Pioneering Staten Island Farm Brings Organic Produce to Market
STATEN ISLAND — For New Yorkers looking to treat their bodies less like the Fresh Kills Landfill, a new farm in Staten Island may be the solution.
Snug Harbor Cultural Center's Heritage Farm, Livingston, will open new farmer's stand this month where residents can buy produce grown on the grounds of the center, bringing Snug Harbor closer to its original history.
The Farm Stand at Heritage Farm will have its grand opening on July 24, and be open every Tuesday throughout the summer and fall from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The stand will sell organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers grown on the center's 2-acre Heritage Farm, and will also open around Thanksgiving and Christmas, said farm manager Gus Jones.
The goal of the farm is to promote healthier eating for residents as well as to educate them about food sources, according to Jones.
"The whole goal is about nutrition in the community and educating that community," Jones said.
Jones said that his produce will be better because he doesn't use pesticides, but "green manure" — different plants that help nourish the soil — for his crops.
The farm will also donate part of its annual yield to Project Hospitality, to give out to local food pantries.
Throughout the season, produce buyers can expect to buy melons, lettuce, kale, rhubarb, white and red carrots, eggplant, zucchini, mint, and other fruits and vegetables.
During the farm's first year, Jones planted crops to see what grew the best and sold the best.
"We want to generate revenue, we need to figure out what does well," he said. "You kind of throw a bunch of stuff and see what kind of bites you get."
Because of the borough's large Italian-American population, Jones chose to grow many ingredients common to Italian dishes like basil, oregano and nearly an acre of tomato plants.
And while the prices might be a bit more than one would pay at the supermarket, Jones said that he tried to keep the pricing fair.
Heritage Farm plans to create a curriculum for K-12 students to come and get hands on experience working on a farm and learn about food sources. The center already hosted students from New York University and St. John's University to give them the experience of working on a farm.
For people wanting to test out their green thumbs, the farm promotes families to come down and help Jones and his two farm apprentices tend the crops.
The farm will also start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program starting next year.
Ten members of the CSA will be chosen by a lottery, and pay around $600 to receive weekly baskets of produce throughout the season.
Each CSA member will get about $20 to $25 worth of produce each week, Jones said.
The land was originally used as a farm from the 1800s until the 1970s, when Snug Harbor served as a retirement home for sailors.
When the sailor's left, trees grew on the land and the farm was used as a place to store unused building materials.
"For the last 50 years this was the dying ground of materials," Jones said.
Several years ago, the cultural center began clearing out the trees and nearly 140 tons of debris and adding the compost to restart a farm.
"Gus [Jones] is bringing the tradition of farming back to the program," said Snug Harbor's CFO, Jeffrey Manzer.
Jones, originally from Illinois, came to Snug Harbor last August, and began planning, setting up the farm and choosing the seeds, until he was ready to begin in late April.
During the colder months, Jones created heated beds inside a greenhouse to help the seeds grow.
Jones' hope for the farm is that other Staten Islanders will see it is successful and replicate it on other unused plots of land in the borough, even though it may initially be expensive.
"It's not cheap to start a farm," he said. "I hope in five years people will be like 'now it makes sense.'"