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Friendly Farms Property Awarded to Cornell Cooperative Extension

The family-owned business in East Meadow has been told they need to be out by year's end.

For the past five years, the Brennans have run Friendly Farms in East Meadow. Now, their landlord, Nassau County, says the Brennans must vacate the property by year's end.

"We received a phone call from Carl Schroeter on Oct. 18," Danielle Brennan, a lifelong East Meadow resident, said. "We were very surprised and obviously upset."

Once the property was sold, the Brennans began working under a use-and-occupancy permit with the county, which is good for 30 days. This forced the family to operate the business on a month-to-month basis. The Brennans claim that both former owner Phillip Marks and former County Executive Tom Suozzi assured them that they would not be negatively affected.

Calls to Suozzi and Marks were not immediately returned.

The bid for the property was awarded to Cornell Cooperative Extension, which, will use the land for "growing and raising crops, as well as flower gardens," according to the website of Leg. Norma Gonsalves, R-East Meadow.

The property was purchased from Marks in December 2008 by Nassau County for $2.1 million as part of the Environmental Bond Act, which "calls for the preservation of 400 acres of open space." That same month, Gonsalves took a photo on the property with Marks, and posted an announcement on her website that Cornell would be operating in the space.

"This is about a year before the bid went out to us," Brennan said of the photo. "It kind of states that she had intention of kicking us off the land even before making the bid public."

Gonsalves refutes she did not single out Friendly Farms, but she was fulfilling her obligation as a legislator.

"I owed it to the community to let them know that we purchased this property with this Environmental Bond money," Gonsalves said. "And this is what they wanted to see."

Gonsalves says that she tried very hard with the first bond money to get Marks to sell to the county, but he was hesitant because he thought he could get more money.

"His idea was to build anywhere from 30 to 40 one-family homes," Gonsalves said. "I knew the East Meadow community would not be happy with that."

According to Gonsalves, the county had a legal obligation to start the bidding process.

"Once you purchase land and you want to utilize it for farming purposes, you need to go out to bid," Gonsalves said. "Legally, if we didn't go out to bid, we could have been sued."

Nassau County then took the next steps to make sure the property was properly maintained.

"We took a look at this and fairly said we have to put out an RFP (Request for Proposal)," Director of the Department of Real Estate Carl Schroeter said. "Two parties supplied proposals, and it was an unanimous decision to give Cornell Cooperative Extension the property."

Friendly Farms has been a place where people can pick their own organically-grown fruits and vegetables since its inception, and it has also been a place where school field trips were held for educational purposes.

"People are wondering where they are going to go," Brennan said. "We also give over $10,000 every summer to local farms, some of which have specific lots donated to growing crops just for us."

Gonsalves says that there will be plenty of opportunities for those businesses to work with the new tenants of the property.

"There is still the opportunity for small farms to sell produce to Cornell Cooperative Extension," Gonsalves said. "They also intend to work with the schools to educate the kids. Education is one of the main purposes of this property."

Customers reacted upon hearing the news of the Brennans departure.

"It's an outrage," said Carla Wilcox of East Meadow. "I have been shopping at this farm for as long as I can remember, and this is just terrible news."

Other people visit Friendly Farms with kids to enjoy the experience.

"It's a place I can bring my son and pick fresh organic vegetables, walk in the field and pick flowers and just enjoy the fresh air," Sunshine Weddeke of East Meadow said. " I love being able to buy locally grown or grown on site products and help support Long Island's few remaining farmers."

During the process, Brennan said there was a time where a possible joint partnership with Cornell was being discussed.

"Cornell reached out to us during the bidding process and asked if we wanted to partner with them," Brennan said. "We were completely open to that and had a meeting with them, but a couple of days later they called and said they weren't interested."

Cornell did not confirm or deny any possible communications between the two parties.

"As of right now, we have not heard anything official regarding this property," Cornell's Finance Manager Doloris Gelish said. "At this point, we are not able to comment."

