Tags Posts tagged with "Ann Pellegrino"

Ann Pellegrino

Ann Pellegrino, with volunteer Elaine Gaveglia and caretaker Peter Castorano, brought Bethel Hobbs Community Farm back to life more than a decade ago. Photos by Laura Johanson

By Laura Johanson

Many people face difficulty in their lives — some struggle, many endure — and then there are those that transcend. Ann Pellegrino, founder and director of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach, is one of those rare individuals. She has faced hardship and heartache and transformed both into gestures of generosity and hope.

“Ann is an incredible, hard-working woman who always shines brightly with her smile and by her continued and valued efforts in our community,” said Tom Muratore, Suffolk County Legislator (R-Ronkonkoma). “We’ve watched her and her loving family go through crisis and challenges that only focused her and showed who she really is.”

Jeff Freund, president of The Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, also has praise for her.

“People like Ann are the lifeblood of our community,” Freund said. “Her selfless devotion through her efforts at Hobbs Farm are in my mind heroic.”

The accessible Garden of Ephraim, at the farm. Photos by Laura Johanson

For more than 100 years Hobbs Farm in Centereach was a working farm, but it was only a vacant lot in 2007 when Pellegrino began the initiative to bring its barren soil back to life. The idea of a farm came to her years before when, as a single mother, she had to visit a local food bank. Pellegrino saw firsthand that the only items available to those in need were boxed or canned goods. The seed of an idea was planted.

Back on her feet and remarried in 2006, Pellegrino began to reflect on her turn of fortune. Deciding it was time to give back, she planted a small garden in her yard in the hopes to grow enough produce to donate. “I was on a mission, rented a rototiller and started ripping up our beautiful, manicured lawn,” she said. “My husband wasn’t too happy.”

It didn’t take long for Pellegrino to realize she needed a lot more land. That’s when the vacant lot down the road came to mind.

“I knew it was once a farm and that the owner had died,” Pellegrino said.

Alfred Hobbs, owner of the land, was a second-generation farmer and part of the first African American family-owned farm on Long Island. Upon his death, Hobbs bequeathed the land to Bethel AME Church in Setauket. Pellegrino was hopeful when she sought out the church’s pastor.

“I thought it would be easy to convince him to let me work the land,” Pellegrino said. “I gave it my most enthusiastic pitch but the response I got was ‘we will pray on it.’ I was devastated. I remember afterward falling to my knees to pray for guidance,” Pellegrino recalled. “I went back to the church and on my second visit spoke with Rev. Sandra, the pastor’s wife. It was she who finally convinced him to let me give it a try. So, I planted a few tomato plants that were donated by a local greenhouse and brought the harvest back to the church.”

The following year, with the church’s blessing, Pellegrino recruited family, friends and other volunteers so that Hobbs Farm could begin its incredible rebirth. Peter Castorano was among the first farm volunteers and now serves as caretaker.

“Many people volunteer an hour or two and are very helpful, but Ann and I are here all day long, day after day,” he said.

Today, the farm is self-sufficient with most of the 50,000 pounds of food grown donated to several local food banks. Farm expenses are covered by money raised at fundraisers held throughout the year.

Tragedy amid growth and triumph  

In 2011, tragedy struck the Pellegrino family. Pellegrino’s son Christopher was paralyzed in a terrible car accident. She faced the heart-wrenching reality of having to care for her now disabled son while struggling to also nurture the growing farm.

“He was 19, paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator,” Pellegrino said. “It was so hard, after helping to build the farm, Chris was no longer able to even visit, and I was limited because I couldn’t leave him alone,” she said. “We’d spoken about creating access for disabled veterans before Christopher’s accident.” 

“People ask me why I do it, and I answer if your child was in need wouldn’t you want someone to make that choice?”

Ann Pellegrino

She confessed that those discussions had always been put on hold because of the difficulties of construction.

“It frustrated me,” Pellegrino said. “Everyone saying it was too hard. I didn’t truly understand until my son was in a wheelchair.” 

Refusing to give up, Pellegrino pushed forward and once again turned “something bad into something good.” With the help of people at Stony Brook University, she approached the Christopher Reeve Foundation and secured a grant for a wheelchair-accessible garden.

“We were able to create an asphalt walkway to the road and rows of raised beds,” the farm owner said.

The new space, officially opened in 2014, was named the Garden of Ephraim, which means fruitful in Hebrew. Now all individuals, wheelchair users or otherwise, have access to community gardening at Hobbs Farm.

Pellegrino attributes Christopher’s strong will to a sort of transformation over the next few years.

“After the accident, he really gained focus and started to live,” she said.

In addition to gardening, he began talking to local groups about his disability and clean living.

Heartbreak and a gift in 2018 

“Years ago, I was a recipient of donated corneas,” Pellegrino said. “Last fall my driver’s license needed renewal, and I once again marked myself down as a willing organ donor. I remember mentioning it to Chris. He said he too wanted to donate someday. ‘Why not mom? When the time comes, I won’t be needing them anyway’ he told me.”

