BED WLT youth volunteers

Youth volunteers at the Westchester Land Trust Sugar Hill Farm in Bedford Hills, which helps supply fresh produce to local food banks. 

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted supply chains and left some farmers reeling, but there is one sector of the industry that continues to flourish — community supported agriculture, or CSAs. 

Xenia D’Ambrosi is the owner of Sweet Earth Co., a sustainable floral and garden design studio in Pound Ridge. For the past few years, she has offered a flower CSA during the height of growing season. Members can purchase different packages, such as a 13-week summer share or a five-week late summer share. This year she’s noticed a significant increase in interest. 

“I pretty much sold out of all three seasons pretty early,” Ms. D’Ambrosi said in an interview, adding she now has a waiting list of people who want to join. 

It’s not hard for her to imagine why so many people are eager to sign up. With all the time spent in social isolation and social distancing, she sees a real need for the beauty and cheer a simple bouquet can bring. 

“I love growing flowers and I love giving flowers to people because their faces light up and there’s a real connection,” Ms. D'Ambrosi said.  “I feel like that mission really resonated more this year because of COVID-19,”

Donna Simons of Pound Ridge Organics also reports a boost in business, estimating market sales at her food co-op have increased 10-fold since March. In an email, she noted most of those sales have come from new customers, “particularly from a distance away. We have regulars now that come from Paramus (New Jersey), Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.”

In some cases, the decision to “go local” is rooted in choice. In conversations with customers, Ms. Simons said, “many stated that they ‘felt safe’ and only shopped at Pound Ridge Organics due to the safety measures that have been in place since mid-March.”

But for others, tapping into the locally grown food supply is a matter of necessity. Feeding Westchester, a nonprofit that leads hunger action programs throughout the county, estimates that “1 in 5 people in Westchester will experience food insecurity this year.” The pandemic exacerbated these circumstances with rising unemployment and school closures. The cost of food has also risen for the past six months, according to data released from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Westchester Land Trust, based in Bedford Hills, is trying to keep pace with demand through a new partnership with InterGenerate, a nonprofit with the mission to build strong communities by bringing people together to grow food locally. WLT recently facilitated a land match between Bedford landowner George Bianco and InterGenerate. Vegetables will be grown on the land by volunteers of InterGenerate and distributed through their food justice program.

Shortly after the match was announced, another landowner approached WLT about facilitating a partnership with InterGenerate. 

“We’re working with several other landowners and exploring their options to do something similar. It addresses the land access issue, which is part of the problem,” Kara Whelan, WLT vice president, told The Record-Review. 

WLT enables connections between land-seeking farmers and non-farming landowners, like Mr. Bianco and InterGenerate, through a Farmland Match Program. It has facilitated land matches that range in size from a few raised beds to 10-plus acres. Landowners and farmers are encouraged to use the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network online portal, where they create profiles, and WLT staff assists with introductions and site visits.

WLT also runs a food pantry garden of its own, averaging 7,000 servings of vegetables a year. Ms. Whelan said the garden has benefited from extra volunteers this year, especially high schoolers and college students. 

“A lot of people feel helpless and hopeless right now, so this makes them feel useful,” she said.

Natalia Prakhina is a regenerative farmer who is a part of Westchester County’s Bionutrient Food Association. She runs Earth Nurture Farm, an urban farm in New Jersey, but also directs several community outreach programs in Westchester. From mid-April to the end of May, she and a group of volunteers distributed over 500 3-gallon “grow bags,” complete with soil and vegetable plants already close to the fruiting stage. This fulfilled requests from food banks, families facing food insecurity, churches and homebound seniors. 

“Oftentimes these folks had ailments prior to COVID-19 making them more susceptible or immunocompromised in the first place, and that’s why it’s so dire to get these people wholesome vegetables,” Ms. Prakhina said. 

In April, her team also completed 25 garden installations for homeowners, including several in Bedford, Pound Ridge and Lewisboro. A simple garden installation consisting of seedlings from kale, collards, cucumber and other vegetables can feed a family of four, according to experts. The garden Mr. Prakhins’s team installed at the Katonah residence of Laurence and Jenny Berg has been so productive that the family now donates excess produce to local food pantries. 

“This is the perfect environment for people at home to have a garden in,” Ms. Prakhina said. 

Jackie covers town government, business, culture, and community happenings in Pound Ridge, as well as the Bedford Central School District. You can send tips and dog photos to her at jroman@record-review.com

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