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Bethel Hobbs Community Farm

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.

 

The slight chill in the air Oct. 5 created the perfect feel for Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s annual fall festival.

Hundreds joined the fun at the farm where there were bounce houses, pumpkins, music, tractor rides, face painting, vendors and more.

Country Line Dancing featuring Skip from Country Rhythms Long Island was on hand to provide line dancing lessons throughout the day.

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.”

Volunteers, above, plant lettuce at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in the spring. Photo by Heidi Sutton

More educational programs are coming to the last farm in Centereach thanks to a county grant.

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) sponsored a resolution to amend the 2018 operating budget and transfer funds to Sachem Teen Center, Suffolk County Police Athletic League and Bethel Hobbs Community Farm. The transfer resulted in a $29,616 grant for the farm, which donates 90 percent of its vegetables to area food pantries.

Vice President Ann Pellegrino by one of the farm’s raised gardens. File photo

Vice President Ann Pellegrino said Muratore has been one of the farm’s biggest supporters for years, and to thank him, he will receive a plaque at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s annual Fall Harvest Festival Oct. 6.

“He sees the good work that we’re doing over here, and he always likes to help us out,” she said. “And this year, he really pushed for a grant.”

Muratore said he loves the farm. A few years ago, he joined Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) in organizing Run the Farm, an annual four-mile race fundraiser.

“I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful asset that we have in the district and in the county,” the legislator said. “Ann Pellegrino does so much with that place and with the children, and people get to buy fruits and vegetables there that are homegrown. It’s really a big plus for the community.”

Muratore said his fellow county legislators voted unanimously for the grant.

He said it’s up to Pellegrino what she does with the funds. The farm’s vice president said she plans to use the money to enhance the educational programs it offers for students with things like farm tours and making salads with them. In the future, she said she would love to build an indoor classroom so when it’s cold or raining outside, programs can be held indoors. She said it’s the first time they received a significant amount of money. “We’ve never had that, never,” Pellegrino said. “We’re always scrounging for pennies. There is so much we can do with that.”

Pellegrino invites the community to the farm’s 10th annual Fall Harvest Festival which will be held this Saturday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The afternoon will feature tractor rides, live music, face painting, pumpkins, a bounce house, games and contests, food, a visit from the “Science Guy,” a farm stand and much more. Admission to the festival is free with fees for certain activities.

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm is located at 178 Oxhead Road, Centereach. For more information, visit www.hobbsfarm.info.

The annual Run the Farm 4-mile challenge. File photo

The summer activities series in the Town of Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District have been announced.

The events, presented by Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) and the town’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Sports and Cultural Resources, start with a pickleball tournament in June and end with the fourth annual Run the Farm 4-mile challenge in August.

“Spring is here and summer is just around the corner,” LaValle said. “After the winter we had, I am pleased to join with the parks department to present these great outdoor family events and urge everyone to participate.”

Centereach Pool is located at 286 Hawkins Road in Centereach. Image from Google Maps

Upcoming summer activities:

Pickleball tournaments: A spring tournament will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3, and a fall tournament is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Centereach Pool Complex pickleball courts, located at 286 Hawkins Road in Centereach.

• Participants must bring their own paddle and water

• Balls provided

• Must preregister to participate 

• For more information or to register, call 631-451-6133

Hoops for military heroes: Saturday, July 21 — rain date scheduled for Saturday, July 28 — at the Centereach Pool Complex located at 286 Hawkins Road in Centereach.

• Free event (T-shirts, snacks, prizes)

• $15 suggested donation per team

• All funds raised will be donated to local veterans organizations

• Preregistration is required at www.BrookhavenNY.gov/Basketball 

• Age brackets for boys and girls are as follows: 12- and 13-year-olds sign in at 9 a.m. with a 10 a.m. start time for games; 14- and 15-year-olds sign in at 11 a.m. with a noon start time; and 16- and 17-year-olds sign in at 1 p.m. with a 1:30 p.m. start time.

The annual Run the Farm 4-mile challenge benefits Ann Pelegrino’s Bethel Hobbs Community Farm. File photo

National Night Out: Tuesday, Aug. 7, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Centereach Pool Complex located at 286 Hawkins Road in Centereach.

Co-sponsored with the Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct, the free, annual event promotes police and community partnerships to make local neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live. It’s an
evening of summer fun activities and free outdoor swimming for the entire family.

Run the Farm 4-mile challenge: The fourth annual event of this local race will be held Saturday, Aug. 18, at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, located at 178 Oxhead Road in Centereach.

Athletes can lace up their sneakers and traverse a 4-mile course on roughly 2 miles of flat terrain followed by 1 mile of rolling hills and two mildly challenging ascents before concluding at the historic
grounds of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm. The event benefits the farm, a nonprofit that has the mission of being devoted to servicing local food pantries and food programs.

• USA Track and Field sanctioned event

• Start time is 9 a.m.

• For more information or to register, call 631-451-6647 or email [email protected]

• Or, visit the town’s website at www.brookhavenny.gov/runthefarm or www.start2finish.com

Bethel Hobbs Farm's Run the Farm 4-mile challenge kicks off. 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.”