Local Food Sourcing
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, many CAC’s were most likely already interested in promoting local food sourcing, which includes local farming, community gardens, and home gardening. This interest was based on your concern that the food supply chain will be changed drastically by the climate crisis. This pandemic, a fractional event compared to the increasing changes to our climate, is already straining that supply chain, and will be tested surely in the coming weeks and months. It is clear to us, that food must be sourced locally by not only nearby farmers, but by residents becoming self-sufficient. The goal for CAC’s is to mesh town resources with our residents needs for nutritious food. And in the time of Covid, we need to do this with the understanding that our financial resources will be limited.
In the following articles, we will discuss community gardens, both on private and public lands, groups that can be consulted on growing nutritious foods ourselves or as a community, and expanding our vision of what a vegetable garden actually provides. And we have a summer reading list too!
First, let’s talk about community gardens.
On private property. CAC’s role here would be to facilitate the establishment of a community garden. This is particularly important in areas of environmental justice, where there are open plots of land located in low-income neighborhoods. CAC’s could contact the owner of the land and residents of a housing development and suggest ways that a community garden could be established. Below, we present two case studies: one within a townhouse development initiated by residents, and the other describing various gardens initiated by the CAC.
A Time for Community and Gardens
Dan Farkas, PhD
Member, Town of Bedford Conservation Board
As Spring arrives in Northern Westchester County, organic gardeners are beginning to plan their spring planting in our Community Garden. I live in a townhouse development with 49 families on 70 acres in Bedford, NY. About 15 years ago, with a location in mind, we were able to convince the Board of Directors to set aside approximately $5,000 to clear the land and construct a deer fence for a community garden with thirteen four-by-eight individual family plots.
There are different types and ways to organize Community Gardens depending on the intended use. Plot gardens, similar to the one in my community give families the opportunity to grow their own produce. In cooperative gardens, participants work together on a single plot and share the harvest. Youth gardens, descendant of school gardens, have the purpose of engaging students in a hands-on experience to teach both hard skills (science, horticulture and respect for nature) and soft skills such as responsibility, patience, and self-confidence. Entrepreneurial gardens organize to sell their produce. Finally, therapeutic gardens focus on the well-being of their community and may be located in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement communities or assisted living communities.
Our garden is community governed and managed. At the start of the season, someone takes the lead in communicating with the current gardeners on whether they plan to keep their plot, reaches out to the broader community for additional participation, and arranges for water to be turned on. Water runs from a hose attached to a spigot at the nearby pool house. Plots are individual and are allocated on a first-come/first-served basis. In the history of the garden, there has always been available plots and some in some season’s gardeners may have two if there is one available. About 20% of the residents are engaged during the growing season.
There is no membership fee. However, while there are no annual recurring expenses, we do have the occasional purchase of a new hose or chicken wire to secure the gate. To fund these expenses, we ask gardeners to voluntarily contribute a small amount (e.g., $10.00). The voluntary contribution is on an as needed basis, and lasts for a few years. At the beginning of the season, volunteers come together for a “clean-up” of the pathways. The only rule is that the garden is organic!
If you visit our garden in mid-summer, you will see us at work tending our crops: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuces, peas, radishes scallions, kale, asparagus and more. We live in a special time of uncertainty and the history of community gardens will have a new chapter this season. It is, however, a time of resilience and recovery. What better way to go forward than to plant, harvest and reap the real and psychic rewards of nature’s bounty. Happy gardening!
Community of Gardens (History), Smithsonian Institution, URL: https://communityofgardens.si.edu/exhibits/show/historycommunitygardens/intro
How to Organize a Community Garden, NC State Extension, URL: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/how-to-organize-a-community-garden
Community Gardens, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, URL: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8499.pdf
John Rhodes, Chairperson
Every CAC finds its own way to further key environmental objectives, such as sustainable land use, restoring biodiversity, reducing waste, and creating a healthy food chain. All over our valley in Northern Westchester County, CACs and CABs are partnering with other local organizations to respond to issues that challenge the health of our communities and the entire world.
In Mount Kisco our approach has been to focus on areas that help our community to reconnect with the natural world—including forests, air, rivers, pollinators, climate, and food supply. This process has also led us to concentrate our efforts on our younger residents.
