Photography by Geoff Welch
Clare Consiglio, CDN, is a certified dietician nutritionist with a master’s degree in nutrition education. She has a particular interest in “food justice” getting wholesome produce to all. She was the director of the food management studies program at the City University of New York where she taught food science, meal management and nutrition courses. Clare now lives on the North Folk of Long Island surrounded by farmland and the coast.
The large vegetable garden adjacent to the summer kitchen of Harmony Hall was started by Sloatsburg resident Clare Consiglio and a group of fourth graders in 2007. The students turned the soil and learned general planting/gardening practices through nutrition education classes led by Clare at the Sloatsburg Library. Her daughter Hannah thought of the name Farmony. Hannah Consiglio has just finished her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Rutgers University and works in farm management. Clare recalls that, “The children were turned on to eating vegetables because of this experience.”
“We had much support from a few families who helped till with a rotor, provided and lay down the garden pathway and provided fencing.” Clare fondly recollects the children and family members conversed during their time in the garden. “The children learned about the history of the house and enjoyed digging because they thought they’d find artifacts.” “We had a small collection of bottles, pieces of toys, etc. that we shared with Geoff.” “We had a lot of support from Auntie El’s Farm Market who provided many seeds and vegetable plants.” Many people did benefit from the garden. Produce was regularly given to the Sloatsburg Food Pantry, St. Joseph’s Adult Home and the Soup Kitchen at Christ Church, Ramapo.” “When the
children grew, the support primarily came from a few families in town who maintained a section of the garden.”
Clare envisioned a community garden that would engage local elementary students and parents in the process of preparing and maintaining a garden yielding organic/healthy produce. “I tried to keep/grow vegetables and herbs that would have been grown during the period of Harmony Hall…always thinking of history.”
The garden is situated on the north side of Harmony Hall adjacent to the historic summer kitchen. It is likely that the Sloat family maintained a produce garden ~ “Kitchen Garden” in a similar location. The Farmony footprint provides a context for a significant aspect of the day to day function of a homestead such as Harmony Hall. During this period of American history, the adverse environmental impacts of an expanding industrial revolution in cities, motivated many citizens to focus on a decided return to the value of outdoor living.
This included a focus on health and the practical need to grow food that was nutritious and easily maintained close to the house. American landscape designer, horticulturist, writer, and prominent advocate of gothic revival architecture, Andrew Jackson Downing was a major proponent of being connected to the land. His house designs included recommendations for access to ornamental gardens, field areas and the practical need for food production.
However, the Downing aesthetic usually recommended that food production and the day to day running of a “country seat” be situated away from the front elevation of a house. Early images of Harmony Hall certainly support this idea of both form and function showing a Grecian statue, swan fountain, and decorative trellis work at front veranda. The outbuildings are located to the rear of Harmony Hall with the summer kitchen a separate footprint to the north of the house.
Famed Hudson River School painter Jasper Cropsey presented Jacob Sloat with a graphite drawing of Harmony Hall circa 1850. This highly detailed drawing clearly shows that the grounds of Harmony Hall included a small orchard, likely apples, to the east of the property and several out buildings. Architectural elements of Harmony Hall include floor to ceiling windows in the double parlor and dining room which permitted access to the expansive front veranda of the house, further supporting a lifestyle of bringing the outside indoors.
In 2020, the Farmony project has inspired a new era of Sloatsburg residents and volunteers with a passion for community service and continuing gardening at this National Register of Historic Places Site, Harmony Hall – The Jacob Sloat House.