By Stephen J. Kotz
The Serene Green farmstand on Noyac Road was anything but serene and certainly not limited to green on Sunday afternoon. Like the showers that inundated the East End over the weekend, a steady stream of customers descended on the stand to pick through the produce in a rainbow of colors: red tomatoes, yellow squash, and a special variety of magenta colored eggplants.
There was freshly picked celery, string beans, peppers, basil and other herbs, scallions, leeks and potatoes, and, of course, mountains of sweet corn and melons. But there was also fluke and sea bass, clams and lobster, Mecox Bay Dairy cheeses, prepared sauces from the Vine Street Café on Shelter Island, North Fork potato chips, Tate’s Cookies, gourmet sorbets from Sorbabes of Sag Harbor, North Fork potato chips, and Java Nation coffee. Rounding it out were fresh-cut flowers and hanging baskets.
The farmstand, now in its fourth year, is owned by John and Laura Smith, who were the picture of perpetual motion: Mr. Smith hauling produce, Ms. Smith stocking shelves and taking orders over the phone.
The business is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week from the week before Memorial Day until it closes after selling Christmas trees and wreaths, made by Ms. Smith, for Christmas.
“It’s exhausting, but it is so rewarding because the community is so supportive,” said Ms. Smith.
Farming, she said, has always been in her husband’s blood. A descendant on his mother’s side to the Avens and Haines families, early settlers to the Hayground area, Mr. Smith grew up around his grandfather’s farm in Water Mill.
While in high school, he worked during the summer at the Other Stand, a popular farmstand closer to Sag Harbor along Noyac Road that has long since been closed. As a young man, he ran a farmstand on the south side of Montauk Highway between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor.
For five years, the couple managed the farmstand at East Hampton’s East End Community Organic Farm. They found out about the opening when Ms. Smith, a graphic designer at the time, was consulted about the farm’s logo and informed that the farm needed a manager. At the time her husband was working as a contractor and eager to get back into agriculture.
In the meantime, they purchased their current location, and when the lease at EECO farm came up for renewal, they decided to focus on their own business.
Serene Green tries to provide local food to their customers, although Ms. Smith said she does keep things like lemon and limes on hand for the convenience of customers.
The couple grows as much food as they can in the garden behind the stand—“We grow lettuce, but we don’t have lettuce all the time,” Ms. Smith explained—but they also rely on a network of local suppliers and about a dozen farmers on both the North and South Fork to help keep their shelves stocked, she said.
“John has really great relationships with other farmers who are all specialized in what they do,” she said. “They are all generational farmers. The kids are farmers and their parents and grandparents were farmers.”
The Smiths also work with suppliers at both Shinneock and Montauk to provide a substantial amount of fresh seafood to their customers.
They are now expanding their horizons in yet another way. The couple is close to purchasing a 150-acre farm near Cooperstown, where they plan to raise grass-fed bison, following the standards of the Bison Association that requires the animals to be truly grass-fed and rotated from pasture to pasture on a regular basis.
They are also working with Southampton Town and the Peconic Land Trust to buy more local land to put into production. Like all farmers, though, they are facing the daunting task of competing with wealthy buyers, who might imagine the same land as a possible site of their private horse barn.
Fortunately, the Smiths said, the town and land trust are working on ways to ensure that farmland remains in production by working out contracts that pay a seller a higher price for development rights but extend the limitations that come with those rights, so property remains in agriculture.
The couple has three children, Serene, for whom the stand is named, Aven, and Skye. Ms. Smith said part of the reason they got into the business is to show our kids the kind of life her husband had while growing up and to teach them the value of hard work.
They are quick to point out the rewards. “We have been embraced by our community,” said Mr. Smith. “I worked at the Other Stand and I watched that go away. This is what this town needs.”
“Every day, and I’m not making this up, there is someone who comes in here and says ‘I drive by every day but I’ve never come in here before and I’m so happy I stopped,’” added Ms. Smith.