Tag Archive | "farms"

From Farm to Bottle, “Hops and Brews” to Explore Long Island Alcohol

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Hops growing at Condzella Farms. Photo courtesy of John Condzella.

Hops growing at Condzella Farms. Photo courtesy of John Condzella.

By Tessa Raebeck

Long Islanders have been enjoying homegrown potatoes for generations, but rarely has the local harvest been in their vodka.

At “Hops and Brews” this Sunday, a farmer, a brewer and a spirit maker will discuss the various manifestations of the rapidly growing alcohol industry on Long Island. Panelists John Condzella of Condzella Farms in Wading River, Duffy Griffiths of Crooked Ladder Brewing Company in Riverhead and Rich Stabile of Long Island Spirits in Baiting Hollow will reflect on the collaboration between local producers and the strength of Long Island’s wide variety of goods.

Duffy Griffiths, head brewer at the Crooked Ladder Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Crooked Ladder.

Duffy Griffiths, head brewer at the Crooked Ladder Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Crooked Ladder.

The second installment of the “Conversations With…” lecture series presented by the Peconic Land Trust, “Long Island Grown: Food and Beverage Artisans at Work” will be moderated by Laura Donnelly, a resident of East Hampton, pastry chef, author and the food editor for The East Hampton Star.

“Some Long Island farmers are making really unique or non-traditional products as they strive to meet a growing demand for locally grown and produced items,” said Kathy Kennedy of the Peconic Land Trust, “We’re excited to be able to showcase some of them.”

“I am very excited to have a chance to moderate this panel,” said Ms. Donnelly. “I am a huge fan of craft brewers and love trying local beers and ales.”

With the recent—and fast—growth of craft beer on Long Island, small hops farming has become economically feasible, creating a symbiotic relationship between farmers and brewers. The hops farmer needs the craft breweries to survive and the craft breweries need the supply from their local farms.

Brewers working with wet hops must do so within 24 hours of the harvest, so finding a local source is crucial to a successful wet hop brew. John Condzella, a fourth generation farmer at Condzella Farms, recognized this demand, adding Condzella Hops to his family farm six years ago.

Rich Stabile of Long Island Spirits. Photo courtesy of Rich Stabile.

Rich Stabile of Long Island Spirits. Photo courtesy of Rich Stabile.

“I wanted to grow a unique crop, something that no other farm was doing,” explained Mr. Condzella. “During college I developed a love for craft beer; I know that was an important catalyst for my hops growing endeavors.”

Initially, Mr. Condzella was picking his hops by hand, enlisting the help of family, friends and local volunteers, until a Kickstarter campaign last spring enabled him to purchase a Wolf WHE 170 Hopfen Pflückmaschine, a German machine that picks them for him. In 2013 alone, Mr. Condzella harvested 800 pounds of hops.

“I think demand on Long Island is growing, the industry is very young. Most local brewers aren’t accustomed to using local whole cone hops. Mainstream hops pellets from around the world are their hops of choice,” Mr. Condzella said.

Hops grower John Condzella of Condzella Farms. Photo courtesy of John Condzella.

Hops grower John Condzella of Condzella Farms. Photo courtesy of John Condzella.

The demand is indeed growing: Some of that farm-to-growler beer will be available next year at the Crooked Ladder Brewing Company, which opened in July 2013.

Head Brewer Duffy Griffiths said the brewery will start using local hops in September, “when the fresh hops round comes out.” Condzella’s Hops is an option, although Crooked Ladder hasn’t yet chosen its supplier.

“It’s a matter of just using whole hops and supporting your local industry, rather than buying them from the Pacific Northwest or having them imported, so we try to keep everything local,” Mr. Griffiths said. “It helps out the area.”

Keeping everything local is at the core of Long Island Spirits. Founded in 2007, it is Long Island’s first craft distillery since the 1800s. The flagship product, LiV Vodka is made from Long Island potatoes, many of which are grown on the 5,000 acres of farmland surrounding the North Fork distillery.

