2.5-acre enterprise busting out despite wicked spring weather

By Tom Maguire

Associate editor

The creatures of the Valley are eyeballing Brady Farm.

   Last week, birds landed on the slightly muddy 2.5-acre patch to pick off worms. A red-tailed hawk flew pretty close, hoping for bigger prey. And somewhere in the woods, the deer were frozen out: This year, a new six-foot-high fence will banish all but the hungriest high jumpers.

   Also waiting for spring to get serious are the people who run the bustling plot between Valley Drive and Onondaga Creek.

   “I’m excited to grow a lot of food,” said Farm Manager Alice Gallagher. She had hoped to plant the early crops a couple of weeks ago. As of last Friday, only the green garlic plants, with their red stems, were popping up in the 36-degree cold (asparagus sprouts are expected next). The day before, the blustery sky emitted little white specks ridged like chunky flowers — a harbinger of the zinnia, snapdragon, lupine, bee balm, purple coneflower, and marigold plants that the farm will grow this year in addition to vegetables and mushrooms.

   The brutal wind sneaked under a faded brown tarpaulin and made it flap as if some hyper-growing super-crop were trying to punch through.

   “Well, God gives us every type of weather, so you better be grateful for the good and the bad,” said a farm volunteer named Rory.

   The Brady Faith Center says online that its mission is “to serve as an ‘Oasis for Peace, Hope, and Justice’ in the south side of Syracuse.” Part of that mission is the Brady Faith Center Urban Farm.

   It endeavors “to provide affordable, locally grown produce throughout the community,” Executive Director Kevin Frank said in an email. “We strive to be environmentally and economically sustainable, and offer education and workforce development.”

   The farm sits right next to Southside Academy Charter School. Office Administrator Debra Ford said that last year, seventh- and eighth-graders helped out at the farm and in return they were given vegetables to bring back to the school. “They really enjoyed going; they looked forward to eating the vegetables,” she said.

   Some goals for 2018, Frank said, “are to establish two high tunnels (plastic greenhouses) for starting seedlings, growing early crops, and extending the growing season; increase our Community-Supported-Agriculture (CSA) sales from 40 sold in 2017 to 70; begin neighborhood buying clubs and a buying base for the first time at the Saturday Regional Market; and continue to build community, health, healing, and hope alongside our neighbors in our small piece of heaven on earth.”

   The workers see the divinity in the project. “I enjoy coming here,” Rory said, “and God made us to work, so, if we’re not working for pay we might as well work for helping people out.”

   The farm, which has added a half-acre under cultivation this year, is always looking for volunteers to put in two hours a week. “We have a lot going on this year,” said Farm Coordinator Jessi Lyons. She added: “We’ll have a lot more variety and hopefully more quantity this year.”

   New this year is a buying club. Vegetable lovers will be able to buy as a group so that they can do things like make pickles and freeze products such as green beans and cucumbers (see the fact box below for categories of membership).

   Also new are the two 15-foot-high unheated greenhouses that are going up. One of them (48 feet long) is for seedlings; the other (72 feet long) is for crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so that they ripen earlier and gain a little protection from the stinkbugs, “which are just the worst,” Lyons said.

   Another greenhouse benefit is cultivation of winter greens, which the farm will be able to harvest through February. The farm is waiting for warm weather in order to stretch the plastic cover over the greenhouses’ metal frames. Although the wet and cold weather has delayed the early crops, the summer crops should be on time.

   Last week, Lyons and Gallagher welcomed loyal volunteers Amy and Don Lynch, of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Baldwinsville. In the past the Lynches have also helped the Brady Faith Center’s Summer Servants program for teens. This year the couple helped construct the Brady Farm fence. Now they are weighing different designs for the pedestrian and vehicle gates that will block off the remaining openings that let the deer in. Last year, Lyons said, the farm lost probably a quarter of the crop due to deer predation — “a big bummer.” “They find the weakest link, and they’ll come in,” Don said.

   “It’s a great mission, it’s a wonderful opportunity to serve a greater faith community here in the Syracuse Diocese,” said Don, a supply-chain manager for Welch Allyn, Inc. He and Amy are not in construction professionally, but they both grew up in a rural setting and they enjoy working outdoors.

   Phase 1 of the fence project was having a contractor install the thick wooden posts. In Phase 2, the Lynches and other volunteers took big rolls of fencing and helped to wrap it around the property. With the help of their two daughters, they also put the side bracing on any part of the fence that has significant pressure on it. They worked over Christmas break, when it was really freezing. Phase 3 includes the creative part — designing the gates.

   Amy, a stay-at-home mom and a former medical technologist, is “kind of artsy” and she thought it would be “kind of cool to make big gates that are fun” and not just utilitarian. She feels that fancy gates will make it “more inviting” and bring people in.

    The deer will be able to poke their nose through the metal squares in the fence but the days of no-effort asparagus are over.

How to get

Brady Farm goodies

   Go to Bradyfarm.org in order to contact Farm Coordinator Jessi Lyons, volunteer, sign up to purchase groceries every week (Community- Supported-Agriculture, or CSA), or ask questions about the buying club (for groups that want a discount for buying larger quantities). Email: BradyFaithFarm@gmail.com.

CSA shares

More than 50 products are available in the three standard CSA boxes.

Family Share:

$400, up to 12 items per week for the 18-week season.

Regular Share:

$320, up to eight items per week (items such as green beans, cucumber, zucchini, watermelon, okra, lettuce).

Farmstand Share:

$200, up to five items per week at the farmstand.

New American Sampler Share:

$180, three items per week grown by refugee Americans (not traditional vegetables; offerings include bitter melons, long beans, specialty Asian greens, specialty peppers, special eggplants).

Times and locations

Brady Farm will sell 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays (not Thursdays anymore) at the CNY Regional Market on the North Side of Syracuse and the same hours Tuesdays at the Downtown Farmers Market at Clinton Square.

Source: Jessi Lyons

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