New! A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “Farmland in Westchester?”

This is the sixth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of environmental work in Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 

In this post we would like to highlight the importance of farmland in Westchester County, as per our theme for this month’s E-News. This article, written by Gudrun “Goodie” LeLash our then Executive Director, cites the need to preserve a local farm on the Cortlandt/Yorktown border called Hemlock Hill Farm and owned by the DeMaria family. The call to action was a success and today Hemlock Hill Farm is able to provide its community with farm-fresh products. Visit their website at http://www.hemlockhillfarm.com.


“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 96 No. 2 – March & April 1996

Farmland in Westchester?

By Gudrun LeLash, FCWC Executive Director 1996

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It may be hard to believe, but vestiges of the county’s rural heritage still exist. However, one of Westchester’s few remaining farms is threatened with foreclosure, and New York City may be the only entity that can preserve it.

The DeMaria Farm, “Hemlock Hill,” situated on a scenic hilltop straddling the Cortlandt/Yorktown border, is in grave jeopardy. With the help of Westchester Land Trust a conservation plan has been proposed to the owners, the mortgage holders and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. It would involve DEP acquisition of the land through its watershed protection program. The DeMarias would use the proceeds for settling outstanding debts and as working capital for the farm.

About half the farm’s roughly 120 acres is in active agricultural use. The rest is wooded buildable land, although some areas are steep, rocky or wet. The land drains into Hunter Brook which runs directly into nearby Croton Reservoir. The farm is one of just a few large parcels comprising the Hunter Brook drainage area and has been a top property conservation site for over 20 years. Efforts to develop a greenway along Hunter Brook are being renewed by the Westchester Land Trust.

It is urgent that the DEP make a commitment soon since foreclosure would result in a Sheriff’s sale of the farm and eviction of the DeMarias within the next couple months. If the lenders gain title to the farm, it will undoubtedly be developed. Time is of the essence.

The DEP has visited the DeMaria Farm but has not committed to its protection. However, County Executive O’Rourke has urged the DEP to pursue acquisition of the land’s development rights. The Watershed Agricultural Council, set up as a watershed farm assistance bureau, funded by the DEP and Cornell, has shown interest in helping the DeMarias develop a watershed-sensitive farm plan that also makes financial sense.

This would be a wonderful opportunity to save a farm, create a greenbelt and demonstrate environmentally sound farming.

Groundwork Hudson and Hilltop Hanover Farm: 2 Groups Are Thinking Outside the Planting Bed

2 Groups Are Thinking Outside the Planting Bed

There is more to Westchester’s local agricultural community than the everyday farmers market-goer may think. While traditionally what comes to mind when thinking of farming are weekly roadside stands and idyllic pastureland, two of FCWC’s member organizations are handling more subtle applications and trends associated with local food production. Explore how Groundwork Hudson Valley and Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center are working outside of box this growing season.


Groundwork Hudson Valley – “pH Balances, Vegetables, and Fish”

thumb_DSC_0080_1024Located in Yonkers and along the waterfront, Groundwork Hudson Valley has been pioneering a project for the last seven years that combines all of the elements of sustainable agriculture: green techniques, economics, and community. Their Science Barge is a floating, off-the grid system that uses aquaponics to grow vegetables for Groundwork’s weekly summer famers market. As an educational facility the barge teaches the public about benefits of urban agriculture, green energy, and most notably aquaponic agriculture – a practice that combines aquaculture (raising fish and other water animals) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).

thumb_DSC_0084_1024The barge has two green houses on board, where volunteers tend to lettuce, tomatoes, and the koi fish swimming beneath the growing plants. All water used in their aquaponics system is derived from rainwater, and in cases where there are drought conditions the barge thumb_DSC_0101_1024uses a reverse-osmosis system to process water from the Hudson River, which is brackish.

When visiting the barge, the whizzing sound of small wind turbines fill the air with each passing breeze and the two solar voltaic panels move shadows along the deck as they tilt slightly to catch rays. It is a great place for children and adults alike to get hands on experience with this alternative form of agriculture and energy. You can peer in at all the pH labels on tanks and even get to hold some of the “rock wool” that the plants are grown in.

thumb_DSC_0085_1024Part of what makes the Science Barge an important feature of Westchester’s local agricultural system is its focus on bringing locally sourced food to urban locations. Groundwork Hudson Valley has focused on the more urban locations in the county in an effort spur green growth in these communities, like Yonkers. The group has not stopped at the Science Barge, but also has many community gardens dispersed through the city.

Groundwork Hudson Valley’s work is truly impressive and not to mention really fun. To see when their next farmers market will be visit groundworkhv.org.


Hilltop Hanover Farm – “The Revival of the Farmer”

(Photo Credit: Hilltop Hanover Farm’s instagram account @hilltophanoverfarm, Helen Brady)

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Off Hanover Street by Route 100, Hilltop Hanover Farm and Educational Center is situated just outside Yorktown’s center. A county-owned vegetable farm, Hilltop Hanover has been teaching the public about sustainable crop production since 2011. With a history dating back to the 1600s, it is fitting that here there is an effort to develop the next generation of farmers.

