Most Community Supported Agriculture programs, in which farms deliver weekly or biweekly shares of fresh vegetables directly to local communities, require you to pay in full in advance before the start of the harvest. (Such as the Bay Ridge CSA and the Yellow Hook CSA.) But Dirty Boots—which distributes farm-fresh food to its members from its organic, black-dirt, Chester, New York, farm every Sunday morning at the Narrows Botanic Garden on Shore Road—is still accepting members, even though the season is underway. We spoke to co-owner Matt Hunger about his farm, his CSA, why he’s in Bay Ridge, and how you can get involved. (Because, N.B., a CSA is not a farmer’s market, and you must join in advance to pick up produce.)
What’s the short version of why people should join a CSA?
Our CSA offers local, organic, fresh-picked farm food at below-market price. It’s a great way of eliminating the middleman and to know where your food comes from, who farms it, and what they value. It also makes farming a more viable option for farmers, as we can budget and plan accordingly. One of our members talks about how she’s excited about trying things she’s less likely to buy on her own (though don’t worry, we have all the staples as well!). Basically, if you like to cook, you’ll like CSAs.
What made you want to offer one in Bay Ridge?
Bay Ridge is a diverse community, both ethnically and demographically, and a CSA is a great option for working families because it provides a large quantity of healthy food. Shayna, my girlfriend/farm-partner, is originally from Park Slope, but her siblings and their families relocated to Bay Ridge and say it reminds them of what Park Slope used to be like before it got so expensive. She’s also pretty excited about being able to bring our produce to her nieces and nephew.
How did you link up with the people at the Narrows Botanic Garden?
We reached out to them because of their like-minded view on growing food (they run a great garden there), public-space use, and community. They thought a CSA would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood: people can spend their mornings by the park along the bay and then pick up their CSA share on their way home.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve grown, or are trying to grow, this season?
Let’s see…husk cherries are a personal favorite, and they often sell for a high price, which can be off-putting for people, but really aren’t very hard to grow, so we decided to grow them. They’re actually in the tomatillo family, and like tomatillos have a papery covering on the outside. Unlike tomatillos they’re very sweet (you know, like cherries). But for me it’s been exciting to grow sweet potatoes. Most people buy slips (baby plants), but we experimented with constructing an insulated, heated chamber to grow our own slips. We weren’t 100 percent sure how it would turn out, but we have almost 100 plants in the field now.
Why Chester? What’s “black dirt”?
We’re leasing land from Chester Agriculture Center, a social-investor backed LLC whose mission statement is to make land accessible for organic farmers. The idea is they front the money for capital investments, which gets figured into our lease over the course of a dozen years. That removes the risk of us taking out huge loans for infrastructure that would have been required in other land we looked at (i.e. deer fences, greenhouses, etc.).
Black dirt is soil that is very high in organic matter, which is to say, it’s low in rocks and clay and other things found in most “dirt” that aren’t conducive to growing. It’s a mixed blessing. Things grow so fast and so big here—including, of course, the weeds. Our particular land was formerly a glacial lake that over the years became a swamp. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, when Polish and Italian immigrants moved to the area and dug out long ditches to drain the swamp, that it became farmland. Prior to that it was considered unusable.