Going forward, Cornell must follow the county's explicit instructions for the property. The organization strives to enhance New York communities through partnerships and university-based research in agriculture and food systems, youth and family programs and more.

"We're going to have a farm that looks like a farm and grows like an organic farm," Schroeter said. "We need to look out for the best interests of Nassau County."

The Brennans have started a petition that has more than 1,000 signatures, and are now planning a rally.

Charles October 30, 2010 at 10:49 PM
"Education is one of the main purposes of this property" says Norma "We're going to have a farm that looks like a farm and grows like an organic farm" says Carl Just in, For the low price of only 2.1 million taxpayer dollars you too can have an educational center that looks like a farm in your town. This is a shame. I have buying my produce from that location for years...literally. My parents use to take me shopping there when I was a little kid, back when it was "Joanne's" . I am now 32 and shop there all the time with my wife and two kids. Just last week I asked one of the owners "which apple tasted best for kids"? Do you know she took two apples went in the back washed them cut them both up and said "here let the kids try and decide". That is the kind of people they are and if you ask me they are the kind of people this community NEEDS.
chrissy hirsch November 08, 2010 at 06:02 PM
There is a lot of mis-information out there. There will be an organic farm instituted, and the teacher's building will not obstruct the farming practice. It will replace the current building. It will be run very efficiently. The whole lot is protected by an environmental bond act. There will be no pesticides used on the land. I have contacted Gonsalves and researched into this via public documents and records. What you hear may not be true. I signed the petition under false pretenses, and then apologized later. Cornell co op is a very good non profit educational farming institute. I am looking forward to having it there. The women had ample time. They had two years, notification, were month to month renters, and according to the records.. they did bid. A third party chose Cornell. I do feel bad for them and their profit business they did work hard there, however the non for profit educational center along with the organic farm will be really nice as well. It is something the community needs! The only issue that I find odd is that Cornell offered to help the women but then later changed their minds. I wonder why? Chrissy
Michael Ganci (Editor) November 08, 2010 at 08:17 PM
After speaking with Cornell, they told me that it just wasn't going to work between themselves and the Brennans. Prior to being awarded the property, they had tried to get a property in Malverne, and they were planning on working with those people out there, but they lost the bid. They also confirmed that no pesticides will be used and organic materials will be available. It should be interesting to see how the situation develops.
opelske November 12, 2010 at 01:04 AM
Since the Bond Act calls for 400 acres of preserved land, and 2.5 acres already cost the taxpayers $2.1 million dollars, what will 397.5 acres cost? The sad thing about all this, is that those two presumably hard working and dedicated ladies trusted their landlord. It takes years to build a business, any business, that begins from scratch. And it becomes a recognizable part of the community. Another small business bites the dust to be taken over by yours truly.
dee November 18, 2010 at 04:14 AM
The Brennans are providing misinformation to the public. I originally signed a petition in the Brennans favor last year because they gave me the impression the county was not going to maintain the property as a farm land. Now that I am more informed about the situation I regret ever signing it. I live in the vicinity of the farm and since they took over the stand from the previous owners (Fruggies) all I see from my window is a slop. At times weeds are growing out of control, and it looks like a huge mess. The only area where I see "beautiful rows of vegetables" is on the side of the property that is stilled owned by the Mark family. The Brennans have not been able to keep up with the property as well as the previous owners of the stand and it has become an eye sore for the whole community. I welcome Cornell as long as they continue providing fresh local organic produce while appropriately maintaining the farm land.
Dani November 19, 2010 at 01:47 AM
"I welcome Cornell as long as they continue providing fresh local organic produce while appropriately maintaining the farm land" Cornell will not be selling any fresh local organic produce on the land. As for the "The Brennans have not been able to keep up with the property as well as the previous owners of the stand " when Caleb was the owner (aka Fruggies) he operated a tree removal company on the land, the entire piece of land was covered with woodchips, tree stumps, his 3 trucks used for the removal company, 2 storage containers, and a huge circus tent. The Brennans spent the last 5 years cleaning up his mess and have done an amazing job considering they have been only operating on a 30 days lease
