In the dead of winter, when most of the North Fork’s fields are barren and frozen over, Michael Chuisano grows bushels of vibrant vegetables at his micro farm.
Chuisano is the owner of The Naked Farm, a one-man operation located on a small plot of land that he rents in the backyard of an East Marion residence. The farm’s name, coined by Chuisano’s wife, describes its pesticide-free produce, which Chuisano says is “as naked as when you were born.”
Brightly colored radishes, beets, carrots, arugula, lettuce and spinach are planted in a 40-by-20-foot high tunnel hoop house, a greenhouse-like structure with a lofty ceiling. The space is temperature and humidity controlled, providing optimal growing conditions all year-round.
In the warmer months, additional vegetables are grown on a small patch of dirt out in the backyard. In total, the micro farm sits on one-tenth of an acre of land. It may be tiny, but its yields are mighty — Chuisano maximizes the farm’s space through a practice called biointensive farming.
“It’s all about growing a large number of vegetables in a small space,” Chuisano explained. “On one-tenth of an acre I could probably turn out as many vegetables as a conventional farm could do with four or five acres.”
PHOTOS BY DAVID BENTHAL
Biointensive farming is a sustainable farming practice that saves space, conserves water, and grows more nutrient-packed organic food than through conventional farming methods. The key to biointensive farming is soil health. “When your soil is healthy, everything falls into place,” Chuisano said.
Chuisano maintains the fertility of the soil by adding nourishing compost to his garden beds. The compost enriches the soil with nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Unlike conventional farms, which break up the soil and disturb worms and other microorganisms through tilling, Chuisano never compresses his beds. They’re full of microorganisms that directly contribute to the health of the soil.
The roots of his vegetables grow deep and straight down, allowing him to plant them closer together and maximize yields. The close spacing of the plants also reduces weeds, which are blocked from the sun by the closely packed plants’ foliage. “The way I grow maximizes the uptake of nutrients into all the vegetables, so you get the best color, you get the best taste, the best everything,” Chuisano said. “You’re sustaining yourself and you’re also always giving back to the earth.”
After working on a conventional farm for five years and witnessing it struggle financially, Chuisano began looking into ways that farming could be sustainable, both economically and environmentally. “I just Googled, ‘is there a way to make a feasible living on farming?’ ” In his search, he stumbled across Never Sink Farm, a no-till organic farm in upstate New York dedicated to high efficiency and high profits. The farm offers educational courses, which is how Chuisano learned the farming techniques that he implements at The Naked Farm today.
PHOTOS BY DAVID BENTHAL
Biointensive farming is just one of the ways that Chuisano maximizes his profit and the number of vitamin-rich veggies grown on his micro farm. In the basement of the East Marion home, trays of teeny- tiny greens grow under the glow of LED lights. They’re microgreens — flavorful, young seedlings of vegetables that are harvested before their adult stage. “They’re the new superfood,” he said. “All the nutrients remain in the little sprouts.”
According to a study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, the nutrient levels found in microgreens can be up to nine times higher than those found in mature greens. Often used in restaurants as garnishes, these potent herbs can be added to any dish to add a boost of nutrition, texture and flavor to a meal. And like the vegetables growing in his hoop house, he’s able to sell these microgreens and profit year-round.
The farm’s biggest moneymaker, however, is its tomatoes. “We’re doing it at a time where nobody has them, so we get premium dollars,” Chuisano explained. While most tomatoes start popping up on stands around the North Fork in July and August, Chuisano supplies his customers with fresh tomatoes as early as May. He starts growing them in the hoop house in January. Making use of the hoop house’s high ceilings, he strings up the tomato vines so that they grow vertically. Using this method, referred to as the lower and lean method, he’s able to dramatically increase the yield of his tomato plants. In the summer, he sets up a small stand on the East Marion property, where customers can pick up fresh produce and flavorful microgreens on Saturdays. In the winter, Chuisano sends out a weekly email to registered customers with updates on what he has available. He takes orders via email, quickly selling out.
“I fill all the orders, bag them up, put their name on it like a school lunch and put them on the front porch of this farmhouse,” he explained. “There’s a cash box there, they come, pick up, pay and everybody’s happy.”
Looking to get fresh vegetables from The Naked Farm this winter? You can sign up for the farm’s weekly emails by reaching out directly to Michael Chuisano on Instagram @nakedfarmnofo.
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