Lot No. 9, titled “Duck, Duck, Goose,” contained a drake, gander, goose, cockerel, tom, hen, two ducks, and two pullets. Similar to those who live in the surrounding Upper East Side neighborhood, these birds were well-bred and boasted strong pedigrees from years of selective mating. Paddles shot up as the price of the poultry jumped from $1,600 to $2,400 in seconds before all but two bidders dropped out. The men outdueled each other in $200 increments before the Chairman of Sotheby’s North America, James Niven smacked his gavel and shouted, “Sold! To the man in the blue shirt for $3,400.”
The man in question, dressed in an unbuttoned blue dress shirt, was Jon Bloostein, owner of the Heartland Brewery. He’d come looking to buy pumpkins to celebrate the release of his restaurant’s pumpkin ale, but he ended up with the birds, an impulse buy. Bloostein lives in the city, so he planned to gift the livestock to a restaurateur friend of his from Syracuse. After the auction, the guests headed downstairs for dinner. Someone asked Bloostein if he was going. “I don’t know,” he replied, looking at his cell phone. “I’ve got these live geese I’ve got to get rid of.” Then he called his buddy who was cooking on the line. “I’ve just got these birds that are, like, live,” said Bloostein. “Do you want them?”
The birds were one of the many locavore-themed items on the “Heirloom Vegetable Auction” block that would have never sold at a high-end auction house until now. Other lots included a tour of six beehives down near Wall Street, the chance to visit an upstate farm and name a baby goat, and, randomly, a signed copy of James Frey’s original manuscript, “Read Between the Vines”, written exclusively for the auction. “The Art of Farming” event was a fund-raiser for GrowNYC New Farmers Development and the Sylvia Center. It brought together farmers, culinary experts, and high-profile New Yorkers whose professions were as wide-ranging as their footwear choices. Some in the crowd wore heels and tassled loafers; others sported galoshes.
Niven opened the evening by rattling off some of his more unusual sales. “I’ve sold the right to name a herd of bison and a seal,” he said. “And I’ve sold the rights to name a baby rhino at the zoo, which was bought by Kenneth Lay who fortunately paid us before the shit hit the fan. But I’ve never sold any of these items. Bear with me.” When Niven got to Lot No. 9, he looked like he couldn’t believe what he was about to auction off. “This comes down to something you’ve never done in your life,” he said.