Tag Archive | "Peconic Land Trust"

Promoting “Slow” Food

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By Amy Patton

Students from the Bridgehampton School's Edible School Garden.

Students from the Bridgehampton School’s Edible School Garden.

An upcoming celebration of locally cultivated food, sustainable farming and micro-agriculture will mingle next month with the memory of a North Haven man who held a passion for all these things.

The American Hotel, in partnership with the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation, will host a dinner and pre-dinner cocktail party Sunday, March 24 to raise funds in part for the Edible School Garden Group and the three “master” gardeners chosen to help local school districts cultivate and expand their school gardens.

The foundation is guided by Myron and Susan Levine, of Sag Harbor, who lost their son Josh in 2010 when he was fatally injured in an accident while working at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.

Josh, who was 35 years old when he died, left behind two small children and his wife, Ann.

Myron Levine said the overwhelming support for his family from the community after the tragic accident spurred him to find a way to raise funds to better the community. Since Josh was so passionate about organic farming and its benefits, said Myron, the family chose to promote what would most significantly preserve his son’s memory.

Although Josh began his career as a real estate developer in Manhattan, his father said after spending many summers on the East End, his son found a calling in farming and in 2008 he became a volunteer at the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm where he served as a summer apprentice on the Amagansett acreage.

“He was such a gentle man,” said Myron. “He was so drawn by what he saw out here, the simplicity, the purity. He saw the value of keeping local agriculture alive.”

Also to benefit from March’s event is Slow Food East End (SFEE), an organization that, as one of its charitable projects, works with local schools to teach children about the value of homegrown produce. Last year, the group helped several school districts like Greenport and the Hayground School install greenhouses and small gardens so that kids could learn hands-on the benefits of small-scale organic farming.

“Slow food is obviously the opposite of fast food,” said Mary Morgan, the former director of SFEE, who recently stepped down from the organization to head another related charity. “Our goal is for local children to understand that not all they eat must come out of packages at the supermarket.”

The schools that currently benefit from the Edible School Garden program, said Morgan, which this year number 20 throughout the North and South Forks, “are in various stages of working with the students on building and maintaining food gardens.” Morgan noted some of the kids’ homegrown efforts have even led to some of the produce being sold at area farmer’s markets or used in cafeterias. The master gardeners, who are hired with funds garnered from the now-yearly Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation event, work in conjunction with teachers, administrators and students towards the SFEE’s goal.

“For children to understand where their food comes from is so important,” said Peconic Land Trust president John v H. Halsey, whose organization works, in part, to promote the use of local land for farming and allocates funding to make that land more affordable for farmers. “The Slow Food East End movement and the Edible Garden School program both help to instill a conservation ethic in these kids. We’re very supportive of fundraisers like this that help to promote the use of food production farmland and assure that such a valuable legacy stays with us out here.”

The American Hotel’s Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation dinner/fundraiser is currently sold out; However, there are still tickets available for the pre-dinner cocktail party which will be held at Bay Street Theater from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 24, featuring wine, hors d’oeuvres and music. A donation of $75 will secure a place at the event and reservations can be made at www.joshualevinefoundation.org.


Shelter Island Farmland Preserved

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More than 57 acres of farmland was donated to the not-for-profit Sylvester Manor Educational Farm last week, a gift from Sylvester Manor owner Eben Fiske Ostby. As soon as the land was transferred to the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, both Suffolk County and the Town of Shelter Island protected it as farmland through conservation support.

The gift brings total farmland owned by the locally governed nonprofit to over 83 acres and the total land preserved at Sylvester Manor to over 105 acres.

“Protecting a second parcel of the historic Sylvester Manor property is a remarkable achievement, both for the local and county governments and for the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm,” said Fiske-Ostby, the tenth generation proprietor of Sylvester Manor. “We now have a significant landholding preserved for future generations, and with it a crucial foundation for the Educational Farm and its mission. So many people contributed to making this effort a success, and I am both indebted to them and proud of the community that supported it.”

“We are truly thankful for the generosity of Eben Ostby and the commitment of the town and county in supporting a sustainable future for Sylvester Manor,” said the organization’s executive director, Cara Loriz. “With the help of Peconic Land Trust and our many supporters, we can now celebrate the realization of our initial preservation goals for this remarkable property.”

Sylvester Manor Educational Farm now operates on the 243 acre property, and as part of its mission is working to cultivate, preserve and explore the manor’s lands, buildings and stories, inviting new thought about the history and culture of food, both on Shelter Island and across the country.

