07/01/14 12:00pm
07/01/2014 12:00 PM
A field of corn behind Jenn's farmstand on Peconic Bay Boulevard in Aquebogue on Monday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A field of corn behind Jenn’s farmstand on Peconic Bay Boulevard in Aquebogue on Monday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

North Fork growers say they are in a race against time and temperature, hoping they will be able to harvest enough local sweet corn to fill farm stand shelves for the busy holiday weekend.

The lasting effects of the cold winter stalled the growth of many area corn crops, putting harvesting behind schedule, according to many local farmers. (more…)

06/22/14 4:00pm
06/22/2014 4:00 PM
Phil Schmitt speaking with industry officials from upstate Wednesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Phil Schmitt speaking with industry officials from upstate Wednesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Phil Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead welcomed farming support representatives from the New York City watershed region last week to share some of the conservation practices being used every day on the Roanoke Avenue farm.

(more…)

06/20/14 8:00am
06/20/2014 8:00 AM
In the Southold Elementary School garden, students not only learn about science; they put their math skills into practice by measuring and planning the garden’s layout. Since they also harvest and sell their produce, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone says he’d like to see similar programs implemented in other county schools. From left: second-graders Mae Dominy, Grace Zehil, Alyvia Apparu and Skylar Valderrama. (Credit: Carrie Miller photos)

In the Southold Elementary School garden, students not only learn about science; they put their math skills into practice by measuring and planning the garden’s layout. Since they also harvest and sell their produce, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone says he’d like to see similar programs implemented in other county schools. From left: second-graders Mae Dominy, Grace Zehil, Alyvia Apparu and Skylar Valderrama. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wants more young people to know that, among doctor, lawyer, firefighter or police officer, “farmer” is also a viable career, and an attainable and realistic life goal.

(more…)

06/05/14 1:08pm
06/05/2014 1:08 PM
That deal would requires approval from both county legislators and county taxpayers in November. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

That deal would requires approval from both county legislators and county taxpayers in November. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

After environmentalists sued Suffolk County earlier this year for “raiding” more than $30 million dollars from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program, environmentalists and county leaders announced an agreement that will replace the funds and safeguard the reserve in the future.

County Executive Steven Bellone and members of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Group for the East End announced the deal — which  still needs approval from county legislators, as well as a voter referendum in November — on Wednesday.

Under the proposed settlement, the county could still dip into the fund until 2018, in order to fulfill its long term financial needs, however any money diverted would be paid back in full, according to the agreement. The agreement would ban the use of Drinking Water Protection Program funds for alternate purposes beyond 2018 without voter approval.

“This is a good faith effort on the part of the County Executive and County Legislature to right a wrong,” said Mr. Amper. “It was initiated by the County Executive. He called me and said this is contradictory to what we are trying to do. Lets fix it.

The Drinking Water Protection Program is funded by a self-imposed tax that county residents voted to levy upon themselves several times since 1987. It is intended to protect groundwater through several specific uses, such as open space purchases and a fund dedicated to stabilizing sewer rates for residents. It would not otherwise come up for a vote again until 2030.

In 2011, and again in 2014, the county dipped into the fund, using it to help plug budget gaps which environmentalists say violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves, making it illegal.

Under the proposed settlement, the county could still dip into the fund until 2018, in order to fulfill it’s long-term financial needs, however any money diverted would be paid back in full, according to the agreement.

Environmental advocates, led by Pine Barren’s champion Richard Amper, sued the county — twice — challenging that the funds raised through the program could not be diverted to other uses without a referendum voted on “by the taxpayers who created it.”

The Bellone administration has aggressively been targeting a goal of improving the county’s long term water quality, an effort the county exec has dubbed the ‘Reclaim Our Water’ initiative. Mr. Bellone has announced support for extending sewers on the west side of the county and fast-tracking the approval of denitrification systems. On the North Fork, the county threw its support behind a study exploring the use of such systems in Orient, spending $60,000 to see if the group systems would work in the un-sewered hamlet.

