Governors Island: Off-Season
Sometimes, the Internet is a magical place that connects like-minded strangers who wouldn’t have otherwise met, like me and my new friend Hollis. Through a friend of a friend, we were connected via Instagram a few years ago, but we recently met up in person for the first time. Hollis volunteers a few times a week with the Earth Matter NYC organization and goes to Governors Island to tend to the chickens that live there year-round. The island is not open to the public in the winter, but there is a ferry that takes workers back and forth, and Hollis generously offered to take me along with her on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Earth Matter was started in 2009 to promote local composting of organic waste, and they educate the community on composting as well as water conservation practices. The site on Governors island is home to several huge compost piles, along with chickens and (seasonally) baby goats, rabbits, worms and beehives. The chickens need to be fed daily by volunteers, so I helped Hollis spread out fresh food scraps and even fed them some chicken feed out of my hand (a first for me, despite growing up in Ohio).
The chickens are all hens and they lay eggs year-round, although they do produce less in the winter months. We went around and collected the day’s haul (some were still warm), which totaled nearly a dozen eggs in all shapes, sizes and colors. The chickens are all different breeds—some have elaborate headdresses, some look like they’re wearing feathered pantaloons and some have iridescent feathers and feet—and produce a wide variety of eggs. I had never eaten a farm fresh egg before, but I’m happy to report that they tasted just as good as they looked.
The Coast Guard left Governors Island in 1996, and they left behind a huge amount of infrastructure that currently sits mostly empty and abandoned. The island has undergone a drastic transformation in the last few years, and more buildings are slated for demolition or development in the near future. There are manicured hills, a grove of hammocks, a lavender field, art installations and even a glamping site on the island, with possible plans to add a hotel or spa (sigh). I’ve been to Governors Island several times in the summer, but getting to explore the island when it was essentially empty is an experience I won’t soon forget (thank you again, Hollis!).
Want to help out with Earth Matter? Check out their volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities here.