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

08/17/13 10:00am
08/17/2013 10:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Sang Lee farms manager William Lee, 27, (center, with his dog Molly) and farmhands Hudson Miller, Chaz Schneider, Mark Pagano and True McDonald. The young men are part of a unique crew of locals working at the organic farm this summer.

Looking out into the fields at Sang Lee Farms in Peconic, a group of local young men can be seen baling hay and stringing up cherry tomatoes.

These young men each knocked the door of farm owners Karen and Fred Lee this summer expressing an interest in learning about organic farming and nutrition.

“I’ve done this for over 30 years and I’ve never had a team of local boys like this,” Ms. Lee said. “They wanted to be challenged.”

While the job of summer farmhand — known for hot days and long hours — was once a common among local high school and college students during summer break, that’s no longer the case. As easier seasonal employment opportunities have opened up on the North Fork, and the practice of hiring migrant workers has expanded, local field hands who weren’t born into a farm family have become rare.

This is actually the first summer one of the crews tending the Lees’ 100-acre farm has consisted of seven local college students.

Managed by the couple’s 27-year-old son William, the men have been doing everything from digging up onions and garlic to laying irrigation lines through tomato fields.

“These young guys are connected with the land and the region,” William Lee said. “I think the appreciation of the younger generation is starting to come around, because people want to know what’s in their food.”

The crew starts its day at 7 a.m. and finishes up about 6 p.m., he said. Any farmhands who show up late “aren’t going to get the easy jobs all morning,” William Lee said.

While cleaning out a greenhouse last week — pitchfork in hand — 20-year-old Chaz Schneider of Cutchogue said he wanted to learn about plant growth and development and how to grow successfully without using chemicals.

“Working with food feels important,” he said. “It’s good to know where your food’s coming from.”

Mr. Schneider, who expects to major in environmental science at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, is the only crew member with any food production heritage. His father produces a line of all-natural fruit spreads, he said.

Sang Lee Farms veteran Hudson Miller, 21, has been working at the farm for seven years, originally working at the farm stand. The Cutchogue native, who is majoring in economics with a minor in botany at Ohio Wesleyan University, said he hopes to opening a company in the city that uses rooftop gardens to grow fresh produce.

“Working here seems like a great jump-off for it,” Mr. Miller said. He’s also participating in a winemaking internship at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue this fall.

Mark Pagan, 18, an environmental science major at Cornell University, said he wanted to apply what he was learning in the classroom to the farm.

“Now I can see the development myself,” the East Marion man said.

He and Mr. Schneider said that while the rest of their friends go out at night, they’re preparing for the early morning job, which they say would be impossible on only a few hours sleep.

The young men’s advice to others interested in working on a farm: “Stick with it. It gets better,” Mr. Schneider said.

“And be ready to get dirty,” added Mr. Pagan.

Ms. Lee said the renewed interest in farming these local men display is exciting, and she hopes many of them will return to help again next season.

“It’s been really unique and really amazing,” Ms. Lee said. “They have the energy and inspiration to get the job done.”

When comparing the students to migrant workers, William Lee said he’s seen a different level of discipline in the “American college boys,” and also appreciates the level of communication, which he doesn’t always have with migrant workers.

“They go home saying, ‘The hard day of work was good for me,’ ” Mr. Lee said. “[They] look forward to jumping in the bay at the end of the day.

“It’s a lifestyle that a lot of country boys out here appreciate.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

08/04/13 10:00am
08/04/2013 10:00 AM
Yakaboski turns 100 in Calverton

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | John Yakaboski says he’s not sure what he’s done in life to allow him to live so long, though he’s never smoked and rarely drank.

There was a time, many years ago, when a loaf of bread cost 10 cents and the only traffic on Riverhead’s Route 58 came from the occasional horse and buggy. It was a time when people didn’t lock their front doors because, well, there just wasn’t much reason to.

It’s an era, long since past, that John Yakaboski of Calverton, who turned 100 July 11, yearns for.

“Give me the good old days,” he says. “We didn’t make no money but living was cheap.”

For around 60 years, potato farming was the way Mr. Yakaboski made his living. The second of five kids, he was born at his parents’ home in Orient in 1913. The family moved to Calverton when he was about 10 years old, and he has lived in the same house ever since.

His father died when he was just 15; Mr. Yakaboski quit school and immediately went to work planting and digging potatoes on the family farm.

“That was rough times,” he recalls. “We had to dig with a one-road digger. Then we had to pick up the potatoes in a basket and put ‘em in bags.”

Life wasn’t all work, though. One of Mr. Yakaboski’s favorite childhood pastimes was going fishing with his older brother, Frank.