Farming as a livelihood has decreased drastically since the 1900s due to increased industrialization, but we are finding that we need our farmers once again. A growing trend all throughout the country, and strongly here in Westchester County, has been an increased demand for locally grown food.

When speaking with Hilltop Hanover’s head farmer Max Zanke about this trend, he attributes it to the public being alerted to sustainability and localism issues, and generally caring more about their diets. The result has been a renewed interest in farms and organically grown food.FullSizeRender

Hilltop Hanover has been a good model for developing the next generation of farmers. While its focus is on public education of sound farming techniques, it is also a working farm. Hilltop Hanover feeds close to 150 families through its CSA program, and even more at their weekly farm stand and in donations to local food pantries. This need for skilled farm workers has allowed for individuals to fill this niche.

FullSizeRender (4)In conversations with Max again, this revival of the farmer begins to feel circular. Many of the residential land in Westchester used to be farmland; but in recent history’s unprofitably of small-scale farming, family farms were abandoned and the land was developed. Today there are efforts to bring back these farms and new generations are filling the void of their stewards.

It’s true the way we see farmers we see now has changed. Our parents and grandparents grew up trying to move away from family farms, because of the poverty and drudgery often associated with the work. This new generation was simply filling the void left by that migration. I hate to use such obvious language but it seemed more “grassroots” and “organic”.

There is a lot at play behind the increasing trend for local food; there could be touches of sentimentality for a simpler way, but there is also the recognition that industrialization of farming may have gone a step too far. Agriculture is deeply embedded in our country’s roots and the loss of small farming threatens generations of knowledge to be forgotten.

FullSizeRender (3)Hilltop Hanover and its farmers have been a part of this effort to reignite the relationship the community as with its food. Their work is hard, but is surely a labor of love.

Come and meet the Hilltop crew every weekend at their farmer stand, and even get a chance to take your turn in the field on their U-Pick Saturdays. Learn more by visiting hilltophanoverfarm.org.

“Greening Our Parks” – Conservation Café

autumn_hyde_parkOn Friday May 29, FCWC and our partners in the “Conservation Café” presented the latest Conversations on Conservation program entitled “Greening our Parks.”

Many parks and open spaces are increasingly looking at how they can advance their missions through sustainable operations on their lands. These can include but are not limited to alternative energy projects, waste reduction initiatives, and pollution prevention projects. By many accounts, our parks and open spaces are leaders in sustainability, yet many of these projects remain secondary attractions to the natural resources that we seek out when visiting these locations. The Conservation Café sought to highlight some regional sustainability initiatives taken by parks in our own backyards.

Alyssa Cobb, the Assistant Commissioner for Parklands and Planning for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation discussed the New York City Community Parks Initiative (CPI). The CPI is an investment in the smaller public parks that are located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods where there are higher-than-average concentrations of poverty. The Initiative will engage New Yorkers in rebuilding local parks and reconnect communities to the green spaces right outside their doorsteps. ‘Greening’ is a targeted improvement that the NYC Parks and Recreation Department is looking to incorporate into the CPI. Cobb also noted that stormwater management was a big concern when updating some of the City parks that include significant amounts of impervious surfaces.

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Summary of FCWC’s Federation Meeting

Helping Our Member Organizations Plan for the Future

By Kate Munz, Member Relations Coordinator 

On April 29th, 2015, we hosted our annual Federation Meeting. Each year FCWC hosts this meeting as an opportunity for our Member Organizations to congregate and discuss the current state of Westchester’s Environment. FCWC facilitates networking among the organizations and general attendees, so to help our organizations expand their base and

Dr. Mike Rubbo from Teatown presenting on Teatown's current climate change studies.
Dr. Mike Rubbo from Teatown presenting on Teatown’s current climate change studies.

relationships. We also bring experts on a variety of subjects to the meeting to teach our organizations something we think would be useful. This meeting is about strengthening our “federation” and spreading knowledge.

This year we had representatives from 10 organizations, all of whom had the opportunity to share projects they were working on, and what they would like to see out of their membership of FCWC.

Much of 2015, FCWC’s 50th anniversary year, has been spent pursuing two goals: addressing the topic of climate change and sea level rise, and trying to sustain the nonprofit grassroots fundamentals that FCWC was founded on. Therefore it was on these two topics that we chose our experts. The first speaker of the program was Mike Rubbo, Director of Conservation at Teatown Lake Reservation. He spoke about Teatown’s current environmental projects and the efforts they are making to create a more resilient ecosystem. The second speaker was Lori Ensinger, Executive Director at Westchester Land Trust, who discussed the many intricacies of communicating with a Board of Directors.