The newly designated preserved farmland extends south along Manhanset Road from the historic farm field along the northern boundary of Sylvester Manor which was preserved in August. The new acreage is gradually being cleared of succession old field vegetation and supported cover crop and livestock this past season. The farm’s plans for the protected acreage include expanding livestock and row crop production, establishing orchards and making acreage available to lease farmers and community gardeners.

Sag Harbor Man Perishes in Tractor Accident, Had Hopes of a Farming Career

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web Josh Levine

By Bryan Boyhan

Cutting short a dream of a career in farming, a Sag Harbor man working in the fields of the farm at the Quail Hill Preserve in Amagansett, was crushed to death on Tuesday morning, November 30, beneath the wheel of a tractor he was operating.

Joshua M. Levine, 35, had been operating a Case International tractor at about 11:30 Tuesday morning, working to clean one of the structures at the farm, when the accident occurred, according to police.

It is unclear how Levine, market manager for the farm, came to be trapped under the tractor’s rear wheel.

“That is currently under investigation,” said East Hampton Town Police Det. Lt. Christopher Anderson. Det. Anderson declined to say if Levine had actually been driving the tractor prior to the accident.

“We’re investigating all possibilities,” Det. Anderson said. “Including whether it was mechanical error or human error or a combination of both.”

Other workers at the farm came to Levine’s aid, but despite their efforts were unable to pull him from beneath the wheel. Levine was pronounced dead at the scene.

Nobody else was working on the tractor at the time, said Det. Anderson.

In addition to the East Hampton Town Police Department, the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office is also investigating the accident. The tractor has been impounded by the East Hampton Town Police Department.

The farm, which is located at 660 Old Stone Highway in Amagansett, is operated by the Peconic Land Trust.

Levine, originally from Tenafly, N.J., had been working with Quail Hill for three years, initially joining the farm as a volunteer in 2008, then becoming a member of the summer apprentice program in 2009, said Peconic Land Trust’s president, John vH. Halsey in a statement Tuesday evening.

“Josh’s enthusiasm for farming and the Quail Hill community prompted his decision to stay on at the farm and to ultimately join the organization as a full-time staff member in the spring of 2010,” said Halsey.

Levine came to farming after having other careers.

“I’ve always kind of craved the rural lifestyle,” he told the New York Times in an August 28, 2008 story on community farming. The article, which featured a photo of Levine boxing cherry tomatoes at Quail Hill, identifies Levine as a former real estate broker from New York City. The story goes on to observe that “Mr. Levine has learned to adapt to what the land gives up. When the spinach and asparagus came in at Quail Hill, he made spinach and asparagus frittatas using eggs from the farm’s henhouse. Its produce was the genesis of a successful strawberry rhubarb sorbet, he said.”

The article said he one day hoped to rent land and eventually develop it into a community farm and notes that he and his wife had been thinking about a healthier lifestyle, especially since the birth of their daughter a year-and-a-half prior. They since have a son, who is less than a year old.

“My wife and I are thrilled to have them in the community. They quickly made many friends and became a part of the community,” wrote Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End, who knew Levine from the local farming community, in an email Tuesday.

“I know that Josh was thrilled to embark on his second career as a farmer. As such, he was part of a movement across America of people who weren’t raised on farms, but who are choosing to make farming their livelihood.”

“I know that Josh, along with his wife, had many innovative and beautiful ideas about farming ventures to explore at Quail Hill and beyond — from small-scale food processing to new food delivery schemes to year-round veggie production.,” Halweil continued.

“All of us at the Peconic Land Trust are deeply saddened by today’s tragic loss,” Halsey said in his statement, “and our heartfelt sympathies go out to Josh’s family and friends.”

A funeral service will be held this Friday, December 3, at noon at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor.

Plants and Herbs for a Summer Day

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web herbs

By Francesca Normile

Sitting underneath a shady canopy of old, wisteria arbor leaves, Rick Bogusch, garden manager of Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton, looked out across the south side of the gardens, checking in on one of his two assistants, Matt Brown. Brown, in a pink shirt, red shorts, and a large straw hat, was tending to the herb gardens.

Bridge Gardens, founded in 1988 by Harry Neyens and Jim Kilpatric, was donated in 2008 to non-profit Peconic Land Trust. The Trust was established to “ensure the protection of Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage,” according to their website. Bogusch, who worked alongside Neyens and Kilpatric before they left the Gardens, was formerly an employee of The Trust and took the position of garden manager in 2008. He has held that position for three summers now, working with two assistants and living in the Bridge Gardens house, which he says “brings the outdoors indoors with all of its windows.”

 “I always say, five acres in Bridgehampton ain’t bad,” responded Bogusch when asked about living in the Gardens. “It really is wonderful year round.”

