East Meadow’s Horticultural Center and Demonstration Garden, on Merrick Avenue between Prospect Avenue and North Jerusalem Road, and just north of the East Meadow/Merrick border, is there to educate people on the many ways to grow a garden without pesticides or fertilizers.
“We want to show you that you can do it all at your own home,” said Bonnie Klein, a Cornell Cooperative Extension community educator, who recently gave the Herald a tour of the farm.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, a local arm of the statewide program that aims to educate the public on ecological and agricultural issues, maintains the farm. Formerly at Eisenhower Park, the farm moved to Merrick Avenue in 2012 to become more visible to the public.
The farm primarily serves as an educational resource, and is open to the public. The plants and vegetables are not for sale, and the farm is subsidized by Nassau County grants. But Klein said she fears that the farm may be in danger of being cut from next year’s county budget.
The farm includes a butterfly garden, planted literally in the shape of a butterfly. The garden features flowers that attract butterflies, and dozens can be seen hovering around the plants.
Other areas include the children’s educational gardens, and at back, a community garden is sectioned off with plots where members of the public can grow and maintain whatever plants they want. “This is everybody’s place,” said Klein. “It’s a community.”
Flowers and bright-blue benches sit underneath an archway at the welcoming entrance to the community garden, which was designed by members of Merrick Girl Scout Troop 2536 for their Silver Award project.
During the tour, a family was at work watering their private garden. “I’m psyched my red leaf lettuce is growing!” exclaimed Jon Zucker, who lives in East Meadow. One of his sons, Aaron, lent a hand with the work. “It’s an after-dinner activity,” he said. “We never get enough of it.”
“This falls right into our vegetarian lifestyle,” added Jon, who said that having a spot in the community garden gives his family a place to grow their favorite vegetables.
The East Meadow farm served as a valuable community asset after Hurricane Sandy struck last October. Following the storm, the center tested residents’ soil for salt and advised them about how to repair their damaged yards. “We visited Long Beach and many other towns to do the salt tests,” said Klein, adding that numerous families stopped by the farm to ask questions about how to salvage their gardens.
The farm also has a master gardener program, a semester-long internship that requires 150 hours of volunteer work and exams to learn the ins and outs of the trade. Master gardeners share their knowledge to help people with their own gardens. While more than 200 people apply to the program each year, only 40 are chosen.