How one couple transformed the neighborhood
Patti and Doug Wood are committed to making the community a healthy one, as evidenced by their 15-year involvement in Port Washington-based Grassroots Environmental Education and 13-year run as organizers of the Port Washington Organic Farmers’ Market. The market is the only all-organic one of its kind in New York state, which not only sets it apart, but is something the couple feels passionate about.
“We want to teach people that you can do this without having a negative impact on the environment and people’s health,” says Patti. “The goal is to promote eating well and provide access to healthy food, and to support the farmers who are doing it right by not contributing to the larger problem.”
Patti and Doug both grew up in Port Washington and were in the same class in school. They married at 21.
“We’ve known each other since we were 4 years old and we competed all the way through school,” says Patti. “We were both serious musicians and pursued degrees and careers in music, Doug as a composer of film and television music and me as a classical flutist and music education consultant.”
They now own and manage a music publishing company, which provides original music to media producers all over the world. They both sit on the board of directors for Grassroots Environmental Education, which was founded in 2000 and has developed environmental education programs that they have been presenting in the Port schools for about 14 years. The market is a sustainable living project of Grassroots.
“I think one of our main goals is to protect Port Washington’s children,” says Patti. “We have accomplished this by working with the school district to pass protective policies on bus idling, pesticide use and toxic cleaning products. These policies have actually become statewide laws or regulations that we have worked hard to make a reality.”
She adds, “Aside from protecting our most vulnerable citizens, we also like to educate them (early) about the environment.”
The market started small, but has grown over the years to become a popular staple of the town during the season, something that draws a regular, steady crowd each week. Patti says they are planning some special days this fall, including an Alternative Energy Day on September 26, which will include information from specialists on solar, wind and geothermal energy, plus a builder who specializes in passive houses. Another planned event includes a book exchange and an artisans’ market, which will be held at the end of October.
Because it is all organic, the fruits and vegetables offered are seasonal.
“That’s the biggest difference between us and a grocery store,” says Patti. “It’s a real education for people. The items change and it teaches people how to get back to nature.”
Currently, the market has 13 vendors and she says they try to select a variety so the vendors don’t compete with one another. In addition to fresh organic produce from farms on the East End, goat cheese, honey, organic bread and baked goods, pasta, flowers, seafood, soaps and organic coffee are sold. The market even has a tent with tables and chairs so market-goers can enjoy a cup of coffee and baked goods while taking in the view of Manhasset Bay. Vendor include Chez Hedwige, maker of gluten-free confections based in Valley Stream and Golden Earthworm Farm in Jamesport, which is owned by the Woods’ oldest daughter, Maggie, and her husband, Matthew.
“In fact, Maggie met Matthew at the Port Washington Farmers’ Market,” says Patti. “The farm has been operating since 1996, when Matthew traded a successful career as a chef for a life of organic farming.”
John Noah Pertew of East Norwich owns Batch, maker of organic soaps, and says he began his business at the market three years ago, which he runs with his wife, Ruth Trujillo-Pertew.
“The customer base is very loyal,” says Pertew, a former resident of Port Washington. “If you have a quality product and are consistent, plus offer good customer service, the community will support you.”
He says most already know the importance of buying organic, so there is not much need to explain it; in fact they come here because they want organic products and know this is the place to go.
“They really make it affordable to offer products and see if it is viable,” says Pertew. “It’s an opportunity for people who believe in organic products.”
Leah Munsey of Sea Cliff works at Grassroots and is in her second season managing the market.
“I started working at Grassroots because I had recently moved to New York and was looking to work at a nonprofit,” says Munsey. “I found this job and got really lucky, because we do a lot of work on environmental health, which I believe is very important work. I am really interested in agriculture and farming, and Grassroots has given me the opportunity to be involved in the farmers’ market, the Thomas Dodge Homestead Farm, and school gardens and environmental programs in Port Washington.”
The Dodge Family Homestead Farm is a historic landmark in Port Washington and throughout the past five years, Grassroots has cultivated and managed a small organic farm where they grow vegetables for the local food bank and for the farmers’ market. Every spring, Whole Foods Market helps get it started and also helps with cleaning up in the fall. Local high school and college students volunteer their time to work on the farm.
“Our farmers’ market and the Dodge Farm project where we grow vegetables for the local food pantry are ways to give back to the community where we grew up,” says Patti.
The Port Washington Organic Farmers’ Market is open on Saturday mornings, June 13 through October 31, from 8 a.m. to noon at the Town Dock off Main Street.