What do farmers do in the winter? Plenty

12/21/2013 8:00 AM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Farmer Matthew Schmitt with containers of kale that was harvested Monday morning and being packaged for delivery to supermarkets.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Farmer Matthew Schmitt with containers of kale that was harvested Monday morning and being packaged for delivery to supermarkets.

North Fork farms may not be flooded with tractors and laborers tilling the fields this time of year, but that doesn’t mean farmers hang up their overalls.

There’s still work to be done — and bills to be paid.

From fixing up 65-year-old tractors to attending out-of-state conferences to delivering home fuel oil, most farmers earn a living from the land during the warmer months and turn to their to-do lists and avocations once the weather gets cold.

They just get to sleep in a little more. Sometimes.

Some local farms, however, are still harvesting late-season produce, such as kale, broccoli or cabbage. Starting this month, Eve Kaplan, owner of Garden of Eve in Northville, will be transporting produce into NYC for a once-a-month farmer’s market.

“There’s so much interest in buying local produce, people even want it in the winter. So we found it’s worthwhile to use part of the offseason not to be ‘off,’” she said.

Lyle Wells, owner of Wells Farm in Aquebogue, has stopped growing by this time and has turned his full attention to selling what’s left of this season’s crops. Mr. Wells said the new Grapes and Greens storage and packaging facility on Sound Avenue has enhanced his ability to store produce over extended periods this season.

For up-and-coming winemakers, it’s not to uncommon to take a trip south of the border – the equator, that is – where winemaking seasons are still in full swing and those looking to expand their repertoires as vintners can get experience with another vintage, or possibly even two, in one calendar year.

Kareem Massoud, whose family owns Paumanok Vineyards, has made trips to Chile, South Africa and New Zealand during past winters.

“If you’re apprenticing, it’s a great way to learn how to make wine.” said Mr. Massoud, who has taken a more central role in operating Paumanok in recent years.

While the winery’s focus this time of year is on bottling and barreling, he said that work at any vineyard never stops. Still, he said, it may be possible come late January and February to take a little bit of a deep breath before bud break occurs in late April or early May.

The main goal for all vineyard owners is to prune the vineyard before next season, he said.

And not just vineyard owners.

Tom Wickham doesn’t grow grapes. He grows pears, apples, cherries and nectarines. Even though Mr. Wickham, owner of Wickham Fruit Farm in Cutchogue, is still busy selling what’s left of his apple crop, he said he has about 10,000 trees to prune on his farm before next year.

In between, fixing up farm equipment and machinery becomes a top priority. Just last week, he said, he was able to find some vital parts for his 1947 Farmall tractor, which has had its engine rebuilt three times. In addition, greenhouse growing starts in January at the fruit farm, allowing him to bring in an early crop of tomatoes come May.

Another big on the to-do lists at most farms are capital projects, which get put on a back burner during growing season. With more time available it becomes possible to make irrigation upgrades, fix greenhouse glass or build new structures.

Or, clear structures out.

Al Krupski of Krupski’s Pumpkin Farm in Cutchogue said he’s finally getting around this winter to cleaning out barns that have housed “stuff that shouldn’t have been saved” for 10 to 20 years. Selling the items for scrap or antique value brings in additional revenue, not to mention opening up space on the farm.

Mr. Krupski will also be kept busy in his role as a county legislator, to which he was re-elected this November.

Some farmers take the few months between growing seasons to get up to date on the latest information about their profession. The Long Island Farm Bureau holds its annual agricultural forum in early January, and David Wines of Ty Llwyd Farms in Riverhead attends sustainable agriculture conferences. David’s wife, Liz, gets out of town when she can to visit her grandchildren in the Albany and Boston areas.

For some younger farmers looking to bring in additional revenue for their growing families, taking on a second job becomes part of the winter routine as well.

Mr. Krupski recalled a day when a lot of farmers used to take to the local bays and go clamming. And Matthew Schmitt, who recently had a son, has been getting calls to hop back into an oil truck for G & C Petroleum, for which he’ll again be delivering one or two days a week through the colder months after he’s done harvesting his late season of crops. His mom, Deb, used to work at Tanger Outlets during the winter.

Overall, most farmers find that winter ends up being a good time of the year to regroup and look forward to the following season and beyond.

“It’s a good time to step back, reflect and decide what to do next year,” said Mr. Wells, who farms about 100 acres. “But you always find something to keep you busy. I find as I get older, the more I sit around, the more I tighten up. So it’s better to keep going.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

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