12/29/12 5:00pm
12/29/2012 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The stop work order at 4166 Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

A Sound Avenue farm owner is seeking permission from the Riverhead Town Board to import between 125,000 and 150,000 cubic yards of wood chips in order to further shred them and allow them to decompose over a six to 18 month period.

The applicant, Justin Purchasing Corp, is seeking to bring the wood chips to a 41-acre farm it owns on 4166 Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

Town officials said the company had been importing the wood chips from a Nassau County-owned facility in Eisenhower Park that processed debris from superstore Sandy when the town issued a stop-work order on Dec. 16, claiming the work was being done without permits from the town, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

Mr. Walter said he further contacted the office of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano to notify them that the company did not have town permits, and Nassau County then cut off “their supply” of wood chips.

Now, Justin Purchasing Corp is seeking an exemption from the Town Board from the chapter of the Town Code dealing with importation or materials, according to Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

“They are arguing that under Chapter 62 (which deals with importation), they are exempt due to the agricultural nature of what they are looking to do,” Mr Kozakiewicz said.

Mary Hartill, an attorney representing Justin Purchasing Corp, said the material is monitored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation at the Nassau County end to ensure that it is clean, and it is followed to its ultimate destination by a GPS tracker installed by the DEC.

Ms. Hartill said Justin Purchasing, which is headed by Kristian Agoglia of Huntington, assumed it was exempt from requiring a permit when it previously began importing the material, and had gone before the town’s farmland select committee and spoke to a deputy town attorney prior to beginning.

“They thought they had covered all their bases,” she said.

Ms. Hartill said the Agoglia family had owned the land for many years and farmed it. It is currently leased to a farmer, she said.  Kristian Agoglia is also the president of Looks Great Services, a landscaping company that stores equipment on the Sound Avenue property.

Chapter 62 states that an owner or lessee engaged in agricultural production, “seeking to remove soil or import material related to or incidental to the harvesting of crops or such other agricultural production shall be exempt from Chapter 62.”

“We’re not convinced that it is agricultural,” Mr. Kozakiewicz said.

“If they are bringing in limited amounts to supplement the soils on that farm, that’s agricultural,” Mr. Walter said. “If they are doing more than that, that’s not necessarily agricultural. That may be commercial processing and would need site plan approval.”

While the Town Board will ultimately decide if that’s the case, the Town Board on Thursday referred the application to the town Agricultural Advisory Committee for their opinion, which would be advisory only.

The Agricultural Advisory Committee next meets Jan. 14.

Justin Purchasing’s application describes what they are seeking to do as the following: “Importation of approximately 125,000 to 150,000 cubic yards of wood chips which will be reduced by shredding to approximately one-inch (or less) on the premises. The material will be further reduced in volume during the decomposition process, over a six to 18-month period.

“DEC guidelines for mulching will be followed. The end product of 40,000 to 50,000 cubic yards of top soil will be used as a supplement to the (existing) soil.”

Mr. Kozakiewicz said Justin Purchasing has acknowledged that they have already imported about 27,000 cubic yards of wood chips onto the Sound Avenue site.


11/03/12 9:00am
11/03/2012 9:00 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Abra Morawiec cuts loose tomato plants in a damaged greenhouse at Garden of Eve Thursday afternoon.

Hurricane Sandy may have brought historic flooding and severe winds to the East End earlier this week, but local produce farmers say the storm’s timing was about as good as it could get.

The superstorm that flooded many areas along the North Fork with water from the Long Island Sound and the bays struck so late in the season that most farms had already harvested their high value summer crops.

“Our season basically finished up at Halloween,” said Jeff Rottkamp of Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow. “Had this been two months ago, we would have had a disaster.”

More than a year ago, Tropical Storm Irene hit the North Fork, knocking over crops and — more damagingly — whipping up salt water from the sea onto the produce. It will take about a week or so to see how bad the salt spray from Sandy is, Mr. Rottkamp said, but since most crops were already harvested, the effects will not be as economically devastating.

At Schmitt’s farm stand on Sound Avenue, Debbie Schmitt was just opening up shop Thursday afternoon after power was restored. She said corn had been knocked over and the delicate herbs like cilantro and arugula were ruined by the storm, but otherwise the farm escaped without much damage.

“We’re a lot luckier than a lot of other people,” Ms. Schmitt said.

A greenhouse containing tomatos at Garden of Eve in Northville had its plastic covering ripped away by Sandy’s gusts, killing off the crop. On Thursday, a worker was cutting away the tomato plants from the greenhouse and disposing of the ruined fruits.

Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht at Garden of Eve said though the farm does plant crops into the winter, the unpredictable nature of weather in November means the crops planted then are “riskier.”

The farm lost some baby peas, baby lettuce and mustard due to the storm, but the damage was not as bad as it was after Irene when more valuable crops were in the field.

“I’m not really disappointed,” he said. “We definitely got salt [spray] going, but it even killed some of the weeds, which was fine.”


Additional reporting by Beth Young

10/23/12 10:00am
10/23/2012 10:00 AM

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Peter Sepenoski, right, of Sep’s Farm in East Marion with Senator Ken LaValle Monday.

