Tag Archive | "farming"

Stepping Around Snow, the Bridgehampton School Prepares its Gardens for Spring

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Justin LaPointe waters a seedbed during a spring cleaning of the Bridgehampton School's greenhouse on Saturday, March 7. Photo by Michael Heller.

Justin LaPointe waters a seedbed during a spring cleaning of the Bridgehampton School’s greenhouse on Saturday, March 7. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Despite the snow piles, the potholes, and the threat of more 30-degree weather on the horizon, spring is on its way—at least at the Bridgehampton School.

A group of parents, teachers, and students came to school on Saturday, March 7, to clean up the school’s greenhouse before spring and prepare for the coming season.

For the past five years, the Bridgehampton School has been planting a garden on its grounds, primarily tended by the students and led by teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who is also the chair of Slow Food East End, with help from a few other teachers. It evolved into a community garden about two years ago, and production is increasing this year, as a committed group of Bridgehampton parents has joined in, coming each Monday to work in the greenhouse.

Philippe Cheng, a parent at the school, redesigned the greenhouse layout this year to make more room—and grow more lettuce. The goal is to increase production and bring more fresh produce into the school’s cafeteria, while educating the students and community about the importance of slow food.

As part of its commitment to community-minded farming, healthy, mindful eating and sustainable, farm-to-table production practices, Slow Food East End funds master farmers for local school gardens. Zachary Johnson, a farmer at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, has been supervising and lending a hand in Bridgehampton.

Working together with Mr. Johnson and the school’s cafeteria staff, this season the gardeners will be producing different varieties of lettuce and snap peas, and in the long run onions, potatoes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and plenty of beets and carrots.

“We really hope to supply all of the lettuce that the cafeteria uses for the week, and to at least provide a vegetable throughout the year, that would be our goal,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz.

Coursework aligns with the garden’s mission. There is a botany and agricultural production elective for Bridgehampton students to learn about growing food and the nutrition and culinary arts elective teaches them how to prepare and eat it.

“It’s very much about those principles of eating good, clean and fair food,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz, who teaches the nutrition and culinary arts elective. Using the garden, students can learn about the creativity behind cooking.

While the students have been involved since the beginning through in-school electives and after-school clubs, two years ago Bridgehampton started the community garden with the goal of involving more people outside the school. The greenhouse now has 13 raised beds, 8-by 4-feet each, that members of the community can take over and use to grow whatever they please in exchange for helping out in the garden.

“That brought more people in, but it’s really the fact that the parents have come in [this year] and so now we have parents, faculty, and students, so we have the whole package—and an extremely supportive administration,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz. “Everything is in place and—it’s just very exciting.”

As the school community has become more involved, so has the greater Bridgehampton community surrounding it. Local farmer Jenn Halsey Dupree will be coming to the school to help the gardeners plant some apple trees. There is already a small strawberry patch and blueberry bushes, and new raspberry bushes will soon be planted.

“Children are all excited about the fruit, they just love it,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said.

On Saturday, the group made plans for future expansion and even greater involvement. Mr. Cheng came up with the concept of modeling the project off of a “field of dreams,” where you build it and they will come.

“I just loved that concept, because we’ve been working on that, but if we reach out and really get more and more people involved and have them have ownership in the garden, that could only make the project grow,” she said, adding the concept could potentially be brought to all the local school gardens.

The Bridgehampton garden team will be building two raised beds in the greenhouse using a grant received from Slow Food East End, and the ultimate goal is to raise enough funds for six more.

“Our idea is, well, let’s build them, we’ll build the two and people will see what it’s like and get excited and be part of the growth going forward, so that we can carry on building them and get community support for them,” she said.

Encouraging anyone who’s interested to stop by and become involved in any way they can, the gardeners at Bridgehampton School hope to continually raise community involvement not just to expand the raised beds in the greenhouse, but also the mission behind them; to raise awareness about what real food is, where it comes from, what to eat and how to eat it.

Noyac Farmstand Proves to be a Hit

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The Smith family, clockwise, from top left: John, Serene, Laura, Skye, and Aven, at the Serene Green Farmstand on Noyac Road. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

The Smith family, clockwise, from top left: John, Serene, Laura, Skye, and Aven, at the Serene Green Farmstand on Noyac Road. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

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.

Images of a Rural Way of Life

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Theodore Haines and grandson John Thompson Jr. @1910

By Annette Hinkle

The flavor of any place is largely determined not by its present, but its past. In Sag Harbor, for example, seafaring traditions are evident in the layout of the streets and the feel of the architecture.

But down the road, the story of Bridgehampton and Sagaponack is one told through its rich and fertile soil.

