Today’s Inwood is full of green thumbs, mainly volunteers who tend to Bruce’s Garden, nurse sidewalk flower boxes, and cultivate community landscapes enjoyed by all. And while a lucky few have space for a tomato plant or two, today’s edible gardening needs are fulfilled mainly by a thriving farmer’s market which gives Inwood residents access to “local” produce. But there was a time when “local” meant right around the corner.
As recently as the early 1930’s Inwood was home to one of Manhattan’s last, if not the last, working farms. Inwood resident Josephene Benedetto Bliani sat down with oral historian Jeff Kisseloff in 1987 and described life on her family’s farm on Broadway and 214th.
“Our farm had very good soil. We had the best corn. They were small because there wasn’t a lot of room, but they were round and delicious. We raised all different kinds of vegetables. We had tomatoes, corn, lettuce and string beans. We had pear trees and peach trees, and we had chickens, rabbits and a goat. We rented a horse when we had to do the plowing. My parents earned their living selling the eggs, vegetable and fruit.
Chickens were nasty and dirty. I stayed away from them, for sure.
My brothers did most of the farm work. I helped sell the vegetables from the farm stand. Everything was cheap. The eggs were fifteen cents a dozen. Corn was a dozen ears for a quarter. Tomatoes were five cents a pound-very cheap, but delicious.
It was just a farm. It wasn’t a very big farm-only a city block. From 213th to 214th and from Tenth Avenue to Broadway. For me it was just a place to live. We moved there in 1924, when I was three. My father was an ice man until the Frigidaires came in and that went kaput. That’s why they took the land.
Our house didn’t have electricity or gas or anything. We had to bring everything in.”
Note: The accompanying photos likely portray the Benedetto farm. They were all taken in the same area she describes between 1927 and 1933.