Pictured Above: Members of ReWild Long Island’s summer internship program in Hempstead gained valuable experience in community gardens.

Imagine Long Island — the bedroom community to New York City, festooned with strip malls and the oldest tracts of post-war suburban housing in the country — if it were the truly wild place it had been before the sprawl began.

If this idea can take root in your head, take heart. Many of your neighbors feel the same way.

ReWild Long Island, an idea which began percolating through western Suffolk and Nassau around 2018, is now coming to the East End.

ReWild is part of a growing worldwide movement to help enable anyone who is able to plant a plot of land with native and organic plants to help provide essential habitat for the creatures that share our world, and to restore lands and waters that have been damaged by our past land use practices.

ReWild Long Island, headquartered in Port Washington, runs two native plant sales each year, provides grants to help start community gardens, and runs a summer internship program for high school students interested in helping the environment.

Three longtime South Fork environmental activists, Gloria Maroti Frazee, Leonard Green and Nancy Erber, are the new East End chapter’s co-chairs.

“We had joined ReWild Long Island on our own. We really liked the mission and what they’re doing, said Ms. Frazee in a mid-February interview with The Beacon. “The have a lot of activities, expertise and mentorship they can offer throughout our communities, and they’ve been very active in grantwriting.”

Mr. Green said ReWild’s semi-annual native plant sale is what first inspired him to become a member, but the sale’s pickup locations, in Nassau and mid-Suffolk counties, are quite a drive for East Enders.

“I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had this a little closer to home?’” he said. “When I talked with people who were interested in getting native plants in the ground, it was difficult to say they had to drive hours away.”

The new East End chapter has partnered with the Ecological Culture Initiative in Hampton Bays, which will provide the space at St. Joseph Villa at 81 Lynn Avenue in Hampton Bays for ReWild plant sales in May and again in the fall. 

“They have really great suppliers, one of which is on the North Fork,” said Ms. Erber. “People order online and are able to purchase the plants at reasonable prices and then pick them up.”

East Enders who want to join ReWild can do so on the main organization’s website, rewildlongisland.org, where they will be able to order plants for the spring plant sale between March 26 and April 16, for pickup in Hampton Bays in early May. 

Community groups that wish to start a community garden can also apply for grant funding through a link on the front page of the ReWild Long Island website.

“We’re taking applications from community groups — churches, schools and civic organizations, who will be committing to spend two years planting and maintaining a community garden,” said Ms. Frazee. “An expert will help train them on preparing the land and planting and maintaining the garden, and will be available for consultations throughout the process.”

The chapter will also hold its first educational program, a Zoom presentation by Anthony Marinello on “Your Spring Garden: Best Methods to Benefit Birds, Bees and Other Wildlife” on Wednesday, March 29 from 7 to 8 p.m. The login info will be available at https://www.rewildlongisland.org/events.

Anthony Marinello started his company, Dropseed Native Landscaping, to give Long Islanders the plants, guidance and skills they need to transform our surroundings into a life-sustaining native plant environment for people and wildlife.He studied biology at Nassau Community College and began gardening with native plants, and earned a Permaculture Design certificate at the Center for Bioregional Living in Ellenville, NY.

His website, https://www.dropseednativelandscapesli.com, offers free how-tos on gardening, and he sends a lively weekly email message on seasonal topics, like “leaving the leaves” or “spring garden clean-ups” to everyone who signs up. During this public lecture, Anthony will explain what we can do in our gardens to support critical habitat and wildlife such as caterpillars, fireflies, and bees.

The East End co-chairs are also working with East Hampton High School’s ecology club and other local groups on a pilot summer internship program for high school students, modeled after ReWild’s successful internship program in North Hempstead. Throughout the course of the summer, student interns will work with East End organizations that focus on food security, regenerative gardening and climate resiliency.

“The plan is to allow students to get away from computers and into nature,” said Mr. Green. “We’re in the process of lining up partners from outside organizations to allow for student interns to work on their sites, on sustainability projects, garden maintenance and planting, and working with food gardens. Out east, we’re finding that students are interested in marine ecology, so we want to push the connection between what happens on land and groundwater and surface waters.”

They’re looking for about 10 students from the East Hampton area who want to devote four hours per week this summer to working with community organizations, plus one hour per week of educational programs, for a total of 50 hours throughout the course of the summer. Interns will receive a $300 stipend for the summer’s work.

“The idea is that it’s a practical experience. They’re not just spending a few hours hoeing up leeks, but they’re also involved in the entire process that goes into this, before and afterwards,” said Ms. Frazee. They’re also talking with community advocates for interconnected issues like affordable housing, to help the students see every aspect of how land use affects our lives.

“We want them to meet people who work for East Hampton Town, so they can see what the town does, what these processes are that influence our lives,” said Ms. Frazee. “Even if they don’t end up going into a related field, they will, throughout their lives, have a much better understanding of what’s going on around them.”

Their hope is that the program will grow after this pilot season — about 50 kids participate annually in the North Hempstead internship program.  

While this chapter’s work is just getting off the ground on the South Fork, Mr. Green said he “would be ecstatic if someone on the North Fork decided to do what we’ve done. There are very legitimate and pressing reasons to have a separate chapter on the North Fork.”

“ReWild seemed to understand the way ecosystems work,” he added. “We have to understand how pollinators are plugged into the local ecosystem, the soil biome that works in conjunction with plants, in an enmeshed approach that recognizes connected ecosystems. Our target is to bring attention to all of those aspects, working together. We’re facing a crisis on Long Island. Our bays are suffering from eutrophication and algal blooms, and we’re willy-nilly removing the ecosystem that sustains them.”       

For more information on how to get involved with the local efforts, email gloria.frazee@rewildlongisland.org, lenandgreen@icloud.com or nancycadet@icloud.com.

—BHY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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