The Importance of Local Food

by Kazaray Taylor

How to grow it and where to buy it, in Westchester and Putnam Counties.

It’s estimated that one third of our green house gas emissions come from agricultural businesses–from the planting, fertilizing, processing, packaging, and especially the transporting of food (a whopping 1500 miles on average from farm to plate). But food doesn’t have to come from far away. There are many options for enjoying locally grown food, and most carry added benefits.

Victory Gardens and Kids

Food grown in a home garden is cost-effective and leaves the smallest carbon footprint. During World War II, when resources were limited, Americans were called on to grow food in “victory gardens.” As a result, an incredible 40 percent of America’s food was grown in more than 20 million of these home gardens. Today’s economy is prompting a resurgence of the victory garden, to stretch home budgets and assure a supply of safe, nutritious food for our families.

Gardening in schools is also becoming popular, thanks in part to Michelle Obama, who planted an organic vegetable garden—with the help of DC fifth-graders—on the south lawn of the White House. Fruits and vegetables grown in schools gardens can be served in the cafeteria, helping to lower food costs and increase nutrition. Teaching kids about healthy food is important, says Dr. Susan Rubin, founder of Better School Foods. “Westchester has an epidemic of kids with picky eating habits,” she says, “but when they grow it, they’ll eat it.” Getting kids interested in gardening can be cost-effective and fun for the whole family. Dr. Rubin notes that a $2 tomato plant produces a lot of tomatoes, which can help stretch the budget and boost family health.

Help for Beginner Gardeners

“Gardening is not difficult,” according to Barbra Feldt, gardening coach and author of Garden Your City, “you just have to know the basics, like proper soil, and to pick a sunny spot—one that gets 8 hours of sun a day—for a productive vegetable garden.”  Barbara notes that because Westchester and Putnam County residents have a lot of shade on their properties, community gardens may fare better than home plots. Additionally, front yards, rooftops, neighbor’s yards, vacant lots, fields and schoolyards can also be used, with permission of course, for creating gardens.

For beginners, Dr. Rubin recommends container gardening, starting with easy to grow plants like lettuce and basil. Rubin gardens with Earthboxes—planters on wheels—for plants like lettuce and bok choi. And Smart pots, made of flexible fabric, for potatoes. “And if you have a lot of room, plant raspberry bushes,” says Rubin, “which are robust, and kids love to pick their own berries and eat them.”

New gardeners can also find help at local farms, which often hold events and classes on the art of growing. Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights offers gardening workshops in the spring, demonstration gardens throughout the season, and a “Farm to Table” cooking series.

Another resource for the home gardener is the Cornell University, Cooperative Extension Westchester County, Master Gardener program. Trained master gardeners perform site visits to homes to address specific gardening concerns for a fee of $150. Cornell also has a vegetable demonstration garden at Hart’s Brook that grows a variety of foods well adapted to Westchester growing conditions. Crops harvested from this garden are donated to food pantries in Westchester.

Deer-proof, Fool-Proof Gardens

A Teich Garden may be a home gardener’s dream come true. This enclosed, organic, raised-bed garden can be delivered and completely installed in your yard by Teich Garden Systems, located in South Salem. The company will even supply the organic seedlings, if requested. These gardens are super easy to maintain. An annual application of compost and the harvesting of delicious produce is about all it takes to keep them thriving. Embedded soaker hoses do the watering while conserving water, and they can be set to timers, so even vacationing is worry-free. The most popular sizes for these home gardens are 12 by 16 or 12 by 20 feet. They start at about $6500 and take around 3 days to install. Larger gardens are available too—Teich Gardens recently completed a 60 by 40 foot garden for Brewster High School.

Building Community through Gardening

It only takes a few dedicated people to start a new community garden, which is good news because most existing community gardens have a waiting list. This year, Joe Rogot founded Ward Acres Community Garden, with the help of Stephanie Tomei and Maggie McGovern, on a beautiful bit a land in northern New Rochelle. The climate is ripe for getting the go ahead from local governments to start new community gardens. “We could not have done this without the support of Mayor Noam Bramson, the New Rochelle city council, and Parks Commissioner Bill Zimmermann,” Rogot notes. “They deployed city resources that moved the project into high gear back in early spring.”

The Ward Acres Community Garden has 36 plots, each 10 by 12 feet, with plans to expand next year. And yes, there is a waiting list for this garden that gives back. “One of our tenets is to ‘tithe a tenth,’” Rogot says, “so three of the plots are being used to give salad greens to the HOPE soup kitchen here in New Rochelle.” Crops and flowers are grown sustainably and organically, with experienced gardeners working alongside novices. Many decided to share a plot this year so that more people could garden. “Helping create this community garden has been the biggest feel good experience that I’ve had since moving to the suburbs,” says co-founder Stephanie Tomei.

To start a new community garden in your town, enlist a few neighbors and place a call to town hall.

Local Farms, Good for our Planet

Buying food from NY state farms—whether at farmers markets, though Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or at the grocery store—means your food will have lower “food miles” (a term used to indicate the distance that food has traveled from where it was grown to where it is purchased) than most of the food available at supermarkets. Since food miles are a measure of the energy used and resulting pollutants released in the transportation of that food, buying locally grown food is as important to our planet as driving a hybrid or insulating a home.

Cascade Farm in Patterson, NY, is a CSA farm where members buy a share of the farm’s harvest, supporting the farm and receiving a portion of the harvest in return. A share at Cascade Farm currently costs $525 and feeds a family of four for the twenty-week growing season. “All crops at Cascade Farm are naturally-grown and free of chemicals,” says owner Margaret Wilder “and they’re produced using sustainable farming methods.” In July, lucky Cascade Farm members will be picking up a variety of greens such as arugula, Asian greens, chard, collards, kale, and lettuces. They’ll also enjoy cucumbers, summer squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, carrots, cabbage, string beans and turnips, as well as herbs like cilantro, dill and parsley.

Another great source for local, organic farm produce is the Daisy Hill Farm Stand in Bedford Corners, NY. The farm stand is open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Their fresh, organic produce is harvested from the fields right next to the stand where they are sold. Now that’s some low food miles!

Ask for Local Food at the Grocery Store

Near and Natural is a unique grocery store located in Bedford Village that specializes in local food. Up to 90% of their produce comes from local farms like Cabbage Hill and Rainbow Ridge. Near and Natural carries local organic eggs, dairy and beef, as well as baked goods, prepared deli foods, and catered items made from the local and organic foods they sell.

Nature’s Temptations is another grocery store that offers a large selection of local and organic food. Store chef Liz Gagnon uses local produce and meat as much as possible and is very selective about the food sources they use in their “grab and go” lunches and dinners, where sustainable eating is made easy. Nature’s Temptation is located in Ridgefield, CT.

You can also practice Earth-friendly consuming when shopping at a traditional supermarket. Just let them know you prefer to buy locally grown, organic or naturally cultivated food. The planet will thank you.

– Hilltop Hanover Farm; 914.962.2368;
– Cornell University, Cooperative Ext. Westchester County – 914.285.4640
– Better School Foods –
– Barbra Feldt –
– Teich Garden Systems, 914.533.2484;
– Cascade Farms, 845.878.3258;
– Daisy Hill Farm Stand, 914.244.1132
– Near and Natural, 914.205.3545;
– Nature’s Temptations,

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