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Getting Back to the Land

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Heller_Serene Green Garden Clearing_9370

By Claire Walla

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

Sunset Beach Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serene Green Farm Stand

A similar operation has sprung up in neighboring Noyac.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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