Urban Farmers on Location

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A group of Brooklynites is getting back to the land in a way that goes beyond rooftops, fire escapes and community gardens, and they want to bring you with them. Ananda Ashram, just an hour out of the city in Monroe, NY, had an operational farm in the 1970s, and started cultivating the earth again this summer after a long fallow period. A crew of self-described urban hippies from Brooklyn, including Matteo Bueno, Jerri Chou, Wendell Davis, Dave Gottlieb, and Stephanie Redlenner (who is from Brooklyn in spirit) organized an agricultural revitalization this summer. Jerri Chou answers some questions for us about Ananda Harvest.

Who is working to revive the farm?
Reviving the farm is a total group effort. We’ve got a main group of about eight core people but a whole slew of people have joined to help, whether coming up on the weekend, sharing knowledge, supporting our events, or using their creative skills to get the word out.

It’s funny, most of us are from Brooklyn. We’re programmers, digital strategists, energy efficiency experts who wanted to get our hands dirty, find some peace outside of the city, and make something real. Very few, if any of us, had any hands-on experience before this but we’re putting a lot of love, sweat and learning into it and have the help of some amazing people at Ananda where a farm used to exist in the 70s.

When did the efforts to revive the farm start up?
Just this past summer, around late July. My friend Dave Gotllieb’s father helped build this Ashram in the 60s and so we all went up to visit one weekend. We realized there was all this land (85 acres!) and we thought “Why isn’t this land producing anything? Any food?” When we learned there used to be a farm there and talked to the original farmer about bringing it back. We had a conference about it with some interested people in early August and then got to work.

How much time is the city crew spending up there?
Most of us have been going on weekends and spending some weekdays up there (a couple of people at the ashram hold down the fort in a big way during the week). We’ve got a full time farmer coming in the spring, one of us is moving up and I’m thinking of splitting my time between the farm and the city. I love New York but Ananda offers a needed quiet place where I feel I’ll get more quality work done than in and among the distractions of New York.

How far along is the farm?
It’s been about three months since we’ve started and we’ve got our first set of 24 beds planted, we set up a deer fence around it, and have an irrigation ditch dug for the area. Those beds have been growing into the warm fall and we’ve already gotten to taste some baby arugula and plan to keep growing the kale into the winter. We’ve been pruning the apple trees in the area and bringing them back up to their heritage standards. We’ve got two more areas to be tilled for gardens in the spring and will be clearing out an additional area for some permaculture developments. We’ve also got the foundation started on a second cabin and as for our courses, we’ve got maple syrup making and eco-cabin building slated for early spring this coming year. There’s a lot more in the pipeline including growing to offer learning and goods to New York. That all depends on who gets involved and how much we can do, but the sky’s the limit.

The Ananda Harvest team also includes Dave Washburn and Matt Washburn (at the farm) and a rotating cast of volunteers: Winnie Au, Seth Aylmer, Jose Serrano-Reyes, Eden Grinshpan, Seema Shah, and Benita Singh. They’re currently working to build a cabin on the property for city folks to come up for some yoga and to volunteer on the farm–and you can help them out!

Text by Chrysanthe. Photos by Winnie Au (top two) from a November arugula harvest and courtesy Ananda Harvest.

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