03/17/13 10:00am
03/17/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop seated at the head of the table with Brookhaven fouth generation farmer and LIFB past president Bob Nolan as they met with farmers on issues of immigration reform, budget sequestration and the federal debt limit Saturday morning.

Congressman Tim Bishop and the Long Island Farm Bureau hosted the annual farmers ‘Coffee with the Congressman’ at farm bureau headquarters on Edwards Avenue in Calverton Saturday morning.

The annual discussion centers around the current status and the future of farming on Long Island.

The economy, including budget sequestration and the federal debt limit, and the issue of immigration took center stage this year.

Mr. Bishop (D-Southampton) said he believes that comprehensive immigration reform, including the ‘Dream Act’ and securing our borders, along with an agricultural visa program for farm workers will be addressed in a very realistic way.

“It is a huge issue for the agriculture community and their workforce,” said Mr. Bishop, now in his 11th year in office. “We have a real opportunity to get something done. It makes sense for it to be bipartisan.”

03/09/13 9:00am
03/09/2013 9:00 AM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | In a recent photo, Southold vineyard owner David Shanks shows the extensive pruning his vines required.

All Penguin Group CEO David Shanks ever wanted was to have a small area on his property that captured enough sunlight to grow roses and tomatoes. About a year ago, the part-time Southold resident ended up owning a 44-acre farm.

His farm, Surrey Lane Vineyard Orchard Farm, located on Main Road in Southold, was formerly Ackerly Pond Vineyard owned by Ray Blum. Prior to tilling his new land, Mr. Shanks, 66, sought advice from local expert viticulturist Steve Mudd and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead to help him jump start his farming plans.

“The people here have been amazing, friendly and helpful,” Mr. Shanks said. “I’m sure I’ve done something wrong, but I’m learning.”

Mr. Mudd described Mr. Shanks as having a fantastic attitude and said his motivation will drive the farm’s success.

“Agriculture, in general, is very frustrating because so much of it is out of your control,” Mr. Mudd said. “He’s hands-on and is a lot of fun to work with it.”

Mr. Shanks — an avid fisher of striped bass, fluke and blackfish — and his wife, Elizabeth, reside in New Jersey and purchased a second home in Southold in 2000 after deciding to move there from their summer place in Bridgehampton.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t get discovered anymore than it has,” Mr. Shanks said about the North Fork, adding he enjoys the area’s quaintness.

Mr. Shanks said that after moving he started to look into acquiring a two-acre farm where he could grow a few grapes, apple trees, vegetables and flowers. Two turned into four, then eight. Ultimately, the Shanks settled on the 44-acre farm. In addition to planting grapes, vegetables and flowers, Mr. Shanks is also growing a variety of fruits, including blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

“It’s the best thing I could have done,” Mr. Shanks said. “I’m having a good time with it.”

Mr. Shanks said the most enjoyable part of harvesting his crop last year was picking his own tomatoes and zucchini. Using the fresh produce, Mr. Shanks said, he made his own sauce and one of his favorite Italian dishes: zucchini stuffed with ricotta cheese.

“My wife cooked when the kids were little and now I do all of the cooking,” he said as he drove through his farm. “Nothing tastes better than something you pick or fish yourself.”

The property, which he bought in December 2011, includes 17-acres of grapes. Last year, he sold the 40-ton harvest to Wölffer Estate Winery in Sagaponack. Mr. Shanks said his crop will become cabernet franc and chardonnay.

Mr. Shanks said he’s enjoying getting his hands dirty and growing fruits and vegetables. Last summer, he donated most of his harvest to a food bank in Greenport.

This time around, Mr. Shanks said he’s turned his focus to apples.

Before he planted apple trees, Mr. Shanks said he sought advice from Mr. Mudd and Cornell Cooperative Extension. The group recommended Mr. Shanks use a spindle technique to support young branches to accelerate the growth process. He now has 1,800 apple trees and is growing Fuji, red delicious, dandy red and other varieties. He’s currently looking for a market to sell his next harvest, which he estimates will be about 80,000 apples.

In addition to connecting with local agriculture experts, the Brooklyn native is also making friends in the animal kingdom.

While mowing his vineyard last summer, Mr. Shanks said he came across a red-tailed hawk. As he tended to his crops, Mr. Shanks said the hawk stayed perched on a pole and watched over the field like a guard dog.

“He stayed all summer,” Mr. Shanks said, adding his wife gave it the nickname Hannibal the Hawk.

Mr. Shanks said he plans to work more on the farm this year as his company finalizes a merger with Random House. The $5 billion deal is expected to be completed August, and as to his future with the new company he said, “They don’t need two CEOs.”

As his second career as a farmer unfolds, Mr. Shanks said he doesn’t plan on opening a tasting room at his winery, nor is he interested in agritourism, such as hayrides, at this time. Maybe apple-picking in the future, he said. And he’s considering a community supported agriculture program, known as CSA. Maybe a little farm stand in the future, too.

And if Mr. Shanks ever decides to go into the winery business, he’s already got the logo picked out.

“There’s got to be a hawk of some sort on the label,” he said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

03/04/13 12:00pm
03/04/2013 12:00 PM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | New York Agri-Women member Erica Leubner discusses her trip to Japan with the group’s members at the Hyatt Place in Riverhead in 2012.

New York Agri-Women, the state chapter of a national organization devoted to the interests of women farmers, is again returning to Riverhead Town this spring, after holding its annual meeting last year at the Hyatt Place on East Main Street.

The group will hold a forum titled “Women in the Business of Farming on Long Island” on March 21 from 8:30 a.m.to 3 p.m.at Stonewalls Restaurant on Reeves Avenue.

Attendees at the event will hear the personal experiences of women involved in orchards, organic vegetables, wine grapes, greenhouse products, agritainment and aquaculture on eastern Long Island.

The conference, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch, costs $40 for New York Agri-women members and $40 for non-membres.

For more information, contact Beck Wiseman at becky.wiseman21154@gmail.com or Debbie Schmitt at debs573@yahoo.com.

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.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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.”

psquire@timesreview.com

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.

gvolpe@timesreview.com

09/10/12 8:00am

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