Community farm to share the bounty

Mary Finer, left, and Sarah Grinberg check out the site where the Athens Community Farm will be located. Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media

ATHENS — A group is creating a communal farm where volunteers will grow fresh produce and then share the harvest with their community.

The Athens Community Farm will be located on a plot of land between the Athens firehouse on Third Street and the adjacent Department of Public Works building, organizer Sarah Grinberg said.

“We are a group that is getting together to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs for the community of Athens,” Grinberg said Tuesday. “We are entirely volunteer run and maintained. We are going to distribute food through direct distribution throughout the village and by partnering with other local feeding organizations.”

Organizers hope to partner with local churches, the senior center and the library’s youth programs to bring fresh produce to people who need it.

“We were talking last year about the Catskill microfarm and we were really impressed and inspired by what they did,” organizer Mary Finer said. “It’s such a shame that Athens is such a beautiful place and surrounded by farms, but you can’t walk to get fresh lettuce in the village. Some people have land and time and know-how to have their own gardens in their backyards, but even then you get uneven crop yields.”

The area will have about 16 raised beds where fruits, vegetables and herbs will be grown, and the area will be enclosed by deer-resistant fencing buried three feet deep to prevent deer, groundhogs and other animals from getting into the area.

Some beds may be planted outside the fencing with deer-resistant crops, Grinberg said.

To determine what types of produce should be planted, the group put out a survey in the village newsletter asking residents what types of foods they would be interested in.

“We are looking at lettuces, hardy greens such as kale, tomatoes, Swiss chard, herbs,” Finer said. “People also said things they have trouble growing like tomatoes or parsnips and potatoes. Right now, a group of us is starting seeds at home.”

Grinberg, who apprenticed on a farm, said they will also focus on crops that will generate yield throughout the growing season.

“We will also grow crops that we can cut and cut again — things we can rely on throughout the season that provide us yield. We will be turning over the beds when we need to, but we want to make the most of each plant that we have in there,” Grinberg said.

There is no cost to get involved with the farm — either to grow crops or receive food — but the group is trying to raise funds for needed supplies such as lumber, soil and fencing.

“We will be doing some fundraising this first year for our initial start-up costs and then we will do some mild fundraising from year to year for maintenance,” Grinberg said. “But the idea is that this is totally a free experience for the community.”

The group’s goal is to finish building the garden by the end of this month and then begin planting in early May, with the first crops available this summer, Grinberg said.

The model is different from other community gardens, Grinberg said.

“Everyone works on everything — it is communal growing, so it is a little different from the traditional community garden model,” she said. “You don’t have your own plants. We plan together what we will plant and then we harvest together.”

Athens Community Farm organizers have worked with the village Department of Public Works, which helped with grading the space and is expected to provide support to ensure water access, Grinberg said.

The village board has granted conditional approval for the farm, Mayor Amy Serrago confirmed Tuesday.

“In order for the group to use the space provided by the village, the board is requiring them to affiliate with a nonprofit for insurance purposes and present a clear plan as far as the aesthetics go,” Serrago said.

The board is excited about the project, she added.

“We thought that if we could bring people together and join our efforts, we can share in the bounty and do something good,” Finer said.

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