Monday, October 17, 2011

Looking for a Farm

The life of a farmer who does not own land requires a willingness to accept displacement from season to season. Conuco Farm has grown crops in six different locations over the past decade.

Hector Tejada, the farmer behind Conuco, has experienced major setbacks to his ultimate goal of owning and farming his own land in the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

In the aftermath of the storms, Mr. Tejada’s 11 acres of leased farmland in New Paltz, N.Y. was flooded for days. The water killed all the plants and spoiled a great deal of autumn produce. The sudden loss of his crops ended Mr. Tejada’s farming season, and left him, along with his three workers, jobless.

“It looks like a dead piece of ground,” said Mr. Tejada. “Full of dead stuff. Dead worms. The whole place stinks and it’s not the best soil after water has been there for so long.”

Mr. Tejada has had to work at an orchard and for a nearby organic farmer, who is still able to harvest for the market, in order to pay his bills.

“Five days a week I work for Glory Orchards, picking fruit, pruning grape leaves, packaging, filling boxes for wholesale,” said Mr. Tejada. “They have about 40-something acres of fruit, mostly apples and pears right now. Then for two days a week I work markets for Taliaferro Farms, one in Ossining and another in Nyack, loading the truck, setting-up and helping sell and manage the stands.”

He lives in an apartment in Rosendale about six miles down the road from what was Conuco Farm. He returns to the farm when he can to begin the slow process of cleaning up the field and the greenhouse. The Conuco Farm stand, a regular at the Fort Greene Park Greene Market, Bed-Stuy Farm Share CSA and Union Square Greenmarket, has been absent for weeks following the storms. Members of his CSA recently made trips upstate to help with the cleanup, and other regular market customers have also offered their help.

Even though the clean-up phase has begun, Mr. Tejada said he is uncertain about next season.

“I’m trying to be the best that I can be. Remaining positive,” said Mr. Tejada. “First, I need to clean and start moving. I’m looking at my options.”

Anyone interested in helping with clean-up can contact the Bed-Stuy Farm Share at or contact Mr. Tejada at to discuss clean-up or to help with his search for a permanent plot of land for the farm.

Read More at The Local • New York Times

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conuco Farm's CSA members, Bed-Stuy Farm Share, have been coming upstate for a series of volunteer cleanup days since Hurricane Irene cut their weekly produce shares short.

More are being scheduled for anyone interested in helping out. Contact

Conuco Farm produce harvested after Hurricane Irene and presented at a New York City farmer's market. Photo: Matteo Norzi

Support: Greenmarket Hurricane Irene Relief Fund
Read more: Wall Street Journal Online: Slimmer Pickings After Irene

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene left every acre of Conuco Farm completely underwater for days, including the greenhouse. All produce has since rotted and all of the plants are dead. No more markets. No more CSA. No more season.

Read more: The Local: New York Times Fort Greene • Clinton Hill

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hector Tejada and his Conuco Farm

Ray Ray Mitrano

About ten years ago, Hector Tejada, the farmer who sells his Conuco Farm produce at the Fort Greene farmer's market each weekend, decided to start a career of farming on rented land. It was a new life, not just on the farm; Hector immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic only a few years earlier. He had previously survived by working jobs for different vendors at the year-round Union Square farmer's market, jobs to pay his bills. 

"I was more interested in music, becoming a musician. Or screen-printing." Hector explains his New York City life pre-farming. He went to school in the D.R. for graphic design. 

Eventually, Hector followed one of his employers back to a farm in Pennsylvania, for full-time work in the field, returning to Manhattan for Union Square's market each week to sell produce and manage the stand. 

"At the end of the first summer, I took my money and bought a lot of silk-screening equipment." says Tejada, who still had not seen himself as a farmer. 

However, soon the tug of the land pulled him into what became a life's passion in farming for himself. Hector's Conuco Farm  has been his livelihood in six different locations local to New York City during the past decade of selling his produce at the GrowNYC Greenmarkets. A year in the Fingerlakes region, another renting a couple acres from the farmer back in Pennsylvania, two years in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, then back to New York near Hampton for another year, followed by two more properties, both in New Paltz, N.Y. where Conuco Farm currently resides. Along with that, a group of Brooklyn food folk helped him start his own CSA, Bed-Stuy Farm Share, which is now in its' sixth year. At one point he was doing a mind-boggling seven GrowNYC markets a week, which turned out to not be worth the time, money and utter-exhaustion.

"I would do Union Square Friday, Fort Greene Saturday, Tompkins Square Sunday, Union Square again on Monday and Wednesday along with the 96th St. and the Columbia University markets on Thursdays. That was when I did baked goods, too, so some markets would just be that." recalls Hector.

"I had about six or seven people working for me, some just did markets, some the CSA delivery, a few people in the field. Sometimes I wouldn't even drive back home, just sleep in my truck outside a Trader Joe's or where-ever off the expressway in New Jersey, wash-up in the bathroom, get some food and sleep for a few hours. I was making a lot of money farming and I was also spending a lot of money farming, paying people, rent, repairing equipment, tractors, gas....the more I farmed the more money I spent and I am lucky to break even."

Cultivating land that is not his own is a challenge in the long term. Landlords' unforseen demands, fields near rivers prone to flooding and the hesitation to invest time and money building up good soil with lingering uncertainty of being able to stay long-term has made renting farms a frustrating endeavor. In one case, a disgruntled property owner forced him to leave before the season was over. 

