The decades-long quest to preserve the former Goehner family farm stand in Uniondale may end next year with a victory for preservationists.
Standing in front of the small green cottage-like structure in Uniondale Park, Ernest and Marie Catanese, both 86, of Uniondale, said they have been at the forefront of that preservation effort for roughly 25 years.
"We have worked very, very hard," Ernest said.
While soliciting donations of furniture and equipment, they expect to formally open the farm stand as the Uniondale Children's Farm Museum, in the spring of 2014.
"Uniondale will be so proud when they see this," said Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who has aided the couple by talking about their project to other town politicians.
The couple has been working with fellow members of the Uniondale Historical Society, Uniondale Neighbors in Total Effort and town officials on the issue since the late 1980s.
The stand was once on a 17-acre farm owned by the Goehner family, which provided food for the entire community. But as Uniondale developed, the family sold pieces of the land, until the last 3.5 acres went to a developer in 1988.
In 2000, after another developer bought the land, the Cataneses and other advocates pushed to move the farm stand to the park, where it is maintained by the local historical society.
About 2009, the Cataneses and others raised the issue of the farm stand's upkeep at a public hearing on a development proposal for Garden City by AvalonBay Communities Inc., said Michael Deery, spokesman for the Town of Hempstead.
AvalonBay, which builds apartments, spent about $100,000 to renovate the roughly 16-by-20-foot structure, said Christopher Capece, senior development director at AvalonBay, which is based in Washington, D.C., but has local offices. Those renovations were finished last year, Deery said.
"Once we make an investment in a community, we're a fabric of the community," Capece said.
Now, the couple is working to fill the stand with old farm equipment and furniture, some of which they hope will be donated. Ernest said they do not know how much it will cost to maintain the museum, but they expect the costs to be minimal. He said they expect the museum to operate only a few days a week.
Dale Moyer, agricultural program director at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, estimated that there are 500 or 600 commercially operating farms in Suffolk County compared to three or four in Nassau. He said preserving the farm stand so children can learn is a worthy cause. "It's very critical to have our youth understand produce and where farm products come from," he said.
Ernest and Marie also feel this is an important lesson to teach children. The Cataneses moved to Uniondale from Brooklyn in 1955, and Marie immediately began shopping at the stand, along with her children, who picked string beans at the farm.
At times, Ernest and Marie have worried they wouldn't see their vision realized, but now they are confident. "Every time I come in here I can't believe it," Marie said. "I can almost hear them," she said, referring to the Goehners.