Tusten Heritage Community Garden is concluding a successful first season, despite a delayed start and a formidable set of challenges, and has laid the groundwork for expansion next year—all without spending any taxpayer dollars.
The first steps toward creating this independently funded project, which is not only a community garden but a youth education/employment program featuring both agricultural production and marketing, were taken back in March, when approval was obtained from the town board to create a Tusten Local Development Corporation that could accept private funding. An application was also made for a Sullivan Renaissance grant. Private funds were obtained by developing a Restaurant Supported Agriculture program, with Gerard’s River Grill in Narrowsburg, Baker’s Tap Room in Yulan, and NYC restaurants purchasing produce from the garden, and from sales from the Big Eddy Farmstand, which sold produce on weekends in the hamlet.
Unfortunately, difficulty securing a site slowed things down in April and May—negotiations with the school district for the field on Kirk Road fell through—delaying receipt of Sullivan Renaissance funds. But an alternate site was found behind the Tusten-Cochecton library, thanks to the library board. In June, with the generous help of students from the Delaware Valley Job Corps, raised beds were filled with topsoil and composted horse manure donated by SkyDog Farm, Tusten and local youth were hired to work on the garden, training sessions begun, and the Big Eddy Farmstand opened.
In July, heat, drought and lack of water at the library site forced the majority of production for the youth program to occur at SkyDog Farm. But with the negotiation of a five-year lease with the library last month, the Sullivan Renaissance funding finally came through, and will be used for a water collection system and deer fencing that will avert that kind of problem in the future.
In August, the Big Eddy Farmstand and SkyDog Farm collaborated in the hugely successful Pig Mountain event in Narrowsburg, a benefit for local farmers, and on September 15, we will take up the NOFA-NY Locavore Challenge at Gerard’s River Grill. All proceeds will go to support the Tusten Youth Workforce Development program, laying the groundwork for another productive season next year. In fall of 2012 through 2013, via an application through SUNY’s Community College Workforce Development Training Program, the Big Eddy Farmstand project can expand into an accredited SUNY Sullivan partnership, allowing youth to gain credits for training programs provided through Workforce Development. Over the course of this growing season, SkyDog Farm, the Big Eddy Farmstand and the Town of Tusten have “created a series of initiatives that test the key themes surrounding the potential future of agriculture as a pillar of economic development in the county, while growing… and contributing to the development of the Narrowsburg community,” in the words of SUNY’s Stephen M. Mitchell, PhD.
[Andrea Reynosa conceived of and supervised the development of the Tusten Heritage Community Garden. She is also a councilwoman on the Tusten Town Board.]