By Charlie Paolino
For the small farmer, one of the most basic tenets of our mission – to grow food for ourselves and our community – is becoming increasingly difficult due to one simple issue, the acquiring and maintaining of land. As property taxes have increased, shipping costs and gas have increased and unfortunately income derived from growing beautiful and organic food has remained stagnant.
As Americans thirst for the “American Dream”, which for some is an oversized “McMansion” on an acre of land, our usable farm land continues to shrink as many farmers simply can not compete with the developer willing to spend big money to convert beautiful swaths of open pastures into mindless cookie-cutter developments. Fortunately, even in bustling areas such as Rockland County, New York, there is hope!
Thanks to the work of the Rockland Farm Alliance, here in Rockland County, the pendelum has begun to swing the other way. Started in 2007 by John McDowell and Alexandra Spadea-McDowell of Camp Hill Farm in Pomona, the Rockland Farm Alliance consists of farmers, community activists, county officials and local citizens who share a common goal: “to facilitate local sustainable agriculture in Rockland County”.
In what is a groundbreaking new model for preserving farm land, the members of the Rockland Farm Alliance and the Board of Directors of their current project: The Cropsey Community Farm, have set into motion a very exciting way to preserve these farms for the community. The Rockland Farm Alliance has obtained a four year lease from Rockland County and the Town of Clarkstown to develop a community farm on a five acre parcel of a retired farm owned previously by the Cropsey family. There are many aspects of the project which are unique, interesting and downright inspiring. This entire project has been entirely driven through volunteers who have selflessly donated their time, money and very often sweat to see this project blossom from an idea into reality. The project plans to have three basic components: growing food for the community in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model, an educational component for local students and a component for providing produce for a local school food program.
According to Naomi Camilleri, assistant director of the Rockland Farm Alliance,
“The Rockland Farm Alliance is devoted to supporting all of Rockland’s existing farms, as well as facilitating the birth of new sustainable farms in our county. With the cost of land here at hundreds of thousands an acre, the era of large family farms has come to a close, and it is time to usher in a new model of farming for suburban areas or see the loss of all of our open space and access to locally-grown food. The Cropsey Community Farm is the new model we are striving to implement, here and in other peri-urban areas. There is land available, both publicly and privately owned, and there are communities ready to build small sustainable farms. We are bringing them together, to the benefit of all parties involved: families, schools, restaurants, hospitals and government. Within five to ten years, we hope to see a community farm in every town in Rockland, and beyond.”
Having been invited to be on the board and being fortunate enough to sit with a group of people who are blazing a new path for local food production with support from the local community and government agencies, I cannot help but feel we may be on the verge of creating something very special here.
The plan is for not only preserving land in the suburbs, but also for providing organic, nutrient dense foods that will travel miles to our plates, instead of across time zones or even continents. In addition to the obvious food production aspect of the project, there is also a hope that the Cropsey Community Farm will have a very large community education component and the board is working closely with the community and local schools to make this happen.
At the current time the Cropsey Community Farm project is in full motion. Fences have been installed, soil testing has been performed and organic soil amendments and compost have been applied. Fall plantings have already begun and repairs to an existing barn are also in motion. A full time farmer has been hired, Jerome Rigot, and he is leading the charge in this groundbreaking project.
As the project is progressing, it has become very clear that ongoing support from the community is necessary to ensure the farm will become self sustaining economically. Only through membership in the Rockland Farm Alliance, donations to the project and the efforts of our many generous volunteers can this project continue.
If you feel that you can contribute, please visit the RFA website for information. http://www.rocklandfarm.org/
Charlie Paolino is a board member of the Rockland Farm Alliance. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org