04/28/13 8:00am
04/28/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | There’s no need for a big investment of space to grow fruits and vegetables out of season.

Forget just going green, now it’s all about staying green.

A hoop house, a smaller version of a greenhouse, allows gardeners to enjoy fresh, 100 percent organic produce even during the coldest months of the year. Twenty years after Peconic resident Renato Stafford began growing his own produce that way, others are following the trend and eating what they cultivate.

Using a 12-by-20-foot dugout-style hoop house, Mr. Stafford harvests homegrown spinach, tomatoes, garlic and lettuce fresh from his backyard.

“Anyone with any level of interest can do it,” he said. “The big trend is local and there is nothing more local than your own backyard.”

Greenhouses have long been used by farmers to jump-start summer seedlings in early spring. Hoop houses similarly allow the growing of fruits and vegetables off season.

COURTESY PHOTO | A hoop house shows the semipermanent nature of year-round cultivation, with a center trench that allows a gardener to cultivate without constantly bending over.

Dugout-style hoop houses are the most efficient way to grow year-round, Mr. Stafford said. This type of hoop house setup involves digging out a center trench to put planting beds at waist level, which eliminates the need to bend over to maintain crops.

Another option for year-round farming is a cold frame hoop house, which is similar to the dugout-style but lacks a trench. Cold frames require less work to install and provide similar protection from adverse weather. Both types of structure must be positioned in areas with plenty of sunlight and, if possible, relatively little wind, Mr. Stafford said.

The right approach varies depending on the gardener.

“There are many levels of making these things,” he said. “Some people might want a simple cold frame in their backyard or build an elaborate one. Some people want to put herbs in a pot. Just find what’s right for you and get growing.”

Regardless of the enclosure’s design, successful planting begins with the proper soil — and Mr. Stafford recommends using homemade compost. Compost can contain any organic material including leaves, manure, branches, even seaweed, fish or shellfish.

But compost can take anywhere from eight months to a year to form, so Mr. Stafford advises anyone who wants to get started immediately to purchase organic soil from a reputable company.

Contrary to popular belief, all-season gardening requires less maintenance than summer vegetable gardening, he said. Weeds are a common problem for all gardeners, of course, but using a hoop house, where seeds are planted in compact rows, mitigates the concern.

“When I plant in rows I know everything between is a weed and I can easily yank them out while they’re small,” he said.

Novices are encouraged to plant a variety of crops at first and to customize their garden.

“Focus on the food you want to eat,” Mr. Stafford said. “I have a big Italian family, so I grow two to three hundred pounds of garlic every year.”

The benefits of eating garden-fresh greens are many. From a health standpoint , homegrown produce has more minerals and contains no synthetic pesticides, he said.

“The benefit is you know what’s going into your food,” he said. “You can’t buy that anywhere, at any price.”

Other payoffs include a lower grocery bill and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. “When you eat your own homegrown food it is so different from anything you can buy in the store,” he said.

Mr. Stafford founded his business, Homegrown, three years ago to share his longtime passion for growing organic foods. Rather then sell his produce, Mr. Stafford said his business focuses on education. For nearly a decade he has taught clients how to grow their own food and more recently began constructing customized hoop houses. For more information on year-round growing, visit homegrownorganic.net   or call 631-514-5315.

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03/08/13 4:00pm
03/08/2013 4:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht (left) of Garden of Eve in Riverhead explains her products to a visitor during Saturday’s Community Supported Agriculture Fair at Polish Hall in Riverhead.

Over 150 people gathered to hear the benefits of buying a share in a local organic farm at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s Community Supported Agriculture fair held at Polish Hall in Riverhead last weekend. This was the second time such a fair was held on Long Island, and the first time it was held in Riverhead.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of people here,” said Fred Lee, owner of Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. “If they could join a CSA, it would help that farm tremendously.”

Members of the community buy a farm share in the late winter, and during summer and into fall they receive a season’s worth of fresh farm produce in return.

“CSAs are very beneficial for the farms,” Mr. Lee said. “By taking payments up front, it produces a lot of up-front capital we can then use for fertilizers, land rent, to pay workers and things like that.”

“We’ve been doing this for eight years now,” Mr. Lee said. “Last year we had over 600 shares.”

Farm shares range from about $400 to $600 a season, and buyers will receive fresh produce for about 25 weeks through the summer and fall, said Nicole Dennis, CSA fair coordinator. Each farm handles shares individually, and produce ranges depending on what each farm grows, she said.

“We like to think of ourselves as a specialty vegetable producer,” said Mr. Lee, whose vegetables include bok choy, Asian radishes and snow peas. “Things that may not be in other shares.”

Steph Gaylor, owner of Invincible Summer Farms in Southold, said she plants 350 types of tomatoes and 250 kinds of peppers, and says that diversity is what sets Invincible Summer Farms apart. Ms. Gaylor said she offers 40 shares, providing shareholders fresh produce weekly for 20 weeks.

“I think this is great. CSAs on the East End have been around for a while. I think it needs to travel west,” Ms. Gaylor said.

“Long Island has some of the best soil in the U.S.,” said Roxy Zimmer, representing KK’s Farm in Southold. “I think people are discovering that the taste of food grown on local farms is more delicious. It’s a step away from the lack of quality in industrial agriculture.” She said KK’s Farm offers what’s called a Gourmet CSA that has no up-front fee.

“The people that take advantage of the farms out here really benefit,” said Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, owner of Garden of Eve in Riverhead. “Our goal is that you get more than what you paid for.”

Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht said shareholders get seven to 9 different types of produce a week depending on what’s in season.

“I got a few people to sign up,” said Phil Barbato, owner of Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport. “It’s very nice to see all these people interested in organic local food.” Mr. Barbato said he only offers 50 farm shares a year.

“I think the fact that [my program] is so small, I get to know everyone personally,” he said. “I really enjoy that part.”

Mr. Barbato said he sends his shareholders weekly newsletters with updates and information about the farm. He also started a young farmers program so the children or grandchildren of his CSA members can learn about agriculture. The children plant seeds in his greenhouse, and when those seeds grow into a seedling, the kids get their own space to plant them on his farm, Mr. Barbato said.

“I want them to see what it’s like; they can see how wonderful it is,” said Mr. Barbato, who hopes to get other children in the community interested as well.

Elena and Ron Dobert of Mattituck made their way around the fair, hearing about the different types of produce each farm offered.

“We have a garden and we are trying to eat more healthy,” Ms. Dobert said. “This seemed like a good opportunity to have organic vegetables.”

About an hour later she and her husband chose to sign up with Mr. Barbato, saying the location, price and the way he would keep them informed and educated about the farm is what set Biophilia Organic Farm apart from the others.

“And he has flowers,” Ms. Dobert said with a smile. “We are looking forward to it.”

To find out more about purchasing a farm share visit farms individually or log on to nofany.org/csafair.