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A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “New York State Breeding Bird Atlas”

This is the fifth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 

In this post we would like to welcome spring and the start of the birding season with a piece on the first New York State Breeding Bird Atlas. This article, written by Berna Weissman our then Treasurer, delves into the planning and work behind the Breeding Bird Atlas Project 1980, which culminated in a published Atlas. In December 2008 a “Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State” was released with updated information and public Google Earth datasets. Details on this “Second Atlas in Breeding Birds in New York State” can be found here: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7312.html


“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 4 No. 3 – April & May 1982

A Look Into the PastNew York State Breeding Bird Atlas: a work a scientific significance

By Berna Weissman, FCWC Treasurer (Excerpt from)

Even in New York, endowed with a long history of ornithology and the current activity of a large number of professional and amateur observers, the precise distribution of the more than 200 species of birds which breed here is imperfectly known. Previous publications have had to rely on scattered studies of single species and random observations. The Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, seeking to fill this gap, launched the Breeding Bird Atlas Project in 1980, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, National Audubon Society, Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology and New York State Museum.

To accomplish the enormous task of mapping the distribution of all breeding birds, the entire state has been divided into approximately 5000 blocks of 25 square kilometers, each to be surveyed for the species breeding within it. The field work, which will last for five years, is being done by volunteers who, by visiting all the habitats within a block at various times throughout the breeding season, locate and identify birds, make observations of their behavior and code them as possible, probably, or confirmed breeders according to a list of established criteria. Publication of the Atlas is expected in the latter half of this decade.

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5 Recommendations for Reducing Westchester’s Waste

Trash Talks: “A Near Zero Solid Waste Strategy” for the Town of Mamaroneck

Sponsored by Sustainable Westchester’s Materials Management Committee

By Kate Munz, Membership Relations Coordinator


On April 9th, 2015 Sustainable Westchester’s Materials Management Committee orchestrated an informative and interesting program titled “Trash Talk” to share the findings of a team of 10 Columbia graduate students after the completion of their final project of “A Near Zero Solid Waste Strategy” for the Town of Mamaroneck. The main take-away from their research was that the solution to the waste problem is not faster removal, but sorting and reduction.

The Project

The Town of Mamaroneck’s average recycling rate of all potentially recoverable materials is 63%. The goal of the capstone project was to provide the Town of Mamaroneck with suggestions, which if implemented, could reduce the town’s waste to “near” zero. The team’s project Leader, Stacy Kotorac, presented the group’s findings and defined “near zero” as, “the diversion of 90% municipal solid waste from the waste-to-energy facility [county incinerator in Peekskill] by 2018 from the 2013 baseline.” The resulting plan was to try to close the gap between the current 63% recycling rate and the 90% or more potential recycling rate.

The Findings
The team of graduate students conducted their study using proxy data from different municipalities across the U.S. and abroad. The team applied the data to predict the change in rate of recycling for different waste management practices, and produced a list of potential recommendations. After a cost/benefit analysis of these recommendations, the team settled on five.

1. A textile and carpet-recycling program – The town can partner with businesses, such as Carpet Cycle, that recycle residential carpet and have designated bins placed at popular locations for collection.

2. Support composting – Provide outreach about backyard composting, create designated organic material drop off locations (ex. Farmers markets), and increase food composting in schools with organizations like WeFutureCycle.

Images from Columbia Graduate Students' "Town of Mamroneck, NY - ZERO WASTE" presentation
Images from Columbia Graduate Students’ “Town of Mamroneck, NY – ZERO WASTE” presentation

3. Address recycling in multifamily buildings – Provide those residents with a tote bag to carry recyclable items to collection locations.

4. Oops! Sticker – A large, visible sticker for garbage collectors to put on trash bags with recyclable items or on poorly sorted recyclable bins. The collector will then not remove those bags or bins for that pick up.

5. Volume-based Pay-As-You-Throw program – A growing practice in the United States, this system would require residents to purchase and use only the trash bags specified by the town. This would require households to pay up-front for their waste production. If a household decreases their waste, their cost of purchasing the bags will also go down.

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Earth Day 2015

2015 is certainly a year for anniversaries. Federated Conservationists has entered its fifth decade, and Earth Day is celebrating its 45th year. When looking back to the first celebration of Earth Day, it is easy to wonder if the 20 million Americans who gathered across the country knew what their movement would become.

Coverage of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, in The New York Times.
Coverage of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, in The New York Times.

In 1970 the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” topped the charts for the year; the Vietnam War sparked anti-war protests among students nationwide; and the hippie and flower child culture was at its height. The United States of 1970 was a much different place than it is today.

The roots of the environmental movement stem from this period in history. Earth Day 1970 used the energy from anti-war protests to move environmental concerns to the forefront of politics; it united those concerned individuals as activists under an environmental banner. Prior to 1970, environmental degradation was not clearly in the public consciousness. There were small rumblings that human activities were causing disturbances in the environment. For example Rachel Caron’s Silent Spring was a NY Times bestseller in 1962, however the general consensus was that poor air and water quality was simply a product of successful development and economic growth.

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