Huntington’s organic community garden has yielded harvests and friendships for 50 years

An experiment in organic community gardening in the Town of Huntington is still thriving 50 years on and growing friendships along the way.

From March to November, gardeners from across the town descend upon the Robert M. Kubecka Memorial Organic Garden and the Clifford Soergel Memorial Outreach Garden in Greenlawn, where farming dreams come alive for $25 or less.

Tara Sammis, who has had a plot in the Kubecka garden for four years, said it was an opportunity she seized upon to plant sun-loving flowers, pollinator plants, and perennial herbs. She said the benefit was more than the harvest that comes midsummer. 

“You get to know everyone and you share plants, ideas, we’ll share information,” said Sammis, of Huntington. “It’s a nice place to come; it’s neighbors you might not live next to, but they are still your neighbors and we all work together.”

In 1971 the town purchased the 15-acre site at the intersection of Dunlop and Greenlawn roads from the Hazeltine Corp., said Matt Laux, the town’s Environmental Waste Management deputy director. His department oversees the gardens.

In 1972 about 150 families began planting a variety of vegetables and flowers, with seeds, manure, water and compost donated by the town. 

Amanda Lerch is an environmentalist analyst for the town who started overseeing the gardens last year. 

“We have a really good group in there, all different ages, from 20-year-olds to 80-year-olds. We have people who have been there for 40 years to first-time gardeners,” she said.

In 1989 the garden was named for Robert Kubecka, a former environmentalist with the town’s Department of Environmental Protection and a carting business owner. He oversaw the organic garden from 1973 to 1976, helping residents learn to grow their own vegetables without pesticides.

Kubecka was shot dead in 1989 in an apparent mob hit after working with the FBI about the influence of organized crime in the carting industry.

Peaches grow in the Robert M. Kubecka Memorial Organic Gardens in Greenlawn on Aug. 14, 2021.
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The outreach garden was created in 1993 by Soergel. It provides free land to planters who give 50% of the harvest to the underprivileged.

Each season Soergel would take up to 6,000 pounds of fresh produce to the poor.

Carolyn Gee, of East Northport, is in her first season at Kubecka, where she’s planted tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The thing that has stood out, she said, was the demeanor of fellow gardeners with their offers of help and advice.

 “After two years of COVID and retirement and then to come here and you’re outside and you’re talking to people you remember how nice it is to talk to people outside your family,” she said. “It’s a community.”

Hope Kranidis, of Commack, says this season is her first in a community garden. She says spending time at the garden has an impact beyond one’s own benefit.

“We are stewards of the land, understanding the importance of our environment,” she said. “We’re preserving it and teaching our kids to do the same and hopefully attracting other residents to do the same.”

Laux said there is no celebration planned for the 50th anniversary, but perhaps later this summer, when everything is in bloom.

PLOTS

Kubecka: 400, 20-by-30-foot plots 

Clifford Soergel: raised beds, including ADA-accessible double raised beds, ground-level beds and a children’s garden

COST $25 ($15 for ages 62 and older) for Kubecka; free at Clifford Soergel, but must donate half the harvest to local food banks

INFO 631-351-3186