Last October, Friendly Farms, one of Nassau County's last remaining private farm properties, changed hands. The 2.5-acre tract became East Meadow Farm is now owned by county, just out the back door on Long Island from the Queens.
It was also a front-door opportunity for Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture Center and Demonstration Gardens. "When this property came along, we decided to answer the [county's] request for proposal," recalls Bob Sympson, past vice president and current board member of CCE.
The new location is doing exactly what it was intended to do – expand and share information to a broadening consumer base. Last Tuesday evening, Cornell Cooperative Extension received a legislative citation recognizing its commitment to enrich the quality of life of the people of Nassau County, says the county's new Executive Extension Director Laura Hunsberger.
The farm is the operating base for horticultural experts to share research-based information on limiting pesticide use, drip irrigation and water conservation as well as tips on sustainable gardening. Community garden plots are also in place. While the farm isn't part of a farmland preservation program, it's covered under the Nassau County Environmental Bond Act and will be preserved from development.
As a member of the Long Island Horticultural Research Center research team, Hunsberger's focus was identification of plant pathogen threats in edible crops, primarily vegetable and herb varieties, such as tomato late blight and downy mildew on sweet basil. "In cooperation with a number of key organizations, I hope to concentrate more effort to encouraging Long Islanders to include more healthy food, produced right here on the island, as a regular part of their diets."
Nassau CCE Board of Directors President, Marc Leno, says Hunsberger's mandate from the board as "quite simple and clear: Increase CCE's viability through marked improved visibility, coupled with important fundraising efforts through legislative representations, grant applications and development of independent funding streams."
Nassau County has a proud agricultural past, notes Hunsberger. "But today, the county's needs are much more about gaining access to good nutrition, known as "food security," and educational programming opportunities about gardening, landscaping and sustainability."
On the ground and running
Hunsberger says a number of outstanding activities are already going on in the limited space:
- Vegetable research trial plots
- 20 raised beds for community gardens
- 5 beds for food donations to a Hempstead, N.Y., food pantry
- 6 school gardens
- Rose variety trials conducted in conjunction with the N.Y. Botanical Garden
- Butterfly, herb and rose gardens
- A dahlia garden by the Mid-Island Dahlia Society
More plans are pending, such as native tree plantings, composting demonstrations and more raised-bed community gardens.