Veggie Island is the best little farmstand in the world — or, at least, in Far Rockaway, New York — and after a fruitful first year (ha!), they’ll be expanding this summer to create a greenhouse and start a community gardening program. They will be growing everything organically, promoting seed saving, and starting a composting program to utilize the organic waste produced by both the garden and Veggie Island itself. I dropped co-founder Shaun Kessler a line to catch up and hear more about the farmin’ life. Check out his answers (and a sweet smoothie recipe) below.
Tell me how Veggie island got started. What was the “seed”?
When I moved to Rockaway, I immediately realized that there were very few options for prepared foods, and more importantly, a lack of fresh produce. At the same time, my friend Elizabeth Gilchrist was working on Blooming Hill Farms. She came over for a BBQ, as soon as she showed up she threw a bunch of ramps on the grill
I think thats when we began to talk about starting a produce stand out here. It made sense since she was working on this amazing farm, and I lived in an area that didnt have access to any fresh, local, let alone organic produce.
So how long ago did Veggie Island open it’s doors? And what has the response from the community been like so far?
We started the sidewalk stand in late summer ‘09, and we opened our current retail space in April 2010.
The community that discovered us in the beginning, and the ones that are still finding us, are always excited. I think they appreciate that we provide them something useful and honest. And since we only carry what’s in season, the store is always changing.
It’s also really fun to see how people respond to us. Once a family brought us a wounded duck they found on the beach. It’s name was Duck Duck! Elizabeth brought Duck Duck to the farm, and she lived with their rabbits until she was able to fly again. My dog came to me in a similar way.
Woah! What other kinds of stuff have people brought you?
People have brought us art work, plants, seeds, clippings from fruit trees, a honey bee, baked goods, post cards, and more.
What’s the one thing you look forward to getting in all year?
It’s hard to pick the most exciting produce to get in is, since every new plant that’s in season is mind-blowing after a year of not seeing it. That said, it is really exciting when tree fruit is in season. Plums, apples, peaches, etc. Upstate makes great fruit!
You are offering smoothes as rewards. Is this the stuff those are made of?
Yes! We do make smoothies based on the fruit that is in season. Last summer, when the tree fruit was in season, we had a stone fruit smoothie that was amazing. It had peaches, japanese plums, Italian plums, nectarines, and more.
So how did you guys end up on Kickstarter? How are you looking to grow?
We came to Kickstarter since its a community based fundraising platform, and we are a community based business. It is a great platform to share our ideas with people, as well as who we are, and what we are doing. Honestly, without Kickstarter, I don’t know how else we would be able to move forward this summer short of finding an investor. And investors can be tricky, since they can influence the ideals and direction of a business’s development.
We want to grow by offering the community a more well rounded “bodega” style store. we would carry basic needs like toiletries, produce, soaps, pet food, cleaners, bulk, sandwiches, juices, smoothies, baked goods. All of which would be local, all natural, organic, and handmade. We work closely with our vendors, and we all collaborate and support each other.
Why do you think organic and local produce/supplies are so important to a community like Far Rockaway? (or ANY community, really?)
It’s a basic right as a human to have access to clean, chemical-free none GMO produce. You know, the way nature planned it.