Have you ever walked down the produce aisle at your area supermarket, noticed a “buy local” sign and wondered exactly where the vegetables you were about to purchase were grown?
You’re not alone. READ
Have you ever walked down the produce aisle at your area supermarket, noticed a “buy local” sign and wondered exactly where the vegetables you were about to purchase were grown?
You’re not alone. READ
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) implored Congress Sunday not to cut federal funding for research to combat avian influenza as the price of eggs continues to rise.
Outbreaks of bird flu have damaged the poultry industry, Mr. Schumer said in a press release Monday, noting the average price of eggs in New York City is almost 50 percent higher than it was at this point last year.
As part of the proposed federal budget, the government would scale back its allocation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $500 million.
“This funding can be used towards preventing the outbreak from spreading,” Mr. Schumer said. “I am urging Congress to give USDA the funds it needs before the egg shortage gets worse, and before grocery bills continue to rise.”
But despite rising prices elsewhere in the state, many North Fork farmers haven’t noticed a change in demand for their locally produced eggs.
“We have been selling out of eggs most days, but that’s fairly normal for this time of year,” said Elizabeth Wines, owner of Ty Llywd farm in Riverhead. “We’ve been busy, but I think it’s probably because of the summer season.”
At Browder’s Birds in Mattituck, owners Chris and Holly Browder both noted a similar situation: they sell so many eggs in the summer that it’s difficult to see whether there has been a true increase in demand.
“How it plays out in the fall and the winter will be interesting to see if the flu is a problem, but right now, we really haven’t seen a big difference,” Mr. Browder said.
Although both the Browders and Ms. Wines hadn’t noticed much change from individual consumers, they said they have received a handful of inquiries from businesses looking to cut down on rising egg costs.
“I had one baker call who bakes for a lot of farmers markets because she buys the liquid eggs that are already broken, and her price doubled overnight,” Ms. Browder said. “She wanted to revert to buying dozens of whole eggs from me, but at this point in the season, I’m already maxed out.”
More than 48 million birds have died so far from bird flu in the United States this year, either as a result of the disease itself or from being culled to prevent further infection, according to the USDA. Bird flu has been confirmed in 15 states, most of which are in the Midwest.
No state east of Indiana has a confirmed case of avian flu, but because the Midwest produces so many eggs, consumers around the country have felt the diseases’ effects on the market.
“When the cost of eggs skyrockets, we all feel it in our wallets because, unlike other foods, most egg substitutes use egg ingredients,” Mr. Schumer said in his release.
In the New York region, the wholesale price for eggs — what businesses pay — was about 30 percent higher this May than in May 2014, according to a Tuesday report from the USDA. Schumer’s press release stated that supermarkets in New York City have increased the price of a dozen eggs by up to 48 percent.
Mr. Browder said such an uptick could be beneficial for his and other local farms.
“We’re expensive relative to a store-bought egg, so if the differential becomes smaller, then maybe the demand would pick up,” he said. “People who have said ‘Browder’s Birds is too expensive for us’ — maybe they’d reconsider.”
The Browders also said while it is important to fund an immediate solution, the government must also think critically about how industry standards affect the disease.
“As far as I know, outdoor hens like ours haven’t had a problem with avian flu,” Mr. Browder said. “Isn’t that interesting? To me, it’s the system of farming that’s probably to blame.”
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.”
The Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board will host a series of meetings to discuss updates to the county’s farmland protection plan. Local meetings will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead and Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Southold Town Hall. Light refreshments will be served.
The program is held in cooperation with the Suffolk County Division of Planning and the Environment, Peconic Land Trust, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Long Island Community Foundation, Long Island Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
RSVP to Robin, 283-3195 or [email protected].
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Corn on the cob lovers can breathe a sigh of relief: despite the wet weather of recent weeks, local farmers say their corn crops are in decent shape.
In other words, you can plan on enjoying fresh sweet corn at your Fourth of July barbecue tomorrow.
“The cool spring has delayed our harvest a few days but otherwise we’re optimistic about excellent corn quality this year,” said Ed Harbes, owner of two Harbes Family Farm locations in Mattituck and Jamesport. “Fortunately, rain seldom affects sweet corn because it’s three feet off the ground and gets a lot of natural ventilation.”
