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A Spirit Moves on the Land: Locally Grown Produce

Yes, the name Pomona comes from the Roman goddess of fruit, a reminder of the days four decades ago when apple orchards and farms dotted the countryside at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains in Rockland County.

But in a suburban county where the number of farms has gone from 900 in the 1920s to 406 in 1950 to - depending on which ones you care to count - about a half dozen now, it's a little hard at first to imagine why anyone would have seen much point in forming the Rockland Farm Alliance last year.

To be honest, the effort, which began with a local couple interested in growing crops on their six-acre property, which used to be an apple orchard, still seems more like a wispy node of the grow-local, natural-foods ethos than anything certain to go anywhere. Still, when 230 people showed up on a frigid night last week for the group's first open meeting, you definitely had the sense that the couple, John McDowell and Alexandra Spadea, might be on to something.

So on this day that's all about giving thanks and consuming vast quantities of food, there's a small glimpse of something in the air in the effort to figure out a benign way to turn the clock back in one suburban county only 25 miles from Manhattan.

"This is a little like trying to save an endangered species," said Mr. McDowell, a musician and composer. "But to get 230 people out for a meeting like this is amazing. The interest is definitely there. The big riddle is: how do you do it? Particularly given the cost of land, how do you make money as a farmer without some huge subsidy or being a millionaire who doesn't mind losing money?"

What Mr. McDowell and Ms. Spadea call Camp Hill Farm is, for the most part, a one-acre plot surrounded by wire fencing to keep the deer out. In beds double-dug two feet deep, aerated, irrigated, composted and tended for what they call organic/biodynamic farming, they grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, carrots, beans, brussels sprouts, fennel and peas - over 30,000 pounds this year. Most is sold to one Manhattan restaurant, Palma in Greenwich Village; to the local Hungry Hollow food co-op; and to neighbors who participate in a community-supported agriculture program and pay $50 each week for a bushel basket of produce.

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