clarice November 20, 2010 at 09:45 PM
Misinformation?!?!?!?! I am with Dani on this one. I have no doubts that Cornell/Nassau County will maintain a well manicured property.....especially after all the hype. But do you realize that it will be at the expense of the tax payers. As of now, Friendly Farms is paying the county to be on the land. Also, the editor says when he spoke to Cornell they said "organic materials will be available". Does that sound to you like organic produce? To me it sounds like some organic soil or organic plant spray for sale. If they were going to be selling farm fresh produce....they would most likely be advertising that to defend themselves. The only misinformation here is the crap that you are spewing... Chrisy and Dee. Every time I have seen that farm it looks beautiful and extremely inviting. The girls came a long way from the circus tent and wood chip factory that was left to them only 5 years ago. I guess you prefer the site of huge tree shredding trucks, countless piles of wood chips and a circus tent?!?!?!?
lorraine November 21, 2010 at 04:39 AM
Government is once again “making things better for the people”. The only people I see benefiting from Cornell being awarded this bogus bid is the government. I have been to this farm and all I see are great products and hard working people, making a positive difference in the community. How will these owners and workers make a living once they are kicked off the land they have worked so hard on in good faith? Maybe they can be wards of the state and have the government support them? With the unemployment rate so high why would you “fire” hard working people? There are plenty of grants and stimulus dollars available to support universities, why does Cornell start their project somewhere else? Why isn’t the county offering Friendly Farms a lease so they can come up with a transition plan at the very least? Norma, why not try and work with Friendly Farms and remember you work for the people not the other way around
chrissy hirsch November 21, 2010 at 01:56 PM
I spoke with Cornell for over an hour on the subject. The only crap that I will be spewing, is the manure I will be using when I get to farm a portion of that land. Education is the main focus of the land, not profit from produce that comes from farms that are out east. Teach a man to fish he fishes for a lifetime. Then he donates the proceeds to soup kitchens on Long Island. That is what Cornell is about. I hope they stand up to their word.
eric hirsch November 21, 2010 at 02:26 PM
The land was bought from the original owner by the County to stop the building of new houses and a rehab center. Had it not been bought by the County we would all be out on the street protesting the construction of the houses. The Bond act was in place while the Brennans were there. So the taxpayers money went to protect the the parcel of land as a farm, of which the Brennans resided and worked on to make a profit. Our taxpayers money went to preserve the land as farm.
Charles November 21, 2010 at 06:41 PM
"Then he donates the proceeds to soup kitchens on Long Island. That is what Cornell is about." FRIENDLY FARMS HAS BEEN DOING THIS FOR YEARS!!! They just don't do it on the taxpayers dime and then feel the need to hold press conferences about it. Check out the following link, this is just one of the many things they do for the community. http://christiansoupkitchen.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/thank-you-friendly-farms
chrissy hirsch November 21, 2010 at 08:03 PM
The Brennan's farm was preserved by taxpayers $. Which is great. The only reason the Brennans could farm as long as they did, was because of the Environmental Bond Act that was put forth by Gonsalves. (our tax money) The Mark family would have sold it earlier but decided to sell it to the County for Environmental protection as a farm. So essentially we all bought the farm early. Whatever the Brennan's did as organic farmers was great and good for the community, but it was still protected with taxpayers $. And one of the reasons they still functioned was because that land was protected by our tax dollars to remain as a farm. Cornell is not for profit, and educational. They do massive amounts of charity, I don't understand why people think that they are this evil mass corporation. As far as doing things on taxpayers dimes, ANY farming institution there would be on the taxpayers dime as well. If the Brennans would be allowed to stay then they would be on taxpayers dimes too. The land was and is protected by us with the Env. Bond Act. The initial protection of that parcel is what cost the taxpayers. We bought the land with our money to protect it from becoming housing units. The bid went out and a non profit farming organization won. I would completely protest if a non-farming institute won. Even if it was another tree disposal business, I would protest. But Cornell fits the neighborhood like Friendly Farms did in the past. And I welcome them.