One good example of this path is the teaching garden we’ve helped to create at the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester. Our project team includes Karanja Elliott, the physical education and recreational programming director of BGC-NW, Natalia Prakhina of the Bionutrient Food Association (BFA), and a great group of local volunteers. What was, just last year, an overgrown patch of land behind the club is now a beautiful garden where the kids can learn about food and nature by growing their own vegetables and flowers. Before the Covid lockdown, the kids planted a variety of early crops, and volunteers are now safely planting more, so kids will have something to weed and harvest when the Club reopens.
Our virtual Earth Day Celebration this year was also an extension of this commitment to nature connection and education. Despite the crisis, we were able to safely distribute planting kits with vegetable and pollinator plant seeds, peat planters, soil, and label-sticks, to more than 50 kids. They were then able to plant the seeds as part of our interactive online celebration, which also included recycled crafts, a video guide to local composting, nature tales, and other fun green activities.
Though these educational efforts are key to a sustainable future, we are painfully aware that the already strained food chain has been further disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit Westchester County with a particular ferocity. Our local food pantries and restaurants are providing thousands of additional free meals per week, many super market shelves are still bare, and access to healthy food is a growing concern.
Some local growers are using imagination to help combat food insecurity. BFA members, Earth Nature Farms, Our New Way Gardens, SecondChance, and Dig Farms are distributing hundreds of 3-gallon burlap “grow-bags” filled with close-to-fruiting plants. These will provide local families with a compact, continuing source of fresh food, all summer long.
The Westchester Land Trust, in addition to protecting thousands of acres of precious open space, has also played a major role in creating a sustainable food supply in our area. Working with D.I.G and the Northern Westchester Community Center, WLT helped provide more than 100,000 lbs. of fresh, healthy food for community families in need over the past year. Besides maintaining WLT’s own Sugar Hill Farm, the Land Trust also works with many partners and donors to help keep local farmland growing food for future generations.
To address both the short-term and long-term issues of food insecurity, we also need to accelerate the growth of Community Gardens and other alternative channels of local food supply. Although our CAC members have played a role in this movement, our local food renaissance is largely due to the work of some amazing individuals and organizations.
Among these is Dr. Susan Rubin, a food and garden educator, who, along with Mey Marple, is the creative force behind our ARC/InterGenerate local community garden. Rubin has also organized a Community Garden at the MK Elementary School, and several others in the surrounding area. Our Community Garden is a joint venture with ARC of Westchester and InterGenerate, and the project provides local residents (including myself) with a great opportunity to grow food for their own families, and also share their harvest with less fortunate members of the community. This almost 10,000-square-foot garden functions on a co-operative model, where members work together on a large community plot, sharing the bounty with each other and also providing hundreds of pounds of fresh, organic vegetables for families in need each year. Some members also elect to sow and tend individual 80-sq-ft plots, located in the garden’s SW corner.
The garden has flourished under the umbrella of InterGenerate, a nonprofit group that advocates environmental and social sustainability in northern Westchester.
InterGenerate has also organized community gardens in Katonah, Chappaqua and neighboring towns, and works with local farmers to distribute large quantities of fresh produce to low-income families. During this difficult time of lockdown and social distancing, InterGenerate has also developed and implemented effective guidelines to help keep our community gardeners safe.
Mount Kisco’s Pollinator Pathway is another expression of our wholistic approach, and it’s just one link on the Hudson to Housatonic (H2H/RCP) Pollinator Pathway Project. This greater initiative is supported by more than 30 towns in Western Connecticut and Southeastern NY, and aims to restore the web of connected habitat for pollinating insects and birds across the region. Although human edibles are not the primary focus of the Pathway Project, the initiative is grounded in a deep awareness of the connection between the wellbeing of pollinators and the two-thirds of our food supply that they help grow.
