Tag Archive | "David Falkowski"

Local Farmers Discuss Trials, Innovation of East End Agriculture at “Small Bites”

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Pete Ludlow of the Mecox Bay Dairy Farm with "Cinnamon," one of his milking cows, on February 24. Photo by Michael Heller.

Pete Ludlow of the Mecox Bay Dairy Farm with “Cinnamon,” one of his milking cows, on February 24. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

For over 225 years, the farm on the northeast shore of Mecox Bay grew potatoes. Today, Pete Ludlow, the fifth generation of his family to farm the land, is creating an experimental cheddar/blue cheese hybrid and selling raw milk.

The evolution of East End farms from crops like potatoes, corn and melons to new and innovative products will be discussed by Mr. Ludlow and others this Sunday at “Small Bites,” the first panel discussion in a lecture series presented by the Peconic Land Trust. The series, “Long Island Grown: Food and Beverage Artisans at Work,” is bringing food, wine and beer experts to Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton throughout March and April. Local author, pastry chef, and food editor for The East Hampton Star Laura Donnelly will moderate the discussions.

“All of the people who are on the panels,” said Ms. Donnelly, “they’re really the most important people in our community when it comes to food and wine and fishing and everything. They’re all idols of mine, so I’m very excited that I get to do it.”

On Sunday, panelists David Falkowski of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton and Fred Lee of Sang Lee Farms in Peconic will join Mr. Ludlow in a discussion focused on the expansion of Long Island agriculture from potatoes and cauliflower to exotic greens, mushrooms, artisanal cheese and other products.

From the time Mr. Ludlow’s family started the farm in 1875, the focus at Mecox Bay was always potatoes. “I was born out here on the potato farm,” Mr. Ludlow said. In 2001, the Ludlows decided to diversify—and remain in business—by switching to dairy and, specifically, to making cheese.

Cheese, Mr. Ludlow said, “is a way for a small farm to stay profitable.” In transforming the farm into Mecox Bay Dairy, the Ludlow family made every effort to use the equipment and facilities they already had, converting an old potato barn into a space for cheese making and cow milking.

By focusing on cheese first, which has more value than other dairy products, the Ludlows were able to buy time to develop other products. The farm recently received a permit to sell raw milk and hopes to experiment with ice cream and yogurt production. The Ludlows are also looking to develop a retail business to sell their products, which include pork and beef, on the farm.

On the North Fork, Sang Lee Farms cultivates Asian greens, vegetables, herbs and flowers, dressings and condiments. The family owned and operated certified-organic farm grows over 100 varieties of specialty vegetables and herbs. They produce two kinds of bok choy, edamame, kale and 16 varieties of tomatoes, to name a few.

“He’s a second generation farmer,” Ms. Donnelly said of Mr. Lee, “and he has all kinds of degrees—he’s studied clinical psychology and business. He’s probably doing the hardest thing he could possibly do, but with people’s interest in good food and exotic greens, I’d like to think Sang Lee Farms Is doing well. But they rely on climate and the economy and the weather and, you know, disease outbreak could come along and destroy crops—so it’s not easy.”

In addition to the standard struggles experienced on any farm, East End farmers have another obstacle to contend with when they try to expand their business—the ever-shrinking availability of farmland.

Open Minded Organics started as a small business in David Falkowski’s backyard. Now in his 11th year, Mr. Falkowski is growing over 200 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs, as well as raising chickens, on his 5-acre farm in Bridgehampton. After finding success in mushrooms, Mr. Falkowski diversified the farm about five years ago and continues adding more products every year—but his expansion is limited by the lack of available farmland.

“I’m at that crux right now and land is very difficult to find. Forget the expense part, which is part of it, but even finding it is very difficult,” said Mr. Falkowski. “What’s happening is these lands that are preserved for low crops or agricultural reserve very often—and I would say more often than not—are no longer producing food.”

Although local governments can’t correct past mistakes that turned historic farmland into scenic vistas on private estates and horse farms, Mr. Falkowski is hopeful they will make better decisions moving forward.

Ms. Donnelly, in turn, is hopeful Mr. Falkowski’s political take on the state of local agriculture—and his proposed solution—will come up during Sunday’s discussion.

“By all means say what you want, it makes it more interesting,” Ms. Donnelly said she told Mr. Falkowski in a pre-interview, adding, “You don’t want people sitting around for an hour and a half saying, ‘I agree, I agree, I agree,’ so I’m hoping there will be some sparks.”

