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May 24, 2011

 

Urban farmer brings new life to Smith Gardens

Former history teacher changes course, opens farm to grow organic produce

BenefitBob Ellis/staff photographer
Allan Gandelman stands in one of his greenhouses on North West Street in Homer where he is setting up an “urban farm.”

By MATTHEW NOJIRI
Staff Reporter
mnojiri@cortlandstandardnews.net

HOMER — Allan Gandelman has carried a passion for fresh produce and growing vegetables all his life.
About five months ago, he decided to take that passion to former Smith Gardens, which was owned by Homer residents Chester and Laura Smith for more than 65 years.
After teaching social studies for a few years at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES New Vision program, Gandelman wanted to take the next step, buying the Smith Gardens property where he is starting his own “urban farm.”
“I just decided that’s what I wanted to do full-time,” said Gandelman, 29. “It’s something I always wanted to do.”
The farm specializes in organic vegetables and plants on its 1 acre plot. He described his farm, at 116 N. West St. in Homer, as “an urban farm in a rural town.” He plans to have fish such as rainbow trout and tilapia, as well as organic herbs and vegetables.
Main Street Farms opened last weekend, he said. It offers vegetable and herb transplants, as well as eggs, he added. It is open seven days a week.
Gandelman, who grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J., hopes to donate food to local schools for their lunch menus as part of a nonprofit he set up, Schoolyard Gardens. The move to fresh local food will help schools transition away from unhealthy options, he said.
“People are becoming more aware of eating fresh food,” Gandelman said.
He also gives students a chance to work on his farm, transplanting vegetables, planting herbs and learning about composting. This year he has been working with students from the New Vision program on his farm.
The New Vision program for local high-school seniors provides an overview of a professional field by placing the student in an actual work environment outside of school.
“It’s been a nice match for the kids to volunteer and learn a lifetime skill,” said Tim Sandstrom, a teacher at New Visions BOCES environmental science program.
“It’s a good way to learn about different aspects of farming,” said Chris Herold, a student in the class.
Gandelman said farming provides an avenue to continue teaching outside of the classroom.
“I love teaching and it’s a nice transition,” Gandelman said.
The winter weather posed some challenges for Gandelman, who saw two of his greenhouses collapse under the weight of heavy snow. He said things are going well, despite the snowy start.
Gandelman is also looking to build a large aquaponics system on the farm. He has already built one system in his basement.
In aquaponics, fish and plants are grown together in one mutually beneficial system. The plants use the waste material from the fish as a nutrient source before returning clean water to the fish.
Gandelman plans to sell his vegetables at local farmers markets. He says people often stop by his urban farm, familiar with Smith Gardens in the community.
Starting in 1950, Chester and Laura operated Smith Gardens. Chester “Chet” Smith died in 2009 and Laura Smith died in 2008.
Gandelman said his move from the classroom has been rewarding and allowed him to pursue one of his passions.
“I love being outside,” Gandelman said.

 

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