Sunday, June 21, 2009

organic farming on Long Island's North Fork

Volunteering at Long Island’s Newest Organic Farm

Mark Unger is a man with a vision – at the mid century point in his life he still sees all the possibilities and his enthusiasm and energy is contagious. His vision is to create a network of volunteers and patrons who will support and enable all of Long Island farmers to convert to organics - He’s starting by creating his own organic farm.

Last year he and a patron started a farm on Long Island’s North fork in Mannituck. The heirloom tomatoes and garlic where sold to local restaurants and other local farmstands. This year Mark is partnering with another farm owner to grow all organic vegetables: heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, Chinese long beans, eggplants, garlic and more... on the farm on Oregon avenue.

Mark works full time as an aviation instructor in NJ to support the farm and his vision. He and other dedicated volunteers post on various boards such as Craigslist, LI Organic Farm Volunteers, Earth Watch to recruit others to join in the fun while “saving the planet” or at least reducing the intake of pesticides and getting city and suburban folks out of their homes and off their couches to commune with the earth and each other.

Since Mark has a full time job, New York Natural is a weekend farm. For the past few weekends volunteers have been helping to transplant over 2,500 organic tomato plants that Mark’s mom, artist Irene grew in her greenhouse in New Jersey. It’s a labor of love and certain with a limited budget may not always be the most efficient way, but all in all it has been great fun and amazing amounts of work are accomplished by the volunteers. You leave at the end of the day feeling that you have accomplished something worthwhile and spent a fun day outdoors getting to know other kewl folks!

Using both hand shovels and electric drills to make long rows of holes 2 feet apart (so that later plastic water tubing can be installed and the plants can be watered daily on a timer without having to have someone at the farm during the week) volunteers from NJ, Manhattan, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk have made the holes, shoveled compost in, transplanted the tomato plants, and even hand watered then dragging 5 gallon water cans up and down the long rows. All the while chatting and getting to know each other.

In our busy society community is often lacking from our lives. The farm is creating a new community of individuals – some who come and go and some who have to be practically dragged off at the end of the day. All fantastic people of different ages, races, nationalities and talents.

Jake, a student at Stony Brook is working on building and installing a bio diesel fuel system. Once in place, used cooking oil will be collected from restaurants and institutions to be recycled into bio diesel to power farm vehicles, to grow algae for..., further reducing the carbon imprint of the farm and enhancing the Mark’s natural vision.

Jessie, a vibrant young mother, student and entrepreneur of baby accessories including cloth diapers and baby carriers, worked side by side with other volunteers as her 12 month old daughter Amaris happily babbled and entertained the others, sometimes sitting among the trays of plants but often cuddled next to her mom in a cloth sling in the field.

Jessie and Amaris helped to re- plant over 250 tomato into the fields – young tomatoes reigned on Long Island and the adults were reduced to cooey sounds and giggling baby talk. – Instant bonding for all.

Who could resist this smile!

Other volunteers include Anne, an young immigrant from Russia and now a recently laid off accountant on Long Island (actually in the process of looking for a new job, so anyone who could use her talents please let us know)

Mike, who works in one of Long Island’s libraries

Anson, from Queens
a promotional marketing professional and free lance artist.
view some of his art work here

College Students from NYU, Boston U, and Catholic University (DC) joined in on Sunday. Twins Liz and Jenn are also music reporters,

Jeannie, a social worker in Port Jeff but a local Mattituck resident for the past 23 years came to the farm via Mark’s connection with the local Suffolk Earth Watch group. We enjoyed her stories of the various interesting properties and houses she has been lucky enough in the area. Especially intriguing was the 2 story converted barn with one wall floor to ceiling windows over looking the fabulous natural scenery of the North fork

Caterers, Andrew Crossan and Lisa Teiger of CuisinEtc, came out to volunteer and after the first weekend lunch of ho hum pizza offered to provide vibrant delicious vegetarian lunches to both feed the body and soul. Lisa and Andrew are looking forward to when the crops start coming in and being able to create yummy communal meals with produce they helped to plant and nature. Hopefully we can plant an in house herb garden to compliment the vegetables.

Lunch this weekend consisted of an extensive buffet of vegetarian & organic dishes such as
white & black garbanzo bean salad with tandoori onion chutney, Thai marinated broccoli with red & yellow peppers, brown rice, grilled pineapple, organic carrots & cilantro salsa vinaigrette, Greek feta & oregano salad, cheese tortellini salad tossed with sundried tomato & fire roasted peppers, loaves of roasted garlic country bread, fresh pita, white bean with kale & roasted pepper bruschetta, homemade banana bread, homemade cookies including orange cranberry oatmeal, chocolate chunk cookies & Mark’s favorite – crunchy gooey coconut meringues.

vegetarian and vegan offerings courtesy of CuisinEtc Catering

After lunch on Sunday, we were regaled with singing and guitar playing as well as Paul's wise-guy Brooklyn jokes.

The work, food and fellowship makes Mark Unger of New York Natural Farming happy. He envisions a place where people work together, play together and participate in life in a visceral way while producing good nutritious food for New Yorkers. The Nork York Natural Farm certainly is on the road to that and more one organic shovel full of dirt at a time!

photos and blog writing courtesy


  1. hey mark, i met jess at the greenfest last sunday and am very interested in volunteering at your farm. it sounds awesome! can you email me?

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