RWA Brings Neighbors to Local Long Island Farms
Last year, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA) started the RISE Farm Share initiative. Intended to combat the lack of healthy food options in Rockaway, especially in the communities on the eastern end, the RISE Farm Share operates like a magazine subscription. Members of the Farm Share buy their shares at the beginning of the season and pick up their fresh produce on a weekly basis. Farm Share members receive the highest quality fruits and vegetables that are picked that day, or just a little bit earlier, at a low cost. This money goes directly to the farmers: they get the money when they most need it (at the beginning of the season) and can then offer produce to members at wholesale prices.
Response to the program last year was positive and uplifting. Though the organization faced some challenges, RWA is excited to kick-off the Farm Share again this year on Wednesday, June 6. In preparation for the start of the program, RWA took a trip on May 19 with Farm Share members, potential members, and the participants in their youth programs to the local Long Island farms that provide the produce for the Farm Share. These are Briermere Farms (fruit) in Riverhead and Sang Lee Farms (vegetables) in Peconic. Both of these sit comfortably within a 100 mile radius of RISE, which is the distance many people consider to be the ‘local’ zone.
About 30 adventurers braved the cold and the rain to check out the farms. RWA Executive Director Jeanne DuPont spoke for a little bit on the ride there, fully explaining the benefits of a Farm Share for Rockaway communities and giving the group a preview of what to expect when they got to the farms. Some of the benefits she mentioned include: healthier diets, volunteer opportunities, and exposure to new kinds of produce and recipes for cooking.
The group’s first stop was Briermere Farms. Last year, farmer Clark and his two children took the crew on a hayride around the fields. This year, the weather did not allow for the ride; so instead, farmer Clark took them inside the barn for a look at his digital family photo album! You could hear “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from the crowd as Clark showed us his baby pictures and his kids’ baby pictures, including cameos from farm animals. As he scrolled through the pictures, he also talked about farming practices.
While Briermere Farms is not organic, since pests are a much harder problem to deal with when it comes to fruit, farmer Clark did let us in on some little known, more natural processes for protecting plants as they grow. One involved using bands tied around plants that release pheromones, which discourage pests from damaging the plants, and another involved selecting certain apple trees to grow shorter trunks and larger apples, so that more trees overall could be planted. Before leaving Briermere, attendants stopped by the market out front to pick up a variety of delicious goodies. These included fresh fruit juice of all flavors, and wonderfully smelling pies baked just that morning.
Then, it was off to Sang Lee Farms just ten minutes away. Saturday, May 19 was Sang Lee’s open house, and so on arrival, there was live music from a local band as farmers handed out samples of vegetables, dips, juices, and even stir-fry! The group took some time to try the samples and buy some food from the market to eat lunch before a tour of the farm started at 2 p.m. Though the rain picked up and the temperature seemed to be dropping steadily, most of the group was able to make it through the trip. Farmers, Fred and Lucy, talked about the history of the farm, which began with Fred’s father and uncles after World War II, and about the process of becoming organically certified in the early 2000s. Fred and Lucy took us into the greenhouses where they can grow produce that is not in season, like tomatoes, thanks to the higher temperatures. Outside they even picked some asparagus directly out of the ground for us all to try! Even the young kids on the tour were having a great time tasting different treats and learning about a profession that, most of the time, many people living in cities do not think about as a rewarding lifestyle. One of Fred and Lucy’s main points was that “farming is as important now as it ever was, and it actually calls for creative minds that can solve problems in the ever-changing world that is the 21st century.”
On the way back home, before everyone fell asleep after a long day, community members expressed just how much they enjoyed the festivities. “What a wonderful day of exploration and learning,” Daris Garnes, Farm Share member and volunteer, said. Many people were going home with one or two bags full of healthy treats for their families, and others even took out their cell phones to sign-up for the Farm Share as they returned to Rockaway.