Volunteers pick kale Monday at a farm operated by the Island...

Volunteers pick kale Monday at a farm operated by the Island Harvest food bank on a parcel at Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. Credit: James Carbone

The Island Harvest food bank opened its 1.8-acre community farm in Brentwood for the summer on Monday with a focus on growing produce suitable for the international tastes of Long Islanders in need.

The Healthy Harvest Farm is located within a 212-acre parcel owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Last year, it yielded 10,541 pounds of produce that was divided between Island Harvest’s distribution centers. This year, the nonprofit aims to increase the yield to 15,000 pounds.

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest, said it was important to introduce diverse crops since some clients “come from other countries and come to the United States and find that their diets have changed dramatically. They've gained weight and they're not as healthy as they were.”

New crops planted include amaranth, collards, garlic, jalapeños, mushrooms, okra and tomatillos, as well as 27 trees and blueberry bushes. The trees eventually will yield Asian pears or nectarines.

The farm also grows cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon, zucchini, beans, carrots, corn and strawberries.

Strawberries being picked Monday at a Brentwood farm operated by...

Strawberries being picked Monday at a Brentwood farm operated by the Island Harvest food bank. Credit: James Carbone

It represents “a wonderful partnership” between Island Harvest and the Sisters of St. Joseph, said Amanda Furcall, director of ecological sustainability for the Brentwood religious congregation.

Furcall said the farm is a place where members of “the community can come to get the resources that they need.”

Monday's farm opening comes as food insecurity on Long Island has spiked to alarmingly high numbers, Dresner said. At least 221,000 Long Islanders are struggling to put food on the table, she said.

Since at least 2020, Nassau County has had roughly 20,000 people apply for SNAP benefits annually but more than 50% of cases were denied, according to data from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

During that same time, Suffolk County had more than 30,000 people apply each year, with denials ranging from 34% to 38%.

“Moms and dads are choosing to give up a meal or two meals so that their kids could eat,” Dresner said. “There are kids that go to school and don't have access to lunch and breakfast.”

In addition to the farm, Island Harvest features a variety of distribution events, food collection drives and educational programs to serve children, veterans, families and the elderly throughout Long Island.

“A lot of people think of us as a place that collects food cans from the community and then distributes cans of food,” Dresner said. “While we do that, it's a small portion of what we do.”

Cassidy Kirch, Island Harvest farm and gardens supervisor, said it takes thousands of local and corporate volunteers to tend to the farm year-round, as they also produce fall and winter crops utilizing the property’s greenhouse.

The farm recently began using regenerative farming techniques — practices to keep the soil nutrient-rich over time — to ensure it can generate fresh produce in large quantities “for generations to come,” Kirch said.

Dresner said of the farm: “It shows that we respect our community. And we're really hoping to continue that work and grow as we learn more." 

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