|Along with our half mile of No-Mow Zones, a key component of Mount Kisco’s Pollinator Pathway is the Laura Flewellyn Memorial Pollinator Garden. It’s located on the corner of Grove Street and East Hyatt Avenue, on public property willed to the Village by Miss Flewellyn, a local schoolteacher and one of our town’s first environmentalists. Over more than 50 years, she taught thousands of elementary school students that “Conservation is our Job.” Last year, neighborhood residents Caroline Matthew and Jim Gmelin, along with Garden Designer Judy Terlizzi and our CAC, rallied to save and restore the rag-tag, overgrown garden within Flewellyn Park. We received great support and encouragement from Mayor Picinich, Assistant Village Manager Ken Famulare, Michael’s Garden Gate Nursery, the Pollinator Pathway Project, the MK Historical Society, MK Beautification Committee, the Cub Scouts, the Healthy Yards Project, and the Friends of Flewellyn. During the summer, this beautiful garden plays host to crowds of butterflies, bumblebees, and birds, while a children’s section provides a special place for young gardeners to learn and practice their craft.
|It truly takes a village to build a healthy, well-fed, and connected community. The many volunteer gardeners, farmers, scientists, and organizations working together in Northern Westchester are growing a giant virtual village based on hope, cooperation, caring—and kale!
Bionutrient Food Association: email@example.com
Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester: bgcnw.com
Earth Nurture Farms: NatPrakihina@gmail.com
Friends of Flewellyn: www.facebook.com/FriendsOfFlewellyn
Hudson to Housatonic: http://h2hrcp.org/
Pollinator Pathway: pollinator-pathway.org/Kisco
Westchester Land Trust: Westchesterlandtrust.org
|On public property: Article 2-C of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law creates an office of community gardens to assist in the development of community gardens on vacant public lands. To gain access to vacant public lands, community organizations must apply to public bodies for permission to use the land as a garden. The office is meant to assist in the identification of vacant public land for community gardening purposes, coordinate on behalf of interested community groups and state or local agencies to facilitate the use of vacant public lands for community gardens, and support and encourage networking among community garden programs around the state. (McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated, Agriculture and Markets Law, Chapter 69, Article 2-C. Community Gardens.)
for more information on the Surry White Rock Food Coalition
The office also helps coordinate a number of grant programs supporting community gardens. The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets offers grants through the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Environmental Protection Fund. “Municipalities or not-for-profit entities can apply for matching funds to acquire or preserve, rehabilitate or restore land for community gardening purposes.” See New York Parks Grant Program.
Article 5, section 96 of McKinney’s General Municipal Law authorizes municipalities to hold land by contract, lease, fee, or agreement to be used for community gardening. “A municipality may encourage individuals, community organizations and groups to use vacant lands and municipal facilities for such period of time and under such conditions as the municipality may determine for use in community garden programs, including but not limited to, a condition that users possess liability insurance and accept liability for injury or damage resulting from use of the vacant public land for community gardening purposes.”
NEW: Enacted 2013 legislation amended the law to: allow the Office to develop a single form for interested parties to use when applying for the use of vacant public land for community gardening; assist cooperation between gardening groups and food assistance organizations and the New York Harvest For New York Kids Week program and farm-to-school and school garden programs and created a community gardens task force to identify methods for the establishment and expansion of community gardens.
18 Waverley Community Garden, Gardening across generations
For further information on public community gardens, go to: https://www.ncsl.org/research/agriculture-and-rural-development/community-gardens-state-statutes-and-programs.aspx
Groups to Learn More About
These groups may be specific to only certain parts of the state. However, there very well may be others that perform similar functions. CACs can partner with them to fulfill the needs of starting and running a successful community garden, especially in Environmental Justice areas. Further, they can provide essential information on food growing, needed by anyone interested in growing their own, nutritious, successful home gardens, and can be used as a resource by CACs, as well as other groups.
1. Vines Program: for residents of the City of Binghamton, Johnson City, Endwell, or Endicott
Build a Garden Program
We understand that many people want to garden (during the COVID-19 pandemic) but not everyone can get to one of our community gardens and many people cannot safely grow directly in ground at their home due to lead contamination (see below for more information). To help more people grow food, we have launched our Build a Garden Program. We will provide a completely constructed raised garden bed or a set of garden bags filled with rich compost and soil and other resources to help you get started.
No prior gardening experience is required!
Who is eligible:
Anyone who lives in the City of Binghamton, Johnson City, Endwell, or Endicott is eligible for the program, but we do have limited funds and will prioritize people who:
We will select those with the highest need first and others may have to wait until midseason for a bed, but we will help you figure out what to grow even if you can’t get started until July.
