A Growing Enterprise

Kingston’s Greenway Farm teams up with local chefs to promote sustainable farming

By Maria Allen | Photography by Chris Bernstein

Standing atop a sandy hill on the grounds of Greenway Farm in Kingston, farm owner and clean energy advocate Mary O’Donnell squints into the sun and points to a large swath of land in the distance.

“Over there is where the restaurants will have their garden plots,” says O’Donnell. “The chefs will choose what they would like to have on their menu, and we will grow it for them.”

Greenway Farm has supplied a variety of organic products to various local restaurants including Henri-Marie, Alden Park and the New World Tavern in Plymouth, as well as Boston-area establishments like The Tip Tap Room and Carrie Nation Restaurant and Cocktail Club in Beacon Hill. Up until now the farm team would simply deliver to restaurants whatever was prime for picking, but this growing season O’Donnell is inviting chefs to take a more active role—and get their hands dirty.

For Stephen Coe, executive chef at the elegant French restaurant Henri-Marie at Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Plymouth, this kind of arrangement was a no-brainer. Coe jumped at the opportunity to have his culinary team more involved and educated about the growing of the foods used in their kitchen.

“Last season we sourced our micro-greens from Greenway Farm as well as seasonal vegetables and fresh eggs,” says Coe. “This year we’re going to have our cooks spend their mornings working at the farm before they report to the restaurant.” Not only will this give him greater control over the quality of the products used at the restaurant, it will also serve as a learning opportunity for his staff. “I like my kitchen to be a teaching kitchen and I want to make farming part of my curriculum,” says Coe.

As part of the partnership, O’Donnell will provide the land for planting and will purchase the agreed-upon seeds (she buys organic seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine) and in exchange the restaurants will donate good, old-fashioned sweat equity as well as a cut of their crop. Kitchen scraps from the restaurant are brought back to the farm to be composted and returned to the soil, thus completing the cycle.

An experienced beekeeper, Chef Coe is also planning to oversee the beehives on the property, and he hopes to be able to bring a farm stand of the farm’s bounty to the community at The Pinehills. “Working with Mary has been great,” says Coe. “She wants us to be part of what she’s building.”

From the outset, Greenway Farm has been a labor of love for O’Donnell. A champion of all things eco-friendly, she is perhaps best known for being the owner of three massive 2-megawatt wind turbines that rise high into the sky over her 108-acre property (also within sight are two more wind turbines, one owned by the town of Kingston and another smaller one by the train station). O’Donnell employs a full time wind engineer to maintain the turbines. While the turbines haven’t been popular with everyone in town (several nearby neighbors fought to have them taken down) they serve as irrefutable symbols of sustainability—a topic that O’Donnell is incredibly passionate about.

Though not certified, the farm heeds organic farming practices and follows the basic principles of permaculture. This means maintaining nutrient-rich farming conditions through plot rotation, composting, worm and fish farming, and natural pest control. Enriching the soil in this way helps to ensure high quality food production in the future. The farming itself O’Donnell leaves to her trusted farm manager Victoria Weiss, who is in charge of the growing, harvesting and delivering of products.

Greenway Farm is home to two greenhouses filled with boxes of hearty-looking herbs like basil, cilantro and chives, and numerous plastic planting trays overflowing with fresh watercress, tiny pea shoots, purple Kohlrabi leaves, delicate nasturtiums and a selection of other micro-greens.

The greenhouses feature a circulating aquaponics system. Large tanks filled with tilapia provide nutrient-rich water that is used to feed the plants. “Fish poop makes unbelievable fertilizer,” explains O’Donnell. “I used to buy it, but now we are making our own.” The plants filter the water, which is then cycled back into the fish tanks. During the winter months the greenhouses are heated almost exclusively by harnessing the heat created by massive piles of decomposing wood chips. Water pipes are fed through the piles of wood chips and back into the greenhouse.

Attaining the best possible soil quality is a top priority for O’Donnell. “Without good soil, food just doesn’t taste as good,” she says. “But when grown properly in good, natural earth, food is loaded with flavor and filled with vitamins and minerals.” O’Donnell plucks a green tomatillo off a nearby tray of vegetables and hands it to me. “Eat this,” she says. “The flavor is just amazing.”

The soil at Greenway Farm is enriched naturally using compost materials. Discarded coffee grinds, donated by the Kingston Dunkin Donuts and eggshells (close to 9,000 a week) from Percy’s restaurant in Kingston are mixed into the soil. Earth worms are used to accelerate the breakdown process.

While the back 50 acres of O’Donnell’s land have been set aside for sustainable farming, the front 50 acres have been earmarked for sustainable development—O’Donnell’s other passion. Her grand vision includes a self-sustaining housing development that would supply its own power needs through passive solar and treat its own waste water.

Greenway Farm is just one example of how O’Donnell is working to promote renewable energy. She is also the owner of No Fossil Fuel, a company devoted to the development of renewable energy projects, specifically wind and solar installations. Locally, she’s helped bring solar installations to towns like Marshfield and Dartmouth. When she’s not working, O’Donnell makes an effort to stay involved with like-minded groups like Sustainable South Shore, which helps educate the local community about sustainable living practices. “People are really interested in learning how to reduce their carbon footprint,” says O’Donnell.

At nearly 70 years young, O’Donnell isn’t slowing down either. In fact, her most recent clean energy proposal took her all the way to Jordan. “I’ve been there twice in the last month,” she says. “They need clean water for the refugees in the country and they want to explore the possibility of building a desalinization plant.”

Back at the farm, things are just heating up for the upcoming growing season. Wooden signs are going up, to mark the new restaurant plots, a new crop of tender wheatgrass is on its way to Mirbeau Spa for use in new juice menu offerings, and piles of fresh micro-greens will soon be decorating gourmet dishes up and down the South Shore—providing the ultimate farm-to-table experience.

 

 

 

 

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