The corn season, Mr. Harbes said, typically starts right around the Fourth of July and runs through the end of October. Mr. Harbes said he’s going to begin picking small amounts of the farm’s super sweet corn today.
As of Friday, Harbes Family Farm had been selling super sweet corn from Georgia.
“We’ll have to see what percentage of the corn is at its peak maturity,” Mr. Harbes said of the Mattituck farm’s 60 acres of corn. “When super sweet corn is too young it doesn’t have its full flavor.”
Mr. Harbes added that corn growers as nearby as Riverhead typically see their harvests come in a few days before farms do farther east on the North Fork.
“Our neighbors in Riverhead typically have slightly warmer temperatures because they’re less moderated by the water that’s on either side of us here,” Mr. Harbes said. “Their corn is typically ready a few days earlier than ours.”
That’s the case at Rottkamp Fox Hollow Farm in Riverhead, where owner Jeff Rottkamp said his 110-acre corn crop was affected by the rain but there will be a large enough supply for the holiday weekend.
Rottkamp Fox Hollow Farm sells sweet corn to local farm stands.
“When we had rain there were times when we should have been planting and we couldn’t get onto the farm,” he said.
“It’s going to be an interesting season from start to finish.”
North Fork farmers are facing new government regulations they say will lead to too much paperwork — only to fix a problem that exists elsewhere in the U.S.
The new regulations, part of the federal government’s Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011, aim to protect U.S. consumers from contaminated food products by improving produce production and packaging safety. The regulations pertain mostly to water quality monitoring, worker training and cleanliness. They also require documentation that farmers are meeting these standards, as well as daily record-keeping of activities on the farm. The idea, according to the FDA, is that during an outbreak of food-borne illness, the records could help determine the source of the food involved.
But local farmers say all the large outbreaks of food-borne illness from U.S. produce is related to food grown elsewhere in the country.
“A lot of these issues that have come up over the years have been from the West Coast or very large growers — far from what I consider a family farm,” said Phil Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead. “They have huge facilities where they produce more in two hours than I produce all year. Meanwhile, we have the same type of regulation after us.”
“I’ve been here for 25 years and I have never heard of any situation as a result of Long Island produce,” said Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela. “We’ve never had an outbreak.”
Before the new regulations were drafted, 14 FDA officials toured three North Fork farms in August 2011 to see how local farms were run.
“We showed them what the impact would be on small farms and the practicality of such regulations,” Mr. Gergela said. “We’re a bit disappointed.”
Of all the regulations, the documentation process will likely have the biggest effect on local farmers.
“All the growers are practicing so many aspects of food safety, they are just not documenting them to the extent that this new rule is going to make them,” said Sandra Menasha, a Cornell Cooperative Extension educator who trains local farmers to meet the new regulations.
Growers are going to need to be able to trace back every product that leaves their farm to the field where it was harvested, down to the hand that picked it, Ms. Menasha said. She has a 70-page document listing the different types of records growers will need to keep, which include daily temperate readings of refrigeration units, dates and times equipment is cleaned and sanitized and lists of visitors to the farm.
“We’re trying to keep up with everything but it’s getting harder,” said John Kujawski, a potato farmer in Riverhead. ”With all the stuff we have to do, it’s almost like we have to get a full-time secretary here.”
One upside to the new law is that some small farms will be exempt from the regulations. Farms with an average annual income of less than $500,000 for the past three years, which sell more of their products direct to consumers than to other distributors, would be considered exempt, according to the act.
Many area farms, however, do not qualify for the exemptions. Ms. Menasha estimates that about half of the North Fork’s farmers will still have to deal with the new regulations.
Depending on the size of the farm, the FDA estimates it will cost farm owners between $5,000 and $30,000 annually to comply with the new regulations.
Lyle Wells, whose family has been farming in Riverhead for centuries, said it would probably cost him $30,000 to hire someone full-time to handle the documentation alone, aside from all the other requirements he will have to meet.
“On top of the increased cost of production — fertilizer, fuel, the increased burden of environmental stewardship — the record keeping and regulations make it harder for our farmers to compete , not only on the world market but the U.S. market,” Ms. Menasha said. “We’re all small family-run farms,”
These new food safety regulations are still up for debate, as the FDA will be accepting comments on them through Sept. 16, a 120-day extension from its original deadline of May 16.
Comments can be submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov or mailed to Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.