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.
Located 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).
The 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 uses 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.
Part 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.
(Photo Credit: Hilltop Hanover Farm’s instagram account @hilltophanoverfarm, Helen Brady)
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.
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.
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.
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.