For Farmers Without Land, a Long Island Lawn Will Do
For Farmers Without Land, a Long Island Lawn Will Do
By ARIELLE DOLLINGER | JULY 23, 2017
BAY SHORE, N.Y. — Jim Adams met his wife on a trip to Uganda a decade ago. Rosette Basiima Adams, 35, grew up in Kasese, a town, she said, where “everything we ate, we grew.”
“I went to see the gorillas in the Congo,” Mr. Adams, 42, recalled recently. But he left his tour group and ended up meeting Rosette, who was working at a hostel where he stayed.
Today, the couple are trying to grow a business cultivating crops on suburban lawns on Long Island. Their business, Lawn Island Farms, is the result of research and a desire to find a way to farm on the island.
“A lot of it was seeing America through Rosette’s eyes,” Mr. Adams said. In his wife’s hometown, he added, “all their food comes from within miles.”
With lots of ideas and little money, the Adamses began looking for land to farm. They started an online fund-raiser and posted fliers asking area residents to consider turning their lawns into small farms.
“There’s definitely an interest,” Mr. Adams said. “People say, like, ‘How do we replace the lawn and make it into a productive system?’”
The Adamses have received more inquiries than they can handle.
For now, the couple is farming at two locations in Bay Shore: one is a homeowner’s front lawn; the other is behind St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.
They sent the additional inquiries they received to Pennie Schwartz, a home-farmer in Southold, farther east on Long Island.
Ms. Schwartz, 61, a retired chiropractor, said she wanted to help the Adamses turn each inquirer’s lawn into “an edible space.”
“It’s called foodscaping,” she said. “It’s really getting people to understand that lawns are really environmental energy suckers, for lack of a better word.”
Ms. Schwartz studies permaculture, a phenomenon that she said “combines landscape design with sustainability and environmental ecology” — and holds a certificate from Cornell.
“I don’t want to put the lawn guys out of business,” she said. But, “with all the chemicals that go into it, and all the watering we have to do to keep it green, there are better ways and better things to do.”
Ms. Schwartz wants to set up systems that landowners can maintain independently; each system should meet the landowner’s needs.
In other words, a family with children can still have a swing set.
On the two properties they farm, Mr. and Mrs. Adams are cultivating crops that grow quickly and that do not require much space, like salad greens and radishes.
One evening last month, the Adamses’ 9-year-old twins, Daisy and Curtis, ran through the front yard farm here on Hyman Street in pursuit of a rabbit.
Mr. and Mrs. Adams had just planted sunflowers when the homeowner, Cassandra Trimarco, drove up.
Ms. Trimarco, a physician assistant, contacted the Adamses after noticing their flier at a coffee shop.
“It’s me kind of donating in a way rather than controlling, because I don’t control anything, and it’s wonderful,” she said. “They think they’re lucky, but I think I’m lucky.”
Ms. Trimarco’s neighbors did not feel lucky, at first.
“We got yelled at,” Mr. Adams said. “One time, a lady pulled up on me and yelled at me for 10 minutes, like, ‘How could you do this? This is disgusting. You’re ruining the neighborhood.’”
Several neighbors declined to comment.
Ms. Trimarco originally volunteered her backyard, but there were too many trees, Ms. Adams said. So they asked about the front yard.
Ms. Trimarco gets $30 worth of produce each week. She also saves on landscaping costs because Mr. and Mrs. Adams do all of the work.
The couple are still working on their business plan. Currently, they sell the crops at two farmers markets and to one restaurant, Henley’s Village Tavern, in nearby Brightwaters.
“When you can deal with a farm directly, and watch it come from that farm, you know you’re getting the freshest product,” said Daniel Kitson, 41, who owns the tavern.
Recently, the Henley’s menu featured a crispy artichoke and chickpea salad with roasted peppers, capers, raspberry vinaigrette and Lawn Island Farms mixed greens.
Cars slowed as they passed the farm lawn. A woman in a truck waved; a man in a minivan said, “Nice!”
Robert Carpenter, administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said it was not too long ago that a farm in western Suffolk or Nassau Counties would not have looked so out of place.
“Farming was actually very prevalent in that area, going back as little as maybe 75 or 80 years ago,” Mr. Carpenter said.
According to 2012 agricultural census data, the most recent available, Suffolk County is the third-largest agricultural county in New York, Mr. Carpenter said. There remain 35,000 to 40,000 acres of farmland in production in Suffolk County, he said.
“There is agriculture taking place; it’s just not the way that it was 100 years ago or 50 years ago, when you had farms interspaced with houses,” he said. “The days of somebody growing 500 acres of a vegetable, and sending it into the city through the Hunts Point Market, those days are few and far between now.”
At the lawn farm, a Jeep stopped.
“Young man, I want you to know this is fantastic,” the passenger, Bruce F. Stelzer, 64, told Mr. Adams.
Mr. Stelzer said he grew up on a farm in Southold.
“This impressed the hell out of me,” he said. “Except I think a lot of people are going to be picking tomatoes from the street, though, when they walk their dogs.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Mr. Adams said.
A version of this article appears in print on July 24, 2017, on Page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: For Farmers Without Land, a Long Island Lawn Will Do Fine.