“Small Bites” is Sunday, March 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Bridge Gardens, 36 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. Reservations are required and refreshments will follow. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Tickets for the entire lecture series are $70 for members and $90 for non-members. For reservations, call 283-3195, ext. 19 or email events@peconiclandtrust.org.

Blight Devastates Fields of Tomatoes

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Heller_David Falkowski-Tomato Blight_3526

By Kathryn G. Menu

This year, farmer David Falkowski was poised to harvest a banner tomato crop. Starting his seedlings early, fertilizing the crops with manure from chickens on his Bridgehampton spread, by early summer the plants were dripping in green fruit, promising an abundance to sell at farmers’ markets across the East End.

“You should have seen these plants,” said Falkowski this week. “They were beautiful. We were way ahead of the game.”


But by July 4 weekend, Falkowski was cutting almost the entire crop down, at the plants’ base, and packing them carefully into black plastic bags, leaving the lot to roast in the sun and kill the pathogen that wiped out almost 90 percent of his tomato crop.

“I removed about 2,000 plants,” he said.

Late blight, which primarily affects tomato and potato crops, was the culprit and the fungus-like pathogen has spread to farms and gardens across the East End, according to Dr. Meg McGrath, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University.

Late blight is a destructive and infectious disease caused by a fungal-like pathogen, phytophthora infestans. It can only survive on living plant tissue and thrives in cloudy, wet weather, its spores traveling across regions on the wind, traveling particularly large distances during storms.

To prevent late blight, some farms employ fungicides, while organic farmers generally rely on spraying copper or horsetail to keep fungus at bay, although spraying does not preclude a crop from infection.

According to Dr. McGrath, the late blight this year has been identified early in the growing season, giving it more time to spread and infect farms and gardens that now remain late blight free. That is why, she said, it is critical to inform not just farmers, but also people who maintain vegetable gardens at their homes, about the pathogen and just how seriously it can affect an agricultural economy.

“It’s amazing to see how quickly late blight can spread if it is not managed carefully, or correctly,” said Dr. McGrath.

In 2009, the region also experienced an outbreak of late blight, although not as widespread as this year’s outbreak. The source of the outbreak was later tracked to a truck carrying infected plants to the northeast from the south.

Dr. McGrath said this year’s late blight likely began in Sagaponack in late May to early June, but was not identified until June 24, when the pathogen already had time to disperse and infect other tomato and plant crops in neighboring farms and gardens like Falkowski’s.

Dr. McGrath’s team at Cornell University’s Long Island Horticultural and Extension Center in Riverhead were able to look at the genetics of the late blight and fingerprint it. She said their research showed this was a new late blight strain on the East End, one seen in Florida and in western Wisconsin. Tracking where commercial farmers generally purchase their seeds, when not using seeds saved from the previous year’s crop, Dr. McGrath said the culprit was likely at a single residence in Sagaponack.

“We are about 99-percent sure that this started in a home garden,” she said. “The impact one garden can have is staggering, isn’t it?”

While not all farms on the East End have experienced the late blight, and some have be spared with just small portions of their crop affected, according to McGrath as of July 8, the pathogen was fairly widespread across Long Island and was the largest outbreak of late blight in the United States so far this year.
On the East End, McGrath said there have been reports of blight from Eastport through Riverhead to Sagaponack, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor and even in East Hampton. The North Fork, through Southold, has also had reports of late blight.

She added that she expects the late blight could spread to New England next.

Falkowski appears to have been one of the South Fork farmers hit the hardest. Spying the late blight on just a few plants at first, Falkowski said within four days time he knew he needed to cut the crop down, instead of trying to save it, mostly out of respect for neighboring farmers’ trying to make a way of life similar to his.

“If you see it on one or two plants, fine, but otherwise the responsible thing is to remove the whole field,” said Falkowski. “Otherwise you are just putting pressure on other farmers.”

Falkowski said next year he plans to implement a horsetail program similar to the programs used at organic farms like Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett and Sunset Beach Farm in North Haven. Horsetail, or equisetaceae, leaves are dried and made into a tea, which when sprayed on plants is a natural fungicide.

“But it isn’t just what I do on my farm that matters,” he added. “It is what we all do as a community to prevent another outbreak of this disease. Your neighbor’s problems, are your problems.”

As Scott Chaskey, the director and farmer at the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm notes, who ends up getting late blight when an outbreak occurs comes down to luck and the turn of a breeze.