Mr. Amper said on Thursday that, “it would be inconsistent to say [the county is] fighting to improve water quality, while at the same time taking away money from the fund.”

Urging the legislature to follow suit and vote on the deal, Mr. Bellone agreed.

“It’s a simple principle: voters created the drinking water protection program, they voted to reauthorize it, and therefore, we should go to the voters when we seek to amend it,” he said.

The 2014 budget used $32.8 million from the program, specifically the county’s sewer stabilization fund. Under former County Executive Steve Levy’s administration, the county used about $20 million.

“The 2011 raids were conduced by the Levy administration, and they were not understanding or cooperative at all,” Mr. Amper said. “Bellone’s is taking a much more productive view.”

The settlement puts to rest a petition campaign initiated in February seeking a similar outcome.

Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, who helped hammer out the fund restoration deal said, “every resident of Suffolk County should feel good about this settlement,” adding that government can be “moved by an organized, mobilized citizenry that acts with purpose, passion and persistence.”

Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who voted against the 2014 budget which included dipping into the fund, said “I am certainly encouraged that there is an agreement, and I think we all need to work together on achieving water quality goals. I have to look at the details to say definitively whether I will support it.”

Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) stressed that the deal still needs to be approved by the county legislature.

“I think it’s a very complicated settlement that a lot of people are taking a careful look at,” he explained. “If it serves the taxpayers and help to give us a little more environmental protection, I will support it.”

cmiller@timesreview.com 

06/04/14 4:00pm
06/04/2014 4:00 PM
The land on the west side of Park Road will likely be preserved as farmland by Suffolk County. (Credit: Google Maps)

The land on the west side of Park Road and north of Sound Avenue will likely be preserved as farmland by Suffolk County. (Credit: Google Maps)

It looks like they won’t be paving one parcel on Sound Avenue and putting up a parking lot.

While one 14.7-acre parcel had one been slated for a shopping center, the Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously to authorize the purchase of its farmland development rights, disallowing any future commercial development on site.

The development rights purchase totals $1,238,160, or $84,000 per acre. The deal still awaits County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature, but the resolution to authorize the approval was introduced in the legislature at the request of Mr. Bellone.

The land is owned by Boom Development, headed by Ed Broidy of Southampton, and is located at the northwest corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue in the Reeves Park community. Mr. Broidy has already accepted the offer, according to the county resolution authorizing the deal.

In 2013, the county had planned to purchase the property as open space, with the goal being to make it a park and fitness trail. The proposal would have required Riverhead Town to pay for the cost of creating the park, which officials said at the time would cost about $76,000, and to maintain the park in the future.

As the Town Board was considering the resolution to approve the town’s part in the open space arrangement, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman George Gabrielsen objected, saying the town doesn’t have the money to build the park, and instead arguing that the county should preserve the land as farmland. The two penned an opinion piece with the News-Review arguing the same.

With Supervisor Sean Walter abstaining on the issue because he once represented Mr. Broidy as an attorney, the open space plan lacked the three votes necessary to be gain approval, and the Town Board’s other two members eventually threw their support behind the farmland preservation plan.

Under the farmland preservation scenario, the county would purchase the development rights from the land, which is actively farmed, and it could continue to be farmed, but could not be developed.

The county has never publicly revealed what the purchase price would have been as open space.

Ms. Giglio brought up the fact that the county legislature was voting on the farmland preservation resolution during Tuesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting.

“Hopefully, this land will remain a farm for another couple hundred years and it won’t be a park, so we won’t have to worry about maintaining it or spending any money,” she said.

She and Mr. Gabrielsen have argued that this land has been farmed for more than 200 years.

Mr. Broidy had proposed a commercial shopping center on the property in 2003, around the same time that EMB Enterprises, headed by Kenney Barra, proposed a commercial development on the northeast corner of Sound Avenue and Park Road.