Finding it difficult to say which part of the Gardens was his favorite, Bogusch contemplated the question for a moment, leaning back in his white plastic chair.

“I think I like the herb garden best at this point,” he decided. “The plants in there tell so many different stories. They bring in science and history, almost all aspects of human culture, with them.”

A tour, “The Herb Garden in Spring and early Summer” will be offered at the Gardens on Saturday, June 19.

From the tall Angelica in the medicinal bed (the seeds of which are used for calming stomach disorders and the stems of which used to be candied for a treat) to the California Poppy (a beautiful, yellow flower that was used by California Indians as a toothache remedy), the multi-faceted history of these herbs become very apparent. Particularly interesting, said Bogusch, was the inconspicuous-looking Woad, a textile herb, which was the only source of blue dye for centuries (anteceding the discovery of indigo) and was what the druids had used to dye their bodies blue.

“Many herbs have more than one use,” he said.

An example he gave was St. John’s Wart, an herb used both in textiles as a dye and medicinally, to combat depression. Each plant, from its roots to its petals to its seeds, held a wealth of information. And that information is what the tours at Bridge Gardens are about.

Each tour is about one hour long, filled with stories of history, science, and culture as told through the beautiful wealth of flowers, shrubs (including some topiaries that were installed years back by Neyens, and which Bogusch says  “add a touch of whimsy to, and have become an important part of, the garden”), herbs, bamboo, and other plants that fill Bridge Gardens.

“Our ultimate goal here is to not only have a beautiful garden, but one that is also an educational resource for the public. Showing them the best plants to grow in the garden, how to combine them, how to create gardens that are relatively low maintenance,” said Bogusch.

His advice for local gardeners was that most herbs are very easy to grow.  In terms of working in the herb garden at Bridge Gardens, Bogusch said, “there are parts of maintaining it that are very different from what I was used to doing. You have to let the plants do what they want and sort of grow together like a weed patch. Usually I am very controlling in my designs, but this requires a gentle hand.”

Some specific herbs that Bogusch suggested local gardeners grow included his “favorite basil, Mrs. Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil, which has the best, very sweet, lemon flavor of basil, and African Blue Basil, which is kind of a Thai basil with a clove scent to it.” Each require a bit of space, however, the former expanding to about 2-by-3 feet and the latter to about 3-by-3 feet; so don’t pack them in too close together.

To experience Bridge Gardens for yourself, you can visit on Saturdays and Sundays for a tour or, if it is just the herb garden that has peaked your interest, attend “The Herb Garden in Spring and Early Summer” on June 19 titled at 10 a.m. For $20 per person you can learn a three-dimensional approach to planning and planting your own herb garden and begin cultivating a history, like the one at Bridge Gardens, in your own backyard.

At the Bridgehampton Gardens

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Peconic Land Trust Opens Bridgehampton Gardens

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Though much of the grounds is still in shades of brown and gray, the promise is that Bridgehampton Gardens will soon be full of color. And for the first time this year, the property, which was developed over the last 20 years by Jim Kilpatric and Harry Neyens, will now be managed for the public by the Peconic Land Trust.

The five aces tucked on the southwest side of Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton, a stone’s throw the from the railroad trestle over Butter Lane, are cultivated with several distinct gardens: knot gardens, lavender, and antique roses among them. There are topiaries, a bamboo room and even an holly maze. It’s a place the Land Trust hopes will become popular for local residents who want a quiet and beautiful place to spend some time.

“Bridge Gardens is truly a wonderful sanctuary here on the East End,” said John v.H. Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust. “We look forward to welcoming visitors here throughout the summer and into the early fall.”


Neyens and Kilpatric, who had owned a home in Bridgehampton since the 1970s, and found themselves experimenting with various plantings, wanted to expand their interest, and looked for a larger piece of property. They purchased the property on Mitchell Lane, which included an old potato barn which has since been converted into a home, in 1987.

Over the next ten years they planned and developed two separate spaces, the Inner Garden, which features a knot garden surrounded by beds of 180 different culinary, medicinal, ornamental and dyeing herbs, and the Outer Garden, which is highlighted by a collection of 800 antique and modern roses. The gardens are separated by privet, which creates a long alee through which visitors can stroll.

The gardens will officially be open to the public beginning this Saturday, May 2. The gardens will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Beginning May 27, they will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays  from noon to 5 p.m. and beginning May 29, Bridgehampton Gardens will be open on Fridays from noon to dusk.

Admission if $10 for adults and $20 for a family of four.

For information call the Trust at 283-3195.


