Not many fathers refer to their children as free-range chickens, but for Renato Stanford of Southold, the description is apt. That’s because his yard is where the bulk of his family’s food comes from.
This former efficiency expert with a career at Dupont behind him experienced a life-changing event 10 years ago when he was in a car accident that took his wife’s life.
Since then he has been dedicated to growing his own food, going to the supermarket as little as possible and taking advantage of what he says comes naturally to him: making things grow.
To do so, he built a hoop house in his yard to be able to provide his family with fresh produce year round. He relies on local honey for sweetener and spends days canning and preserving when his outdoor garden gives up its bounty at the end of the summer growing season. This fall, he says, he put away 200 jars of tomatoes and 75 jars of dill pickles. This was after he and his family ate all the cucumbers they could handle. “I was borderline sick of them,” he says, “but now I miss them.”
His hoop house is essentially a dugout; one enters by going three steps down so the beds are waist high. This helps to preserve the heat, which is all captured solar energy. He uses no chemical fertilizer and no pesticides. He’s thinking about adding chickens and he says his son’s favorite food is arugula.
When this kind of thing works out for someone, it’s hard not to be an evangelist.
This summer Stanford set up a booth at the Westhampton Beach Farmers Market offering to build personalized hoop houses, so everyone could have fresh greens year round.
The display caught the eye of Bill and Susan Groner of Bedford, New York. “There was a brilliant idea right in our face,” says Bill. “We just couldn’t resist.” The couple had never even had a garden before, but was taken by the idea and, of course, Stanford’s contagious enthusiasm. (Once Stanford starts talking, it’s hard not to imagine your own little year-round garden just outside the back door.) “He’s amazing,” says Bill. “You have to cherish people with positive energy like Renato.”
Stanford credits his Italian upbringing with instilling in him the desire to grow, to grow anything, anywhere. He remembers his Great Uncle Sebastian putting him in his garden as a child and letting him dig and plant. This led to finding a space, any space, to plant tomatoes. The hunt for space continues. So far, Stanford had helped Southold Schools plant their community garden and is working on a project with the Concourse House in the Bronx, a shelter for homeless families.
He sees limitless possibilities to help anyone take advantage of the land,
sun and water readily at our disposal. “I know how to do this,” he says. “I don’t
even know how I know.”