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Community Farm on MTA-Owned Land Inks Deal to Officially Use Space

 Smiling Hogshead Ranch is an urban farm in Long Island City, built on a plot of unused land owned by the MTA.
Smiling Hogshead Ranch is an urban farm in Long Island City, built on a plot of unused land owned by the MTA.
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Courtesy Gil Lopez

LONG ISLAND CITY — A group of urban farmers who have been informally using a plot of Long Island Rail Road-owned land to grow fruits and vegetables has inked a deal with the MTA to continue using the space with the agency's blessing.

The Smiling Hogshead Ranch started growing on the formerly vacant land on Skillman Avenue near Davis Court in 2011, using "unconventional tactics," according to Gil Lopez, who helped found the green space.

"We didn't ask for permission, we just moved in," he said. At that time, the unused land — which includes defunct railroad tracks — was "kind of a dumping ground."

"Once the MTA figured out what we were up to, they were receptive to it," he said, saying they've been working for the last couple of years to legitimize their use of the space.

The group entered into a garden license agreement with the MTA in July which allows them to use the site for a year, a deal which can be extended annually, according to an MTA spokesman.

"We're pretty confident that we're going to be able to continue using the space for our uses," Lopez said.

No food from the farm is sold, and anything given away to anybody other than volunteers comes from raised beds, organizers said.

The urban farmers, all of whom are volunteers, will celebrate their official status with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday at 3 p.m.

The ranch will be accepting donations at the event, which will include drinks provided by SingleCut Beersmiths and Beyond Brewing Company, plus snacks from local eatery Queens Kickshaw and other food purveyors.

"We're really excited to finally have this garden license agreement in hand," said Lopez, who said the deal will open up more opportunities for the farm, like partnering with other community groups and having schools visit the site.

"It's really going to be a celebration," he said.

Saturday's ribbon-cutting is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP to the event on Facebook or send an email to smilinghogsheadranch@gmail.com.