East End Digest – November 20

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Pierson Takes The Challenge

(Left to right) Pierson academic advisor Frank Atkinson-Barnes, with students Andrew Mitchell, Amanda Holder, “The Challenge” host Scott Feldman, students Zachary Fischman, Celia Gianis and Devan Stachecki during a break while filming Cablevision’s “The Challenge,” which will air at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 16 on News 12.

All-star student scholars from Pierson High School will challenge Cold Spring Harbor High School in the first round of the 12th season of Cablevision’s “The Challenge,” an academic quiz show designed to test students’ knowledge in a Jeopardy-style format. Hosted by News 12 Long Island anchor Scott Feldman, the show can be viewed on Sunday November 12 or anytime via video on demand (VOD) through News 12 Interactive, located on iO TV channel 612.

In its 12th season, “The Challenge” includes students from the Bronx and Brooklyn, Long Island, the Westchester/Hudson Valley region, New Jersey and Connecticut. More than 900 students representing 184 tri-state area high schools are participating this season.

As this season of “The Challenge” progresses, schools will vie each week to continue on in the competition, which ultimately results in the best teams from each region facing off against each other next spring. Regional champions will then compete for the ultimate title, Tri-State Challenge Champion. The winning team in each region will receive $2,500 and go on to compete for $10,000 in the Tri-State Championship. Each student participating in the championship match will receive $500.

Southampton Town: Completing An LWRP

Southampton supervisor Linda Kabot announced today that the Town of Southampton has been named the recipient of a $100,000 New York State grant to finance a number of plans to stimulate community projects relating to economic, environmental, and recreational improvements.

As part of that process, town staff will prepare a Harbor Management Plan and Intermunicipal Waterbody Management Plan, while consultants integrate them into a full Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP).

“Whether it has been fishermen seeking abundance, beachgoers looking for an unspoiled ribbon of paradise, or someone looking to build a dream house, the waterfront has been the center of our economic and cultural life,” said Kabot. New York’s waterfronts extend more than 5,000 miles, including the Town of Southampton’s 320 miles of bay and ocean coastline.

According to the office of New York State Governor David Paterson, the grant will be part of a $23.3 million funding package from the State Environmental Protection Fund’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. In total, it will include funding for 88 undertakings across New York State, and cover a variety of planning, design, and construction projects. The grants are awarded on a 50-50 matching basis, and administered by the Department of State’s Division of Coastal Resources.

To date, 76 local governments in New York have completed Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs designed to protect and enhance these valuable resources, added Governor Paterson. Working with the state, they will “plan and develop projects that provide public waterfront access, protect and develop coastal resources, and improve quality of life,” he concluded.

Bridgehampton: Wrap a Box of Kindness

Today, Thursday, November 13, the Bridgehampton Parent Teacher Organization will hold its first annual “Wrap a Box of Kindness” event. This event is in conjunction with Operation Christmas Child’s campaign where shoeboxes are filled with items for children.  Items range from pencils, pads, small toys and novelty items to washcloths and toothbrushes. Children and adults are encouraged to come together to donate items, money and time. Participants are also urged to bring a shoebox already decorated and stuffed to the Bridgehampton School for drop off if they are unable to attend. The PTO is asking that liquids not be included in the boxes.

As a part of the event, this year an estimated eight million shoeboxes will be hand-delivered to children in over 100 countries. The kids-helping-kids project has collected more than 61 million shoebox gifts and hand-delivered them to needy children in 130 countries since 1993. Every United States President since Ronald Reagan has packed an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift.

Community and schools members alike are invited to the school for the event at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium.

Peconic Land Trust: Bridge Gardens Donated

John v.H. Halsey, President of the Peconic Land Trust, announced the donation of Bridge Gardens, a five-acre garden on Mitchell’s Lane in Bridgehampton, by founders Jim Kilpatric and Harry Neyens. Kilpatric and Neyens founded Bridge Gardens over 20 years ago, and the donation represents a generous gift by them to the Trust as well as to residents and visitors of the East End.

“We believe the stewardship of the Peconic Land Trust will significantly guide Bridge Gardens into the future,” Kilpatric said.

“Gardens are living creations and must undergo change over time; to survive, they must change,” Neyens added.

In accepting the donation Halsey said, “Bridge Gardens is truly a wonderful sanctuary here on the East End, and we are very honored that Jim and Harry have put their trust in us to steward this property. We intend to keep Jim and Harry engaged with us as the garden evolves and we work to expand public access to this hidden treasure. We expect to introduce more educational programming related to gardening and conservation in general. Bridge Gardens is a refuge for people to meet and experience the handiwork that Jim and Harry have created over the years.”