"I still had to harvest for my CSA and she wouldn't let me back in the field!." Laments Hector, who claims she had issues with his hiring of worker's without legal papers. "I became both farmless and homeless" he says, describing his search for another place to start again.

Eventually, through a fellow farmer friend, he found New Paltz N.Y. and soon narrowed his business down to the CSA and one market, Fort Greene.

"I first started selling at Fort Greene in 2003." says Hector. "It was a new market and I was one of the first farmers put there by GrowNYC. It was great. A lot of diversity, people recently graduated from school, new families with babies, neighborhood people living there for 40 years. A lot of people in the summer."

When asked of any changes he's noticed throughout the past several years of being there, Hector recalls the beginning being better for business. 

"For me, that market was better in the beginning. New and fresh, blowing your mind. But people move on and it lacks promotion in the neighborhood." Tejada is referring to the temporary managers hired to run the year-round market for only short periods, usually the summer season. He stresses that the market needs someone permanent and from Fort Greene to manage it's potential in flourishing with the surrounding community. "A Fort Greener!" Hector laughs. 

When questioned if he would like to continue selling at the year-round Saturday market, Hector reveals a bit of why he does it.

"I love that market. That markets' been one of my columns that allow me to exist. It supports me. Last year I had to choose one market and I chose Fort Greene, and I know why: When I was homeless and farmless I would park my van in the same spot by that park and sleep where my market is." 

"When I walk around the neighborhood people recognize me as part of the market and smile and it feels nice. I don't live in Fort Greene, but when I'm there I feel it's my home."

Note: Hector decided in early August that he would not continue leasing the land he is currently farming next season due to it being prone to flooding by the nearby Wallkill River. As of late August, Hurricane Irene has left the field, greenhouse and all access roads completely underwater.

Ray Ray Mitrano has been involved with GrowNYC Greenmarkets the while living in Brooklyn the past few years. This past spring, he moved to New Paltz, N.Y. for full-time work at Conuco Farm, in the field and back at the markets.

Working Relationship: Conuco Farm's CSA, Bed-Stuy Farm Share, Helps in Hard Times

For decades, the relationship between growers in the Hudson Valley and consumers in New York City has been best exemplified by the New York City Greenmarket, a series of outdoor markets where local farmers and artisans can bring their wares to an urban population weary of paying top dollar for bottom end grocery store fare. In recent years, the growth of the CSA has added a new dimension to the relationship, with one being strengthened this year by adversity. Read more: New Paltz Times - Working Relationship: A series of benefits for Conuco Farm were recently held in Brooklyn

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010, 8pm
Auction at “A Year at Rooftop Farm” Exhibition
6pm-11pm (auction begins at 8pm)
The Commons: 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Do your holiday shopping at our auction! Live music, food & drinks.
Want to donate something to the auction? Contact us at

Sunday, December 12, 2010, 7pm
Benefit Dinner at Palo Santo Restaurant
652 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY
$75 per person
Latin cuisine with wine pairings
Purchase ticket now

Tuesday, December 14, 2010, 7pm
Benefit Dinner at iCi Restaurant
246 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
$75 per person
Seasonal cuisine with beer & wine
Purchase tickets now

Make a donation to the farms directly here

More information? Contact or 718.783.8443

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fire Strikes Conuco Farm; $12,000 in Agricultural Supplies Destroyed

Make a donation today!

On Sunday, October 17, 2010 a hay fire struck the barn at Conuco Farm and burned the barn, walk-in cooler and storage unit to the ground. Hector Tejada, who began the Bed-Stuy Farm Share 5 years ago and has delivered fresh produce to Bed-Stuy every week since then, lost all of his stored crops, tools, containers, organic fertilizers, garlic seed and other equipment. He also lost many of his own personal belongings - family photos, records, musical instruments, screen printing supplies - that he was storing in the space.

He has calculated that he lost $12,000 worth of agricultural products, supplies and equipment in addition to his personal belongings, which he has not even started to calculate. Additionally, he cannot find any seed supplier or fellow farmer in the entire Northeast region to sell him garlic seed to plant at this time. Garlic is planted late fall and harvested the following summer. He has located garlic seed in Colorado at an astronomical price and is going to do what he can to buy some so that you can have farm fresh garlic next year.

The timing of this fire and its impact is devastating. This is the end of the harvest period when Hector was digging his potatoes and picking winter squash which he had stored in this barn. Not only has he lost much of his equipment but much of the bounty of his harvest which he was storing to sell over the next couple of months as the market season slows down for the winter. We want to make sure that Conuco Farm can survive the winter, and we need your financial support to guarantee that.

Please help Conuco Farm and Hector Tejada recoved what they’ve lost. There are four things you can do today:

1. Make a financial donation here.

2. If you cannot make a financial donation, please make an in-kind donation. See the wish list below for some of the items the farm and Hector needs.

3. Join our fundraising committee. Help us organize events and activities here in Brooklyn to raise money to cover the farm’s $12,000 lost.

4. Shop at Conuco Farm’s stand at Ft. Greene Greenmarket this Saturday. Go buy all of your vegetables for this week from Conuco Farm. They are at the Ft. Greene Greenmarket from 8am to 3pm each Saturday.

Wish List:
1 acoustic guitar
400 lbs. of organic garlic seed
1 Planet Jr. Seeder
silk screen supplies (screens, ink, etc.)
1 drawing table
1 food dehydrator
1 car stereo
old jazz and blues CDs (anything from the 1930s to the 1970s)
700 lbs. of pea seeds
1 walk-in cooler