By Bryan Boyhan
Cutting short a dream of a career in farming, a Sag Harbor man working in the fields of the farm at the Quail Hill Preserve in Amagansett, was crushed to death on Tuesday morning, November 30, beneath the wheel of a tractor he was operating.
Joshua M. Levine, 35, had been operating a Case International tractor at about 11:30 Tuesday morning, working to clean one of the structures at the farm, when the accident occurred, according to police.
It is unclear how Levine, market manager for the farm, came to be trapped under the tractor’s rear wheel.
“That is currently under investigation,” said East Hampton Town Police Det. Lt. Christopher Anderson. Det. Anderson declined to say if Levine had actually been driving the tractor prior to the accident.
“We’re investigating all possibilities,” Det. Anderson said. “Including whether it was mechanical error or human error or a combination of both.”
Other workers at the farm came to Levine’s aid, but despite their efforts were unable to pull him from beneath the wheel. Levine was pronounced dead at the scene.
Nobody else was working on the tractor at the time, said Det. Anderson.
In addition to the East Hampton Town Police Department, the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office is also investigating the accident. The tractor has been impounded by the East Hampton Town Police Department.
The farm, which is located at 660 Old Stone Highway in Amagansett, is operated by the Peconic Land Trust.
Levine, originally from Tenafly, N.J., had been working with Quail Hill for three years, initially joining the farm as a volunteer in 2008, then becoming a member of the summer apprentice program in 2009, said Peconic Land Trust’s president, John vH. Halsey in a statement Tuesday evening.
“Josh’s enthusiasm for farming and the Quail Hill community prompted his decision to stay on at the farm and to ultimately join the organization as a full-time staff member in the spring of 2010,” said Halsey.
Levine came to farming after having other careers.
“I’ve always kind of craved the rural lifestyle,” he told the New York Times in an August 28, 2008 story on community farming. The article, which featured a photo of Levine boxing cherry tomatoes at Quail Hill, identifies Levine as a former real estate broker from New York City. The story goes on to observe that “Mr. Levine has learned to adapt to what the land gives up. When the spinach and asparagus came in at Quail Hill, he made spinach and asparagus frittatas using eggs from the farm’s henhouse. Its produce was the genesis of a successful strawberry rhubarb sorbet, he said.”
The article said he one day hoped to rent land and eventually develop it into a community farm and notes that he and his wife had been thinking about a healthier lifestyle, especially since the birth of their daughter a year-and-a-half prior. They since have a son, who is less than a year old.
“My wife and I are thrilled to have them in the community. They quickly made many friends and became a part of the community,” wrote Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End, who knew Levine from the local farming community, in an email Tuesday.
“I know that Josh was thrilled to embark on his second career as a farmer. As such, he was part of a movement across America of people who weren’t raised on farms, but who are choosing to make farming their livelihood.”
“I know that Josh, along with his wife, had many innovative and beautiful ideas about farming ventures to explore at Quail Hill and beyond — from small-scale food processing to new food delivery schemes to year-round veggie production.,” Halweil continued.
“All of us at the Peconic Land Trust are deeply saddened by today’s tragic loss,” Halsey said in his statement, “and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Josh’s family and friends.”
A funeral service will be held this Friday, December 3, at noon at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor.