The signs that summer has past are all around us. The days are getting shorter, the air is crisp and cool, and soon the bright, green leaves and fresh local produce we’ve become accustomed to will all be gone. But does it really have to be that way? Not if you ask Renato Stafford.
“Now’s the time when everyone’s garden is winding down, and my season is just beginning,” he said. Stafford owns and operates the Peconic-based business, Homegrown, which specializes in building an unheated, dugout style greenhouse called a hoop-house. “Your growing season doesn’t have to end,” Stafford said. “You can continue it right through the winter time, in an unheated hoop-house.”
The hoop-houses are dug a few feet into the ground, just below the frost layer, making them extremely efficient. This method not only makes gardening more ergonomic and less back-breaking, but it also uses geothermal warmth to grow year round. “By doing it this way, you’re providing a layer of protection that’s amazing. You step down into it, so the beds are at waist height, and you’re not bending over to do any of the work,” Stafford said. “Even way up north, I have people that can successfully grow these cold-weather plants through the winter.”
Using his first hoop-house, which he built on his own land, Stafford is able to feed his family fresh, organic vegetables throughout the year. “It’s like a salad factory. I go out there every single day with a big set of shears and fill up two huge bowls,” he said. “You can’t even tell that I’ve picked anything, and it’s like that right through the winter and into the spring.”
Stafford grew up with a love for gardening, and after working for many years in corporate marketing, the Queens native decided to get back to his roots, literally, and became an organic consultant. “When I was a little kid growing up in the city, I didn’t really have any opportunities to grow anything,” he said. “But I would always try to find one little space where I could put a tomato plant or something. It wouldn’t grow, but that was my passion, even as a little kid.”
Much of what he learned came from his uncle, who was an organic farmer in New Jersey. “I didn’t even know he was teaching me, I was just playing around,” Stafford said. “He had an impact on me and got me to know intuitively, that this is what I should do.”
Through Homegrown, Stafford’s mission is to help families and business grow their own organic vegetables year-round. In addition to the hoop-houses, Homegrown also offers consultations on organic garden layouts and maintenance, composting and canning. “One of the things that keeps me excited about this is that there’s never an end to it,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘If you didn’t do this, I wouldn’t be feeding my kids these healthy vegetables.’”
Besides the bounty of fresh produce, the hoop-house has another advantage—it offers someplace warm and green to escape to throughout the winter months. “It’s 70 degrees in there. You walk into this warm, humid environment, and it gives you this hope for spring,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things you can do with it. I’ve had people put up hammocks, and they’ll lay in there in a t-shirt and shorts when it’s 30 degrees outside.” The hoop-houses are completely customizable and tailored to the customer’s needs. Stafford has even built them with a platform for a table and chairs. “You can go out there and pick greens and have a little wine and just a place to hang out.”
Stafford goes to great lengths to make organic gardening easier, but there’s still some work involved for most of the year. “You have to be ready for it, and know that this is the right thing for you, so I do a lot of consulting,” he said. “The best customer for me is somebody that already is a gardener, who knows how to grow already.”
For more information, or to set up a consultation, call 631-514-5315, or visit www.homegrownorganic.net.