Restoration Farm, a five-acre, privately-run plot of land situated on the grounds of Old Bethpage Village Restoration, has been toiling away at the soil of the Nassau County, putting wholesome, natural food on the table of local families since 2007.
It is the creation of Caroline Fanning and her husband, Daniel Holmes, who reside with their two children in Amityville, where Fanning was born and raised. Amityville hardly sounds like the type of community that would spawn a farmer, but Fanning attributes her gravitation towards that field to her upbringing, learning early on that the summertime was meant to be spent outdoors.
She attended Vassar College for liberal arts and got a job at their 10-acre farm in Poughkeepsie during her summer break. That was where she not only developed a love of farming, but met Holmes, who would years later become both her business partner and husband.
“I was a farm educator for kids, but what I really loved was the field work,” she said. “Later, after I graduated, I was working at a nonprofit in Manhattan and found out that Dan was working at a farm in Amityville—my hometown—called Sophia Garden. I went to visit him there, he offered me a job and we soon fell in love.”
With the two hooking up, both professionally and personally, it wasn’t long before the constraints of the one-acre Amityville garden grew too small for their ambitions. It was at that time that then-Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi was developing a plan to open an organic farm utilizing the excess property located on the grounds of Old Bethpage Village Restoration. Fanning and Holmes submitted a proposal for the land that ultimately won out. With an agreement now in place, the two worked hard to cultivate the five-acre plot in 2007 and over the years have turned it into quite the success.
“We initially bought two new tractors and spent the first year getting the lay of the land, but we ultimately mowed the fields and prepared them. 2008 was our first year with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA),” she said. “CSA is a co-op model; families pay over the winter to join the farm for the season, and weekly, June through October, they come to pick up their share of the day’s harvest. It’s a good model for us, because it means all the money is in the bank at the start of the season so we can buy supplies and seeds.”
While not technically certified organic, Restoration Farm nonetheless adheres to strict organic farming standards and pays Nassau County rent on the land from a percentage of their gross annual sales. Sales, in turn, are primarily generated both by CSA sales as well as a weekly farm stand hosted on the grounds. And, in order to keep their CSA members well-fed, Restoration Farm grows a very wide variety of crops—more than 30—instead of the limited “cash crops” some farms specialize in.
“In the spring it’s lots of greens, such as lettuces, kale, chard and radishes,” Fanning said. “In the summer, we’re getting zucchinis, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and tomatoes. In the fall, it’ll be storage crops—onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash.”
Currently, the farm employs one full-time worker, as well as a handful of volunteers and seasonal part-timers.
Running the farm is pretty much a year-round prospect, as even during the winter work has to be done to protect the soil and prepare it for the next growing season. But for a supplemental income and health benefits, Holmes still works a full-time night job in maintenance. The couple’s two young children—Ada, 6, and Kobi, 4—limited Fanning’s involvement for several years, but starting with this growing season, she said that things have really started falling into place after many years of hard work.
“The first two years it was really difficult to get the farm started and a huge curveball came when I got pregnant our second year in. Now we have two kids and when they were really little I wasn’t in the fields much at all. I managed the office and the greenhouses at our home. Dan, meanwhile, was getting really burnt out,” she said. “But now that the kids are older I’m really back here more and that has helped the labor situation, and everything else has gotten better as well.”
Another aspect of the farm that the couple has really gotten under control in the last year is their constant battle with weeds. After years of defensive work in an attempt to control them, Fanning noted that they are at long last on the offensive.
“The work we’ve put in shows. Our onions are the size of softballs now because they haven’t been buried in weeds for months,” she said. “You just look around and the place just looks neat. It never used to look like this. It used to just look like a weed patch with some vegetables growing in it.”
But the Restoration Farm hasn’t only grown agriculturally. Thanks to some assistance from Nassau County, they also have a new building on their grounds with a walk-in cooler to store each day’s harvest. It’s a spot they also use to hold art and education classes as well as weekly concerts featuring local artists.
“Originally we just had an old trailer and a tent where we would distribute our produce,” she said. “But last year the county completed a steel, pre-fab barn for us and it gives us shelter, a bathroom, an office, a new place for our farm stand and for our CSA members to pick up their food and a number of other uses.”
The Restoration Farm has grown and evolved over the years into a special place and certainly a unique one given that it’s situated amongst the suburbs of Long Island. This, according to Fanning, is she and her husband’s dream come true.
“This is my life’s work, my Magnum Opus, if you will,” she said. “I always tell my husband that he should pinch me if I’m getting too obsessed with the farm. A year ago, I thought that the biggest thing that would sink the ship would be burnout, but with the advances we’ve made—we’re using the tractors more and we recently bought some great new hand tools that really help—we’re doing very well. We really love it here.”
To find out more about the Restoration Farm, visit www.restorationfarm.com or drive up to their main entrance located at 140 Bethpage-Sweet Hollow Rd. in Old Bethpage.