NEW YORK - An unlikely site in the shadow of the hulking Hell Gate Railroad Bridge is a farm that produces a bounty of produce.
"We grow over 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables,” said Ciara Sidell, a manager of the Randall's Island Urban Farm.
The Randall's Island Park Alliance operates the farm and educates thousands of city kids who visit with schools and camps each year. The youngsters harvest produce, then prepare a dish with the items they have farmed.
Although coronavirus put a halt to that, the farm is producing food for local food pantries.
"When we had to pivot, we immediately thought we have to plant as much as possible wherever we can,” said Sidell.
On areas of the farm where planting wasn't initially planned, raised beds were built and more food was grown. In areas empty for part of the season, different crops were planted. The farm has produced 800 pounds of food so far, and expects to get to 3,000 pounds by the end of the season. That's about a thousand pounds more than a usual year when the staff of three is focused on education.
"We've been really grateful to be able to use the resource of the educational farm to feed more people in the communities that typically come to the farm in normal years,” said Sidell.
While the planting continues, the gates of the farm have been opened for informal visits to safely see the growing process, and maybe say “hi” to some of the farm's chickens.
"People can come in and I do stop the farming, even if it's a production day. I will stop and show them around, make sure that they can experience the farm in the way that we have in the past,” said Sidell, who grew up across the river in Queens.
She said says the plan is to keep growing for as long as they can, noting that the need for food remains great for many New Yorkers.
"You know, last year, with the mild winter, we were growing through the winter a little bit, so I actually do have an intention to extend our season as much as possible,” Sidell added.
Think you or a friend might be interested in helping out? The urban farm is looking for volunteers. The Randall's Island Park Alliance is also looking for volunteers all over the park in its gardens and other scenic areas.
To find out more about that plus educational resources and virtual workshops, just head to RandallsIsland.org.