Tag Archive | "Quail Hill"

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.


Quail Hill’s Scott Chaskey Named Farmer of the Year

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By Tessa Raebeck

As a student in England struggling to support himself, Scott Chaskey found a job as a gardener. Several farms and many successful seasons later, Chaskey will be honored as Farmer of the Year at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s Winter Conference. Chaskey will also give one of the keynote addresses at the conference, which will be held in Saratoga Springs January 24 through January 27.

“I fell in love with using the spade and turning the soil over,” recalls Chaskey, now the farm director at the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett. Chaskey returned to the United States in 1989. His homecoming coincided with the national emergence of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a locally based socioeconomic structure of food distribution that intends to narrow the gap between families and farmers.

In 1990, Quail Hill became the first CSA farm in New York state. At the time, there was only one other organic farm on the East End, the Green Thumb in Water Mill.

“They were wonderful to us,” says Chaskey, recalling how the farmers there helped Quail Hill get its start. The Green Thumb supplied the young farm with transplants for its inaugural season, which Quail Hill then grew and harvested.

In addition to supplying locally grown, organic food, CSA hopes to build community through education and support long-term sustainability efforts by connecting consumers to their food source. CSA farms sell shares of produce for an annual fee, offering consumers both awareness of where their food is coming from and involvement in its cultivation.

“I just loved the idea of not only growing food organically, but also building community,” says Chaskey, “My actual farming career has been entirely involved with building this community up at the same time that we were growing the soil to grow good food.”

For the past 23 years, Chaskey has helped to build community here on the East End through his work at Quail Hill. Education is fundamental to CSA, and Chaskey said he is dedicated to teaching the next generation of farmers.

“Besides providing food,“ Chaskey explains, “we’re also running programs to educate people about what we’re doing and about sustainable agriculture. Lots of different things, that’s what a community farm is about.”

Organic farming on the East End has come a long way since the only farms were the Green Thumb and Quail Hill. Through many successful harvests, Chaskey has had over 100 apprentices. Students can volunteer for a day or stay for a year, and many go on to start CSA farms themselves.

Former apprentices Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow founded Amber Waves Farm, also in Amagansett, with the guidance and support of Chaskey and Quail Hill, as well as The Peconic Land Trust, which leases land to both Amber Waves Farm and Quail Hill.Chaskey’s influence on the careers of Baldwin and Merrow is apparent in their commitment to education, sustainability and community building.

Through Peconic Land Trust’s Incubator Program, young farmers like Baldwin and Merrow are encouraged and supported to venture out on their own. In the model of a homestead program, new farmers are leased land to cultivate.

“The whole existence of NOFA is to educate not only farmers, but consumers to be aware of the importance of organic farming,” saysChaskey, ”Those years of educating, I think we’re starting to harvest the fruit of it now.”

Due to growing awareness of the health concerns of processed, unnatural foods, there has been a striking increase in the national demand for organic produce. That demand is especially prevalent here on the East End, where excellent soil and preserved land have not only allowed for the survival of the rich farming tradition, but enabled it to thrive in recent years.

“From that one farm, it’s amazing how it’s spread in the last 20 years,” says Chaskey. The NOFA Conference, he recalls, “used to be attended by a couple hundred people and now it’s almost 1,500 — and well over half of them are in their twenties.”

The influx of youth into organic farming has reinvigorated the business and heartened proponents of natural food.

“It’s very encouraging to see how many young people are interested in getting involved,” Chaskey says with excitement, “It’s amazing — the quality of people who have graduated with this or that degree and want to do some sort of meaningful work. And that’s happening not only here, but all over the country.”

Chaskey is optimistic about the future of organic farming, hoping to see the higher demand translate to higher acreage and larger scale farms. If the past 23 years of success are any indication, Chaskey’s optimism could be right on point.

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)

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.

Gathering at the Table

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web foodline

On Saturday, in an apple orchard a world away, but just a block away from Main Street, Amagansett, families relaxed on blankets and beach chairs, enjoying cooked to order blueberry pancakes, herbed scrambled eggs and potatoes, strawberry and rhubarb compote and baked goods made with love and care. Meanwhile children scampered to a nearby puppet show performed by Liz Joyce, and couples strolled through rows of late spring vegetables, sharing recipes and stories with new and old friends.


This pastoral tableau is not what comes to mind for many people visiting the Hamptons in June, but for members of the Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, being a part of this community is exactly what living in the Hamptons is all about.