darrin sibit November 22, 2010 at 05:28 PM
Local produce means 4 things 1 #vitality= which you feel if you eat fresh produce you flat out feel better more nutrients! 2# wellness= fight off germs colds just a better since of well being overall!3# integrity= when friendly farms farms on the land they put their all into it. Its a lot harder with no pestacides to farm . So a lot more work goes into growing !The only spraying is water! Check out a friendly farm grown on property cucumber! Compared to big chain! Big chain looks covered in wax.#4 honesty= you can trust that its quality or friendly farms wouldnt sell it .Again their friendly farms long island produce. I would rather pay more for quality ! Then buy cheap mexican produce or if in usa 3000 miles away thats local please!In nassau county friendly farm s is almost the only place for real local in season produce!
clarice November 23, 2010 at 12:58 AM
Thanks Darrin, Charles and Lorianne. Finally some people on this thread who are independent thinkers using their own minds and not being spoon feed politics by Norma Gonsalvas. And @Chrissy...now come to find out you will be farming a parcel of the land...what in the world are you saying?!?!?!?! Cornell has had many botched projects at the expense of the tax payers. Yes, the tax money went to purchase the land but the farm has been paying a monthly rent which goes back to the county and the tax payers. Cornell will not be paying Nassau County rent and as a matter of fact is already looking for donations from members of the co-op saying that they are not getting as much financial support as once promised. What does this say to me... a little foresight into yet another botched project by CCE. Their last botched project ended up a vast area of land (similar to Friendly Farms) out East that they could not afford to upkeep and the property was eventually used to build new homes (sound familiar?)
chrissy hirsch November 23, 2010 at 01:56 AM
Only time will tell. I spoke with the head of the Cornell project, and she is trying to get areas set aside for members in the community to farm. I have researched this particular information from three different sources. If you believe that I am being lied to, by all sources, so be it. I cannot convince you otherwise. It is obvious to me that there is no way you will research or listen to my information by how you made comments earlier in the thread, personally insulting me, accusing me of spreading crap. lol What I am basing my information on is all the phone calls I have made to various reps, and the research I have done with County documents, as well as being familiar with the continuing results of Cornell's inner-city projects. Tell me, (and I am not being sarcastic I am being truthful) please let me know exactly what project out East that Cornell botched. I am not aware of that and would like the resources to back it up, if my opinion needs to be changed. Otherwise, I'm happy that they will be moving in. I hope that they don't botch this like you said. I know a lot of the work they did was such a positive influence in the communities they served. Please remember, if Gonsalves hadn't purchased that land in 2008, you and I most likely would have been standing together protesting the building of housing and the tearing down of the Brennan's farm.
chrissy hirsch November 23, 2010 at 03:15 AM
@ Clarice... I know for a fact that the Brennans ran an organic farm, and I wanted it to stay that way. My beginning statement was that I signed the contract under false pretenses. When I went to buy my pumpkin, I was told that the Government is taking away THEIR land, to build a school that will cover the majority of land, and that there will not be any farm, just a school teaching you how to test your soil and grow things with a small model farm. I was also told that they will be spraying pesticides. I was really upset, because I shop there. So I signed the petition, looked at the bids, called Gonsavles, spoke to her on the phone, and then called Cornell and spoke to them for over an hour on the phone. From what I have known of Cornell, they are reputable. If they have lied to me, then I will loose faith in Cornell. If you can, please give me the name of the town in which Cornell botched the project. I will look into it. Thanks :)
lorraine November 23, 2010 at 04:03 AM