What you will receive if you are selected:
Additional program details & gardener expectations:
Lead Contamination Information:
If you live in a home that was built before 1970 or you live near a major highway, your soil may be contaminated with lead from lead paint on your house or lead gasoline dust. To keep yourself and your family healthy, you should not grow in soil that is or may be contaminated with lead. To be safe, grow in clean soil in a raised bed or bag. If you wish to eRead this article on gardening and lead contamination for more information. If you are concerned about you or your child having been exposed to lead, contact the Broome County Health Department.
2. Institute for Local Self-Reliance: for residents throughout NYS
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance or ILSR is a nonprofit organization and advocacy group that provides technical assistance to communities about local solutions for sustainable community development in areas such as banking, broadband, energy, and waste through food composting. The organization was founded in 1974. ILSR has three offices, one in Washington, D.C, one in Minneapolis, MN, and one in Portland, ME.
3. Cornell University: applicable throughout the state.
Cornell University, the gold standard for agricultural practices in New York State has a wonderful guide to growing 58 different vegetables. Follow the link:
Follow the link: https://ilsr.org/webinar-home-composting-may-2020/ to a 1½ hour video on composting, both conventionally and using worms.
For complete list of garden vegetables and how they should be planted and maintained, go to the following link:
Here’s an abbreviated example for one vegetable.
Vegetable (Warm Season) – Other
Also known as garden peas, shelling peas, snap peas, sugar peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas, Chinese peas, edible-podded peas.
Like sweet corn, peas are at their tastiest immediately after harvest. Whether you choose shell or edible-pod peas, they grow best during spring and early summer when temperatures are between 60 F to 75 F.
Go to this link: https://bionutrient.org/site/growers/soil-fertility-principles, entitled “Soil Fertility Principles”, one of the major topics this group covers.
The Bionutrient Food Association (BFA) is a non-profit organization founded to improve food quality through regenerative (biological) agricultural methods that prioritize building soil vitality and management of biological systems for better crop nutritional quality, vigor, flavor and yields. BFA aspires to promote successful models of sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change and to reverse the decline in crop nutritional and flavor qualities attributed to abused soils. Their educational mission is to teach growers biological farming techniques proven effective in building soil health and crop quality, and to raise consumer awareness regarding the relationship between how food is grown and its quality at harvest. Their research mission is to better define benchmarks for crop nutritional quality and to illuminate the causal relationships between soil health, plant health and human health. For more information, contact: www.bionutrient.org.
In a recent interview, Ellen Best, co-leader of the Westchester/New York City chapter covered soil issues, as follows: She compared the soil ecosystem of a plant to the gut of a human. Humans cannot process all the nutrients they’ve consumed without the bacteria in the gut, which is similar to a plant— “the roots are in the dirt, but they mostly get nutrients from the microbes (fungi and bacteria) in the soil. ” Specifically, this system not only allows organisms to break down rocks to deliver minerals to the plant roots, but also creates air pockets, allowing life to exist in the soil along with that water filtration and holding system.” In return, the plant delivers sugars to the microbes. She emphasized, “it’s not that we do not have enough water or rain, it’s that we don’t have healthy soil to take advantage of what we have.” In a healthy system, the covered aggregated composition of the soil takes in rainwater, which decreases runoff.
Ellen responded directly to a NYSACC request for further information: “Plus, when the soil microbiome and plant relationship is optimal, carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere into the soil, where it belongs. It’s not that we have “more” carbon these days, it’s that we have faltered with agriculture (tilling, over-grazing, bare soil, monocropping, adding chemicals) – a degradation process that began with agricultural practices over 10,000 years ago, accelerating in the past 100 years with large scale, “modern” agriculture practices.
“Here’s the sexy part. To accomplish our mission – improving the quality of the food supply – the BFA is developing a hand-held device and eventual phone app that will test the nutritional value of food at point of sale. Pointed at various carrots, for example, with a simple “click,” consumers will be able to make choices based on food value. At the same time, food producers will be held accountable, thereby affecting the marketplace.