Supplied by a variety of local farmers, the marcy russet potatoes arrive at Long Island Spirits in one-ton sacks. Three days a week, the distillery goes through roughly eight tons of potatoes. Every 25 pounds of potatoes makes about one liter of LiV Vodka.

The distillery also makes Rough Riders and Pine Barrens whisky and a collection of Sorbettas, liqueurs infused with fresh fruit.

“We’ll use local raspberries or local strawberries,” explained spirits maker Rich Stabile. “We’re using real fruit infused with the vodka that we grow on Long Island, made from Long Island potatoes.”

“We all know Long Island potatoes are the best,” said Ms. Donnelly. “Rich believes it is the sweet, buttery flavor of the potato that makes his LiV vodka so good. I have tried this vodka and it is excellent.”

“Long Island farmland is some of the best agricultural land in the world,” said Mr. Condzella, whose family farm started with dairy in the 1800s and evolved to a potato operation in the 1920s. “Our maritime climate, fertile soils and abundant sunshine are great for growing most crops, and hops are no exception.”

“Hops and Brews” is Sunday, April 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Bridge Gardens, 26 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. To reserve a seat, call Robin Harris at 283-3195, ext. 19, or email events@peconiclandtrust.org.

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.

Getting Back to the Land

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Heller_Serene Green Garden Clearing_9370

By Claire Walla

While small scale farms and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) have been taking hold throughout the East End in recent years, there hasn’t been a lot of growth in the practice of farming in Sag Harbor. But now, two new farms in the Sag Harbor area are getting into the act, and spreading the notion that perhaps, it’s time to get back to our roots here as well.

Sunset Beach Farm

Just past an aimless flock of loquacious chickens, behind a handmade deer fence built from locally gathered deadwood, and inside a makeshift greenhouse the size of a large mail truck, John Wagner is flanked by everything he’ll need to sustain him through summer.

Right now, two long, narrow tables on the outer walls of the rounded plastic structure are lined with what look like cookie sheets of English toffee, although small specks of lime-green foliage popping up from the middle of each dark brown square — not to mention the faint smell of onions and wet soil — denote otherwise.

Inside the three greenhouses Wagner and his girlfriend, Karin Bellemare, keep on their 14-acre property, there are thousands of such plants, trays of little saplings marked by wooden name tags indicating crops ranging from greens and tomatoes to onions and root vegetables. Most plants are barely an inch out of the soil now, but come summer everything within these little plastic huts will produce enough to feed 40 families for 22 weeks.

“I was raised to consider the environment and take care of my body by eating foods that are not processed,” said Wagner, a 2004 Pierson High School graduate who spent most of his childhood in this North Haven home — which technically belongs to his parents. “We love eating good food, and giving good food to other people.”

Though Wagner and Bellemare began farming in 2010 and had a regular consumer base of about 10 people, this year their operation has grown. Sunset Beach Farm, named for the street on which it rests in North Haven, is part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. So far, about 30 people in the Sag Harbor community have signed on to receive weekly baskets of freshly grown goods, enough to feed a family of four for about a week. But Bellemare said she expects that number to climb by the time the summer season gets underway.

Bellemare and Wagner will harvest one acre on their own property, where — in addition to the peas and other field greens already planted beneath the white, plastic row cover behind their home — they plan to plant additional greens, as well as tomatoes and potatoes. Potatoes do particularly well in North Haven’s sandy soil, Bellemare added, because “they don’t need crazy fertility to grow.”

However, to accommodate the farm’s steady growth, Sunset Beach has expanded this year to include two acres of land in Amagansett, which Bellemare and Wagner have leased from the Peconic Land Trust for a meager $300 for the year. Those two acres will serve as the farm’s primary growing grounds.

Serene Green Farm Stand

A similar operation has sprung up in neighboring Noyac.

The Serene Green Farm Stand, a 1.2-acre piece of property flanked by Noyac and Stony Hill Roads, aims to bring local agriculture to the heart of the village.