The garden, which has been open to the public from Memorial Day weekend through September, will reopen again in the spring under the auspices of the trust. The trust has appointed Rick Bogusch, master gardener and landscape architect, as Garden Manager.  He will be responsible for managing and maintaining the garden and residence/education center. Prior to joining the trust, Bogusch held landscape design and gardening positions with Rockland Farm in Canaan, The Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, and Cornell University where he also received his Masters in Landscape Architecture. 

Bogusch will work with members of the trust staff to coordinate educational programs and tours at the Gardens, as well as special events and related fundraising activities. An advisory committee has also been established – including members of the trust board, staff, garden experts and local residents – to work with Bogusch on future evolution of the garden.

Bridge Gardens was established in 1988 by Neyens and Kilpatric, who designed and installed the gardens over the ensuing 10 years. In 1997, Bridge Gardens Trust was created as a charitable corporation to maintain and preserve the gardens.

Bridge Gardens will be open to the public from Memorial Day weekend through September. Days, hours and other information regarding visiting the Gardens will be announced in early spring, including membership options.

Southampton Hospital: Diabetes Awareness

Southampton, Hospital will present a free panel discussion “Diabetes: Awareness and Treatment” with a seven person panel of experts in the field that including George Keckeisen, MD, Medical Director of the hospital’s wound care center, Alan Goldenberg, MD, endocrinologist; Joshua Feiner, MD, endocrinologist, Judy O’Connell, Nurse Practioner (NP), certified diabetes educator, Pat Vonatski, registered dietician and certified diabetes educator and Peggy Kraus, MA registered clinical exercise physiologist.

Diabetes affects over 24 million children and adults in the United States, contributes to the deaths of over 220,000 Americans each year and costs our nation more than $174 billion annually. Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy for life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although genetics and environmental factors such as diet, obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles. 

This comprehensive program is designed for people who already have diabetes, those whose family history puts them at risk and those who have a diabetic spouse, partner, relative or friend. It is free and open to the public and will take place on Thursday, November 20 at 5 p.m. in Parrish Memorial Hall, corner of Lewis Street and Herrick Road. In addition, Southampton Hospital offers expert counseling services with a board certified diabetes nurse educator and diabetes support group that meets every month.

The program will provide an in-depth view of diabetes prevention, management and treatment in an informative, interactive panel discussion. Dr. Keckeisen will report on the huge success the hospital’s Center for Advanced Wound Healing, the only location on the East End offering the latest innovations for healing chronic wounds that frequently afflicts diabetics; much of this success is accomplished by using the Center’s state-of-the-art hyperbaric chambers which infuse chronic wounds with oxygen for faster, better results.  Patients, who have suffered from wounds for months, even years, are routinely restored to health in less time ever thought possible. Dr. Goldenberg, who is board certified in endocrinology and diabetes, along with his new partner, Dr. Joshua Feiner, also an endocrinologist, will review and evaluate the latest advances in medications to control diabetes.  Ms. O’Connell, creator and director of the hospital’s program, “Diabetes: Basics and Beyond” will discuss steps to avoid prevent diabetes as well as comprehensive treatment plans for those with diabetes.  Ms. Vonatski will outline nutritional plans for maximum health, both as a prevention and treatment. Ms. Kraus will make recommendations for glucose monitoring and exercise for diabetics. The panel will conclude with a question-and-answer session, there will be a raffle and giveaways for those attending.

This free program is very popular and space fill up quickly. Call 726-8700, extension 8 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to register or email dcraven@southamptonhospital.org. 

Into Plain Air: Artists show for the Peconic Land Trust

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When Gordon Matheson first came to the East End more than 30 years ago, he was struck by the unspoiled vistas and the pastoral views that defined this rural place by the sea.

“I’ve been out here since the mid-70s,” says Matheson. “I spent a lot of time riding my bike and driving my car around — gas was cheaper then. I was originally a country boy from North Carolina. I just loved the outdoors. I loved all the farms and open marshes.”

“I took early retirement and decided to paint because I loved the landscapes here so much,” adds Matheson, a self taught painter. “I couldn’t afford one of the 100 acres properties, but realized if I painted it, I could bring it home.”

Many of those views that Matheson enjoyed have since been lost — victims of the unending need for expansion that has defined human existence for thousands of years.

But it’s not all bad news — there have been some successes in preserving landscapes that remain on the East End. Three years ago, a group of East End artists, including Matheson, formed Plein Air Peconic, a unique alliance with the Peconic Land Trust, an organization which works to save rural parcels under threat of development.