The Town Board at the time rezoned both properties, as well as property on the south side of Sound Avenue, in response to opposition from Reeves Park residents toward the commercial applications. That resulted in lawsuits being filed by all property owners.

While Mr. Barra and the property owner on the south side of Sound Avenue, R & K Precision Autoworks, prevailed in their lawsuits against the town’s rezoning, Mr. Broidy had been working on a settlement of his lawsuit.

The land owned by Mr. Barra eventually was purchased by the county as well two years ago, and is now a September 11, 2001 Memorial Park.

tgannon@timesreview.com

05/31/14 12:00pm
05/31/2014 12:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Marratooka North Farm, an 18-acre farm off Main Road in Mattituck was the last North Fork farm to be protected through the program.

Marratooka North Farm, an 18-acre farm off Main Road in Mattituck, was the last North Fork farm to be protected through the program. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The state is bringing back to life a program aimed at protecting the state’s farmland, having secured $20.5 million in funding for the initiative, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this month. (more…)

05/30/14 8:00am
05/30/2014 8:00 AM
Farmer Debbie Schmitt at her new semi-mobile farmstand that she had built toward the end of 2013 on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: BARBARAELLEN KOCH )

Farmer Debbie Schmitt at her new semi-mobile farmstand that she had built toward the end of 2013 on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

As production costs for Suffolk County’s farmers rise, the return they receive on that investment is going down, painting a “gloomy” picture for the future of Long Island’s farm operations, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  (more…)

05/07/14 8:00am
05/07/2014 8:00 AM
Asparagus is slowly making its way into spring at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead. It is not ready to be harvested until it reaches a height of at least six to eight inches. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Asparagus is slowly making its way into spring at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead. It is not ready to be harvested until it reaches a height of at least six to eight inches. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The lasting effects of a stormy winter have put a damper on the spring growing season, and produce that would otherwise be on farm stand shelves by now has yet to even break through the ground.

April’s end usually marks the beginning of the spring harvest across the North Fork, said Philip Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead.

But this year, the season has become something of a waiting game.

“We’re hoping by the weekend to get started with some of the winter spinach,” Mr. Schmitt said. “With the rain from late Thursday and the nice weekend, things did jump a little. But we do have a long way to go. If Mother Nature cooperates from here on out we’ll be OK.”

Mr. Schmitt said the harsh winter cost him about 20 percent of his winter spinach crop, as well as some of his parsley — though he did say that there were some benefits to the deep freeze.

“When the ground freezes, it expands, and that helps to aerate the soil a little,” he explained. “It can also help with the pressures of disease and insects. With a winter like we just had, it’s certainly beneficial in that regard.”

Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms, an organic farm in Southold, said she’s about a month behind in both harvesting and planting her next round of crops.

“Everything we do is by soil temperature,” she said “The soil temperature is about 10 to 11 degrees colder than it normally is.”

While she has planted some varieties of tomatoes and peppers known to ripen early, she’s held off on planting other tomatoes.

“I have to wait for things to heat up,” she said, adding that she may consider planting some varieties in mulch to speed up the growing process.

“Even our asparagus came up later than usual,” she said.

Asparagus is the staple spring crop at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead, said grower Lyle Wells.

“We started [harvesting] the 15th of April last year, and by the 20th we were picking tremendous amount of asparagus,” he said. “This year it’s very slow growing.”

He started to harvest May 1, explaining that unlike most other vegetables, asparagus grows multiple spears from the same crown, so fields can be picked continuously.

“Instead of picking every 24 to 36 hours like we would otherwise, we’re picking every 72 hours,” he said.

But the upside of the slow start has been a surge in demand, Mr. Wells said, allowing him to sell at a higher price than normal this season.

He said he’s selling asparagus wholesale for between $2 and $2.50 a pound, where $1.50 to $2 tends to be the industry norm, though he’s not expecting those prices to last long.

“The weather seems to be turning this week, so I’m sure the price and supply will level off,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a plentiful supply for Mother’s Day so we can fire up the grill and enjoy it.”

cmiller@timesreview.com