By Kathryn G. Menu
Growing up, Ann Cully’s children pulled carrots up by their roots, wiping soil on their blue jeans before biting into a vegetable they had cultivated for a season.
This year Cully, her husband Robert and some 16 members of the Bridgehampton, North Haven and Sag Harbor communities, plan to offer a similar experience for a handful of children at a pumpkin patch at the Good Shepherd Farm, a plot of land off Corwith Avenue in Bridgehampton. The Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church of Bridgehampton has allowed the gardeners to develop a community organic farm, and couple that with the enthusiasm of its shareholders, the ideal of Good Shepherd Farm has begun to take root.
Started roughly four years ago by Dick Bruce, Mary and Joe Lane and other parishioners at the urging of the now retired Father Ron Richardson, Good Shepherd Farm is on the verge of a season plot holders hope will yield its greatest bounty. Also, a group of six to 10 children from the area will experientially learn the craft by tending to their very own pumpkin patch, starting with seedlings at home before watching the squash mature in the garden before harvest.
Mrs. Cully completed a master gardening course in Tennessee in 2000, but it was years earlier in Massachusetts while she was expecting her second child that Cully developed a keen interest in growing vegetables, creating annual pumpkin parties where children harvested and parents chatted over cold beer and pretzels.
“The last year we had over 100 children,” said Cully, a resident of North Haven. “Even the saddest little pumpkin – someone always wanted it.”
Cully noted Good Shepherd Farm does not have the space or the manpower to handle more than a few children in its pilot, pumpkin patch year. The garden will open the program to children, three to 10, of the Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church and then to members of Saint Andrews Catholic Church, where the Lanes are parishioners.
“My own grandchildren, I bring them over in the summertime and they have become interested in vegetables, which is hard to do,” said Mrs. Lane, a Sag Harbor resident, adding she believes it is important for children to learn agricultural traditions, and understand that produce is grown, harvested and prepared, not born in a supermarket.
This year, Good Shepherd Farm, located on close to an acre behind the church’s Montauk Highway address, boasts nearly five-dozen 60-foot rows for planting. Garlic plants have sprouted on the east side of property – the first plants to make their debut this season.
The Cullys begin most of the plants at their North Haven home. Once ready for the garden, members work cooperatively, planting, weeding and harvesting, and with the exception of a few small, popular crops, which are doled out equally, members take what they need. The surplus is donated to the church and food pantry.
Cully hopes the garden’s membership grows slowly while the garden finds its footing.
Equipped with irrigation line, Mr. Cully said that enriching the soil with compost and mulched leaves, as well as laying the beds with newspaper and donated straw, was key to last year’s successful crop.
“The onions were just spectacular,” Sag Harbor resident Linda Capello said Saturday at the farm. “They tasted so sweet. And our tomatoes – there is nothing like biting into a warm tomato you have just picked off the vine.”
Bugs, soil, weeds and weather have been the foils to the organically grown vegetables, said Mr. Cully, adding that Keith Grimes’ donation of straw bales to protect from weeds was central to the garden’s success.
“This place has the world’s most aggressive weeds,” said Cully, adding vegetables fail to grow robustly in such an environment. Using newspaper and straw, employing a traditional crop rotation, enabled the farm to produce a bounty of produce last season.
“Our tomatoes were great,” said Mrs. Cully. “We had wonderful lettuce, garlic, squash, peas – our beans were fabulous. The corn didn’t work because it is hard to grow organically. We also don’t have the money or the manpower to keep the bugs off. And we did drown our carrots – we had the worst spring, but I think we got our mulching and weeds under control and just took off. The cool weather last year was great for peas and lettuce.”
During the past two years, members have painstakingly enriched the soil, hoping to produce some 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables this season, as well as flowers for the kitchen table. Cully credited the church for fencing the land off, building a shed and helping the group get the garden organized in an effort to open it up to the larger community.
“They have been very open – letting us grow what we want to,” said Cully. In return, she added, the group feels an obligation to share produce with the church and the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, and develop programs for the community like the pumpkin patch.
“It’s nice to take fresh vegetables home to cook,” said Mr. Cully. “And giving it away, it makes doing this so worth while.”