The artists realized that the scenic vistas they loved to paint and photograph were rapidly evaporating. Their collaboration with the Peconic Land Trust was a way to heighten awareness of the organization’s work – and its importance to the artistic community of the East end.

This weekend the 12 artists will open “Plein Air Peconic III,” their third annual Columbus Day show.

“It’s the big magilla,” explains Matheson.

After shows in East Hampton and Amagansett, Plein Air Peconic comes to Sag Harbor for the first time with this exhibit, which is being hosted by the Grenning Gallery. An opening reception will be held at the gallery, 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor, this Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. The show remains on view through October 18.

“Our intention was to move the shows around,” explains Matheson. “We would like to do Southampton or Bridgehampton next year.”

Plein Air Peconic also does a smaller spring show every year at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. A portion of all the group’s shows benefits the Peconic Land Trust. There is also a traveling exhibition that pairs the artists’ work with educational information on the Land Trust.

“We’re small potatoes but we’re raising public consciousness,” notes Matheson. “Most shows have over 500 or 600 people come through.”

“Every little sound or image bite makes them think about the conservation. It’s why we try to make such nice brochures and invitations so that people think about it each time.”

Plein Air Peconic includes nine painters — Casey Chalem Anderson, Susan D’Alessio, Terry Elkins, Aubrey Grainger, Gail Kern, Michele Margit, Gordon Matheson, Joanne Rosko, Eileen Dawn Skretch, and three photographers — Tom Steele, Kathryn Szoka, and Ellen Watson.

“All the painters are painterly realists,” says Matheson. “There’s a little wiggle room, but that’s the center.”

The focus for Plein Air Peconic shows is, as its name implies, the pastoral views of the area — specifically parcels that have been directly saved by the Peconic Land Trust.

“For these shows, 50 percent of the work is of places that have been preserved by the Land Trust,” notes Matheson. “That’s the number I give the artists to aim for. The traveling exhibitions are all Land Trust projects.”

A quick glance at the work in this show makes it easy to see why the artists are so passionate about preserving the local views. One of Matheson’s landscapes depicts the dunes by Sagg Pond. The scene is eerily reminiscent of the work of another plein air painter from the area — William Merritt Chase — whose paintings of Shinnecock date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps it’s a testament to the power of preservation that such a scene can still be found today.

There is even a figure in the scene that at first glance appears to be from Victorian times. But in fact, Gordon explains that it is actually fellow Plein Air Peconic painter and Sag Harbor resident Casey Anderson who was working alongside Matheson on one of her own paintings.

“One of the advantages of working with the Land Trust is they will get us into private property if we want to go somewhere or they suggest it, like the Blair Preserve at Sagg Pond,” says Matheson. “It helps them show the public what they’re doing.”

Matheson recalls a few years back that he was given permission to paint in the pasture at Mecox Dairy Farm. He decided to do a large 20” x 40” painting and ended up spending a lot more time in that pasture than he bargained for.

“That painting took three years,” grins Matheson. “I did it in early May when the foliage was starting off. I worked for about a week then it started raining. When the rain was finished, it was totally different.”

The following May, Matheson finished the background for the painting. But he had a new problem.

“I couldn’t get the cows to stand still. So I did those this year,” says Matheson. “The cows were interesting. When you’re painting, the cows all come and stand right in front of you.”

Matheson notes that he isn’t just hanging out in the fields with cows. Often, the Plein Air Peconic artists will agree to go to a location and work together — like he and Anderson did at Sagg Pond.

“The photographers go out early in the morning, but it takes us a little longer — like three years — to finish a painting,” says Matheson. “The painters go a few individually or in groups of two or three. We’ll also plan days to go to places like Quail Hill where all nine of us will get there.”

One of Matheson’s favorite spots to paint is Scallop Pond in North Sea. It’s an area ripe with saved views and looks out onto two different Land Trust preserves, plus a Nature Conservancy parcel.

While many art shows on the East End also raise funds for good causes, Matheson notes that the Plein Air Peconic collaboration with the Land Trust is one that has developed into a true partnership between the two groups.

“One of the things that is very different about Plein Air Peconic is that we have a year round permanent relationship with the Peconic Land Trust,” notes Matheson, adding that often non-profit organizations and galleries come together for a show and then, “go their separate ways for a year.”

“I work with them constantly,” he adds. “They use our art for note cards that they sell or give to donors, all of those are of preserves.”

New for 2009, notes Matheson, will be Peconic Land Trust calendars featuring paintings by Plein Air Peconic artists of the Land Trust’s preserves.

“This is the first time we’ve done it,” he says. “I think they will really do well.”