Sadly, the time came only a few months later when Christopher experienced a severe brain aneurysm.

“He was brain dead,” Pellegrino said softly. “I knew what he would want me to do, and we donated several of his organs so that a small part of him could live.”

Pellegrino entered 2019 with a renewed passion. She continues her work at Hobbs Farm and now also volunteers with LiveOnNY, a nonprofit that promotes organ donation.

“People ask me why I do it, and I answer if your child was in need wouldn’t you want someone to make that choice?”

Today, Hobbs Farm supplies countless people with fresh produce; residents with restrictive disabilities have a space to garden and grow; and three men live on because of the gift Pellegrino and her son made through organ donation.  

“She truly deserves this recognition and honor, because Ann Pellegrino is and has always been my person of the year,” Muratore said.

 

By Heidi Sutton

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach hosted its 5th annual Run the Farm 4-Mile Challenge on Aug. 17. The event attracted over 300 runners from as far as upstate Albany and France who braved the humidity for a great cause.

Proceeds from the day will benefit the farm whose mission is devoted to providing fresh organic produce to those in need of a network of local food pantries and food programs.

The fundraiser also featured a farmers market, vendors and music and was attended by local officials including Councilman Kevin LaValle, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Chief of Staff Bob Martinez from Leg. Tom Muratore’s office,  Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Leg. Leslie Kennedy and members of the Centereach and Selden civic associations.

LaValle addressed the crowd before announcing the winners of the race. “I just want to thank everyone for coming out and for the great race we had today. This is the last remaining farm in Centereach,” said LaValle, adding that the 11-acre farm, located at 178 Oxhead Road, raises over 30,000 pounds of food for nonprofits.

“It takes an army to run this farm and without all the volunteers working together it would never happen,” added HF Vice President Ann Pellegrino. She also thanked Hobbs Farm President Larry Corbett and Bethel AME Church of Setauket for all their support.

“We love being out here at Hobbs Farm. They do so many great things for the community. To have a working farm here is quite special,” said Comptroller Kennedy. “I’m just happy to see everyone out on a Saturday morning working out, having fun, maybe buying some products and contributing to sales tax,” he joked.

The overall first place winner for men with a time of 24.40.53 was 24-year-old Cole Conte of Port Jefferson. Second and third place went to the father and son team from Baillargues, France, Fran Ois Le Grix (43) and Titoun Le Grix (17) with a time of 25.09.37 and 25.10.93, respectively. “We’ve gone international, ladies and gentlemen,” quipped LaValle as he handed out the awards and the crowd shouted out “Vive La France!”

Jessica Petrina (37) of Selden captured the title of overall first-place winner for women with a time of 27:24:94. Jamie Butcher (28) of Port Jefferson garnered second place with a time of 31:57:60 and Grace Mill (15) of Centereach won third place with a time of 32:20:18.

“To Mr. Hobbs, who is no longer with us, his legacy continues; to those who run the farm and really Run the Farm, thank you,” said Romaine. He thanked the runners and thanked the community for “helping keep the farm alive, keep the dream alive right here in the middle of Centereach where no one would expect a farm. It’s here, it’s great, it’s part of Brookhaven town. We are so proud of this farm.”

Photos by Heidi Sutton

From left, Legislative Aide Bill Maggi, Hobbs Farm President Larry Corbett, HF Vice President Ann Pellegrino, Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle and HF Treasurer Cindy Gallo. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) was honored at the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s Harvest Fair Oct. 6 for his many years of dedicated support of the farm’s programs. The legislator was recently able to secure a $29,616 grant for the 11-acre Centereach farm, which donates 90 percent of its vegetables to area food pantries.

Children enjoy the farm’s Harvest Fair. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“This is a great place in Centereach — the last remaining farm we have in this area. Legislator Muratore was the one that really turned me on to Hobbs Farm and what was going on here,” Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said before presenting a plaque to the legislator along with the farm’s President Larry Corbett and Vice President Ann Pellegrino. “He’s been, for years, a huge supporter of this farm, whether it’s been working with me to do the Run the Farm to raise money, to bring in grants, to help out any way possible.”

“I can’t do enough for Hobbs Farm. This is our jewel here in the district. We love this place – it brings so much,” Muratore said, pointing to the families enjoying the festival. “I thank Ann, I thank Hobbs Farm and, most of all, I thank you my community. God bless you.”

Bethel Hobbs Farm's Run the Farm will be going virtual this year. Funds support the farm in its community endeavors. File photo from Councilman Kevin LaValle's office

By Kyle Barr

For Ann Pellegrino, the founder of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach which donates 90 percent of its locally grown vegetables to area food pantries, the mission hits close to home.