John and Laura Smith bought the property — along with the preexisting farm stand that John said has rested on the lot since the 1950s — last March.

“I come from a farming family,” said John, whose lineage stretches back to Water Mill, where potato farming was the family business. “We wanted to create something like that for our [three] kids, so that they could grow up and understand where food comes from,” he said.

John said he had worked at “The Other Stand,” which sold locally grown produce in Noyac until it shut down in the early 90s. He said part of the impetus for building Serene Green came from the desire to restore the culture of giving locally grown goods to the community at large that has taken a back seat to residential development in recent years.

“I want [Serene Green] to become the destination farm stand,” he said.
Having worked to set-up the Eco-Farm stand in East Hampton four years ago, John said Serene Green will operate in a similar fashion. About three-quarters of the land will be planted with such crops as lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, squash and sunflowers.

“We’re going to have a whole salad bar on that piece of land,” he added.
The Smiths will also collaborate with 15 to 20 other local farmers to sell crops, like corn, that won’t be grown directly behind the stand on their property.

Though recently some locals have taken issue with the notion of farming in a residential area — particularly the fact that trees have been chopped down on the property to accommodate the growing area — the Smiths maintain all plans for development have been done with the consultation of Suffolk County Water and Soil Department, which drafted a conservation plan for the land, ultimately approved by the town.

Besides, John continued, “What would you rather have — two houses there or a farm?”

Serene Green aims to open its stand the at the beginning of June. Joining the Sunset Beach CSA costs $850 for 22 months of weekly food baskets.

Farming For the Future

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Since the East End was first settled by Europeans, John Halsey’s family has been tilling the local land. An 11th generation farmer, Halsey started his own venture, the Milk Pail, in Water Mill in 1969 and it continues to operate today. For Halsey, his willingness to adapt to the agricultural market and measured estate planning has lead to his commercial success and the assurance that future generations of Halseys will be able to take over the farm.

Above: A view of the Milk Pail fields.

When Halsey was growing up, the South Fork was still a rural locale, populated by more large-scale potato farms and modest shingled homes than mansions with manicured lawns and hedges.

But as local land prices skyrocketed and competition with other agricultural producers increased, local farmers had to focus on diversifying their crops, catering their produce to a local — instead of a national — market, and using several legal planning tools to make sure their heirs will be able to inherit the land without paying an exorbitant estate tax. Organizations like the Peconic Land Trust and Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) are vital in keeping these farms operational for generations to come and protecting this facet of the local character.

In order to convey the impacts of the town’s agricultural conservation efforts, last Wednesday, Southampton Town council members and town supervisor Linda Kabot sponsored a tour of several local farms along with Mary Wilson, the town’s CPF manager, and John van Heusen Halsey, President of the Peconic Land Trust.

“It is very different for someone to see this up close rather than from an office window,” said John Halsey at his Milk Pail fields, which was the first stop for the group. “I hope from this small amount of time you have a sense of what it takes to grow high quality food in the Hamptons.”

From Potatoes to Apples and Cheese: The Changing Long Island farm

“The history of Long Island farming is a history of change,” said Halsey in an interview over the phone with the sound of a tractor rumbling in the background. For decades, Halseys were self-subsistence farmers, but in the 1800s the arrival of the railroad brought a shift towards potato production, a process which demands large tracts of land. Citing an inability to compete with potato farmers in Idaho and Canada, Halsey’s family soon abandoned the crop.

Art Ludlow’s family traditionally grew potatoes, but when he and his brother took over operations, Ludlow created Mecox Bay Diary and his brother opted to start a farm stand. Ludlow crafts five types of artisanal cheeses and instead of competing with national producers, he sells almost 80 percent of his product at local stores and farmers markets within a 20-mile radius of his Bridgehampton home.

“For a commercial potato crop you need the highest yield at the lowest cost for the market,” explained Ludlow. “Now, my yield is nowhere near as important as the milk quality … and there is no competition with the rest of the country.”