 Above: “Plein Air Dunes (Sagg Pond)” Gordon Matheson, acrylic/canvas, 14 x 18 inches


East End Digest – September 4

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Tomato Tasters Prevail

Despite buckets of rain on Saturday, over 120 people gathered at Quail Hill Community Farm in Amagansett for the 11th Annual Great Tomato Taste Off, and “cheerfully tasted and rated, taking their deliberations quite seriously, according to event coordinator Jane Weissman. Matt’s Wild Cherry, a small red cherry tomato, grown from seed from the farm’s 2007 crop, took first place, followed closely by the Sungold variety. Weissman noted these two varieties have a habit of taking the top two places, alternating as top tomato. San Marzano, a paste tomato served as sauce, took third place followed by Dr. Carolyn, a big yellow cherry, which was grown from 2007 seed. Sweet Olive, a red cherry, placed fifth.

Twin Forks: Bike Tour

The Long Island Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society will hold its two-day MS 150 Twin Forks Bike Tour for its third year this September 13 and 14. 

The 150-mile course is unique for its coverage of both Long Island’s north and south forks. The course begins and ends at the Elks Club in Southampton and stops overnight at Club Quinipet on Shelter Island. Riders can choose between a 50-mile or 75-mile route each day.

Participants can ride as individuals or as part of a team to raise money for MS research. Last year’s top individual cyclist Blaise Ingrisano raised $11,500 alone, giving the ring of truth to the Society’s message of one person inspiring hundreds. The top fundraising team of 2007, “CU Later MS” raised a total of $42,741 in donations. Committee members plan on reaching the million-dollar mark for this event within a few years.

The event committee needs volunteers for every area of the event, from registration and check-in to route and rest stop support. To volunteer, or to learn more about the MS 150 Twin Forks Bike Tour, call (516) 740-7227 or (631) 864-8337 or visit http://www.nmssli.org. 

Parrish Art Museum: Mandala Tour

From Tuesday, September 9 through Sunday, September 14, The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton will host The Compassionate Mandala Tour, which brings to the East End a group of Tibetan monks who will carry out one of the artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism – the ritual of painting with sand. 

Visitors to the museum can witness the creation of this sacred art as it unfolds every day over the course of six-days. Monks will be in the museum’s galleries constructing the mandala during regular museum hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event culminates with the dissolution of the mandala on Sunday, September 14. 

During their visit, the monks will also offer a variety of experiences and workshops for the public.

The Compassionate Mandala Tour benefits the Tibetan Children’s Village. The workshops and are free however, space for the workshops is limited and must be reserved in advance by calling 283-2118, ext. 40 or emailing chance@parrishart.org.

SF Breast Health Coalition: Celebrity Bird House

The 4th Annual Artist and Celebrity Bird House Auction to benefit the South Fork Breast Health Coalition is scheduled for Saturday, September 27, 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center.

Dozens of artists, celebrities, and sports figures have already signed on to design their own birdhouses, which will be auctioned off to raise money for the Coalition’s various breast cancer support programs including Lend a Helping Hand, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and Ellen’s Well programs that help breast cancer patients cope with the day-to-day pressures of life and struggles with treatment.

Actress Renee Zellweger will for the third year serve as honorary chair of the event. Eager “architects” include singer Patti LaBelle, architect Preston Phillips, designer Betsey Johnson, as well as artists Robert Wilson, Michael Lownie, David Salle, John Torreano, Eric Ernst, Jeff Muhs, Tony Rosenthal, Dan Rizzie, and David Gamble, to name a few.

You can start placing bids at the preview, which is one week before the event at the Hampton Road Gallery in Southampton on Saturday, September 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $40. For information or to purchase tickets, please call 726-8606.


A Juicy Time For Tomato Lovers

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There is a brief period every summer that connoisseurs of a particular jewel wait for with bated breath. As mid-August approaches, they watch the weather carefully, mindful of the season’s effect on their desired treasure and begin to plan for the bounty just days away. When it arrives, experts cherish the enjoyment of this prize, which sadly, is ephemeral even under the best of circumstances.

It’s tomato season. It’s Labor Day weekend. And the bounty has arrived.

While farm stands across the East End are now just beginning to boast an abundance of this colorful fruit, Quail Hill Farm offers an opportunity for tomato enthusiasts to delight in a sampling of some 50 varieties of organically grown tomatoes at its annual Great Tomato Taste-Off. This Saturday, August 30, from 10 a.m. to noon the public is invited to give their taste buds a workout, with clipboards in hand, and decide which of the dozens of varieties of tomatoes is deemed supreme above all others. 