“Years ago I was a single mother with three kids working two different jobs, and I’ve had to go to food pantries a couple times,” she said. “But when you go to the typical food pantry, you get boxed stuff, stuff that doesn’t have any nutrients, stuff that doesn’t have any vitamins in it, it’s just stuff to fill your belly.”

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Because the mission is so important to her, when government funds ran dry, she needed help.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) stepped in with an idea to host a local race to bring the community together while helping to raise funds for the farm.

LaValle called for help from Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) and Hobbs Farms volunteers and the annual Run the Farm Four-Mile Challenge was born.

Now in its third year, more than 200 runners of all strengths and abilities came out on a warm, humid day Aug. 19 to support the farm. In total, more than $7,500 was raised.

“This is the last remaining farm in Centereach — It’s not only a part of our history but an active part of our history,” LaValle said. “You have kids 5, 6 years old, you have college kids, high school kids, seniors that are out there volunteering. It brings so many people together in this community for a great cause.”

The runners lined up at the start in front of the Oxhead Road Elementary School and waited for the horn. Their route took them in a loop that ended on the west side of the farm where they were greeted by cheering family members, friend and volunteers. Tall yellow sunflowers and green vegetables could be seen growing beyond the archway to the farm and a sign saying “Love Grows Here.”

“I was remarried and I was able to step back a little bit because people were there for me,” Pellegrino said. “I wanted to give back to people stuff that wasn’t just packaged.”

The Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s founder, Ann Pellegrino, donates most of the produce to local food pantries. File photo

The volunteers at Bethel Hobbs farm are often community members, with a handful of student volunteers from Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University.

“I live three houses down from here, so I’m always here helping out when I’m not in college, and when I’m not busy during the semester I stop by and do some help inside the community,” said SCCC student Bershell Hall. “I think it’s really great what they do here, because they have health standards, people in the community can come here and pull for their own usage.”

Kraig Rau placed first in the race with a time of 22 minutes, 52 seconds. He strode across the finish line with a body and face streaming with sweat, and he gladly took the water bottle from a volunteer’s outstretched hand. Rau grew up in the community and graduated from Centereach High School.

“It’s my second time here; I was here last year,” he said. “I think it’s a great event, it’s the local community here. I live a mile away so I run here and then I just run home.”

The run was sponsored by several groups, including a few large-scale food chains like Whole Foods and ShopRite. A group of 21 employees from the Selden ShopRite showed up to support the event.

“The farm is vital to the infrastructure of the island and Middle Country, and we’re very fortunate to have it,” said Charles Gallagher, the owner of the Selden ShopRite. “We need to make sure we continue to support it, it’d be a real shame if it went away.”

Volunteers help out in the garden at the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, located on Oxhead Road in Centereach. File photo

By Jenni Culkin

A small Centereach farm, about 11 acres in size, is reaching out to the community to raise the funds necessary to continue doing its good work.

The farm has been growing vegetables and other crops to donate to food pantries and people in need since 2007, according to Peter Castorano, one of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s caretakers, who lives in the sole house on the property.

“Ann started it all,” said Castorano.

That Ann is Ann Pellegrino.

The Centereach woman discovered the farm, which wasn’t too far from her house, after she sought a place to continue gardening and donating the crops to the poor.

Former Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Kathy Walsh and farm Director Ann Pellegrino put their backs into it at Hobbs Farm. File photo
Former Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Kathy Walsh and farm Director Ann Pellegrino put their backs into it at Hobbs Farm. File photo

Alfred Hobbs willed the farm to the Bethel AME Church, its owner since 1955. Pellegrino decided to take over the farm’s maintenance, although it is still owned by Bethel Church. She is now the vice president of the farm, which donates tens of thousands of pounds of crops to those in need each year.

The farm has recently experienced an invasion by wild deer, which are eating some of the farm’s crops. The deer eating the crops has significantly lowered the overall productivity of the farm.

“It costs a lot to maintain the farm,” Pellegrino said.

For this reason, an inaugural 4-mile run, which will take place on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 9 a.m., will help raise money for a higher fence to prevent further invasion by the deer population. Advanced registration is $20. In addition, it will cost $5 for children to participate in the Kids Fun Run. There will be awards for runners, music and raffles at the event.

“It’s a really great cause,” Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said. “Hobbs farm is a hidden jewel in the area.”

According to LaValle, the run has been made official by USA Track & Field. It will be timed and kept track of like any other official race.

“We would like to make this a yearly event,” Pellegrino said.

The inaugural run is not the only way to make a difference.

There are only approximately eight regular volunteers at the farm, including Dottie Meade, Elaine Gaveglia and Jason Castorano. Castorano finds himself fixing the farm equipment and handling the maintenance of heavy machinery, like the tractor. Meade helps out with a plot of land designated to educating young children and helping them learn and grow.

Meade said regular volunteers included the Green Teens from the Middle Country Public Library, volunteers from Long Island colleges like Suffolk County Community College, Stony Brook University and Adelphi University and the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.

“We need volunteers, we need sponsors and we need the word out,” Pellegrino said.