The caretaker cottage near Squiretown Park, which the Ecological Culture Initiative hopes to use as a headquarters while working on a transformative vision for Hampton Bays.

There was a time when the idea of a Green Revolution meant an increase in crop yields through use of fertilizers, pesticides and hybridization of seeds, but the green revolution planned by a group of Hampton Bays-based ecologists is taking the exact opposite tack.

The Ecological Culture Initiative, which launched a seed lending library at the Hampton Bays Library in mid-March, has big plans to turn Hampton Bays into a worldwide leader in the permaculture movement, encouraging food growers to work within the native environment, while also honoring the hamlet’s human history.

“We have all that we need,” said the group’s ecological planner, R.J. Theofield, at a presentation of the group’s plans at the seed library unveiling March 8. “A neighborhood of locally owned shops, vernacular homes, open space for small organic farms, wild fisheries, undeveloped woodlands, marsh-fronted properties and bucolic waterways.”

ECI founder Dr. Marc Fasanella, who left his job teaching ecological art, architecture and design at Stony Brook University in January to devote his time to this project, envisions a campus at the former Girl Scout Camp Tekakwitha at the 62-acre Squiretown Park on Red Creek Road, which Southampton Town purchased in 2007 through the Community Preservation Fund.

He’s in talks with Long Island University professor Scott Carlin about putting together a semester-long permaculture design certificate program, where students from around the world can immerse themselves in Hampton Bays’ natural environment while learning to grow food in harmony with the existing ecosystem.

“This is an organization geared toward having the people who visit Hampton Bays understand what ecology means,” said Dr. Fasanella, adding that science is about exploring and understanding the dynamic relationship between living things and their non-living environment, including buildings and even history itself.

“That’s a 21st Century concept,” he said. “Almost all of us are living in the 20th Century or even the 19th Century. It’s only in the middle of the 20th Century that ecology really started to be understood, that we really are living in a dynamic system, that any action we take has a reaction. Anything that grows results in decay and anything that decays results in growth, so the concept of the Ecological Culture Initiative is coming to fully understand the ecosystem, the place that we live, and all the dynamics that it includes.”

One of many buildings at the former Girl Scout camp at Squiretown Park that could be repurposed as an educational center.
One of many buildings at the former Girl Scout camp at Squiretown Park that could be repurposed as an educational center.

ECI’s vision includes the use of numerous public buildings and spaces throughout Hampton Bays, including bunkhouses, a boarded-up caretaker’s cottage and the lodge at Squiretown Park, the construction of an outdoor education center at Good Ground Park, programming at the town’s Tiana Beach Marine Education Center, which is being revamped in a partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Science Program, and a playground in Good Ground Park using “regenerative design,” where all materials are made of cement, stone and other materials that can be reused, along with rail and bike friendly transitions between these spaces.

Dr. Fasanella describes regenerative design as different from sustainable design.

“Acres of wind farms may be sustainable, but they’re not a regenerative design,” he told the Southampton Town Board in a presentation at their March 2 work session. “Say, we have an ecosystem. We have the sea floor, with millions of organisms there, with white sharks breeding and cetacean migration. You wouldn’t put a human-centered design there.”

Dr. Fasanella envisions renovating the buildings at Squiretown Park, turning the lodge into a passive solar building with a teaching greenhouse that provides microgreens year-round for the mess hall, and revamping buildings and bunk houses using restoration carpentry principles, installing solar panels and growing food within the forest.

The center would be known as the Good Ground Center for Field Ecology & Regenerative Design.

Southampton Town Board members were skeptical of the breadth of the proposal when ECI staff approached them about use of town-owned buildings at the March 2 work session, but looked favorably on the prospect of ECI restoring the Squiretown Park caretaker’s cottage on West Landing Road as a starting point.

“I’m not trying to rain on your parade. These are great, cool ideas, but I don’t know how vetted they are in the community, and they’re going to take incredible financial resources,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

“It sounds very aggressive out of the gate,” said Councilwoman Christine Scalera.

“I admire your ambition and support it and understand where you’re going. It’s a lot at once,” said Councilman John Bouvier.

Councilwoman Julie Lofstad suggested the group start small, with just one building, perhaps the caretaker cottage.

Dr. Fasanella said ECI is already using space at Squiretown Park for an organic gardening certificate program, beginning March 31, which is offered through the town’s recreation department. The group is looking for space for their agro-ecology director, Rachel Stephens, to start seeds this spring.

Mr. Schneiderman suggested the group come back to the town board with a proposal for renovating and using the caretaker’s cottage.

“It’s a broad, transformative vision,” he said. “You’re laying out a path most of us are not familiar with. But a journey of 1,000 miles starts with single footstep. Nobody has come to me with ideas for the house on the corner, which has been sitting there boarded up for nine years and is not doing anyone any good.”

Seed packets available at the ECI seed library at the Hampton Bays library.
Seed packets available at the ECI seed library at the Hampton Bays library.

At the March 8 seed library opening, Ms. Stephens explained ECI’s work on a level that any home gardener could understand. She showed off the plethora of organic vegetable seeds, filed in a vintage card catalogue, which can be checked out, just like a book, by anyone wanting to grow their own food.

“We’re really hoping by providing free seed to the community that we’ll encourage people to grow their own vegetables in their gardens, which, of course, is better for your health, as well as our local eco-system,” said Ms. Stephens. “You don’t actually have to have a library card to use it—You don’t even need to be a resident of Hampton Bays—The Good Ground Seed Library is going to be open to everyone.”

Gianna Volpe
Gianna Volpe is a multimedia reporter hailing from a little town along the Palisades of New Jersey. She loves goblin sharks, bioluminescence and throwing beached conchs back into the bay. She once high-fived a shark off of Montauk, and she eats her bay scallops raw.

One thought on “A Permaculture Paradise for Hampton Bays?

  1. Ecological Culture Initiative is a great idea. Small efforts can have big impacts. And we should not be afraid to think big! Hampton Bays is a perfect place to start. Eventually I hope the organization can also reach out to the rest of Long Island, especially the North Fork, Long Island Ecological Culture Initiative or East End Ecological Culture Initiative, EEECI!

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