Quail Hill has grown 52 varieties of tomato in the cherry, paste and heirloom tomato families, offering a veritable cornucopia of tastes, textures and colors – red, pink, orange, yellow, purple and green — that will adorn the tables at this year’s Amagansett taste-off. For the first time in taste-off history, paste tomatoes  will be tasted in sauce form, which is what they are cultivated for.

With the exception of the wildly popular Sun Gold variety – a historic crowd favorite at the taste-off – and a handful of other varieties, all of the tomatoes at Quail Hill Community Farm are open pollinated varieties which, unlike hybrid tomatoes, reproduce seed. According to Quail Hill farmer and manager Scott Chaskey, many of the 2008 varieties were cultivated from 2007 favorites.

“We save quite a few of our own seed,” he said on Monday. “They adapt to our own soil, and over the years we have stronger plants that withstand weather and disease better. We save the varieties we really love each year.”

Cultivating varieties of tomato that are suited to Quail Hill Community Farm’s soil, and are therefore stronger, is particularly of benefit when dealing with this delicate fruit, explained Chaskey. While tomatoes need irrigation when first planted, like most people on the East End each summer, they thrive in a warm climate, basking in the sun’s rays.

Staff at the organic farm has noted the tomatoes are “fast ripening on the vine” and the farm is gearing up for another great harvest; but Chaskey adds this season’s crop more accurately falls between last year’s amazing harvest and two years ago when the farm was forced to cancel the taste-off after six inches of rain.

“I would say it has been a tough tomato year,” said Chaskey. “We plant so many different kinds of crops – one year one is weak, one year it’s another. That is kind of the cycle of farm life.” 

Chaskey said what complicated things this year has been the heavy rain storms the region experienced recently, with hail being reported on the East End along with thunder, lightning and — unfortunately for local tomatoes — buckets of rain. Throw in a chilly spring, which meant tomatoes were planted later than usual, and a few varieties are just now getting to that juicy, tart and sweet ripeness that signals a local tomato.

Regardless, said Chaskey, tasters can expect at least 40 solid varieties of tomatoes to enjoy on Saturday.

“That was a bit ago,” said Chaskey of the stormy weather. “And we have had beautiful sunny days and that is what they love.”

Quail Hill Community Farm is a stewardship project of the Peconic Land Trust, and is located on 214 acres of land donated by Sag Harbor resident Deborah Ann Light producing some 275 varieties of organically produced vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.

While the farm has grown leaps and bounds in its almost 20 year history, a tomato taste-off would not have been possible in the farm’s infancy, mostly because Chaskey had yet to be seduced by the fruit.

“Interestingly enough, when we started I was not a tomato lover,” he laughed. “I had not grown up eating heirloom or open pollinated varieties of tomatoes, so in the beginning I was not at all fond of them and neither was the fellow I farmed with so we didn’t really grow them. Then along came an apprentice who talked us into it.”

And Chaskey was converted, now delighting in meeting fellow tomato lovers, swapping seeds and secrets of the trade at conferences, which was where the concept for a taste-off was born.

Jane Weissman, who has been with Quail Hill since its establishment in 1990 and is the event coordinator for the Great Tomato Taste-Off remembers she and Chaskey were at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) conference when she attended a forum on community involvement.

“And there was a guy from Oregon who spoke about a great tomato taste-off,” she remembered. Weissman, who has been honored for her work in community gardens in New York City and was director of Green Thumb, the city’s community gardening program, knew she had done enough harvest events in her career where she could pull off a taste-off at Quail Hill.

“The first year there were 19 tomatoes, now we have 52,” she said.

The event has also evolved from a community-based experience to one that attracts tomato lovers far and wide to Amagansett, not just to taste the tomatoes, added Weissman, but to learn about new varieties for their own gardens.

Weissman, who treasures the tomato season each year, personally makes sure she tries each and every tomato at the taste-off, and advocates the use of bread and water the farm supplies to ensure palates stay fresh amid gorging on the acidic fruit.

“There are always the Sungolds and the Matt’s,” said Weissman of two of the most popular varieties, which nabbed first and second place respectively at last year’s event. “Other tomatoes, their tastes are just more complex. They don’t hit you over the head – it’s not the burst the Sungold provides, but the flavor blossoms in your mouth … these jewels are precious and the window is so slim, you have to treasure them.”

The 2008 Quail Hill 11th Annual Great Tomato Taste Off will be held from 10 a.m. to noon at Quail Hill Community Farm at Side Hill and Deep Lane in Amagansett. Admission is $10 for non-farm members, $5 for farm members and is free for children under 12.