Staten Island Breaks Ground for Farming Project

November 10, 2009 at 2:35 am Leave a comment

Staten Island now has one too:  a working farm.  On Friday, at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, city and state officials broke ground for a two-acre organic farm that will feed the hungry in the city’s richest borough.

The new farm, which is expected to produce 9,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables annually, joins a growing number of urban farms and community gardens in the city.  It will be among the city’s largest urban agricultural producers.

New York State Assemblyman Matthew Titone, a board member of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, had long tinkered with the idea of honoring Snug Harbor’s agricultural past.  The 83-acre site had once been a farm and a nursing home for retired sailors. What’s more, the borough had been a farming hub, with as many as 300 farms in 1900, according to the New York Food Museum.

“Staten Island was the largest agricultural community south of Westchester,” said Assemblyman Titone, adding that the last commercial farm closed as late as 1979.  “Why not,” he thought, “bring farming back to Staten Island?”

The recession and growing lines at food pantries plus healthy food initiatives coming from both Albany and First Lady Michelle Obama made the moment right for a new farm, said Assemblyman Titone.  He collaborated with other city and state leaders and representatives of Snug Harbor to get the pilot farming project off the ground.

The farm will work closely with two Staten Island-based social service organizations that feed the hungry:  the Staten Island Coalition of Feeding Ministries and Project Hospitality.  It will also coordinate with African Refuge, a non-profit that assists Liberian refugees.  In exchange for produce, the organizations will provide volunteers to plant and harvest fruit and vegetables at the farm.

The two-acre farm will include a nursery that will grow trees, shrubs, and grape plants for a planned one-third acre demonstration vineyard.   It will also include a compost demonstration site.

In time, the farm plans to develop a farmers market, with profits reinvested into the farm.  While the details have not been worked out, the goal is to have a farming venture with 50 percent of the produce going to food pantries and the remainder to a for-profit farmer’s market, said Assemblyman Titone.

The Staten Island farm will be comparable in some ways to the 47-acre Queens County Farm Museum, which began cultivating land in 2008 for the purpose of selling organic produce locally.  The Queens County Farm, like its Staten Island counterpart, cultivates two acres.  It also raises livestock, which the Staten Island farming project doesn’t.

As generous as two acres are in a cramped city, the Staten Island farm still doesn’t match some of the city’s largest community gardens. Bissel Garden in the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx is two-and-a-half acres, while the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn is three acres.

The Staten Island farming project might catch up however.  Assemblyman Titone noted that the two-acre plot at Snug Harbor is a pilot program.  If successful, he said, they would look to set up other plots throughout Staten Island.

“Why can’t the farm be spread out?” he asked.

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Entry filed under: City Farmers, Local Food Production, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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