Donor Spotlight | Vito and Rosa Pietanza: “What the future could be.”

August 9, 2023

By Olivia Waterhouse

Farms for the Future

Last Thursday, like they do most Thursdays, Vito and Rosa Pietanza packed up the car and headed east. Almost 100 miles from their home in Red Hook, their first stop was at the Ag Center at Charnews Farm to check on Vito’s community garden plot.

Vito sees the Ag Center as a model of “what the future could be.” When you see a head of swiss chard in the refrigerated aisle of the grocery store, he explains, it’s easy to think that it just came from a farm. But it didn’t. It was picked 10 days ago in California, shipped 1,500 miles to sit in a distribution center, then trucked to your grocery store a few days later. In all those days and all those miles, it loses freshness, flavor, nutritional value, and something else that’s harder to put into words.


Vito and Rosa were born in the same small town, Mola di Bari, in Puglia. It’s a region known for its prolific agricultural exports, where Vito’s parents, grandfather (and generations before them) grew almonds, olives, grapes, figs, artichokes, and carobs. The couple goes back and visits the family farm as often as they can, where Vito and Rosa can help pick fruits and vegetables. Back in Brooklyn, Vito could only grow what could thrive in a few pots on a windowsill or patio. But at the Ag Center at Charnews Farm, he grows artichokes.

Not just artichokes, of course. There are rows of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. There’s basil and oregano, chard, celery, lettuce, and arugula. Vito and Rosa harvested the garlic and potatoes last week, making space for chicoria seedlings started by Vito’s friend and mentor, Nick Ranieri. On tall bamboo trellises, fagiolini pinti (long green beans from Puglia) reach towards the summer sun. The bamboo came from a grove on the edge of the farm, where Vito and other volunteers helped cut it back on a community workday. A favorite story around the farm comes from that afternoon, when everyone turned around to see Vito driving up towards the gardens, 15ft bamboo stalks poking out both sides of his Saturn sedan.

Surrounded by other community gardeners and farmers in the Trust’s incubator program, Vito has grown much more than just a beautiful crop of swiss chard. From his 30’x20’ plot, he’s been able to discover and grow a world of connections – connections to a community of farmers and gardeners, to his own history and heritage, to the land itself, and to the next generation who will be responsible for stewarding it. He’s brought his granddaughters to help plant and harvest in “nonno’s garden,” teaching them to love the land the way he does. Vito believes in the Trust’s Farms for the Future program because he knows how important it is to empower the next generation of farmers and stewards of this land.

Right now, Vito says, we have the opportunity to change the future. We have the chance to affect positive change for the environment, our communities, future generations, our health, and our food systems. He supports the Trust because he believes in our mission to educate our communities and help new and established farmers grow. If we want to have an alternative to that grocery store chard, we need to protect a future for farming on the East End.


We’re thankful to Vito and Rosa Pietanza for their support as community gardeners, donors, and volunteers. To learn more about the Ag Center community gardens, contact Brendan Minogue, Stewardship Manager. To learn more about the Trust’s Farms for the Future Initiative, contact Dan Heston, Director of Agricultural Programs.

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