A Year in Transition for Common Ground Farm

by Alison Rooney

Beacon’s Common Ground Farm (CGF) will be the recipient of funds raised at a 100 Years of Spring — an allusion to the centennial of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring — Second Saturday musical event at 8 p.m. Aug. 10, at Beacon’s Howland Cultural Center. Pianist Neil Alexander, who was involved with CGF during its formative years, wished to honor the farm and education center by connecting the concept of spring with sustainability and local food and farms.

Volunteers at work in the vegetable fields.  Photo courtesy of Sarah Burns Feyl

Volunteers at work in the vegetable fields.  Photo courtesy of Sarah Burns Feyl

This celebration of “music, food and community” will also feature Garrison violinist Rachel Evans and along with the Rite of Spring performance, there will be freshly harvested food, and a drawing for prizes. CGF is happy to be spotlighted. The past year has been one of transition for them, as, largely due to the ravages of the past two hurricanes which destroyed the top layer of their soil, CGF has shifted focus from a long-standing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to a host of education and outreach endeavors.

The farm, begun in 2001 as a grassroots community wish to start a CSA and thus a farm, is situated at the northern end of Beacon (above Dutchess Stadium and Renegades Baseball) off of Route 9D, consists of seven acres leased from the Stony Kill Foundation (SKF) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The SKF maintains the trails and the farm animals which make their homes in the livestock barn on the property, while CGF is the nonprofit that actually farms the land.

Farm manager Ellie Lobovits and volunteer  Andrea Brito-Nuñez wash scallions.  Photo by Ariella Narva

Farm manager Ellie Lobovits and volunteer  Andrea Brito-Nuñez wash scallions.  Photo by Ariella Narva

Originally five acres, the farmlands grew, but with the damage from last year’s storms, the land available for farming was reduced to the current three acres and could no longer support the 100-strong CSA, as the land simply couldn’t produce the required amount of food. While  CGF lost the benefits from the income from that, it has not diminished their many activities. Funding from a Dyson Foundation grant has helped them to begin to replenish the soil with compost, farming a smaller acreage. CGF board member Sarah Burns Feyl says that “by growing on fewer acres, we’re able to rebuild.”

The unexpected changes have given CGF an opportunity to focus efforts on the myriad offshoot activities that have always been important to the farm’s mission, which states in part, ” . . . a farm project that serves our community as an educational model for people of all ages to learn how foods grow, how to raise ecologically sound crops without chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and how to keep farmland healthy for generations to come. As a working farm, we strive to interpret anew the agricultural experience and tradition that is a precious part of our nation’s heritage.”

In addition to farmer training, two interconnected strands dominate CGF’s programs, the first being “food justice” which is simply working to provide fresh, organic produce to people in need, regardless of income.

Children and their adult assistants working in the children's garden.   Photo by Sember Weinman

Children and their adult assistants working in the children’s garden.   Photo by Sember Weinman

This is accomplished through weekly donations to Beacon’s St. Andrew’s and St. Luke’s food pantries, and through the Cornell Cooperative-managed Green Teen Community Gardening Mobile Market program, in which Beacon teenagers learn about farming on site, working alongside a farmer, learning about the source of their food.

They then take produce out into the community, selling it at reduced prices, through a program dubbed Common Greens, to low income families and seniors and others in need, as well as at the Beacon Farmers’ Market each Sunday.

Traveling in a conspicuously bright green bus, the teenagers are often accompanied by chef-educators who offer on-the-spot instruction, taste tests and demonstrations on how to prepare some of the less familiar vegetables and other produce, as well as providing activities for kids in a “Kids ‘R Kids Summer Feeding Program.”

Stops are currently being made by this mobile unit at the Davies South Terrace and Forrestal Heights public housing complexes, as well as at the churches. Farmers Market Nutrition Coupons (FMNP), WIC Fruit and Vegetable Checks and SNAP/Food Stamps are all accepted as payment at the Beacon Farmers Market.

Common Greens bus delivers food for food justice programs.  Photo by Warwick Steer

Common Greens bus delivers food for food justice programs.  Photo by Warwick Steer

The farm has three staff members, including farm manager Ellie Lobovitz and education director Sember Weinman, and a part-time office manager. Volunteers handle the rest, with committees for programming, development and communications. Funding comes from a mixture of grants, farm memberships and private donations.

In addition to the food justice activities, education is the other focal point of CGF. A preschool program centered around farm and seasonal activities, connecting the children to the land, operates in fall and spring, with half-day and full-day summer camp taking over during warmer months. Special workshops are offered for all age groups, including adults.

Recent ones have included a 10-session “Drawing From Nature” for teens, “Earthworms” for young children, and “Canning,” “How To Raise Chickens,” “Edible Landscaping,” and “Fermentation” for adults. The next workshop, taking place on Sunday, Aug. 18, at Artisan Wine Shop, will be “Make Chutney.”

A Pioneer Living multi-session series tunes children in to life in frontier America — in particular how children and their parents provided food, shelter and entertainment for themselves, long before the days of electricity-powered inventions. All of the workshops are open to the public, with CGF members receiving a discount.

Common Ground Farm booth at the Beacon Farmers Market..    Photo by Arielle Narva

Common Ground Farm booth at the Beacon Farmers Market..    Photo by Arielle Narva

The farm also hosts field trips from school groups, scout troops and other organizations, and has a birthday party package available. New initiatives include implementing a Farm To School lunch program in many local Beacon schools, where school gardens source ingredients for school lunches, and chefs visit the classrooms to tie it all together.

In addition to all the on-site farming and programs, CGF also maintains a 3,000-square-foot passive solar greenhouse, located at Obercreek Farm, where high tunnels have allowed them to expand their growing season through to year-round.

The farm is always actively seeking members and volunteers.  Membership begins at $35 and includes access to the Lewis Waite Farm buying group (meat, grains, dairy and other products from family-owned farms across the region.) For more information on CGF, membership and all of their programs, visit commongroundfarm.org or send email to [email protected].

Tickets for Saturday’s 100 Years of Spring benefit cost $20 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets or can be purchased at the door.

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