“Yes, the word “organic” has gained in popularity, but simultaneously has lost integrity. As we gather data for the new biometer, we are finding that conventional foods are sometimes more nutritious.
“Although “organic” means that it does not contain pesticides and herbicides, it does not guarantee nutrition; the soil plants are grown in has to have biology in it! “
It’s more than vegetablesFrom Healthy Yards:
|We know about the importance of flowers and native plants for our pollinators. But we don’t see butterflies eating carrots or a bee nibbling on kale. So why would we encourage you to grow vegetables at home? Because backyard vegetable gardening does, in fact, help pollinators. Have a look at this picture:
Healthy Yards is an organization committed to help people change from harmful yard practices, which produce greenhouse gases and endanger wildlife, to healthy yard operations that do exactly the opposite. For many of these practices we depend on the landscaping business. It is our responsibility as homeowners to tell the landscaping business that we use, that want healthier yards.
Fearing for their livelihood, some landscapers might be reluctant to change. But there is no need to fear, there are plenty of sustainable practices that can be offered as valuable alternatives for any conventional practice.
This website (https://www.healthyyards.org/) is designed to share those healthier alternatives so that we, collectively, build healthy ecosystems in our back yards that support bees, butterflies, birds, and more.
Summer Reading List
We thank the Bedford Farmer’s Club (https://www.bedfordfarmersclub.org/) for providing these reading suggestions with their New York Times reviews.
Bedford Farmers Club seeks to encourage wise and rewarding land stewardship. We work to foster an awareness of Bedford’s remarkable agricultural heritage. Advancing knowledge and improving the practice of agriculture and horticulture in a farming community was the premise of the Bedford Farmers Club in 1852. Today it addresses backyard farming, horticulture, animal husbandry, and local history.
My grandfather died many years ago, but I still remember his stories of growing up in the Texas Hill Country in the early 20th century, walking two miles each way to a one-room schoolhouse and doing chores that were, to me, unfathomable: making laundry soap out of lard and lye, plucking chickens, hauling water from the well. I thought of him often as I read “Farm Girl,” Carlson’s spare, charming memoir of her Depression-era childhood.
THE GROWING SEASON
Like Carlson, Frey was raised on an 80-acre family farm, only hers lacked indoor plumbing for years and was heated only by a wood stove during the frigid Illinois winters. By the time she was 5, she was used to chores like gathering the eggs. “When people think of chickens, they think of decorative little hens in the pretty little houses that you see on Instagram,” she writes. “No. We had a shadowy henhouse full of spider webs, mice and the occasional egg-sucking varmint — a raccoon or possum.”
“I couldn’t just bail my parents out,” she recalls. “It would have to be my land. I would manage it how I saw fit. I wouldn’t let my father be in control.” She got to work. At 19, she negotiated a deal to deliver melons to a Walmart distribution center (never mind that she didn’t have either the trucks or the necessary produce); shortly after, she asked her brothers to come work with her. They began to expand, acquiring suppliers and hiring workers. “Some women buy shoes,” she says. “I buy farms.” These days, as The Times has noted, “if you have bought a pumpkin at Walmart or Lowe’s, the odds are good that it came from Frey Farms.”
|Our thanks to the following contributors:
Dan Farkas, PhD
Dan Farkas has been involved in computing, technology and education for the past 25 years. He is currently the Chairman of the Information Systems Department at Pace University in Westchester, New York. His early experience was as a systems programmer on IBM mainframe computers in the financial industry gaining expertise in a spectrum of operating environments from the initial releases of OS/360 through MVS and VM. While staying current with the latest large systems technology, Dan began devoting his energy to smaller systems, becoming involved with the automation of foreign exchange operations and trading. Later, as a consultant, Dan was part of the original team which developed the technology plan for the new Chemical Bank, Delaware.
After completing a MS degree in Computer Science, Dan joined the Information Systems Department at Pace University. For more than 20 years he has been involved with the development and teaching of graduate and undergraduate curriculum.
His current research interests involve information technology for E-commerce including telecommunications infrastructure, operating systems and client/server computing.
Mr. Rhodes believes that Conservation Boards and Commissions can play a critical role in the preservation of our local and global environment through education, advocacy, and tenacious attention to local land use, waste reduction, biodiversity, and GHG pollution.