Though it’s a detail lost on casual visitors who come to gawk at the mansions and lavish beachfront properties, the wide open vistas of outwash plain still in evidence today in the area are a reflection of that story — one written by its farmers.

This Friday, the Bridgehampton Historical Society opens “Visual Images of 100 Years of Farming in Greater Bridgehampton.” Archivist and curator Julie Greene has assembled a photographic display for the show reintroducing audiences to old time farming families.

“I’m not a farmer’s daughter … but I know it’s 90 percent of living out here, or has been,” says Greene. “So I thought it would be a great exhibit to do. It’s still a rural community, there are still potato fields and jaded people don’t realize what they’re passing by — 300 years of farming history.”

Greene admits that she’s something of an “evolver” when it comes to organizing exhibits and has changed her mind more than once on the direction this one will take.

“Originally, I thought I would focus on the farming families — the Whites and Fosters, then I’d have to add the Ruppels, Wesnofskes and the Musnickis,” she says. “I soon realized there’s so many it wouldn’t be fair to leave any of them out.”

Next, Greene toyed with the idea of focusing on efforts related to farmland preservation in the area.

“But that’s all kind of still evolving,” she notes.

In the end, she’s settled on a primarily pictorial history of the community’s farmers — photos of wagons filled with hay, or egg and poultry farms now long gone. Also on view will be farm implements, the majority of which are no longer used.

“There’s an egg incubator, tons of farming blades, small corn shuckers, seed planters and cultivators that would have been pulled by oxen,” explains Greene.

In many ways, this exhibit is a collaboration between the community and Greene, coming as it does as a result of her role as archivist and the advent of computer technology. In recent years, residents have brought family photos to Greene who has scanned them for the historical society’s collection which is now full of imagery that speaks to an agriculture past forged by families with names like Halsey and White, Musnicki and Rogers.

“My favorite pictures, being a mother of three, is of young kids with grandfathers or fathers – standing and riding on tractors,” she says. “There’s one of Theodore Haines and his grandson, John Thompson Jr., working a giant thrasher on his farm on Ocean Road, circa 1910.”

Though photographs only go back to the late 1800s, when it comes to farming in the area, there is, indeed, a long history to document. The first European to farm here was Josiah H. Stanborough who in 1656 settled on Bridge Lane in Sagaponack. Greene explains that back in those days, farming wasn’t about commerce, but rather, sustenance.

“Basically you had  a cow for milking, a hog for meat, and you grew flax for clothing and home furnishings,” explains Greene. “Then they began taking things down the turnpike to the port [of Sag Harbor] to be shipped out.”

But Greene notes the arrival of the railroad in 1870 changed everything. Suddenly farmers could ship their products to market much more quickly.

“Then the whole immigrant population began coming in,” says Greene. “The first Irish started arrived in the 1840s with the potato famine. They settled in the city and moved to Brooklyn then migrated further out to farm.”

Polish immigrants followed, first working on farms owned by others and then, in the early 20th century, they began buying their own.

“They had large families, 10 to 12 kids, and they worked the land,” explains Greene of the immigrant families. “Some of the kids went to school, some just went a half day and worked the rest of the time. That’s when potato became king.”

The next farmers were seasonal migrant workers who began arriving in Bridgehampton from the Carolinas in the 1920s. When the season ended in October, families typically moved back south.

“But as things modernized and it was more affable for African Americans, they stayed,” says Greene. “Those families settled along the Bridgehampton Turnpike.”

While many farming families are still in the area, most gave up working the land years ago. With property values soaring and farming becoming an increasingly difficult profession, it has been more profitable to sell than sow.

But there are still familiar names — Halsey, Wesnofske, Foster — working the fields that remain.

“Many of them are still aimed at the potato – and some branched out into organic framing,” says Greene. “The Fosters are farming in different forms, like making potato chips.”

“It’s lovely and a testament to the people here – not all are selling their land,” she adds. “The White family has been here 350 years – they have their land and lease it to be farmed. The Ludlows are making cheese. They have farmed for centuries and hopefully will continue to do so. There’s definitely an evolution within the families.”

Like any evolving story, there are also new names being added to the roster of family farmers. Jim and Jennifer Pike are a prime example of that — a young couple and first generation farmers who are making a go of it with one of the most popular farm stands in the area.

“I’m enamored. Here I thought what do I know about farming? But what I do know and the sense I’ve gotten is it’s an agricultural society,” says Greene. “It’s amazing that elsewhere there’s not a single remnant of it.”

“Here, even if it’s just a rusty old tractor, it harkens back to the time when people took care of themselves and gave it their all,” she adds.

“Visual Images of 100 Years of Farming in Greater Bridgehampton” opens with a reception at the Bridgehampton Historical Society, Archives Building, 2537-A Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton, on Friday, July 8 from 5 to 7 p.m.