“He’d go for pickerel and I’d go for pumpkin seed,” Mr. Yakaboski says. “You can’t buy them in a store.”

For a time, when he was 18, Mr. Yakaboski worked at a duck ranch.

“My job was killing ducks,” he says. “There were three duck ranches in Calverton and now there are none. I got 18 dollars a week from six o’clock in the morning to six at night. That was good money. Oh, well.”

Mr. Yakaboski was 33 when he and his wife, Wanda, were married. The couple, who met through a relative of Mr. Yakaboski’s in Bridgeport, Conn., had three sons: John Jr., Ed and Walter. Wanda Yakaboski died in 2004 at age 85.

Today, most of Mr. Yakaboski’s friends — and all but one sibling, his 96-year-old sister Albina — have died.

“All my friends are practically gone,” he says. “I’m still kickin’ around. I miss them.”

To help occupy the time, Mr. Yakaboski talks on the phone, visits with nearby family members and watches television – well, a little.

“I watch television but there’s nothing on it – just a lot of junk,” he says. “Most of the time, I start with the weather and the news at four o’clock. At seven o’clock I watch ‘Jeopardy!’ and then watch ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ Then I shut it off and that’s it.”

Mr. Yakaboski goes to bed at half-past nine and wakes up around 6 a.m., perhaps because he’s unable to shake a lifetime of rising at dawn.

“One day, about a week ago, I couldn’t fall asleep, so I got up and put my clothes on,” he says. “I ate, then looked at the clock and it was two o’clock in the morning. So I says, ‘Well, I guess I’ll undress and go to bed again.’ ”

If there’s a secret to living a long life, Mr. Yakaboski says he isn’t aware of it. He never smoked and rarely drank as a younger man and, aside from having a pacemaker, he’s in good health.

“I don’t know what’s keeping me around,” he says, chuckling lightly.

ryoung@timesreview.com

06/02/13 8:40am
06/02/2013 8:40 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork's corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork’s corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

New York could become the first state in the nation to require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such, a move farmers say could put locally grown produce at a disadvantage.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) have sponsored legislation to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. The bills follow years of debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, which were introduced in the early l990s. Legislation has been proposed in several states, including California, where it was put before voters in 2012 as Proposition 37 and failed by a slim margin. Bills have been introduced more recently in Connecticut and Maine.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is produced when genes from one species are extracted and artificially introduced into the genes of another, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary.

The practical applications of this process include giving a plant the ability to produce its own pesticide to deter insects, thereby saving farmers having to apply costly and potentially dangerous pesticides, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology, which investigates the risks and impacts of GMO foods.

Major GMO food crops include soy, cotton and corn, said Dale Moyer, associate executive director of agriculture for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk. It’s not employed on fresh fruits and vegetables such as oranges or peppers.

Varieties of sweet corn are the only GMO crops grown on the North Fork intended for human consumption, but they’re very limited, Mr. Moyer said. Some area farmers also grow field corn, used primarily as animal feed, he added.

Under the pending legislation sweet corn varieties grown from genetically modified seeds would fall under the mandatory labeling requirement.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Mr. LaValle. “Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

But Steve Ammerman, spokesperson for the NYS Farm Bureau, said mandatory labeling is unnecessary.

“We believe the policies should be based on sound science, and the science so far is that GMO foods are safe,” Mr. Ammerman said. “Labeling would imply that GMO foods are not.”

He argues that labeling will put GMO-grown products at a disadvantage when placed next to other produce. “If a consumer walked up and saw a label that said ‘Contains GMO,’ it misleads the consumer,” he said.

Kathleen Furey, director of GMO Free New York, said genetically modified foods have not been proven safe. There have not been any long-term, independent, peer-reviewed human consumption studies to support that claim, she said. The longest study to date on GMO foods ran about two years and involved rats, not humans, she said.

The study, led by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini, found that mice fed a diet of genetically modified corn experienced increased mortality, tumors and organ damage compared to a control group that was fed non-modified corn, said Ms. Furey.

“We deserve the right to know what were eating,” she said.

About 80 percent of what shoppers see on supermarket shelves contain GMOs, said Ms. Furey. Many of the products are processed foods, including infant formulas.

Consumers do have one way of spotting GMO-free foods. Certified organic foods do not contain genetically modified products, Mr. Ammerman said.

If labeling is mandated, farmers would rather see labeling say something like “GMO free” as compared to “contains GMO,” said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

The legislation is expected to come up for a vote before the current legislative session ends June 20.

cmiller@timesreview.com