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‘We’re alive and thriving’

Crossroads Farm continues operations, attracts new visitors amid pandemic in Malverne

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Malvernite and Nassau Land Trust Chairman Rick White said that volunteers at Crossroads Farm, in Malverne, were just as anxious as other residents when the coronavirus lockdown went into effect in March. The farm was preparing for its annual opening day celebration in April to kick off its Barnyard Event series. With all of its spring events canceled, White said, the farm had to devise a plan to keep operating.

“Once we were deemed as essential, we carefully researched and put together a plan that would allow visitors on the farm in limited numbers,” White explained. “While we followed Covid-19 guidelines for both staff and the visitors, we still wanted to give people an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the farm.”

White said that Crossroads, which is operated by Nassau Land Trust — a nonprofit that preserves land throughout Nassau County — had to limit its volunteers this year as part of the state’s health and safety guidelines. With fewer volunteers than usual, White said, many worked tirelessly to grow organic food at the farm. Due to a growing need for food during the pandemic, Crossroads launched its Farmers Market at the end of March, which is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We’ve done this without any kind of hiccup,” White said. “We couldn’t do any of our usual events, but I feel really happy about what we were able to do under these circumstances.”

Crossroads education Co-director Leonore Russell recalled that although their first Farmers Market took place on a cold, rainy morning, the farm still attracted many area residents that day. That left Russell and the volunteers feeling optimistic.

“The weather didn’t matter,” she said. “People were just happy to be outside and to be among each other at a safe distance. That really gave us the belief that we’re alive and thriving.”

As part of the farm’s educational programs, Russell said, students from Malverne and Valley Stream usually visit the facility every week. This year, however, the farm shifted to virtual education, in which Russell and her co-director, Mary Jean McCarthy, held Zoom sessions with students. One of their most popular environmental programs, Sow to Grow — a workshop in which children learn to block soil and plant seeds — was also held virtually. Students were allowed to visit the farm in June to see the growth of the plants.

“The children got to work in the ground, and they really got to learn about the plants up close,” Russell said. “All of the students seemed to be engaged.”

For some volunteers who had to work extra hours, such as Greenhouse Manager Kathy Francos, being out on the farm was refreshing. Francos worked alongside Operations Manager Nella Stranieri to establish seeding schedules, and she spent four to five hours each day maintaining plants in the greenhouse.

“The farm saved me, because I didn’t have to stay indoors,” Francos said. “I had a place to go every day. The fact that I could still do what I love to do and be there to help residents . . . it was such a win-win situation for me.”

The farm’s mission is to restore soil, grow healthy plants and provide education while building a community of volunteers who work the property together. Eva Schwartz, chairwoman of its advisory committee, attributed the facility’s success to the fact that its volunteers were willing to continue to carry out that mission.

“We all understand that the farm is a very important part of the community,” Schwartz said. “There’s a lot of cohesiveness among our volunteers. Whether it was keeping our barn, our bathrooms or our equipment clean, or helping out with Farmers Market, we all came together as one.”

In addition to the market, Crossroads has also held a weekly event since the summer called Wind Down Fridays, in which local musicians perform while up to 50 people are allowed to roam the farm and buy produce or flowers. Through its events, the farm has attracted many new visitors from surrounding communities, a goal of White’s for many years.

“It’s given me a personal reassurance that we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “The fact that we came out of this with a sense of enhanced relevance certainly reminds us of our purpose for being here.”

The farm will hold a benefit concert, featuring the band Stagecoach, on Oct. 24, from 3 to 7 p.m., for donations of $50 to $200 per person. Go to bit.ly/2G9TZ2N to reserve a seat.