"At one time, this was all farm land," says Patti Wood, her arms outstretched. Standing at the Dodge Family Farm at the historic Dodge Homestead at the head of the Mill Pond, she looks around at the group of two dozen first- graders visiting from Daly Elementary School, just a few blocks away. Eyeing the condominiums and industrial buildings nearby, they seem a bit skeptical. She goes on to explain that just about everything the Dodge family put on their table they grew or raised right here, including eggs, meat and honey.
"We are growing some of the same varieties of vegetables they would have grown back in the early 1700s when the Dodge brothers first came here," she continues. "And we do it just the same way - completely organically!"
Patti Wood, founder and executive director of non-profit Grassroots Environmental Education which operates the Dodge Family Farm, then leads the children on a brief tour, pausing to look at some of the tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, onions, cabbage, peas, kale, leeks, asparagus and eggplants in various stages of growth. The group stops by a stand of corn. Patti twists off an ear, removes the husk and takes a bite. The kids are surprised. Many have never been so close to a corn plant, let alone eaten it raw, right off the cob. They take small bites, and their eyes light up. "It's amaaazing... and so sweet," says one.
A highlight of the tour is a stop at the compost bins, where kids learn about one of nature's most important cycles. Leaves, garden waste and kitchen scraps decompose here, creating a dark, nutrient rich material. This will be turned into the soil to help ensure a healthy crop next season. Millions of microscopic fungi, good bacteria and worms help the process along...no bags of fertilizer needed here!
Five years ago, Grassroots took over the operation of the farm, located on the property maintained by the Cow Neck Historical Society. Since then the farm has become a source of fresh, organic produce for a local food distribution center run by Our Lady of Fatima church in Manorhaven. Despite a dry spring and a damaging hail storm, the farm had a very productive season.
"It's part of our give-back to the town where we grew up," says lifelong Port Washington resident Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots, which also operates the Port Washington Farmers' Market. "It's a chance for us to walk-the-walk about organic food, local agriculture and sustainability. And we are happy to provide a valuable educational experience for the children in our community."
Volunteers at the farm include high school students from Schreiber as well as employees of Whole Foods Market in Manhasset. And thanks to the support of New York State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, the farm receives help from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. "In a hustle bustle world, sometimes I want to stop and smell the vegetables and being involved with the Dodge Family Farm allows me that option. The organic farming and composting activities, coupled with the site being a source of fresh produce for underserved families makes this a venture that should be taken very seriously and considered in other parts of New York State. And I love that corn!" said Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel.
Grassroots Environmental Education is a national organization based in Port Washington. The organization seeks to educate the public about the links between common environmental exposures and human health problems, and to give individuals the tools they need to bring about change in their own communities. The group's latest project, "HowGreenIsMyTown.org" addresses issues of climate change, sustainability and environmental health at the local level.