First-time farmers making a splash with shop on Main Road

07/29/2012 12:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Farmer Ken Jurow harvests tomatoes in the ‘big house’, an Aquebogue greenhouse where he grows 22 varieties of heirloom and cherry tomatoes.

Late last winter, a small wooden box appeared along a stretch of Route 25 between Aquebogue and Jamesport, announcing that fresh organic lettuce was available there. Every morning, there would be about a half-dozen bags brimming with lettuce on the stand, which disappeared by midday.

In early spring, the lettuce sign was replaced by others announcing the availability of big heirloom tomato plants — which are grown from historic seeds saved for generations. Those plants also disappeared quickly.

Then, a couple months ago, a real farm stand appeared on the spot. Long Season Farm was now officially open for business.

The farm, which right now consists primarily of a small cluster of greenhouses on land owned by a friend, is run by Ken and Laurie Jurow and their three sons.

The couple lives in Quogue, but their longtime friends John and Irene Sipala, who run Whitman Nurseries in Jamesport, have been urging them for years to farm a small portion of their land.

Last year, when Mr. Jurow’s work as a carpenter began to dry up, the couple decided to dip their toes in the waters of growing local food. They grew some tomato plants for the wholesale market, which they sold by word-of-mouth.

They’re both longtime foodies with a love for unique vegetables, and that’s the principle behind their new farm stand.

“We want to grow what most people don’t grow,” Mr. Jurow said during a busy day of tending his tomatoes last week. “People don’t grow five kinds of eggplants. We have way more kinds of tomatoes than anybody.”

In the greenhouses, the tomatoes are now 14 feet high, despite the fact that they are grown with simple ingredients: each plant is placed in a big bucket of pure leaf compost and watered regularly. That’s it.

The they some food from other growers, including golden plums, corn and onions, but their philosophy is to sell only food they grow organically themselves or can source within a 10-mile radius. (They sometimes stretch that limit to include growers near their home in Quogue.) And they only stock enough produce at the farm stand to sell in one day.

“We don’t want to bring in pineapples from Hawaii or go to Hunts Point. We want it to be about local,” said Ms. Jurow, who works at the farm when she’s not at her day job as a case manager for an independent living group. “Many stands are like supermarkets. But we want to be a farm stand.”

The couple’s sons are also avid spearfishers, who bring fresh caught striped bass to the stand and prepare them for customers on the spot.

The new farmers’ philosophy is beginning to pay off.

Dave Plath of Grana, a brick-oven gourmet pizza restaurant in Jamesport, was buying green beans for the restaurant during a recent visit by reporters to Long Season Farm, whose vegetables are also on the menu at Starr Boggs in Westhampton Beach and at The Riverhead Project.

“Ken is a cook,” said Ms. Jurow. “He always tried to find the best quality ingredients.”

Mr. Jurow is also happy to stop work to share his recipes with customers. One of his favorites is a simple fresh Italian tomato sauce, made in a large flat-bottomed frying pan, unlike canned sauce usually used in Italian-American cooking.

“You drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove them and peel the skin. Roughly chop them — there’s no need to seed,” he said. “In a large, medium-hot frying pan, barely coat the bottom with olive oil. Smash one clove of garlic and add it to the oil. Add tomatoes until they’re about three-quarters of an inch thick in the pan. Italians use a wide pan, because it cooks quickly. Cook until the juices are released from he tomatoes. Add almost cooked pasta. When the water is absorbed, the dish is done.”

Ms. Jurow shook her head.

“Dave is one of the most confident chefs I know,” she said.

“It’s like art,” he said. “Less is more. I use all heirloom tomatoes. They’re analogous to wine. They all have their own character and flavor, and they’re all fabulous.”

The couple doesn’t plan to expand the business beyond what it offers now. They do plan to sell more heirloom tomato plants next spring. This spring, they sold out of the 1,000 extra plants they grew and were turning people away.

“People keep coming in to give me updates on their plants. They bring in leaves with spots on them to ask me to identify problems,” he said. “I’m becoming like the tomato doctor of Jamesport.”

“I don’t want to be that big,” Mr. Jurow said of his business. “It’s all about the integrity of the food. With food in general, small is better.”

byoung@timesreview.com