The veteran organic farmer literally winces when the words “late blight” are uttered. Quail Hill was impacted by the 2009 outbreak, pulling 8,000 tomato plants from the ground. The farm remains late blight free as of now, rows of tomatoes sporting spore-free fruit just days from being ripe enough to pick.

Despite his “luck,” Chaskey recognizes continued reoccurrence of late blight could have a significant impact on local farmers. In an effort to stave off late blight, he does spray horsetail and inspects the tomato plants daily.

Chaskey noted this year he has planted 30 varieties of tomatoes from saved seeds from previous Quail Hill crops. Those varieties have already thrived in Amagansett, are used to the soil and more likely to resist disease, he noted.

“It just depends which way the wind is blowing,” he said.

Farmer Karin Bellemare of the North Haven-based Sunset Beach Farm feared the farm’s tomato crops may have contracted late blight earlier this summer.

She and partner Jon Wagner immediately began working with Dr. McGrath’s team, aware that farms in Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, including the small Estia’s Little Kitchen garden, had already reported cases of late blight. Cornell researchers eventually determined the heirloom tomatoes had been impacted by a fungus, but not late blight, and the disease would not spread to other farms.

Tomatoes, said Bellemare, are one of her farm’s biggest crops. An outbreak similar to Falkowski’s would have had a devastating effect, she said.

Regina Whitley, a farmer who plants on an acre at the East End Community Organic Farm in East Hampton was not so lucky. While her stand at the Route 27 Farmers’ Market in Amagansett Wednesday morning boasted some succulent looking tomatoes, she said she has had late blight on her acreage. Whitley has started spraying copper on her plants, but said she will have no idea how badly she will be affected by the late blight.

“But we are small,” said Whitley. “I feel bad for the bigger farmers that have been hit.”

For Falkowski, whose organic mushroom varieties put him on the map as a sought after East End farmer, the blight has not devastated his operation, but has made him have to rethink plans for next year, like replacing a farm truck with 170,000 miles on it.

“Unless I can find that money somewhere else, I am going to have to make some different plans,” he said. “But that’s what we do as farmers. We find new ways to solve problems.”

Local Goodies At The Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market

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August may have a number of downfalls on the East End – traffic, crowds, the impossibility of procuring a coveted parking space at any of our beautiful beaches – but it also brings with it a bounty of local produce, much of which can be found at the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market.

The Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market presents a unique opportunity to stock up on local fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheese, honey, fish and shellfish at one Bay Street, Sag Harbor location.

By 10 a.m. the market is teeming with people, standing in line for some of Bette Lacina and Dale Haubrich’s organic vegetables, perusing the produce from Quail Hill, gaining insight from David Falkowski on the best preparations for his awe-inspiring mushrooms, or sampling the cheese from Art Ludlow’s Mecox Dairy stand.

When we arrived this past Saturday, just after 10 a.m., we had already missed out on Bette and Dale’s infamous mixed greens as well as their arugula, which quickly sells out each week. While we had visions of the nutty arugula complimenting one of our now daily local tomato salads, we were more than pleased with the yellow zucchini, red beets and heirloom tomatoes we happily tucked into our canvas bag. 

With plans to roast a chicken from Iacono Farm in East Hampton on Sunday, we knew a stop at David Falkowski’s Open Minded Organics stand was a must. Falkowski’s mushrooms are truly special, cultivated in Bridgehampton and picked the morning of the farmers’ market. While grocery stores, and especially luxury grocery chains like Citarella, now carry a variety of mushrooms, it is near impossible to ensure the freshness that Falkowski can deliver. In addition to procuring a brown paper sack filled to the brim with blue and yellow oyster mushrooms and the shitake variety, we also stuck around to listen to Falkowski ruminate on his favorite ways to prepare both his fresh mushrooms and the organic dry mushrooms he sells at his stand. 

While market goers focused on gathering their weekly produce certainly have a mecca in the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market, but it is not just the numerous vegetable and fruit stands and Falkowski mushrooms that make it special. The market has a number of local, speciality goods including shellfish and seafood from The Seafood Shop, baked goods from the Blue Duck Bakery and jellies and condiments from A Taste of the North Fork. Art Ludlow, of Mecox Farm Dairy, also offers a number of artisnal cheeses and a number of honey varieties from The Bees Needs are also on hand, for tasting and purchasing. 

It is the time of year where one can truly revel in the best of local fruits and vegetables, and in our household, not eating a tomato or a piece of corn every day is almost considered a crime. So for those who have yet to delve into this incredible bounty, we suggest stopping by the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market – a market that is still local, still fresh and has a lot of variety in its people and products.