Fifty families who live in and around Goshen, NY, come to Harmony Farm every Tuesday and Saturday to pick up boxes and bags of just-picked produce. This week, they’re getting exotic varieties of eggplant and peppers, fat heirloom tomatoes, green and wax beans, big bunches of rainbow chard and of Italian parsley, and much more.
About an hour and a half northwest of New York City, off Route 17 near Middletown, Harmony Farm is on 300 acres owned by the Sisters of Saint Dominic. The property also includes an historic stone schoolhouse—now the Empowerment Center—which primarily serves as a retreat and workshop center for low-income residents of the Bronx. There’s also a day care center, a residential school for children with developmental delays, a playground, basketball courts, a pond and hiking trails. Three seasons of the year, staff, guests, and local families dine on the more than 50 varieties of vegetables grown there.
Sr. Carole Keaney, a certified master gardener with a master’s degree in environmental studies from Antioch College, started Harmony Farm as a community garden in 1993. There are now seven acres under cultivation. “This has become a vibrant cooperative that allows the community to enjoy the riches of harvests,” she said. “It helps us interact with the environment to bring healing to ourselves and our relations with each other.”
I spent the past weekend at the Empowerment Center at a percussion retreat hosted by international doumbek star Raquy Danziger. It wasn’t my first retreat there, but it was the first in which Harmony Farm was operating as a “CSA”— Community-Supported Agriculture—a system by which you pay a fee at the beginning of the season and your share is set out weekly. You don’t get to pick and choose; in June it may be early lettuces and peas, and right now it’s those tomatoes, eggplant, and bunches of chard. A side benefit of CSA is that it introduces people to new vegetables and challenges their cooking skills with, say, kohlrabi or kabocha squash.
Yesterday morning, Matt Coombs, the farm manager, hopped off his tractor for a few minutes to chat with me. Matt and his three field assistants had just finished harvesting the fourth round of squash from a group of furrows and were putting in nitrogen-producing cover crops of oats, vetch and peas. “We won’t grow squash in this area for another four or five years,” he explained. “Vegetables in the same family attract the same pests and diseases and use the same nutrients. Doing this rotation keeps the soil healthy. In the spring we plow in the cover crops as mulch.”
Theodora Fan, a graduate of Wesleyan University who’s been interning at Harmony Farm since May, gave me a quick tour of the greenhouses where seedlings are started—most crops are grown from Johnny’s and Fedco seeds. “I got into farming so I could work with food,” she said. “I’ll be applying to culinary school, and this is a great way to connect with food and to learn efficiency that’s needed for twelve hours a day in the kitchen.”
Everyone at the retreat was given the opportunity to buy what we’d been eating all weekend. I came home with a bountiful haul of freshly picked tomatoes, potatoes, green and wax beans, scallions, and two bunches of beautiful rainbow chard, which became last night’s dinner. Please see the illustrated recipe under “Food from the Garden.”