Bob Conboy hasn’t kept count of how many people show up each week.
But typically, crowds will pack San Damiano Farm when the weather warms up and spring is in full bloom for the first Farm Market of the season. Whether looking to purchase fresh, organic produce or buy some beautiful flowers and plants, the community’s response to the farm and its offerings is always positive.
“It’s wonderful,” said Conboy, the manager of San Damiano Farm. “They love it. Without a doubt, we get compliments. People come out every week.”
San Damiano Farm will hold its first Farm Market of the 2022 season on Friday, June 10 at Graymoor. The market will be open each Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Among the offerings in the market’s first week are organically grown lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and garlic scapes. Potted geraniums, petunias, vincas, coleus, lucky shamrocks, jade plants, aloe and dish gardens also will be available for purchase.
Yet the Farm does much more than serve community members looking for fresh vegetables, well-germinated plants and elegant flower arrangements. San Damiano Farm is a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, with Brothers Christopher, men in treatment from St. Christopher’s Inn, working on the farm as part of their recovery journey.
San Damiano Farm’s roots can be traced back to 1916, when Servant of God Father Paul Wattson, SA, founded the farm at Graymoor, then known as St. Anthony’s Farm. He was intent on making the Society of the Atonement self-supporting and considered the farm a means of helping others.
The concept was revived by Minister General Father Brian Terry, SA, in October, 2017. It was named after a church in Assisi, Italy, where St. Francis received his calling in the year 1205.
San Damiano Farm offers a wide variety of plant and vegetables, but lettuce has become a smash hit with buyers.
There are several different types of lettuce available, including salanova, green butter, green oakleaf, red butter, red oakleaf and romaine.
“People love the lettuce,” Conboy said, adding that it’s grown in a specific way. The heads of lettuce are grown six inches apart, and there are seven rows of 15 lettuce heads that vegetate in each plant bed. This method, Conboy said, generates the best growth.
Other top food-related sellers include cherry and plumb tomatoes, parsley, basil, cilantro, sugar snap peas, scallions, white onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, string beans and peppers.
Plants and flowers, too, are crowd pleasers. The farm’s collection of zinnias, snapdragons and sunflowers are favorites among visitors. This year, the farm began planting dahlias.
Originally, the farm made flower bouquets, but eventually allowed buyers choose their own assortments.
“When we started having the markets here and people came down and saw it, they asked if they could cut their own,” Conboy explained. “So now, there’s a whole group that come down every Friday with their vases and their clippers, and they clip their flowers to make their own bouquets that they then bring home.”
Crops and plants are grown in more than 240 raised beds, along with the farm’s two hoop houses and greenhouse.
A Helping Hand from Brothers Christopher
Conboy doesn’t run the farm alone.
Men from St. Christopher’s Inn who finish their initial 90-day recovery plan can apply to live in the San Damiano House, an 18-bed residence located not far from the farm. Once accepted, they are eligible to work on the farm.
In their work at San Damiano Farm, the men gain experience not only in farming, but in retail. Both are valuable skills that will help aid their long-term recovery and restore to them a sense of self-worth.
A usual shift for Brothers Christopher is 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., and there are currently five men working at San Damiano Farm.
Conboy said working on the farm has had a positive impact on the Brothers Christopher. Often, he added, the men find themselves returning to the farm after they’ve finished working there.
“There’s an attachment for some of the guys,” Conboy said. “There is a subset that find this place very welcoming and a place they feel really attached to, much as the whole mountain. They’ll come back to say hi.”
Serving Local Restaurants
The farm’s produce can be found beyond Graymoor, and on the menus of three local restaurants – another sign of the support from the surrounding community.
The Riverview in Cold Spring offers a Graymoor salad, with vegetables grown at San Damiano Farm. The Valley Restaurant at The Garrison and the Farm to Table Bistro in Fishkill also feature dishes prepared with vegetables from the farm.
“We email the orders out to the restaurants out on Monday, what we have available and the price list,” Conboy explained. “They email me back a response, and on Thursday morning at 8:30, (the Brothers Christopher) are out here with the lists, harvesting, packing, cleaning. And we deliver around 11, 11:30 that morning. So, they love it.”
San Damiano Farm Market
Open: Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., beginning June 10
Where: Graymoor, Garrison
What’s for sale on opening day?
Vegetables and greens
- Lettuce $2.00 per head/bunch
- Kale $2.00 per head/bunch
- Swiss chard $2.00 per head/bunch
- Basil and cilantro
- Jade and aloe
- Lucky shamrocks
Fresh cut herbs ($1.50 a bunch)