- Most people have probably entertained the idea of starting a garden and growing their own vegetables at some point or another, but haven't been too successful for a myriad of reasons. They might not have the space for a garden in their yards, they don't have the tools for preparing the soil and tending to their plot, or maybe they've never gardened before and wouldn't know where to start. If any of these obstacles have prevented you from nurturing your green thumb then stop by East End Community Organic (EECO) Farms in East Hampton and rent one of the organic garden plots in the community garden.
One of the hoop houses at EECO farms. On the far left are some newly planted rows
of carrots, radishes, beets and spinach, while the middle row contains rosemary and
For those that don't know, EECO Farms was started eight years ago by Annie Bliss
and Lauren Jarrett as a non-profit, community run organic farm on 42 acres on Long Lane across from East Hampton High School. An all volunteer organization stewarded by master gardener Peter Garnham, EECO Farms was created to promote sustainable and organic gardening practices on the East End through educational programs, workshops and community involvement.
The land, which EECO leases from the Town of East Hampton, is allocated for three different usages: the community gardens, a compost operation and 10 individual plots of land that are rented to local farmers. "There are three different organizations here," Garnham relates. "There are the community gardens, which constitute 120 plots that we rent out to members, a compost operation on four acres on the far northwest side of the land, and in between we have 10 small farmers that rent anywhere from one to 17 acres to grow produce they sell to local restaurants and farm stands, including the one we have here run by John and Laura Smith
. We also have two acres that we use for our EECO Farm Food Pantry Garden, which grows produce that we donate to local food pantries."
The community gardens are really a perfect solution for anyone who wants to grow their own produce but lacks either the space or the knowledge of how to maintain a garden. For a $35 membership fee to EECO Farms plus a $125 rental fee, members receive a plot that is 20 feet by 20 feet within 50 feet of a water source and they get full access to the onsite organic compost operation as well as access to the master gardeners like Garnham as well as fellow members for advice and gardening recommendations.
"People have always asked me whey don't we charge more, but I've always wanted to kept it reasonable," says Garnham. "If you think about it, after you pay $35 for a membership and $125 for the garden, you're into to it for $160, but with $20 worth of seed, you can grow enough food to eat for an entire year. I have a small hoop house at home, just a plastic enclosed structure that uses only the heat from the sun, and I'm still eating spinach, lettuce and arugula that I planted last year, so it's really quite a deal."
Master gardener Peter Garnham of EECO Farms demonstrating a simple yet
incredibly handy tool used for sewing seeds. EECO Farm makes available to its
members in the community gardens a variety of useful hand tools they can use to
cultivate and tend to their plots.
Garnham also points out that renting a plot in the community gardens at EECO Farm isn't just about finding a piece of land with excellent soil - "there is no better soil in the world than Bridgehampton silt loam," he winks - but it is also about the community aspect that members enjoy gardening in the company of others. "A lot of people garden here because maybe they don't have the space or the right soil for it at home, but there is also the social aspect to gardening at EECO Farm. We have gardening workshops for members, we have people here who are master gardeners and others who have never grown a thing in their lives. We help our members to take care of their gardens. Mind you we won't tend their gardens for them, part of renting a plot constitutes an agreement that people pay attention to what's happening in their plots and not let things get out of control. Sometimes people are away for a week or two and then we'll pitch in and help in the meantime, but you have to be responsible for your own plot."
Plot responsibilities are all mostly the common sense requests you would expect to be asked as a community member - make sure you put your tools away when you're done with them, garden trimmings go back into the compost pile, keep your plot tidy, remember to turn off the water when you're not using it and, of course, not use any non-organic fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals on your plot and to follow organic gardening practices. Failure to do so will result in a warning and then a fee for cleaning your garden and repeated offences will result in relinquishing your plot, but Garnham notes that in the past eight years, this has only happened once or twice.
Just beyond the community garden plots, one of the local independent farmers that rents land from EECO Farm can be seen plowing his fields. EECO is an actual working farm in addition to being a place for community gardening and learning.
"Really one main rule is our 'No Weeds Go to Seed' policy. A lot of people don't realize that once some weeds germinate, they can stay viable in the soil for up to 30 years, so once a weed goes to seed, it can create a problem for the other gardens for years to come. But we're not ogres about it; I like to think we're pretty lenient within reason. After all - this whole operation really is a community project."
And it really is quite a diverse community; not only will you find people with different levels of gardening ability, but the community garden plots are rented by everyone from East End chefs, local residents and even a few notable names like Stuart Match Suna
and Faith Popcorn who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty for the sake of world class produce. Currently there are roughly seven plots remaining to be rented this year, but not only does Garnham expect them to fill up quickly; they also need to be opened by Memorial Day weekend. "I think that this year might be the first year that we're going to rent out all 120 plots."
That being said, if you're looking forward to a summer spent dining on freshly harvested organic produce grown by the virtue of your own effort, then now is the time to act. With the expertise of people like Garnham available, not only will you get the help you need to make your garden a successful and rewarding venture, but you might just discover first-hand the secret known only to those that grow their own food: vegetables always taste better when you grow them yourself.
One of the community organic garden plots at EECO Farm. These plots are available for rent by farm members for a nominal fee allowing any interested to start an organic garden of their own.