Quail Hill Farm, one of the original Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the country, was founded in 1990 on land donated to the Peconic Land Trust by Deborah Ann Light. In the last two decades the organic farm has grown to serve some 200 families from across the South Fork, on 30 acres, also providing produce and support to local food pantries, schools, restaurants and farmers’ markets.

For many members, last Saturday’s 14th Annual Farm Breakfast at Quail Hill Farm is the epitome of what the farm is all about — delicious, organic food and building community spirit through shared work and responsibility.


The farm breakfast is organized by Jane Weissman, Quail Hill director, and farmer Scott Chaskey who explain that the event is very much a communal effort. From the point of view of the farmers and apprentices who start saving eggs for the feast two weeks before to ensure several dozen are ready for the farm’s famous herbed scrambled eggs, to volunteers who pick those herbs, prepare potatoes, create compote and baked goods, everyone makes sure the table is full of treats that rival the creations of trained pastry chefs.

Chaskey said the breakfast was originally envisioned to bring the farm’s shareholders and volunteers together, but also to incite interest for new members looking to join the farm. Nowadays, generating interest in Quail Hill Farm is not a difficult task.

“We have had a waiting list for a number of years now, so we don’t have the pressure on us we first did,” said Chaskey, adding the understanding of how important healthy, organic produce is to one’s diet has grown immensely in the last decade.


However, as a preserve of the Peconic Land Trust, Chaskey said the concept of Quail Hill Farm is that it is a community farm meant to serve the whole community, making the idea of opening up the acreage to the general public for events like the farm breakfast, summer potluck dinner, and annual tomato tasting that much more important.

“People become friends here,” said Weissman, taking in the scene at Saturday’s breakfast. “Not being married, it can be hard to form a family, but here, this is my family.”

Weissman remembered the first farm breakfast, a far cry from the organized effort this year, where 75 people came together to enjoy a meal cooked on two, small gas grills. A success, Chaskey and Weissman decided to move the annual breakfast to June, as late spring crops are coming to fruition, creating a day where community members can gather together outside of the rows, and celebrate the beginning of the season.


For Nancy Goell, a member of the Peconic Land Trust Board of Directors, events like the farm breakfast are an example of what makes Quail Hill Farm the special place it is, with Chaskey setting a magical tone as a farmer and poet at the helm.

“You see how this brings people together,” said Goell. “We have all come to appreciate the bounty that is Quail Hill, but what makes this special is people coming together to enjoy the fruits of that bounty together on a beautiful day, with birds singing. It’s inspired.”

Judy Freeman, who helped make the strawberry rhubarb compote and Ronnie Grill, who made potatoes for the breakfast, were joined on a blanket by new member Carol Steinberg and friend Ursula Thomas.


“We are in the field, picking vegetables, meeting each other, exchanging recipes,” said Freeman of her experience with other members at the farm. She and Grill struck up their friendship in the rows at Quail Hill, added Freeman.

“We have our first lettuces, and I picked the best salad I have ever tasted,” said Steinberg. “Being here, you realize how much goes into food.”

For Bettina Volz, a volunteer on Saturday, coming into the Quail Hill fold was very much about food, and quickly, the experience became much more.

“I will stand in the field and say, how am I going to cook this,” she laughed. “And then someone offers a recipe.”

“You do become more conscious about what you are eating,” continued Volz. “When the kitchen smells like fresh herbs, you think more creatively about cooking.”

Sydney Albertini, whose husband Jerome, apprenticed at Quail Hill last year, certainly has found inspiration in the kitchen as a member of the farm. Albertini and her family, which includes three young sons, live on a seasonal, local diet, and came across the farm by pure luck, having fallen in love with a nearby house.

“For me, I am half French, and living in the States I always have felt a lacking for a market for fresh vegetables and the kind of experience that leads to really delicious cooking and family life – a kind of rhythm,” she said. “This really brought that back for me, and I can give this to my children. I teach them about the seasons, eating locally, using what you need and keeping the leftovers for the winter. Of course, meeting people in the fields, exchanging information on ingredients and recipes is also a part of the experience.”

Albertini hopes to release a cookbook of seasonal and regional French desserts she created for farmers and apprentices of Quail Hill last year before “The Common Table,” an annual fundraising dinner on August 28.

“We don’t have to explain things so much,” said Chaskey of the evolution of the Quail Hill Farm community. “People now know what CSA means and the consciousness about how important food is to health sounds simplistic, but it has really dawned on people in the last 10 years.”

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.