Out in the Irvington Woods on a sunny afternoon, some two dozen men and women in jeans and t-shirts are getting a two-day jump on Earth Day, hacking away at patches of a prickly, invasive shrub called Japanese Barberry.
Most are employees of an Irvington-based company, BrightFarms, that hydroponically grows a range of salad greens in six greenhouse farms around the east coast and as far west as Chicago, packages them and delivers them within hours to the local branches of big food chains like Stop & Shop, BJ’s, Walmart and Food Lion.
But on this afternoon, in the spirit of Earth Day, they are not growing or selling healthy greens but destroying nasty ones—no easy task. Barberry shrubs smother desirable vegetation—at least the kind that the deer have not already eaten. As CJ Reilly III, Director of Education & Head of Grounds & Operations for the Irvington Woods Park and the O’Hara Nature Center, the man in charge of this wrecking crew, notes, “You’ve got to get the whole root system out or it will grow right back.”
Among the BrightFarms crew are Steve Platt, CEO and Steve Campione, CFO. They see their company as part of a larger agricultural renaissance that is attracting young people away from careers in paper-pushing industries in favor of an ag school education and a chance to get dirt under their fingernails. In today’s ecologically conscious culture, farming is good and good for you.
After a few back-wrenching hours in the Irvington Woods, the Bright Farms volunteers would repair to the Captain Lawrence Brewery in Pleasantville, another local company that prides itself on its commitment to sustainability.