Ecological Culture Initiative (ECI) has become an important part of the Hampton Bays community. They have grown to more than 900 subscribers since beginning their mission in 2016 to “foster a resilient, ecology-based coastal community through advocacy and education in sustainable food production, wellness, and environmental stewardship.”
ECI has several environmental initiatives, which they always encourage the community to get involved with. President and Agro-Ecology Director Rachel Stephens says, “We currently have a crew of over 20 volunteers who work tirelessly in our teaching garden, stocking and managing the seed library, collecting food waste to add to our composting program, creating and serving farm to table dinners, managing a farmers market and other events and working with the staff members who organize and oversee this great not-for-profit organization.”
The Good Ground Heritage Garden is just one of ECI’s important initiatives. It’s located on the grounds of the St. Joseph Villa in Hampton Bays and is run by a large crew of volunteers and ECI’s garden manager Maribeth Fuchs. Rachel says, “The goal of the garden is to teach community members how to grow vegetables using organic, earth-friendly practices. All of the produce, which includes an abundance of heirloom variety tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, garlic, lettuces and other greens, cabbages, sweet potatoes and more, grown in the garden is donated to the St. Rosalie’s food pantry and used in our farm-to-table dinners. The garden also provides seeds which are saved and added to the free seed library which is housed inside the Hampton Bays Public Library.”
Rachel expressed that with the Good Ground Heritage Garden, it is their hope that they can help community members to feel confident in the ability to grow their own healthy food and to also be able to provide it for those who are experiencing tough times. She says, “Thanks to a generous donation by the Michael and Annie Falk Foundation, we’ve recently purchased and erected a beautiful glass greenhouse which has impacted our teaching ability tremendously.”
The garden is surrounded by deer fencing and currently has 14 raised beds. Next to the garden are the eco-shack, the pollinator project, composting site, and greenhouse. The “shack” is a small building that will ultimately become a teaching lab for ecology. And ECI is excited that their new addition of the greenhouse is now in operation. It will allow them to grow in every season, yielding more food to donate to the food pantry, and the greenhouse will also become a place for classes and workshops.
Along with all the produce grown in the garden, ECI has also set up beehives for their pollinator project, another important initiative they have implemented. Community members are encouraged to sponsor a hive to help rebuild the population of hives that declined over the years due to the increased use of fungicides and pesticides across the U.S. For each year of sponsoring a hive, that community member will receive ten pounds of honey in late July and an invitation to beehive classes.
ECI ultimately aims to make Hampton Bays a zero-waste community through the development of their composting program. This year, they hope to set a new record by diverting more than 15,000 pounds of food scraps from Southampton’s solid waste stream. Rachel says, “Community members bring or arrange pick up of their kitchen scraps to a composting area near the garden that is, by the help of ECI’s ‘Compost King’ and resource director Tony Romano, turned into a rich ‘black gold’ compost.” She went on to explain how the program diverts thousands of pounds of food waste from the landfills and into home gardens as nutrient compost. Members can even choose to pick up a bucket of the finished product to be used in their own home gardens or they can donate it back to the Good Ground Heritage Garden.
The Good Ground Farmers Market in Hampton Bays will not be hosted by ECI this year as they aim to focus on organizing a series of events over the course of the summer. The first event of the summer will be their Memorial Day Plant Sale at St. Joseph’s Villa. Then, of course, with the summer solstice around the corner, their farm-to-table dinner will be happening at a location yet to be announced. Stay tuned for all their exciting plans this summer season!
With all of these impactful initiatives there are so many ways for community members to get involved in the wellness of the environment and ourselves. Aside from volunteering, there are sponsorship and membership opportunities available. Members will receive invitations to the farm-to-table dinners held on each of equinoxes and solstices, as well as other onsite events, tours, and workshops. Together, and through the mission of ECI, we can help make our amazing coastal community sustainable!