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Long Island community gardens blooming food, friendships

Shared plots foster a spirit of camaraderie from seed to harvest.

Gateway Park Organic Community Garden in Huntington Station has 128 garden beds and fulfills a need the founders recognized: to bring fresh food into the community. On July 14, some of the participants talked about the joy that comes from growing their own food. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

You can plant a seed, watch it grow and savor the first bite of the harvest — with a crowd — at Long Island’s community gardens. Growers who signed up for a plot of land to tend to fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs among like-minded neighbors say they are savoring more than homegrown produce.

“We are like a community now, and everybody knows each other,” says Clifford Hymowitz, who helps maintain the Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center’s garden. Its dozen or so plots include disability-friendly raised beds.

Whether he’s weeding or planting, Medford resident Paul Tomaine says he enjoys spending time at the garden. His favorite food to grow is tomatoes. “What’s so nice about this garden is that people help you out,” he says. “They’ll water for you if your garden is drying out or if you are away on vacation.”

HOW IT WORKS

Like most community gardens on Long Island, residents pay a small fee ($25 for the Brookhaven garden) to use the land for the growing season. For those who don’t have a green thumb, the spaces function as an outdoor classroom of sorts, with growers helping each other to ensure their plants thrive.

In Manhorhaven, Port Washington resident Wendy Heppt comes to the Grow Love Community Garden daily to water a plot that she shares with her friend. It’s the first year this garden is open, but Heppt says she’s already harvesting basil to make fresh pesto at home or top just-picked tomatoes with balsamic and mozzarella. “It’s just amazing how everything has grown,” she says.

This community garden’s vibrant personality is evident — one bed is growing a pineapple and others have personalized their plots with decorations. Residents pay $40 for their bed and are provided with weekly gardening events, watering tools, soil and compost.

GARDENING 101

Huntington Station’s popular Gateway Park Community Organic Garden has 128 beds and often hosts programs with educators teaching kids about growing their own food. At a recent event, nearly a dozen pre-K and kindergartners spent an hour pulling carrots out of the ground, including 4-year-old Ian Libretto, of East Northport. “I love this,” he said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension works with growers at Nassau County’s 50-plot East Meadow Farm on innovative gardening techniques — like vertical string growing or companion planting. It also has demonstration gardens with dahlia, butterfly, rose, herbs and vegetables tended by master gardeners. A farm stand runs 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

East Meadow resident Lois Small spends time every day watering and planting at the community garden. “The flavor from the vegetables grown here are beyond,” she says, holding up a fresh, plump tomato.

In a residential area in Roosevelt, a new community garden popped up in June with the help of the North Shore Land Alliance and Nassau County. Of its 43 plots, six are reserved for kids, and three are available for growers using wheelchairs.

One month in, Audrey Thomas describes her garden as “thriving.” She lives nearby and walks over once or twice a day to check on her tomatoes and beets. “It’s a great thing for the community,” she says, showing off the first red tomato of the season.

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