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Forest Hills community joins upstate farm co-op

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Borough residents whose portfolios have taken a beating in recent months can now buy shares in a new venture whose success has more to do with weather conditions than market conditions.

Organizers based at the Forest Hills Community House have laid the groundwork for a new Community Supported Agriculture project that will provide 50-60 Queens families with fresh organic produce grown at an upstate farm beginning in June.

For $325 a year high-rise dwellers from Queens Boulevard can purchase a taste of Nathaniel Thomas’ Still Point Community Farm in Amenia, N.Y. Money collected provides a sustainable income for small farmers and is also used to foot the cost of seeds and labor for the upcoming summer harvest.

In exchange for their investment, shareholders will receive about 15 pounds of vegetables a week from June to November. The produce will be delivered to the Forest Hills Community House on 62nd Drive every Wednesday.

A successful harvest may yield more food on shareholders’ tables. “You’re sharing in the harvest,” said project coordinator Christine Savarese. “You take the risks and get the benefits as well.”

But the prospects of a poor harvest are minimal because Thomas' farm contains a diversified crop, Savarese said.

Assistant Grower Treesha Lizotte said Still Point grows more than 240 varieties of 50 different vegetables. “We have potatoes and carrots and tomatoes and also a lot of different greens,” she said. “It changes throughout the course of the season.”

The harvest begins in June with such items as broccoli and lettuce and ends in November with root crops like squash, potatoes and pumpkins, she said.

Participants will have a chance to make recommendations to the farmer on which crops they want planted. Organizers said the choice of crops would take into consideration Queens’ diversity.

“We’ll take cultural recommendations like chili peppers,” Savarese said.

Isabel Spaulding of Forest Hills said she is excited about joining the produce co-op because she has a difficult time finding quality organic produce. “I'm getting tired of the kind of vegetables they have in the markets,” she said. “Nothing is fresh.”

The prospective veggie shareholder said she would love to grow her own produce, but acknowledged, “I’m 83 years old and this is the next best thing.”

Adelle Binder, also of Forest Hills, said she planned to join the collective because a lot of the food on the market is genetically engineered. “We don't know what the repercussions will be,” she said.

A tenant activist, Binder said she was also interested in helping out the small farmer.

The Community Supported Agriculture project is an offshoot of Just Food, a Manhattan-based non-profit that runs projects in the five boroughs. A similar program recently started up in Astoria.

In addition to their weekly haul of fresh pesticide-free vegetables, shareholders will have the opportunity to join in the planting process at the Amenia, N.Y. farm, partake in cooking classes at the Forest Hills Community House and celebrate at an upstate harvest festival.

Participation in the project is open to everyone and provisions will be made for those who want to pay weekly with food stamps or who cannot afford to pay the full fee up front, organizers said.

“We're trying to create an environment where you become part of the process of growing your food,” said Savarese. “It’s about getting back to the basics of where our food comes from and being involved in our environment, the world we live in and how it combines together to create a sustainable future.”

Planning meetings beginning at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. were scheduled for Feb. 19 at the Forest Hills Community House located at 108-25 62nd Drive. For more information, call 592-5757.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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