Before starting the Milk Pail, Halsey tried his hand in dairy production for several years, but soon discovered a knack for apples, after Halsey’s in-laws gave him a few apples from their home in Vermont. Over the years, the business has expanded to include peaches, blueberries, pumpkins, cherries, flowers and an on-site farm stand, but with 10,000 bushels gathered every year, apples are still the mainstay at the Milk Pail.

For Halsey, growing fruit was new territory. He is a self-taught apple farmer, but has linked up with the Cornell University Cooperative Extension to learn about pest and disease control and growing different varieties of apples. After he has yielded a crop of the fruit, he sends a sample back to the cooperative to be tested. He sells apples and cider to both the Ross School and the Southampton Public School.

Although maintaining the 60-acre farm is an arduous and expensive process — the up-keep of one long row is around $10,000 — Halsey and his family wouldn’t trade-in their chosen profession.

“You have to love it,” said flower farmer Amy Halsey, John’s daughter, of farming. “It is a seven-days-a-week job. You don’t get the summer or the weekends off. You have to have a passion for it.”

Passing Down the Farm

In the early 1980s, John van Heusen Halsey was visiting his family in Southampton during a college break when he noticed a for sale sign in front of the adjacent property, the Downs Farm. Halsey learned from his father the Downs family had been hit with a steep estate tax in the millions after a death in the family. The neighbors, contends Halsey, like so many local farmers were “land rich and cash poor.”

“They had no option but to sell,” remarked Halsey.

The Downs family ended up in a contract of sale where the purchase of the property was contingent upon subdivision approval. It took five years for the purchaser to receive site plan approval and by that point the Downs family had to pay a 47 percent penalty on the estate tax. The money they received from the sale was barely enough to cover these debts.

Before the 1970s, when real estate prices started to increase on the East End, estate taxes weren’t an issue for local farmers, as the value of their land never broke the threshold of the tax. As countless farmers have seen others lose their family land in similar scenarios, some have taken heed and planned their estates.

Halsey explains that farmers now have many legal tools at their disposal to pass on the farm without creating a financial burden for the next generation. Firstly, they can sell development rights on the property to the town or donate the rights to an organization like the Peconic Land Trust. This process allows them to continue farming, but also devalues their land because it can’t be built upon. Gifts of land can be given while relatives are alive or at their death. Other families set up limited liability companies or family partnerships, which put inherent restrictions on the development of the land, thus devaluing it. Halsey contends, however, that families often use a variety of ways to protect their land.

Farming remains an important piece of East End culture, but John van Heusen Halsey argues that the town and local organizations must continue to help preserve and continue this heritage.

“In this day and age, it is so critical as a country that we don’t lose our ability to grow food,” noted Halsey. “Especially around major metro areas, we shouldn’t forget the importance of regional agriculture and food.”

What Cows Doo Well

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For generations people have come to the East End from the city in search of the wide-open vistas, sea breezes and authentic farm views that have long defined the area. As time has marched onward, increasingly these vistas have been narrowed as more and more development has encroached upon the very scenery that brought these folks here in the first place. Soon, these residents find themselves living next door to the same people they ride the subway with all week.

Which is why we find it supremely ironic that people who have moved to the East End to live out their country fantasies are freaking out at the notion of an actual working farm moving to their neighborhood, marring their views and potentially interrupting their sleep.

Yes, let’s be frank. Farm life can be intrusive. Living on a potato field may seem like a quaint notion when it’s offered up in a photo from a glossy real estate brochure, but when the Colorado potato beetles invade and the pesticides come a sweepin’ down the lane…and in through the French doors during a dinner party, well, that’s another matter. There are also tractors that plow, trucks that haul, chickens that cluck and cows that doo what cows doo so well.

