Tag Archives: CSA

Bayside Historical Society looking to bring agriculture program to Fort Totten


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Bayside Historical Society (BHS) is looking for a few good families to join its upstart community-supported agriculture (CSA) program based at the Castle at Fort Totten.

According to Frannie Budynek, a BHS trustee, the society seeks at least 50 shareholders to register with the CSA by no later than Wednesday, April 15, in order to get the program off the ground for the growing season.

In a CSA, families and individuals purchase shares in a farm within 250 miles of the community. Many of the CSAs in New York City are aligned with farms based on Long Island’s North Fork.

Farmers use the money collected to grow produce and, from June through late November, deliver their harvest to the shareholders. The produce includes leafy greens and radishes in the spring; tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers in the summer; and various types of squash in the fall.

CSA shares typically run about $30 per week per family, but Budynek said each shareholder gets more than their money’s worth in produce. Shares can also be divided among two families to help allay the costs and share the food wealth.

“The farmers are very eclectic. They try to grow a very diverse number of products,” Budynek said. “It’s like you have your own personal farmer.”

She added that the CSA program is environmentally friendly, as each farm grows its produce organically with limited pesticide use, and helps keep the farming industry in New York State economically viable.

“It helps to support local farmers and protect farmland,” Budynek said. “It keeps them farms instead of turning them into subdivisions so people can make a living through agriculture.”

She hopes to hold cooking demonstrations and recipe exchanges during weekly produce distribution at the Castle at Fort Totten. The BHS is also seeking volunteers to help coordinate one pick-up shift each month for about three to four hours.

To join the CSA or for more information, call 718-352-1548 or email info@baysidehistorical.org.

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Astoria community farm brings fresh, organic produce to backyards and roofs


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy Anna Poaster/Rob McGrath

What in front looks like a regular apartment building off 21st Street in Astoria is actually home to a backyard community farm looking to grow beyond its original space and help educate others about growing their own food.

Hellgate Farm started in 2011 after Rob McGarth, an engineer by trade, purchased a building with a very large backyard. Once he started to grow his own food, he realized he was growing more than he could use.

For the first couple of seasons, McGarth managed the farm on his own and later teamed up with The Queens Kickshaw, located at 40-17 Broadway, to set up a pop-up farm stand in front of the store. 

What began as a side project for him then turned into something he wanted to focus more attention on and, by the fall of 2012, Anna Poaster came in as manager of the farm with a focus on growing vegetables. 

HellgateFood

The following year, a neighbor allowed the farm to expand into his yard. This got the team thinking about finding landowners in the Astoria and Long Island City area willing to allow them to go in and use backyard space to grow produce. In 2014, another neighbor around the block from the farm offered their space.

Now, Hellgate Farm has a total of four sites, including the original in McGrath’s backyard. One is on a rooftop of a Long Island City business. The growing of the sites then pushed the team to become a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), meaning landowners or “members” who offer their land to grow a farm/garden would receive a share of produce every week.

In its first year as a CSA, Hellgate Farm will work with landowners to grow organic vegetables and fruits and turn their underutilized backyards and rooftops into valuable garden space. In exchange for the work and care of the spaces, Hellgate Farm just asks landowners to pay for materials such as soil.

“I think people are really removed from their food, people don’t know what broccoli looks like when it grows,” Poaster said. “People are really into local foods. We are able to engage all these building owners who maybe have an interest in food, green space, and just making their space better for tenants and they really end up gaining a lot of education of what it is like to grow a garden.”

This year, Hellgate Farm plans to expand to two or three more gardens, with an emphasis on continuing to have open and personal communication with landowners.

Together with growing vegetables at the original site, Hellgate Farm also raises chickens, houses bees on the rooftop working with local beekeeper Tom Wilk, and has a garden on the roof as well. They have also partnered with local shops such as Astor Bake Shop and Vesta Trattoria and Wine Bar to provide them with local fresh produce.

Manager Anna Poaster, Hellgate Farm Founder Rob McGrath, and intern Eric Dittmore. (Photo by Paul Miller)

Manager Anna Poaster, Hellgate Farm Founder Rob McGrath, and intern Eric Dittmore. (Photo by Paul Miller)

As the Hellgate Farm team, now consisting of volunteers and a live-in intern, gets ready for the 2015 season they have also turned to Kickstarter in hopes of raising a goal of $1,500 to purchase an electric wood chipper. The campaign has raised $420 since Monday.

The wood chipper would be used to turn the leaves and branches they remove during trimming and pruning the spaces into mulch that would be used on all the sites.

“It feels awesome. It really has been humbling to see how many people care about this thing,” Poaster said. “To see a lot of supporters is really touching.”

A lot goes into finding a site to convert into a farm or garden, according to Poaster, but they are open to finding more locations in the Astoria and LIC area. Hellgate Farm’s season goes from the beginning of June until the last week of October.

For more information visit hellgatefarm.com or email eric@hellgatefarm.com. To donate to the Kickstarter campaign, click here.

