Located on the expansive grounds of the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville, Homecoming Farm is somewhat easy to miss. Because much of Long Island’s rolling farmland has remained on the East End, few people would expect to find this exceptional place at the most western point of Suffolk. Still, it’s there—beautifully—and deserves attention.
Homecoming Farm runs as a NOFA-NY LLC Certified Organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with a commitment to giving to others. They donate produce in bulk to the Interfaith Nutritional Network (The INN) in Hempstead—and they do so from their source, rather than their surplus. This means a reduction in the number of CSA members they can accommodate. The members, in turn, understand that a portion of their membership fees are used to supplement the loss of membership. The money is used directly to support the needs of the farmer and the growing of crops for the weekly donations. The INN receives the freshest and highest quality to feed the people it serves.
Members, themselves, are required to donate 15 hours of their time each season to the cultivation of the land, such as weeding and planting. Members are afforded a sense of the true investment made in the process of farming and the development of their food. Many young families comprise the membership and their children are given the opportunity to learn through their own hands-on labor.
Homecoming Farm has truly come full circle in its lifespan. Once farmed by the Stattle Family, the land was eventually settled by a group of Dominican Sisters from Regensburg, Germany who farmed the land as a means of survival. In the 1930s it became Sophia Garden, developed by Sister Jeanne Clarke, who cultivated the land with the help of local children and ran a charity center out of a shed on the property where produce and clothing were distributed.
Lead Farmer and Director of Community Farming, Don Cimato, brings with him a history degree from Yale and 15-plus years working with refugees and in the revitalization efforts following Hurricane Katrina. He volunteered six years ago with an interest and background in farming from his days living in New England and quickly became enveloped in this wonderful place. His passion for history has aided in the research for the planting and growing and he has become an avid seed saver. The garden now proudly grows all its vegetables from seeds. The choice of vegetables grown cater to the cultural diversity of the CSA members. The opportunity to have fresh vegetables, locally grown that are otherwise unable to be found other than at a specialty store, is truly a wonderful thing.
The farm is overseen by Executive Director Elizabeth Keihm who came to the farm by chance after reading about it in a local paper. Her passion and commitment to the responsibility of providing a farm and its activities to teach others about the intermingled relationship with the environment is inspiring. She offers classes for school groups of all ages on topics such as healthy living, organic growing and living in harmony with the environment.
The farm has also become a haven for the exceptional talents of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. A multitude of young men have gained their Eagle Scout badges through the erection of sheds, compost boxes, a recovery greenhouse, a hand washing station as well as a restoration project of the original charities shed used by Sister Jeanne Clark which was moved by Habitat for Humanity. A Girl Scout earned her Gold Award with the creation of a home for the many bees whose presence in the gardens is essential for its survival. The home is seen as a sanctuary for the bees and ensures them a safe home in a pesticide and herbicide-free environment.
Homecoming Garden is also home to a Garlic Peace Bed. Keihm reached out to a monk in Iowa after reading an article about his devotion to seed saving. Brother Joseph has a particular interest in garlic and collects samples from all over the world. Keihm sent a letter to him asking for garlic from countries particularly vulnerable to war or the oppression of their people. He graciously sent garlic from places such as Nepal, Egypt, Syria, North Korea, South Korea, Palestine and Israel, among others. In its third year of life, this bed provides a beautiful and meaningful embodiment of the connection of these countries. Side by side, the garlic of these countries live and grow successfully together. Keihm hopes that the peace bed will remind others of the simple needs and joys we have as humans; we all eat and sit around a table to enjoy food with loved ones. The connection between the past, future and present farmers is evident here from the line of seeds.
Each fall a Harvest Homecoming fundraiser is thrown to honor a member or individual of note. This year they honor Father Marty Hall, a retired priest whose commitment with the deaf community as well as his engagement to the farm has landed him the prestigious award.
In the future the farm hopes to create a farm stand for the local community to offer further monetary support for its growth. It currently sits on three acres and in the coming years plans to expand to cover over 15.
Homecoming Farm is non-denominational and accepts volunteers, interns and even offers an apprenticeship each season. Their dedication to the need for sustainability and the responsibility for caring for the earth is at the heart of their mission statement:
“Homecoming Farm is committed to the belief that the human and natural world are one community of life and that we believe that as we care for the earth, we care for ourselves, each other and future generations white creating a sustainable community.”
This is an exceptional place where the harmonies of the world seem to find themselves truly at home. Homecoming Farm, indeed.