(Sub)Urban Farmers

I’m as corny as New York in August. I’m as normal as blueberry pie.

So sing the urban farmers who tend organic community gardens just off Broadway in Irvington, NY. Yep. Corn is growing 37 minutes north of Grand Central Terminal, and zucchini and squash, broccoli and sunflowers.

Nora Quinn, color-coordinated with her sunflowers. Thanks, Nora, for the generous baggies of mint and sage leaves.

Under the auspices of the Irvington Parks and Recreation Department, 28 deer-fenced, 360-square-foot plots are farmed by local residents on land belonging to Columbia University.

I visited this morning to see the “microfarm” of Mark and Nancy Mazur, who grow all kinds of semi-exotic vegetables, including 22 varieties of tomatoes. Wearing a straw hat and equipped with a serious bucket of gardening tools, Mark, a wine consultant and ex-rock-and-roll guitarist, enthusiastically showed off his ready-to-harvest tomatoes, squash and chard, his asparagus that’s still coming in, neat rows of leeks and onions, and gadgets for keeping tomato plants bug-free and well-watered.

It seemed as if half of Irvington, instead of taking Metro-North to offices in the city, was working in the garden. In the plot next to Mark and Nancy’s, Nora Quinn tended her sunflowers and herbs. A few plots away, the garden’s founder, Andrea Kish, supervised a small busload of folks from the senior center who’d come over to hoe, water and harvest, and to spread compost and mulch, which, they say, are in woefully short supply this summer. A master gardener with certification from Cornell, Kish told me that she set up the garden as a volunteer project to help seniors grow their own organic food. And then in walked my friend Betty’s son, Hugo Alvarez, a soon-to-be high school senior who’s interning with the Kish’s group this summer.

“Be sure to call it a senior garden, not a community garden,” said Kish. “But you only have to be over 55,” she pointed out. “Sign-up’s in April.”

“Nancy and I been growing vegetables here on and off for 20 years,” added Mark, leaning on his hoe. “This is something really important to us. It’s not a large leap from varieties of wine grapes to varieties of tomatoes. There’s a heavy input of hours, but the best thing is coming here and eating right off the plant,” he said, popping an Orange Paruche cherry tomato in his mouth and offering one to me. Delicious!

Left to right: Mark Mazur; master gardener Andrea Kish; senior aide Linda Arkin; Senior Center van driver Hank Samoyedni; intern Hugo Alvarez; Sigrid Bovensiepen

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint, Salon.com, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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