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Some Queens students eligible for up to $1K in scholarships


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A total of up to $9,000 in scholarships is on the table for some community-minded Queens students.

School District 26 scholars, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, have until March 28 to enter a contest to compete for $250 to $1,000 in prizes.

Elementary youngsters are asked to draw pictures of their favorite school activity, while high school students from Benjamin Cardozo, Francis Lewis, Bayside, Queens High School of Teaching and Martin Van Buren write essays, describing inspirational, fictional characters.

“Some of the essays that come in are really moving,” said Mary Vaccaro, the district’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representative. “And in the elementary grades, we’ve seen some truly gifted people. We’ve seen some really amazing things.”

This is the eighth year of the contest, headed by the UFT and the (CSA). It is judged by a panel of 30 district parents, teachers and principals.

In the last two years, 1,450 students applied and $15,500 in scholarships were given away, Vaccaro said.

“When this started, we felt we really wanted to be involved in the community,” she said. “We thought it would be a good idea to honor those students who are really trying hard.”

Applications and rules can be found at http://www.uft.org/news/district-26-scholarship-application-available.

Those interested can also call 718-275-4400 for more information.

Checks will be distributed May 22 to winners, during the district’s annual scholarship dinner dance.

 

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DOE announces Sandy school makeup days


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

After missing a full week of school because of Superstorm Sandy, the city’s public school students will make up those days from February 20-22 and on June 4, the Department of Education (DOE), announced Monday evening.

The first three dates were taken from the five days schools students normally have off for Mid-Winter Recess, and the June date was a scheduled half-day that will now be a full day of classes

“We are pleased that the city, the CSA [Council of School Supervisors and Administrators] and the UFT [United Federation of Teachers] reached an agreement on making up school days lost as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Teachers, principals and the school community made an extraordinary effort to get our schools back online after the storm, and by working together, we were able to open most schools with minimal disruption. It is just as important that we recover the time lost, and this agreement will provide students with additional class instruction,” a statement released from the DOE, CAS and UFT said.

 

Fresh food push comes to western Queens


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

8-29 FoodBagProgram (RELEASE) (2)

There’s now an oasis in the middle of a Queens food desert.

Residents of the Queensbridge Houses — a neighborhood where fresh produce is scarce — now have the option of purchasing a bag of fruits and vegetables every Wednesday afternoon, just outside their doors.

The push reflects a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, but is different in that payments run week-to-week rather than one full fee at the start of the season.

As part of the plan, initiated by GrowNYC and in connection with the Jacob Riis Settlement Houses, the healthy goods may be purchased on a weekly basis for $10 a bag. The roughly 10 items provided vary depending on the season, but promise seven days’ worth of produce for an individual or a couple who may not have had the option of fresh items before.

“If finding high-quality, fresh produce is unavailable or unaffordable, people are going to eat a lot less of it,” said GrowNYC spokesperson Olivia Blanchflower, who added that high instances of diet-related disease correlates with the lack of available fresh food.

According to Blanchflower, those who reside in the 7,000 Queensbridge-area homes only have immediate access to one supermarket.

A bulk of the items provided come directly from Green Pastures Farm located in eastern Pennsylvania, with additional fruits from New York farms added in by GrowNYC.

While each bag costs $10, Blanchflower said that the contents, when priced out, run between $13 and $18.

In an effort to assist GrowNYC’s initiative, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer allocated $10,000 to the non-profit.

“Access to healthy food options can be difficult for some residents to access in western Queens, especially seniors,” said Van Bramer. “By bringing fresh fruits and vegetables directly into a community that needs and wants them, our initiative is able to address a real need here in Queensbridge.”

Similar projects have been recently introduced in Bedford-Stuyvesant and will soon begin in East Harlem. The Queensbridge program is set to run through November.

UFT sues to prevent school closings


| mchan@queenscourier.com

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The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) are hoping to “turnaround” the city’s decision to close 24 schools in court.

The organizations filed suit today in State Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction until issues surrounding the Department of Education’s (DOE) Turnaround plan can be resolved through arbitration, UFT officials said.

Under Turnaround, 24 city schools — including seven in Queens — will close at the end of the semester and reopen under a new name in the fall. While non-graduating students at each school will be guaranteed a seat, teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, according to the DOE. If 50 percent of the former teachers reapply, at least that amount will have to be rehired.

“These ‘sham closings’ are an attempt by the DOE to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan in a joint statement.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) — made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven others who are selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — voted 8-4 to close the schools on April 26.

The mayor’s appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the Turnaround plan, while the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.

“We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements,” the statement said.

According to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, preparations have already been made to open the new schools in September, including training leadership teams and holding meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. He said the lawsuit “could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Walcott said in a statement. “Our strategy of replacing failing schools has led to major gains in achievement and graduation rates, and we pledge to extend that progress no matter what special interest groups try to obstruct it.”

The seven closing Queens schools are August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown and Richmond Hill High School. They were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the UFT on an evaluation system.

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

According to UFT and CSA officials, unless the DOE agrees that it has improperly identified the 24 schools, the issue will go before an independent arbitrator.