Tag Archive | "open minded organics"

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.

Local Food Flourishes at Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market

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web Farm Market Vine Cut

On the opening day for the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market last Saturday afternoon, patrons nibbled warm empanadas and homemade organic strawberry rhubarb ice cream, crusty loaves of bread from Blue Duck Bakery and greens from one of five organic farmers at the market.  Dave “the mushroom man” Falkowski spoke to one shopper about recipes, while Art Ludlow of Mecox Bay Dairy and Kevin Dunathan of Goodale Farms offered samples of their cheeses. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered around Sag Harbor farmers Dale Haubrich and Bette Lacina’s “Under the Willow Organics” produce stand, appropriately located in a shady spot of the Bay Street market, while one booth over, someone inspected fluke at Colin Mather’s Seafood Shop.

Organized in 2004 as a way to showcase local farmers during HarborFest weekend in September, the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market became a model for other East End communities and has grown by leaps and bounds since its first fall in front of the Dockside Bay & Grill.

Now located on village-owned grassland on Bay Street in front of the Breakwater Yacht Club, the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market runs from the end of May through the end of October. Managed by Ana Nieto and Ivo Tomasini, the market is cooperatively governed by its vendors to ensure that local food and its producers and protected and given priority.

From Montauk to Riverhead and out to Greenport, virtually every community has developed its own farmers’ market in the last five years.

“In many ways, on the East End, the Sag Harbor market was the first, which is why it is very special,” said Nieto. “There is a truly local feeling to this market and outside of the vendors, who are wonderful, it is also a beautiful location and something I think the community looks forward to.”

In addition to longtime vendors like Mecox Bay Dairy, Falkowski’s Open-Minded Organics, the Seafood Shop, Under the Willow Organics, Quail Hill Farm, Blue Duck Bakery and honey producer Bees’ Needs, among others, this year Nieto said the market has added a handful of new vendors meant to compliment what already exists at the market.

Farmer and author Marilee Foster chose to pursue other ventures this season and opted out of the market, said Nieto. One of the markets’ rules is to limit the number of vegetable farmers to five to ensure it is profitable. With Foster gone, North Haven’s own Sunset Beach Farm, a certified organic, community-based farm petitioned to become a part of the market and was accepted.

For farmers Karin Bellemare and Jon Wagner, while they also work other farmers’ markets like many vendors, being in Sag Harbor is home.

“We were finally a part of the community we are growing in,” said Bellemare. “I feel like the vendors are really committed to the community in this market. I think everyone has same values. There is a really nice vibe.”

Sunset Beach Farm has been operating for three years, farming 13-acres between their land in North Haven and land owned by the Peconic Land Trust next to Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.

The farm offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for community members, who can pick up a weekly share of the farm’s organic harvest. At the farmers’ market, Bellemare said she is selling pea shoots, Asian greens, green garlic, bean spouts, lettuces, kale and Swiss chard, but the farm grows a full palate of vegetable offerings throughout the season.

Bellemare said the farm has also expanded into raising organic chickens for sale and for eggs, and soon enough Sunset Beach Farm organic chicken will be on the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market menu.

Perhaps the newest addition to the East End food shed, long awash in seafood and produce, are locally produced meats. While East Hampton’s Iacono Farm and North Sea Farms on Noyac Road have long sold local chicken, Sunset Beach Farm will offer the first certified organic chicken grown locally. Mecox Bay Dairy, which last year expanded to offer local beef, will also offer local pork this season, according to Ludlow.

Also new to the market is Goodale Farms, which sells goat cheese and milk products, Good Water Farms and its microgreens, and True Blue Coffee fair trade Jamaican coffee from Montauk.

The Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market will also feature two food producers who seek to make their goods out of local ingredients. A former chef from East Hampton, Luchi Masliah has opened Gula-Gula Empanadas at the market and hopes to use local products as often as she can.

From Uruguay, Masliah used to own the Amagansett Fish Company, but just recently has returned to the culinary arts. She makes her empanada dough from scratch and for her vegetable empanadas, sources greens from Haubrich and Lacina. She would also like to work with Ludlow to develop a pork empanada using Mecox Bay Dairy products and is keeping her eyes open for other local options.

“It’s more expensive for me, but they are quality ingredients and we manage to put our product out there at a price that people seem happy with,” said Masliah.

Joe and Liza Tremblay, owners of Bay Burger and Joe & Liza’s Ice Cream, spent the last year evolving their ice cream from a traditional formula with emulsifiers to a completely all-nature recipe using dairy from a small cooperative in the Hudson Valley.

At the farmers’ market, Joe Tremblay says they would like to craft locally inspired recipes — like Quail Hill Farm rhubarb and strawberry ice cream or Fat Ass Fudge, another vendor, and local mint ice cream.

“Just being in an agricultural area and having friends in this business, we want to support our farms and use their produce as it becomes available,” said Tremblay. “We have such a strong food community and we are happy to be a part of that.”

The Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday through October 27 on Bay Street at the intersection of Burke Street in Sag Harbor from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Image: Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano and Sag Harbor Village Trustee Bruce Stafford help Ana Nieto, Ivo Tomasini and market vendors open the season with a vine cutting. Photo by Bryan Boyhan)

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.”

late_blight_tomato_fruit_johnsonx500

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.”