We were surprised last week by some residents who showed up at a Southampton Town Planning Board hearing to complain about the potential impact of an organic farm being proposed for ag preserve land in Bridgehampton. The developers of the site are proposing an operation that would operate completely off the grid and rely on solar and wind power for meeting its energy needs in the production of flowers, grasses and apples for market.

Yet neighbors of the property cited issues including fears of well contamination (uh….this is going to be an organic farm folks, we’re not sure how that would work), excessive noise and potentially unsightly fencing in their arguments against the idea. Hello… that’s kind of what the “working” part means in the phrase working farm. By the way, working farms have been a basis of the local economy for centuries. Remember, that’s what drew all these people to the area in the first place.

At the public hearing, one resident opined that the farm is a beautiful plan, but said it’s in the wrong place. So tell us, if a farm doesn’t belong in an area with fertile soil that has historically been farmed for generations, exactly where does it belong? Because quite frankly, we’re out of ideas on this one.

Art Ludlow

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The proprietor of Mecox Bay Dairy on “slow food,” farmer’s markets and leaving potatoes behind

It’s a beautiful property here, how big is it?

The whole farm is roughly just under 100 acres

How many cows are there here on the property?

 I’m milking 10 right now, we’ve got about a dozen or so that are of lactating age. Then in total from babies to full grown there is about 27. I am the only cow dairy left on the island. There are some goats and there are some cows, but I am the only operating cow dairy.

How long has your family had the farm?

It’s a family farm –I grew up on the farm – I grew up in this house actually. This house was built by my great grandfather in the 1870’s and we used to grow potatoes. Back when I was growing up my dad had cows and potatoes and around the 1960’s is when he got rid of the cows and went with potatoes, which is where we stayed until 2001. And that was my brother and me, in 2001 we decided to separate our businesses. So he does the corn maze, the farm stand and the vegetables, and I do the cow farm, the cheese and the dairy.

So you have two sons, Peter and John, do they help out around the farm as well?

Yes they are both in college now but they have been helpful, they help me a lot during the summertime. My oldest one is going to graduate this year, but he actually wants to come back and farm. That’s Peter, my oldest. And John my youngest is a sophomore in college.

Could you tell me about the different kinds of cheese?

I’m actually making five different types of cheese. There are a couple different reasons why I’m doing that – it’s kind of a lot for 10 cows, but it enables me to sell more cheese locally, it saves on transportation. I am selling 80 percent or more or better of my production within a 15 mile radius from here. The five different cheeses are really five different styles of cheeses. It goes from the camembert, that’s the Atlantic Mist, which is similar to a brie and a camembert. And then I have a washed rind cheese which is a type of tomme. And the washed rind means that instead of having the opportunistic molds grow on the surface and create the rind of the cheese, I wash it with salt and water and that allows a bacteria to grow on the surface. That bacteria is what gives it its flavor, it makes it a strong pungent flavored cheese so when you think of stinky cheese, you are thinking of a style of cheese that is a washed rind. And that one is called Mecox Sunrise. I have another tomme, which is a natural rind tomme, it is really almost the same as the washed rind, but it’s a natural rind, where I let the opportunistic molds grow on the surface. And they create the rind. So that’s the third type. I make a cheddar which is the fourth type and I make a gruyere, which is another type, that is what may be called an alpine style of cheese so its typically aged. I had some this year that were aged a year and a half. It just really adds character to cheese, and it was really popular. So it’s a very firm cheese and it will age for a very long time and it improves over time.

What was your inspiration to switch from potatoes to dairy?

