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Cathy Zimdahl
May 9, 2012 | Cathy Zimdahl

Can You Dig It?

Can You Dig It?

There’s a little piece of the bucolic King Ferry landscape that has been transplanted to Brooklyn, where it will soon be sprouting carrots and squash, and teaching city kids the many benefits of having a garden. Grow to Learn NYC: The Citywide School Garden Initiative was founded by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC and GrowNYC, the organization that runs the Greenmarket system. King Ferry Winery began selling their wines on weekends at several Greenmarket locations throughout the city during 2010. Owner Pete Saltonstall worked the markets during both 2010 and 2011, and has been impressed with the welcoming attitude of the Greenmarket shoppers. “The folks who attend the markets were so happy to have us there! They were simply so welcoming that they made me look forward to my time there each week. When I heard about the school gardens initiative, I knew just what I could do to thank them for their hospitality and support of the winery. I could bring them some really great soil!”
Thom Bechtold, the vineyard manager at King Ferry Winery, has been composting the seeds, stems, and skins that are left after the grapes have been pressed, and an impressive mound of rich, black earth has been accumulating at the edge of the vineyard. Horse manure and bedding from winery owner Tacie Saltonstall’s horses is mixed with the pulpy residue (called “pomace”) and aged over a year before it is used in the fields. “I try to turn the pile monthly,” reports Thom. “When it’s ready, we use it to
top-dress plants, or it goes in the hole when we plant new vines, or to amend deficient soils in place of chemical fertilizers. It also increases the organic matter in our soil, which improves soil structure. Chemical fertilizers do nothing for the soil health.”
So, with an eye on the weather scanning for rain clouds, Pete fired up his tractor on a warm April afternoon, and loaded up his pick-up truck with a ton or so of the “black gold” to be delivered to Bushwick Campus Gardens, in Brooklyn. The load-in was done with assistance from John Deere, but the load-out was strictly man-powered, with Pete and his son Lev unloading the truck shovelful by shovelful. “Grow to Learn NYC” promotes school gardens as a way to connect children to the natural world, to teach them the value and joy in hard work, and to promote more positive attitudes towards healthy food. For more information on the program, visit


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