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BROOKHAVEN, N.Y. ― Tropical Storm Isaias downed power lines and trees across the greater New York City area in early August, snapping limbs from the ancient oaks that ring Patty Gentry’s small Long Island farm.
Dead branches were still dangling a month later. But rows of mustard greens were unfurling nearby, and a thicket of green vines reached toward the sun, dotted with tangy orange bulbs.
“These sungold tomatoes were toast,” Gentry said, sounding almost astonished. “But now look at them. They’re coming back. It’s like spring again.”
Over the past four years, Gentry has transformed two acres of trash-strewn dirt on Long Island’s southeast coast into a profitable organic farm by betting big on soil. Instead of pumping her crops with pesticides and petrochemical fertilizer, Gentry grows vetch, a hardy pea-like plant, and rye to cover the exposed soil between the rows of greens intended for harvest. She layers the soil with specially mined rock dust that replenishes minerals and pulls carbon from the air. And in the spring and summer, she uses a system of crop rotation ― shifting around where different crops are planted ― so that one plant’s nutrient needs don’t drain the soil. These practices are collectively known as regenerative farming.
Tests of the soil show the organic content is now seven times higher than when she began. The result is produce so flavorful that she can’t keep up with the number of restaurants and home cooks looking to buy shares.
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