09/12/14 8:00am
09/12/2014 8:00 AM
A buffalo calf feeds at North Quarter Farm in Riverhead Tuesday. Owner Ed Tuccio said the dry summer season decreased the newborn mortality rate. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

A buffalo calf feeds at North Quarter Farm in Riverhead Tuesday. Owner Ed Tuccio said the dry summer season decreased the newborn mortality rate. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The dog days of summer weren’t very dogged this year, at least not in terms of 90-plus degree days. That, combined with a lack of rain, created some ideal conditions for local produce and livestock farmers.

“Overall it has been tremendous for growing,” said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. “The quality of produce and fruit is unbelievable, actually. Just really magnificent crops.”  (more…)

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…)

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…)

02/06/14 6:00am
02/06/2014 6:00 AM

Carrie Miller photo | Local farmers will continue to benefit from an updated farm bill.

North Fork farmers who have waited nearly two years for the passage of an updated farm bill say that if the president signs the measure passed this week by Congress, they stand to benefit from many of the same subsidy programs they have in the past — as well as new initiatives aimed at expanding crop insurance and farm-to-consumer marketing. (more…)

12/21/13 8:00am
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

09/07/13 10:00am
09/07/2013 10:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Farmer KK Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southold, said biodynamic preparations cost her as little as $8 an acre.

It’s easier to work with Mother Nature than to fight her, according to some North Fork farmers.

These farmers don’t use conventional farming methods – applying synthetic pesticides and fertilizers — but they aren’t considered “certified organic” either, although their growing techniques involve only natural materials.

They farm using biodynamics.

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association describes this technique as “a spiritual, ethical, and ecological” approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. It dates back to the 1920s, when a group of farmers became concerned with the declining health of the soils, plants and animals on their land, according to the association.

“The basic premise is to bring the natural ecosystem and natural local ecology back on to your farm,” said Barbara Shinn, owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck. She described it as “restorative farming.”

Ms. Shinn said synthetic fertilizers and pesticides upset a farm’s natural ecosystem, stripping away healthy organisms as well as the pests they are designed for.

“It’s about balance,” said KK Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southold. “When you have a lot of pests it’s an indication there is an imbalance in your soil.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Blueberries grown using biodynamic preparations on the vine at KK’s The Farm.

Instead of chemicals, these farmers use what they call “preparations” made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs, Ms. Haspel said.

Different preparations add microbes back into the soil, stimulating effects like root growth and photosynthesis, combating fungus and regulating the plant’s use of nitrogen naturally bound up in the soil, according to the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics Inc., which makes the preparations.

“It increases the microbial action exponentially in the soil,” Ms. Haspel said, who began planting biodynamically in 2000 and attended a year-long course at the institute to learn about the different farming methods.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An infestation of insects indicates an imbalance of microbes in the soil, according to the owner, who said she does not use any pesticides on the farm.

Other techniques include following a calendar that estimates the best days for germination when planting seeds, and leaving parts of the farm untouched.

Ms. Haspel said she farms only two of her five acres.

Both she and Ms. Shinn said that, aside from helping the environment, there is a cost benefit to biodynamic farming.

The preparations cost between $5 and $8 per acre and are simply mixed with water. The solutions are then applied by hand using a whisk-type tool, Ms. Haspel said.

“I can say with using the natural additions to my soil, and not man-made fertilizer, I estimate I save approximately $2,000 a year just on soil additions alone,” Ms. Shinn said.

She began the transition to biodynamic farming in 2004, wanting to take a more organic approach to maintaining her vineyard. She said she relies on books and seminars to learn the farming methods.

Biodynamic farming, she said, allows her vineyard to use the yeast that occurs naturally on the grapes’ surface for fermentation.

“What you’re growing is going to be a much more natural reflection of the farm and of the place your food and wine is growing from,” Ms. Shinn said. “We’ve definitely seen an evolution in our wines. Our wines have become much more complex much more concentrated and definitely have an earthy characteristic.”

Those who take a biodynamic approach “treat their farm as a single living organism,” Ms. Shinn said.

“It is a whole different way of thinking and doing things,” Ms. Haspel said. “I’m doing it, and I am doing it successfully.”

Both farmers, who are among just a few currently using biodynamics locally, say they hope others will begin using these methods to restore the health of the North Fork’s soil and surface water.

cmiller@timesreview.com

09/04/13 1:50pm
09/04/2013 1:50 PM

liveblog

Update: The Town Board has tabled a resolution that would have rejected a mining permit for Driftwood Family Farms in Calverton.

Click the blog box at the bottom of this post to follow along.

ORIGINAL POST: The Riverhead Town Board is meeting today, Wednesday, at 2 p.m. instead of its usual Tuesday due to the Labor Day holiday weekend.

As first reported last week, the board is expected to deny a controversial excavating permit application for Driftwood Family Farms, whose owners have been seeking permission to excavate more than 415,000 cubic yards of material from a 42-acre farm in Calverton.

The board discussed the resolution briefly at its work session last Thursday when reviewing resolutions for today’s meeting.

The board appeared to have at least three votes to deny the application, with officials fearing it could set a precedent, given the millions of dollars that can be fetched from selling sand.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Mattituck Laundry at 1044 Parkway Street in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Mattituck Laundry at 1044 Parkway Street in Riverhead.

Board members are expected to approve a clearing permit for an expansion of the Riverhead Charter School in Calverton.

Work is expected to begin soon on a new two-story building at the Riverhead Charter School that will replace the portable classrooms the school has been using since 2002. The permit will allow contractors to export 4,075 cubic yards of soil from the school property.

There is also a public hearing scheduled on whether to expand the Riverhead Sewer District to accomodate Mattituck Laundry with sewer connections at 1044 Parkway Street in Riverhead.

News-Review staff writer Tim Gannon will be reporting live from today’s meeting.

See below for a full agenda. Click below that to follow along.

 

September 4, 2013 – Agenda