My understanding is in an interview the owner that sold the property to the county did not have any intention to sell the land to a developer, which means we would not have seen the building of houses. I will have to research the exact interview and will post the information. Chrissy, with all due respect I understand you were told by Cornell that they would try and get some areas set aside for members in the community to farm however, what happens if they can not get any land set aside? If they can put areas aside how many citizens will be able to farm on this site? What if half the residents of East Meadow want to farm, how will they choice who they allow to farm and who they turn away? What does community mean all of Nassau County? In my opinion at this stage Cornell should have a plan on what will happen with the land not just try and “get areas put aside”.
clarice November 23, 2010 at 05:01 PM
@Chrissy- I apologize for getting too excited and calling you out. I have worked alongside these Women and know that they have earned their place in the community and I feel the property should remain a family owned farm as it has always been. There is only 2.2 acres of land. 1 acre will be used for the building and 1 acre for the garden that they plan to maintain and to "educate" with. So that leaves .2 acres of land to give out parcels to individuals within the community.... you seem smart so do the math...it doesn't add up! I will send you the Cornell "botched" job info. when I get home from work. I have all the links on my home PC. Also, if individuals within the community get a parcel of land... do you think they are going to always have it perfectly groomed as someone had complained the Brennan's were guilty of? I have been part of farming and without a name as big as Cornell there is no way to ALWAYS have the grounds perfectly manicured on a farm.
chrissy hirsch November 28, 2010 at 11:55 PM
That is a very good question. One that I unfortunately didn't ask her. She gave me a general outlay and plan for the land with out numbers involved. It could be that I didn't ask her enough questions, for her to give me the specifics of the land division. But like you said, "how many citizens will be able to farm on this site?" is a good question. How will they divvy the land for the East Meadow residents? She told me to keep in contact with her as time goes on and this develops further, so I'll call again and ask her more specific questions. Thank you for the tip. I will look into it and ask her. And if anyone has any info on the debunked Cornell project that Clarice was talking about, I am curious to know as well.
Donald W. Michielli, Ph.D. April 15, 2011 at 07:46 PM
It is a very sad time for the community who will not longer be the benefactors of the wonderful produce that Friendly Farms sold. The Brennan family are strong of mind, body and spirit and will carry on, whereever that might be, and always with a smile. We send our love and best wishes to all, Donald W. Michielli, Ph.D. Donna Covello, OTD
lorraine April 15, 2011 at 08:08 PM
How sad, what happened to free enterprise? The county does not seem to have any regard for the small people that voted them in. This is so troubling and unfair to the entire community I have lost all respect for our so called "leaders"
Naomi Glaser June 05, 2011 at 08:28 PM
I passed by this morning to my dismay the building where I bought wonderful produce was not there. There is a note saying Marks Friend Farm but nothing else. There is no sign for Cornell Cooperative Extension. If the above is on the mark, why do they need an acre for a building? If this land is to be used for educational putposes what would be wrong in teaching them about entrepreneurship and set up a market for the community. In addition why not extend the educational experience to those in the community and hold classes on gardening, nutrition etc.
lorraine July 22, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Until there is a final settlement with the county Friendly Farms was temporally awarded the back farm field (at Friendly Farms) by a Nassau County judge in June 2011. This field was overgrown and needed a major overhaul. Based on the judges ruling the Brennan's cleaned, tilled, mulched and planted fall crops. Not only was there a tremendous expense to do this there was quite a bit of manual labor involved. All seemed well not great but, maybe the community could benefit from the Brennan's hard work. However, the county once again decided Friendly Farms should fail. They deliberately turned off the water that was being used to develop the field awarded by the judge. Not only is the county setting up Friendly Farms for failure again, they are not in compliance with a judicial order. How does this happen and why are these county leaders (non-leaders) still in office?? I thought the county worked for us not the other way around, please make sure you vote for people that support the community. COUNTY--TURN THE WATER BACK ON
Michael Ganci (Editor) July 22, 2011 at 04:22 PM
Thanks for the comment Lorraine. I will definitely provide an update as soon as I can get the info.
chrissy hirsch May 30, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Looks like everything worked out. So far.... huh Clarice?? ;)

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