A farm grows on Staten Island

On a recent Thursday Sam Oke was walking through the crops he manages.

"For tomatoes we have 30 varieties, winter squash we have two or three," he said, "The cucumbers have three varieties."

It's produce that will find its way into some of New York City's finest dining establishments. Think three-Michelin-starred Per Se and downtown hot spot Minetta Tavern. And it's grown in a place that might surprise some: Staten Island.

The Heritage Farm at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Randall Manor is a two-acre property where 15 thousand pounds of produce are grown each season. And it's not your typical farm.

"We pride ourselves on being a 'better than organic' production here at Snug Harbor," said Jessica Abalos, lead farm educator at Snug Harbor. That means no chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and very specific sustainable practices.

Abalos says only three things are used to treat the soil.

"We have sea kelp, micronized mollusks and our special Vermont compost shipped in," she said. "This is how we give back to the soil after it gives so much to us."

Currently, much of the land at the farm is not in use, and that's by design. Part of the Heritage Farm's philosophy is letting the soil rest, allowing the last to go fallow

"The tomatoes and cucumbers were not here last year, they were originally in that block next to the high tunnel," explained Oke, the lead farmer. "We move them based on the nutrients the plants need in the soil, so we don't overuse certain areas.”

Oke says the sustainable practices can be labor intensive.

“It's a challenge that we don't use pesticides, but it's also a blessing in the same aspect that we don't have to worry about anyone being poisoned by our produce or anything like that.”

The farm's produce here is also sold at local green markets and about 20 percent of it is donated to local food pantries.

“We are very conscious about giving back to the community and that's a big part of our mission,” Abalos said.

Nearly everyone who works at the farm here lives nearby, and so feeding fellow Staten Islanders with produce grown right in their back yards s a priority.