Our mighty Empire State is blessed with a vast and beautiful state park system. According to Randy Simons, public information officer with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, “NYS Parks has 350,000 acres in its 214 state park system (179 parks and 35 historic sites).” In the opinion of this writer, the jewel of the state park system is in Great River at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum’s CSA. The pristine arboretum is the home to the only community-supported agriculture in the entire NYS park system. Wow.
On the picturesque Connetquot River, the arboretum was once the home (then called Westwood) of William Bayard Cutting and his family. Mr. Cutting passed away in 1912. In the years that followed, his widow and daughter decided to give the 691-acre estate and arboretum, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, to the people of Long Island in memory of Mr. Cutting. Their intent was “to provide an oasis of beauty and quiet for the pleasure, rest and refreshment of those who delight in outdoor beauty, and to bring about a greater appreciation and understanding of the value and importance of informal planting.” After meetings with Robert Moses in the 1940s, Mrs. Cutting set up the Bayard Cutting Trust to ensure that the arboretum would be properly maintained and “not just become another park,” says Nelson Sterner, executive director of the park. In 1954 the Bayard Cutting Arboretum officially became a part of the New York State park system as a passive park; activities such as biking, picnicking, sports, bathing and games are not permitted.
Three years ago, Sterner approached folks in Albany with the idea for starting a CSA on the grounds of the arboretum. “They embraced the concept, got onboard, and the project was approved in three months,” says Sterner. Quite a feat when you think of it. With additional financial support from the Bayard Cutting Trust, Bayard Cutting Arboretum CSA Farm was born; rototilling began two years ago. The 1½-acre farm is fiscally “very close to breaking even,” says Sterner, of their three-year goal of being fully sustainable. This past winter, the farm brought in a new farmer, Jen Campbell. A self-proclaimed “hands on girl” and a bit of a neatnik, Campbell has brought horticultural knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm to the farm, along with neatly planted and weeded rows of vegetables and herbs. There are 70 members, some full and some partial, equaling 50 full shares and a large waiting list. In addition to Campbell, there are also two full-time paid interns; Katie from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Claudia from Miami Beach. It is crucial for members to also volunteer their time, and Campbell has come up with inventive and fun ways to encourage helping out. For instance, every Wednesday night is a Family Speed Weed Gathering, which is one hour of weeding followed by a rotating member-hosted dinner. “If 20 people show up and weed for an hour, that’s 20 hours of volunteer labor,” says Campbell, “plus, it’s a lot of fun.”
Education is front and center at the farm, with a summer program for children that includes classes on “Good Bugs/Bad Bugs,” “Herbs Can Cure, Not Just Season Our Foods” and a “CSA Scavenger Hunt.” “It’s pretty amazing to see the face of a kid running out of the barn with a freshly laid egg,” adds Sterner. The farm also hosts a variety of events and workshops: wine and cheese parties, jam making and a farm-to-table dinner with Eileen and Matthew Connors of the LakeHouse Restaurant in Bay Shore on Sunday, July 28.
When reflecting back on the first two years of the farm, Sterner is not only proud its success but equally proud of the cooperative efforts between the state park people and the Bayard Cutting Trust. Clearly, it took a village. “The arboretum attracts one group of people while the farm attracts another element. Thanks to the state park people for embracing the concept, the farm has brought in a whole new group of people who are interested in fresh food and knowing where their food comes from. And that’s a good thing for all concerned.”
Will there be more CSAs on other state parks on Long Island? Clearly Jones Beach or Robert Moses, for instance, are not suitable for such. “On Long Island, it’s not apples to apples in each park,” states Sterner. “It is not easy for many parks to take on new projects. We were endowed by the Bayard Cutting Trust and other parks are not as fortunate.”
One can only hope that the work that Nelson Sterner, Jen Campbell and their staff are doing will serve as an inspiration and catalyst to others.
Bayard Cutting Arboretum Farm CSA
440 Montauk Highway
Great River, NY