Driving past the Long Lane home of East End Community Organic Farm (EECO Farm) it is not uncommon to see families tending crops, children playing amongst the rows of fresh vegetables and herbs. Further in, professional farmers can be seen harvesting crops for their farm stands and the growing number of farmers’ markets on the East End, while cars dip in and out of the lot in front of EECO Farm’s own stand to buy fresh lettuce and zucchini just plucked from the vine.
For Ian Calder-Piedmonte, of Balsam Farms, the experience of farming is not one that should be limited to those with access to land, but something celebrated by everyone on the East End. To that end, the board of EECO Farm announced a new initiative last week led by Calder-Piedmonte aimed at bringing the knowledge of successful farming into schools, restaurants, houses of worship and home gardens throughout the South Fork.
The EECO Farm Outreach program was conceptualized as the perfect way for the farm to honor its 10-year anniversary. The not-for-profit was founded by Annie Bliss and Lauren Jarrett and manages close to 50 acres of East Hampton land leased from the town. In turn, it offers leases for gardens to families as well as commercial farmers, chefs and even beekeepers who are committed to organic growing.
In its most basic philosophy, the Outreach program is aimed at bringing the experience and expertise of farmers like Calder-Piedmonte to individuals and institutions on the East End interested in starting their own organic garden or improving their existing one.
Calder-Piedmonte is leading the effort. A local farmer with Alex Balsam at Balsam Farms, Calder-Piedmonte was educated at Cornell University.
“EECO Farm itself is a unique community of gardeners, small farmers, the farm stand — there are a lot of different things going on there,” said Calder-Piedmonte, seated at a table at Bruce Buschel’s Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton, a mecca to local food. “It was Bruce and some other members who thought it would be a good idea to reach out to the community and become a resource for those with questions about growing.”
Already, the Outreach Program is working with East Hampton High School environmental science teacher Rob Schack to develop a school garden there and has worked with the district’s middle school Nature Program garden. The Outreach program has also begun working with restaurants interested in building kitchen gardens, much like the one at Southfork Kitchen, to help bring local produce onto as many menus as possible.
“The idea is to make EECO Farm a bigger part of this community,” said Calder-Piedmonte.
For Schack, the experience his students have simply visiting EECO Farm, let alone growing their own school garden, is something it’s hard to place value on.
“It is tremendous for so many reasons,” he said. “I start talking about food production and sustainability, what is going on with their food to engage the students,” he said. “They are honestly used to looking at things scientifically in small segments, not in terms of the big picture. So when we go to the farm and start looking at the soil, talking about de-nitrification, they recognize it is a concept tied into a larger aspect of being a part of a working farm.”
“It means a lot,” he added. “It gives credence to the fact that science is not just something thrown at them to learn, but there is an actual application.”
Schack sees the school garden as something that can be incorporated in an experiential way into a number of subjects, including math and local history.
“It is also creating this sense of place at the school, which I think is important,” he said.
That garden’s deer fence is currently being built as well as cold frames. Calder-Piedmonte said he hopes to have vegetables planted for harvest this fall.
According to Bliss, the goal at East Hampton like many school gardens is that eventually food from the garden will make its way into the cafeteria, expanding the role of the garden into not just an educational resource, but a nutritional resource as well.
Calder-Piedmonte was careful in noting that this is not an Outreach program designed to offer free agriculture labor, but is conceived as a resource for knowledge.
“We can help people make the right decisions about whether a hoop house or greenhouse is right for them, what kinds of seeds to plant and when, what to look out for,” he said.
Calder-Piedmonte added the agricultural community, which is growing by leaps and bounds each year, is interested in more people becoming a part of its burgeoning community. It’s a community generally populated by farmers’ interested in improving the quality of soil through organic or all-natural farming, rather than destroying it through the use of pesticides,
“If people want to grow here and are interested in growing on this land, we want to facilitate that,” he said.
“I think that EECO Farm is answering a call we have heard on the East End,” added Buschel, noting more people each year are interested in eating local food.
“It all comes from a desire in the community and in the consumer to know where their food is coming from, which sparks this kind of programming, which is a good thing,” said Calder-Piedmonte.
“I have had some kids in my class who have never enjoyed fresh food like this,” added Schack. “To see a kid and realize they are eating a tomato, fresh from the ground for the first time is amazing. You may not like the store bought tomato that has been bumping around a truck and has been bred to have thick skin as a result, but you might like this. It really changes your whole perspective.”
“I think there is also this whole other level of satisfaction when you have planted a seed and watched it grow,” said Calder-Piedmonte. “And then there is a whole other level of satisfaction when you eat something freshly picked from your own garden.”
For more information on the EECO Farm Outreach program contact email@example.com.