When Renato Stafford of Peconic first opted to abandon supermarket shopping in favor of fishing and growing his own fruits and vegetables, it was all about his love of nature and his belief that he and his family could sustain themselves on a healthy and inexpensive diet.
Today, the 44-year-old thinks his chosen lifestyle might be the answer to surviving in a hardscrabble economy where many are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
It’s what’s giving rise to his fledgling business, Home Grown, which specializes in building hoop houses and teaching people to grow their own food — not just during warm seasons, but all year long.
“My desire originally was to provide for my family, but now I want to help my neighbors to be strong,” he said. “People are always complaining about rising taxes on their property. Why not have your land pay you back?”
For many years, Mr. Stafford has earned a living managing estates and working with a friend installing flooring.
He calls it “hard, nasty work” but says it gave him the money necessary to provide for his family, which includes his wife, April, and children Ashley, 14; Sebastian, 5; Olivia, 4; and Sophia, 4 months.
Every spare moment, however, he was back on his land planting and developing systems that cut costs and minimized the work required to tend to his garden.
The Queens native calls planting his passion, and he credits his great-uncle Sebastian with sparking in him the initial inspiration.
When he was just 3 or 4 years old, his family would visit his uncle in New Jersey on weekends and it was there that Mr. Stafford discovered his passion for gardening.
“Right away I felt this connection to the earth,” he said. “My uncle could make anything grow. Back then, they didn’t use the word organic, but that’s what he did.”
The same feelings carry over to his fishing. When a friend asks why he seems to catch so many more fish than others, he says he really can’t explain it. He reels in so many fish, he often gives a lot away to friends and neighbors.
He also freezes some using a special method he said ensures that the fish still tastes fresh months after it was caught.
Yes, Mr. Stafford does buy some foods, visiting local farms for eggs, fresh milk and the occasional organic chicken, but he says he doesn’t rely on the supermarket to feed his family.
He hopes that others will see the benefits of this type of lifestyle as the economy forces more and more families to make decisions about how and where they get their food.
“I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but things are changing dramatically,” he said. “I believe this is going to become a necessity.”