Brook Farm — which was part of the recent Open Space Institute (OSI) purchase from the Smiley family, owners of the Mohonk Mountain House resort — is up and running again with a new farmer, Josh Passe, and a strong educational component that ties in SUNY New Paltz students, departments and farm-based curriculum content in several fields of study.
Dan Guenther was the former farmer at the Brook Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) site located off Lenape Lane, at the Mohonk foothills just off Butterville Road in New Paltz, but took a hiatus to pursue other activist passions. Last winter, the Brook Farm board hired Passe, who had been working at Keith’s Farm in Orange County for several years.
Passe brought in the aid of local gardening expert Lee Reich, and with his consultation decided to go with a non-tilling method for the two acres that he is farming. “Basically, you build up three-foot-wide-by-100-feet beds with compost, rather than tilling the land,” he explained. “It’s a lot of work in the beginning, but the idea is that it makes the soil more sustainable.”
The new Brook Farm farmer said that he was happy to come to a place that “is so beautiful and has so much of the basic infrastructure — like irrigation, a greenhouse, a tractor, fencing — so I didn’t have to start from scratch.” He also said that the community of local farmers and residents and the Brook Farm board have been “very welcoming.”
There are currently 18 members of the Brook Farm CSA, and Passe is putting a slightly different twist on the way in which shares are provided. “It’s going to be more of a farm-market-styled CSA,” he said. Every Saturday beginning the first week in June, members can come fill their share with the produce that they want, rather than having it prepared for them. “If they want tomatoes or chard, or more of one crop and less of another, then they can choose based on their personal desire.”
Working in a small, cozy greenhouse attached to the old white farmhouse, Passe is busy planting seedlings, raising seedlings, and putting them outside into the cold frames to toughen them up before planting. “There are already some things in the ground like peas and early lettuce, chard…”
Passe has a wide variety of greens, vegetables and herbs that he will be planting and harvesting over the next six months or so, some of which include basil, onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, zucchini, summer and winter squash, beets, dandelion and much more. Shares cost $550 a year.
As for the educational component, which has always been a central mission to the Brook Farm CSA, educational coordinator Kate McCoy was on the farm this past weekend with an English as a Second Language class from the college, taking the students on a tour of the grounds, showing them the greenhouse, having them ask questions and to meet the farmer.
“Just run your hands over this and then smell them,” said Passe to a student from Japan. “It’s thyme.” “Do you grow nuts?” a woman from Africa asked. “No, we don’t grow nuts, but there are some nut trees on the property,” he said.
“This group had so many great questions,” said McCoy. “They were great, and some of them had worked on farms in various regions of the world, and they had a lot to add and compare and contrast with what we’re doing here. It was great!”
McCoy explained, “This year our focus is really on partnering with SUNY New Paltz. I’ve been working with professors in various departments, so that I can gear tours of the farm towards their course content. For example, if an economics class is coming out, I would gear the tour towards the economics of farming. Or if it was an environmental science course, we might gear it towards the organic practices and sustainability aspects of the farm. There is going to be a five-day intensive course this summer at SUNY that will be geared around the farm…so it’s exciting.”
The Brook Farm project also co-sponsors various events and films that center around agricultural and sustainable living themes. As for what the future holds now that OSI has purchased 850 acres, of which Brook Farm is a part, McCoy said, “OSI is committed to keeping this land agricultural and towards the educational component. It may broaden or take some new forms, but they and the Mohonk Preserve completely support our mission.”