On Saturday, in an apple orchard a world away, but just a block away from Main Street, Amagansett, families relaxed on blankets and beach chairs, enjoying cooked to order blueberry pancakes, herbed scrambled eggs and potatoes, strawberry and rhubarb compote and baked goods made with love and care. Meanwhile children scampered to a nearby puppet show performed by Liz Joyce, and couples strolled through rows of late spring vegetables, sharing recipes and stories with new and old friends.
This pastoral tableau is not what comes to mind for many people visiting the Hamptons in June, but for members of the Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, being a part of this community is exactly what living in the Hamptons is all about.
Quail Hill Farm, one of the original Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the country, was founded in 1990 on land donated to the Peconic Land Trust by Deborah Ann Light. In the last two decades the organic farm has grown to serve some 200 families from across the South Fork, on 30 acres, also providing produce and support to local food pantries, schools, restaurants and farmers’ markets.
For many members, last Saturday’s 14th Annual Farm Breakfast at Quail Hill Farm is the epitome of what the farm is all about — delicious, organic food and building community spirit through shared work and responsibility.
The farm breakfast is organized by Jane Weissman, Quail Hill director, and farmer Scott Chaskey who explain that the event is very much a communal effort. From the point of view of the farmers and apprentices who start saving eggs for the feast two weeks before to ensure several dozen are ready for the farm’s famous herbed scrambled eggs, to volunteers who pick those herbs, prepare potatoes, create compote and baked goods, everyone makes sure the table is full of treats that rival the creations of trained pastry chefs.
Chaskey said the breakfast was originally envisioned to bring the farm’s shareholders and volunteers together, but also to incite interest for new members looking to join the farm. Nowadays, generating interest in Quail Hill Farm is not a difficult task.
“We have had a waiting list for a number of years now, so we don’t have the pressure on us we first did,” said Chaskey, adding the understanding of how important healthy, organic produce is to one’s diet has grown immensely in the last decade.
However, as a preserve of the Peconic Land Trust, Chaskey said the concept of Quail Hill Farm is that it is a community farm meant to serve the whole community, making the idea of opening up the acreage to the general public for events like the farm breakfast, summer potluck dinner, and annual tomato tasting that much more important.
“People become friends here,” said Weissman, taking in the scene at Saturday’s breakfast. “Not being married, it can be hard to form a family, but here, this is my family.”
Weissman remembered the first farm breakfast, a far cry from the organized effort this year, where 75 people came together to enjoy a meal cooked on two, small gas grills. A success, Chaskey and Weissman decided to move the annual breakfast to June, as late spring crops are coming to fruition, creating a day where community members can gather together outside of the rows, and celebrate the beginning of the season.
For Nancy Goell, a member of the Peconic Land Trust Board of Directors, events like the farm breakfast are an example of what makes Quail Hill Farm the special place it is, with Chaskey setting a magical tone as a farmer and poet at the helm.
“You see how this brings people together,” said Goell. “We have all come to appreciate the bounty that is Quail Hill, but what makes this special is people coming together to enjoy the fruits of that bounty together on a beautiful day, with birds singing. It’s inspired.”
Judy Freeman, who helped make the strawberry rhubarb compote and Ronnie Grill, who made potatoes for the breakfast, were joined on a blanket by new member Carol Steinberg and friend Ursula Thomas.
“We are in the field, picking vegetables, meeting each other, exchanging recipes,” said Freeman of her experience with other members at the farm. She and Grill struck up their friendship in the rows at Quail Hill, added Freeman.
“We have our first lettuces, and I picked the best salad I have ever tasted,” said Steinberg. “Being here, you realize how much goes into food.”
For Bettina Volz, a volunteer on Saturday, coming into the Quail Hill fold was very much about food, and quickly, the experience became much more.
“I will stand in the field and say, how am I going to cook this,” she laughed. “And then someone offers a recipe.”
“You do become more conscious about what you are eating,” continued Volz. “When the kitchen smells like fresh herbs, you think more creatively about cooking.”
Sydney Albertini, whose husband Jerome, apprenticed at Quail Hill last year, certainly has found inspiration in the kitchen as a member of the farm. Albertini and her family, which includes three young sons, live on a seasonal, local diet, and came across the farm by pure luck, having fallen in love with a nearby house.
“For me, I am half French, and living in the States I always have felt a lacking for a market for fresh vegetables and the kind of experience that leads to really delicious cooking and family life – a kind of rhythm,” she said. “This really brought that back for me, and I can give this to my children. I teach them about the seasons, eating locally, using what you need and keeping the leftovers for the winter. Of course, meeting people in the fields, exchanging information on ingredients and recipes is also a part of the experience.”
Albertini hopes to release a cookbook of seasonal and regional French desserts she created for farmers and apprentices of Quail Hill last year before “The Common Table,” an annual fundraising dinner on August 28.
“We don’t have to explain things so much,” said Chaskey of the evolution of the Quail Hill Farm community. “People now know what CSA means and the consciousness about how important food is to health sounds simplistic, but it has really dawned on people in the last 10 years.”