East End farmers gathered in East Marion Monday with Senator Ken LaValle to celebrate $1 million that was earmarked to allow 69 Suffolk County farmers to install about 180,000 feet of deer fencing on their properties.

The press event took place at Sep’s Farm, where farmer Peter Sepenoski and family thanked Senator LaValle for helping them install the fencing to protect their crops.

“The increasing deer pressure on my crops was so bad that I was ready to give up farming,” Mr. Sepenoski said. “Now, I not only save money on seed and fuel but I also use less fertilizer and pesticides as a result.”

Representatives from the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District joined the Sepenoski family Monday morning to thank the senator, who addressed those gathered on the importance of local agriculture.

“I’m a sponsor of the Farmland Preservation Act and I believe that agriculture and Suffolk County are still compatible,” Mr. LaValle said. “We have trials and tribulations with Mother Nature, whether it be deer in this situation or other kinds of pests. Hopefully we have the know-how to be at least even with Mother Nature, if not a step ahead. It’s really my pleasure to have played a role to keep you farming here with your family.”

Read more about the deer fencing initiative in Thursday’s Suffolk Times E-paper

10/17/12 4:00pm
10/17/2012 4:00 PM

BARBARELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Farmer Monica Harbes (right) offers apple cider donuts to Congressman Tim Bishop (left) and United States Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to have with the hot apple cider made at her family’s farmstand on Sound Avenue in Mattituck Wednesday morning.

The deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited the North Fork Wednesday morning to meet with farmers to discuss how the federal government can help with challenges facing the agricultural industry on Long Island.

Deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan, named as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010, joined Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) at Harbes Farm and Vineyard on Sound Avenue in Mattituck.

Ms. Merrigan listened to owner Ed Harbes discuss the biggest challenges he has been facing as a farm owner, among them are what he called out-dated town codes from when potatoes ruled the soil rather than grapes and agritourism.

Mr. Harbes said he and his wife Monica switched from a wholesale potato and cabbage business to a direct market farm produce business in 1989, when it was becoming increasingly difficult to make a profit, especially in Long Island’s high-cost climate.

“My dear wife Monica painted a sign that said farm-fresh produce and before the sign was dry, we were in business,” he said.

Since then, the farm has expanded into a tourism destination, especially in the fall when pumpkins, apple cider and hay bales attract customers from all over.

“[The town's] trying to catch up the best they can, but they’re trying to balance community issues with ordinances that are on the books for different things,” Mr. Harbes said of town code advancements in light of agritourism. “In the meantime, I think our local community is really trying to work with us.”

Ms. Merrigan asked if liability insurance has been an issue and Mr. Harbes said it’s certainly a “hot spot,” but necessary in order to offer agritainment, which he said has become the lifeblood of his business at the farm.

“Fortunately so far, so good, but as our dealings with the public increases so does our liability insurance,” he said. “We’re really very dependent on the public and to a much smaller degree, they’re depending upon us so we want to do everything within our power to have a safe and pleasant place for them to visit.”

Ms. Merrigan then asked about finding employees for such a big operation.

Mr. Harbes said finding stable, long-term employees, rather than relying on seasonal workers, is a bigger issue area farmers face.

The deputy secretary pointed out USDA programs that she said Long Island farmers could benefit from, among them the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative.

“I really hope your family can get on that compass map and see the things that we’re doing at USDA that you may not know about that might help your operation or your neighbors’ operation,” she said of the USDA’s KYF compass map website.

Mr. Harbes said the concept behind the initiative has helped with their farm market and that people seem more and more likely to seek out locally grown produce.

Ms. Merrigan also encouraged local farmers to work on getting their products into schools, if not fresh, than through flash-freezing, preserving and collating their products with other farmers to get the quantity that schools often require.


09/10/12 8:00am
09/10/2012 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Ed Harbes of Harbes Family Farms explains the process for growing and harvesting corn.

The North Fork Reform Synagogue held its 6th annual North Fork Foodie Tour on Sunday.

Participants explored the bounty of the North Fork on a self-guided course, which included stops from Jamesport to East Marion.

Local businesses provided samples and behind-the-scenes tours, teaching visitors about everything from sustainable agriculture to milking goats.

See more photos at suffolktimes.com

08/15/12 8:00am
08/15/2012 8:00 AM

SIDOR FARM COURTESY PHOTO | A sunflower maze in the shape of the North Fork Potato Chips’s logo is located at the intersection of Route 48 and Cox Lane in Cutchogue.

North Fork Potato Chips has created the area’s first sunflower maze in Cutchogue.

The local potato chip company, which is owned by Sidor Farm in Mattituck, opened the nearly 3-acre sunflower maze at the intersection of Route 48 and Cox Lane on Aug. 4.

Carol Sidor, who owns North Fork Potato Chips with her husband, Martin, said several varieties of sunflower seeds were planted in May to resemble the company’s logo.

“We use sunflower oil to make our chips,” Ms. Sidor said. “We grew two fields last year, but [Tropical Storm Irene] destroyed everything.”

The sunflower maze is open everyday at 10 a.m., weather permitting. Admission costs $10 for adults; $5 for children ages 4 to 12 and free for children age 3 and under.

Pick up Thursday’s paper to read more about this story.

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