Then and Now: Farming the Fields of Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND, NY – Agriculture has played an important and valuable role in the financial growth of Staten Island, from the Native Americans who cultivated the land, to the expansion of the island’s farms by the Huguenots and the English. Many farms included orchards of various types such as apples, pears, peaches and figs. Manhattan was the primary market for 18th- and 19th-century farmers in Richmond County, according to Staten Island Advance records.

Currently, the only farms operating on Staten Island are the Heritage farm at Snug Harbor, which is in full swing and Decker Farm in New Springville where some plots are full of vegetables in various stages of growth.

Farmer Ezra Pasackow is doing amazing things on the Heritage Farm by teaching farming skills to the next generation.

There was a short-lived farm at the Urby complex in Stapleton; however, he was interrupted.

A full article by Macaulay CUNY has been written on the subject of local farming called, ‘Agriculture on Staten Island: Influence and Decline.’ In this article, he explains how the gradual disappearance of farms was due to several factors, including; the influx of people, the rise of industry and factories, pollution and especially the construction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. In particular, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge caused an estimated 58.6 percent increase in the population between 1960 and 1980. Maintaining large farms and their homes has become too expensive to maintain. Many have moved to New Jersey.

Enjoy this look of the bounty of our island in the past and now.

Photograph of chickens outside the chicken coop on the grounds of Snug Harbor, undated. (Courtesy of the Staten Island Museum)

Yesterday and today: agriculture

Written on the back of the photograph: “Landscape Great Kills, Staten Island morning salt hay. Great Kills, SI, Landscape by Howard Cleaves, July 25, 1909. (From the collection of the Staten Island Museum)

Yesterday and today: agriculture

Mrs Mohlenoff with her sons, left to right, Herman, Dick and Hen, stand in the family greenhouse in this 1929 photo. The Mohlenoffs operated the last big farm in Richmond County until they sold the land in 1992. (Staten Island Advance)

Yesterday and today: agriculture

The back of the photograph reads: “Farming in New Springville, circa 1964”. (Courtesy of the Staten Island Museum)

Yesterday and today: agriculture

Photograph of a herd of cows on the grounds of Snug Harbor with three trees in the background, Livingston, circa 1920-1930. (Courtesy of the Staten Island Museum)

Yesterday and today: agriculture

Four men at a Travis farm inspecting smog damage with Cornelius Hall, Borough President, May 28, 1951. (Staten Island Museum)

The reverse of the photograph reads: “Crampanis’ Farm, New Springville, 1965.” (Courtesy of the Staten Island Museum)

Yesterday and today: agriculture

The Decker farm circa 1935. The original farm was owned by Joseph Alston, who built the farm circa 1810 and enlarged it circa 1840 at the same time that the porch was added. Located at 435 Richmond Hill Rd., The farm was sold to Sylvanus Decker in 1841 and his family owned and operated the 11-acre farm until 1955. The last Decker to live there, Alberta Decker, bequeathed the property to the Staten Island Historical Society. The farm and its surrounding property was designated a New York City Historic Landmark in 1967 and today operates as a working farm and is part of Historic Richmond. (Courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society)

Yesterday and today: the farms

2011 was a good year at the Decker Farm booth gagootz fields. (Advance from Staten Island)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Decker Farm in New Springville July 28, 2021. Fencing is in place and serious due to the deer population here. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Decker Farm in New Springville with beautiful signage on July 28, 2021 (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Youth summer job workers with farmer Ezra Pasackow at the Snug Harbor Heritage Farm. 17-year-old Tristan Lee and 16-year-old Alice Aldamo harvest kale and learn farming techniques. July 28, 2021 (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Snug Harbor Heritage Farm summer workers Tristan Lee, 17, and Alice Aldamo, 16 harvest kale and learn farming techniques. July 28, 2021 (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Snug Harbor Heritage Farm was established in 2012. Here in full swing during the summer of July 23, 2021. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Snug Harbor Heritage Farm was established in 2012. Here in full swing during the summer of July 23, 2021. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)

Yesterday and today: the farms

Herbert Gericke, 84, and his son Richard examine cucumbers and green beans last season, their 34th year of organic farming on Staten Island. 1978 (Advance of Staten Island)SIA archive photo

Yesterday and today: the farms

Travis in 1988 where some of the farming equipment for the Mohlenhoff family farm is located at 3808 Victory Boulevard. (Advance from Staten Island)SIA archive photo

Yesterday and today: the farms

Richard Lynch, director of the Greenbelt Native Plant Center at the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, describes the rescue operation in 1990. (Staten Island Advance / Steve Zaffarano) SIA archive photo

Yesterday and today: the farms

Little Joe’s Pony Farm, Graniteville, 1969. (Staten Island Advance)SIA archive photo

Todt Hill owned agricultural fields in 1895 when Jasper Cropsey, originally from Rossville, painted “Looking Oceanward from Todt Hill”. The painting was part of the exhibition: “Eye on Staten Island: A Nineteenth-Century View. “SIA archive photo

Yesterday and today: the farms

Visitors work in a field at the agricultural colony. No dateSIA archive photo

Yesterday and today: the farms

Decker Farm, along Richmond Hill Road in New Springville, the city’s oldest working farm. (Advance from Staten Island)Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

A large scarecrow at Decker Farm is ready to scare off the birds. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel)Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

South Avenue Farmhouse with Small Shed and Cart, September 25, 1923 (Courtesy Staten Island Museum)Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

Urby Court in Stapleton where an urban farm was cultivated for residents by Zaro Bates and her husband, Asher Ledes. Tuesday July 12, 2016. Since then, it has been abandoned. (Staten Island Advance / Anthony DePrimo) Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

Zaro Bates works at the farm in the Urby complex on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. She has since been abandoned. (Staten Island Advance / Anthony DePrimo)Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

Photograph of men picking up salted hay on a horse-drawn hay wagon in New Springville. One is standing on the cart. Both wear working clothes and hold long-handled farm implements. Written on the back of the photo: “Picking salt hay in the meadow, New Springville, Staten Island, NY, March 12, 1932.” Written by William T. Davis. (Courtesy of the Staten Island Museum)
Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

A farmer continues to plow the land for the last crop of the season in 1964, and it could be the last season if a buyer offers the right price. This Travis Avenue property is operated by the Russo Brothers who rent it out from season to season. (Advance from Staten Island)Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

Photograph taken from the top of Asbury ME Church in New Springville looking north. The road of signs is visible. Farmland is visible. In the distance there is a cluster of houses as well as a large number of trees. May 3, 1923. (Courtesy Staten Island Museum / William T. Davis)Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

Since the opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the Bulls Head area has become crowded with housing estates and shopping malls and Richmond Avenue is at least twice as wide as in 1964, farmland was gone on May 9 2016. (Staten Island Advance / Jan Somma-Hammel) Staff-Shot

Yesterday and today: the farms

Herbert Gericke hines a patch of cabbage on his nine acre farmland, undated. (Advance from Staten Island)Staff-Shot

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