Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Roots at Restoration Farm

Bunches of Red Russian Kale sprout at Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage, NY.

The rain has been endless – seemingly 40 days and 40 nights. The ground squishes as I traipse along the path at Restoration Farm, a certified organic farm at Old Bethpage, NY.

Somebody told me a while back that Community Sponsored Agriculture is a bit like life. You’re constantly planting and harvesting. Indeed. The constant planting and harvesting in life has created more demands and far less time. This has also meant a necessary change in my CSA membership, but with that, brings the opportunity for new experiences and the chance to plant some new roots.

A fine mist blankets Restoration Farm.

Head growers Dan Holmes and Caroline Fanning lead a large group of visitors down a rutted and gently sloping wooded path toward Restoration Farm. Their work clothes are streaked with mud, and they wear water proof boots. They are a friendly, enthusiastic and convivial couple, beginning their second growing season at Old Bethpage. It has been a busy winter season for Dan and Caroline. They married and are expecting their first baby in June.

A fine mist blankets the farm as we emerge from the woods. There is a pond and pasture to the left, and vegetable fields outlined by rustic split rail fencing extend up the hill on the right. A red-winged blackbird alights on a fence post. I can see several people bent over, working in the field. It is like stepping into another era, and with good reason. Nearby, sits an historic farmhouse, and in the distance one can see a tall white church steeple. Restoration Farm sits on the property of Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a living museum of 19th century structures depicting life in a Civil War-era Long Island farming community. The CSA was established in 2007 as part of Nassau County’s “Healthy Nassau” campaign to encourage healthy eating and a healthy environment.

Green splotches of color are visible in the dark, loamy soil at Restoration Farm.

There is a very personal connection for me in this place. Old Bethpage was established in 1970, and our family would visit regularly from the time it opened. You could get a gingersnap cookie and a glass of birch beer at the Noon Inn Tavern, and learn about 19th century farming practices, forging iron and making straw broomsticks. As an adult, I have often returned for old time baseball, Civil War battle reenactments, Independence Day parades, Temperance Picnics and historic celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas, complete with candlelight and period music. Old Bethpage helped inspire my deep love of local history, and now the land will also be the source of my local produce.

Restoration Farm Head Growers Dan Holmes and Caroline Fanning explain strategies for growing organic produce.

Dan and Caroline walk us through each field and tell us what we might expect. Green splotches of color are visible in the dark, loamy soil. There are neat rows of carrots, spinach, onions, lettuce and kale. Tender pea shoots are staked and reaching toward the sky. At the edge of one field, steam rises off mountains of manure that will be used for fertilizer, much of which comes from the cattle that are kept at the historic Powell Farm. In the distance, I can see the familiar steeple of the Manetto Hill Church, built in 1857.

We walk past antique barns, pigs and sheep and stroll down a country lane to visit the flower garden and the new berry fields where strawberries, blackberries and raspberries will be available for picking later in the summer. There is a volunteer working in a field. He is quite wet and covered with grass clippings but tells a visitor how happy he is each time he steps onto the fields of Restoration Farm and begins to work.

A place that inspires a love of local history is now a source of local produce.

We return to the distribution tent where a book called “From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce” is available, along with a spread of homemade blueberry muffins, jam and fruit salad. As the morning concludes, I’ve learned about planting cycles, fertilization, crop rotation, care of berries, flowers and herbs, and I feel a connection with the farmers who have graciously shared their knowledge and commitment for their work. I’m already counting the days until the first harvest.
©2009 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

Does this mean you will actually work here this year? hahaha ;)
I remember last year your funny posts about skipping this end of the deal.That was so funny.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Maryann - You're on to me! Part of the deal is you pay a little more for the share, but there are no work hours required, and the pickup is Saturday morning. It won't be as funny, but convenience is important, too!

~~louise~~ said...

I'm so proud of you T.W. another season in the dirt is going to be a rejuvenating experience for you and yours!

I LOVE Old Bethpage. Kind of ironic, did you happen to see a gleeful Mom with two miniature Civil War "soldiers" in tow. That was me with my kids. They too enjoy Old Bethpage. I didn't work far from there and my company often gave us access to free tours. One place I will miss on Long Island. Thanks for reminding me:)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I remember visiting Old Bethpage once; it was lovely, as I recall, and certainly seems so in your photographs. I'm sure the special spirit of the place will also seep into the produce. Looking forward to following along with your CSA harvest again this summer.

Lori Lynn said...

Very cool. Enjoyed this post immensely.

Julia said...

That's so great that you can follow along with your local produce. From the looks of your photo, I'm thinking I planted my kale to close together. Better start thinning...

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a beautiful old farm. Thanks for taking us along. I love old barns.

Christo Gonzales said...

that farm looks so bucolic....nice chatting with you at the foodbuzz thing.

veron said...

Great farm...can't wait to see everything in full bloom and seeing you in harvest mode. :)