Well let’s see, I always liked cows, ever since I was a kid and I used to work on the farm here when we had cows. I never expected to get into having cows. But when my brother and I were into raising potatoes, we were just thinking that, here we are, growing a commercial crop, that we are really selling off the island and we are competing with the whole Northeast in potato production. When you are producing a crop, the main goal is to have a low cost production, so you produce as much as you can for as little as you can and try to sell it for as much as you can. Which is difficult. We are then selling to a broker, who then sells it to a wholesaler, who then sells to a retailer, who then sells to a consumer. We are so far removed from the consumer that the product actually loses its identity before it gets to the consumer. We thought in this area, what’s the point? Is there something better we could or should be doing? And mainly because we have such a long growing season and we have such excellent soils to produce these things, and we really have a market at our back door because of the people here and the proximity to New York City, we just thought that potatoes were not the best we could do. The other thing was that growing the potatoes – we didn’t have enough land of our own so we had to rent land from other people and that was becoming a scarce resource. We’d lose a little bit each year, and we thought if our kids really wanted to farm – the next generation, would potatoes be a viable thing in the future? So we said let’s make a change. And we both had these ideas of our own that we wanted to pursue and remember thinking that at that time we might be a lot better off doing it than ten years later. To put it in a nut shell – I like to say that when somebody is visiting the farm and the question they ask is why are you growing potatoes? And the answer is – because we always have – that is not sufficient, that’s not a good answer so I decided to change it.

So now what’s your answer for visitors to your dairy farm?

Aside from the initial answer of having lost all of my senses and totally gone off the deep end, I find it challenging, rewarding – not necessarily financially but it is rewarding to produce something and be able to sell it directly to the person who is going to eat it, and have them comment on it. Most of the comments are very favorable, and that is about as rewarding an instance a farmer could ever get. That is the short answer. The other thing is that it is the part of the challenge to create something that is sustainable, so we are experimenting with a system where I can utilize the waste products. I’ve got the manure from the cows; I can stock pile and make fertilizer to use on the land. I have pigs I am feeding the whey that I would normally throw out.  It’s all a matter of producing the best quality food that is possible; this is something that people are interested in now. So I want to be a part of the desired element.

There does seem to be a greater interest in buying locally, and using organic products and because of that the farmer’s markets are doing very well. I know you are a part of the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market, can you tell me how you got involved in that?

Brian Halweil initially started that, he had the vision of a farmers market, he came out and visited. He was testing the waters, and I think that first year he asked me and I said sure. It went on again the next year and I would say in the last two years it has really taken off. That’s a very positive development.  Since then, there is now a farmer’s market in East Hampton, which I just started this year, and I like doing that, but I can’t be in two places at one time. And my time is needed here. So I figure one market is all I can do in a week. This summer, since I have two sons that came home, I said John you are going to East Hampton and Peter you are going to Westhampton Beach. 

What kind of sales do you get from the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market if you could put a percentage on it?

I would say 15 percent. I’m guessing that it’s not as much as 20 but its more than 10. It’s really a good thing. It satisfies many purposes. One is, well, I enjoy doing it. I enjoy the interaction. The people that are buying at the farmers market like that because they are getting that same interaction from the people who are producing the food and the vendor can sell for a retail price rather than a wholesale price. And you can spend a little more time, and you are getting more for your time so that really makes it a positive.

So how is your production split up? Where does the bulk of your cheese go?

Year-round I’ve got some shops; Schiavoni’s IGA, Cavaniolas Gourmet Cheese Shop, and then in Bridgehampton I have Bobs Village Market, Lucy’s Way, in East Hampton, she just opened. Then Citarella in East Hampton is taking some cheese.  And then in Southampton I have The Village Cheese Shop and they also have a shop in Mattituck. So that’s what I do year-round. In the summertime I have the farm stands, Sang Lee on the North Fork, the Green Thumb, Country Market on Millstone Road and my brother has a farm stand here, and he sells an awful lot of my cheese here. He probably sells another 15 percent right there. And then I have a few shops in New York, so really restaurants are not a big item. But the Maidstone Arms gets it, the American Hotel gets its, and Atlantica, but they all buy it from time to time, they are not regular. And a lot of restaurants might get my cheese from the cheese shops but I wouldn’t even know it.

Can you elaborate on what the slow food movement means to you?

Slow food is part of the whole movement of getting people interested in where their food is coming from and the nutritional value of what they are eating. Slow food is an organization that is getting people familiar with this sort of this thing.