11/09/13 2:30pm
11/09/2013 2:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

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 rharris@peconiclandtrust.org.

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

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

07/04/13 9:50am
07/04/2013 9:50 AM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Ed Harbes picks super sweet corn Wednesday afternoon at Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Ed Harbes picks super sweet corn Wednesday afternoon at Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck.

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.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

05/19/13 7:30am
05/19/2013 7:30 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farmer Phil Schmitt (left) and his sons Matt (center) and Phil Jr. loading boxes of cabbage onto a flatbed at the family’s Riverhead farm in 2011. Phil Schmitt says most food safety issues have come out of West Coast and large farm operations.

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.

cmiller@timesreview.com

03/08/13 4:00pm
03/08/2013 4:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht (left) of Garden of Eve in Riverhead explains her products to a visitor during Saturday’s Community Supported Agriculture Fair at Polish Hall in Riverhead.

Over 150 people gathered to hear the benefits of buying a share in a local organic farm at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s Community Supported Agriculture fair held at Polish Hall in Riverhead last weekend. This was the second time such a fair was held on Long Island, and the first time it was held in Riverhead.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of people here,” said Fred Lee, owner of Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. “If they could join a CSA, it would help that farm tremendously.”

Members of the community buy a farm share in the late winter, and during summer and into fall they receive a season’s worth of fresh farm produce in return.

“CSAs are very beneficial for the farms,” Mr. Lee said. “By taking payments up front, it produces a lot of up-front capital we can then use for fertilizers, land rent, to pay workers and things like that.”

“We’ve been doing this for eight years now,” Mr. Lee said. “Last year we had over 600 shares.”

Farm shares range from about $400 to $600 a season, and buyers will receive fresh produce for about 25 weeks through the summer and fall, said Nicole Dennis, CSA fair coordinator. Each farm handles shares individually, and produce ranges depending on what each farm grows, she said.

“We like to think of ourselves as a specialty vegetable producer,” said Mr. Lee, whose vegetables include bok choy, Asian radishes and snow peas. “Things that may not be in other shares.”

Steph Gaylor, owner of Invincible Summer Farms in Southold, said she plants 350 types of tomatoes and 250 kinds of peppers, and says that diversity is what sets Invincible Summer Farms apart. Ms. Gaylor said she offers 40 shares, providing shareholders fresh produce weekly for 20 weeks.

“I think this is great. CSAs on the East End have been around for a while. I think it needs to travel west,” Ms. Gaylor said.

“Long Island has some of the best soil in the U.S.,” said Roxy Zimmer, representing KK’s Farm in Southold. “I think people are discovering that the taste of food grown on local farms is more delicious. It’s a step away from the lack of quality in industrial agriculture.” She said KK’s Farm offers what’s called a Gourmet CSA that has no up-front fee.

“The people that take advantage of the farms out here really benefit,” said Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, owner of Garden of Eve in Riverhead. “Our goal is that you get more than what you paid for.”

Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht said shareholders get seven to 9 different types of produce a week depending on what’s in season.

“I got a few people to sign up,” said Phil Barbato, owner of Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport. “It’s very nice to see all these people interested in organic local food.” Mr. Barbato said he only offers 50 farm shares a year.

“I think the fact that [my program] is so small, I get to know everyone personally,” he said. “I really enjoy that part.”

Mr. Barbato said he sends his shareholders weekly newsletters with updates and information about the farm. He also started a young farmers program so the children or grandchildren of his CSA members can learn about agriculture. The children plant seeds in his greenhouse, and when those seeds grow into a seedling, the kids get their own space to plant them on his farm, Mr. Barbato said.

“I want them to see what it’s like; they can see how wonderful it is,” said Mr. Barbato, who hopes to get other children in the community interested as well.

Elena and Ron Dobert of Mattituck made their way around the fair, hearing about the different types of produce each farm offered.

“We have a garden and we are trying to eat more healthy,” Ms. Dobert said. “This seemed like a good opportunity to have organic vegetables.”

About an hour later she and her husband chose to sign up with Mr. Barbato, saying the location, price and the way he would keep them informed and educated about the farm is what set Biophilia Organic Farm apart from the others.

“And he has flowers,” Ms. Dobert said with a smile. “We are looking forward to it.”

To find out more about purchasing a farm share visit farms individually or log on to nofany.org/csafair.

07/10/12 5:00pm
07/10/2012 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Ashley Schmitt of Phil Schmitt and Sons Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead husks some corn for a customer at the farm stand on Sound Avenue. Some farmers growing corn will have an opportunity to try a new type of fertilizer.

Local farmers growing sweet corn will have an opportunity to try a new fertilizer this season designed to better protect groundwater and the Long Island Sound, according to a press release from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

The controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer is designed to break down over time according to the plant’s need for nutrients as opposed to regular fertilizer which dissolves from heavy rain, the release states. Suffolk County’s sandy soil, especially during spring rain, is susceptible to leaching of nitrogen from conventional nitrogen fertilizer.

Suffolk farmers can experiment with the new product at no risk to losing money.

The collaborative project involving Cornell, Agflex and American Fundland Trust is part of the grant-funded BMP Challenge system, which reimburses farmers who experience any reduction in their harvest after implementing the new product.

“The BMP Challenge protects the investment for farmers so they don’t have to ‘bet the farm’ on new techniques,” said Dr. Tom Green, president of Agflex.

Participating farmers will set up a side-by-side comparison with at least 8-planted rows wide running the full length of the field.

“This project will help demonstrate that it is possible to reduce the fertilizers while maintaining profitability,” said David Haight of American Farmland Trust.

Suffolk County farms sold over $300 million in farm products, more than any other county in New York, according to the 2010 U.S. Census of Agriculture, officials said.

Non-point sources of nitrogen, such as fertilizer, accounted for an estimated 72-82 percent of the total nitrogen from Suffolk County into the Sound, according to a model developed by the county with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

joew@timesreview.com

04/15/12 9:00am
04/15/2012 9:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A severe drought on Long Island hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for farms.

If the giant wildfire in Manorville, Ridge and Calverton last week didn’t hint at this, the National Weather Service will tell you outright.

Long Island is currently in a severe drought warning.

According to the NWS’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a severe drought warning is third most severe condition, with exceptional and extreme droughts being the two harshest, followed by moderate and abnormally dry.

The dangers of severe drought are described as follows by the U.S. Drought Monitor: “Crop or pasture losses likely; fire risk very high; water shortages common; water restrictions imposed.”

But for Long Island, this is the first time since August of 1999 that we’ve been in a severe drought situation, according to NWS meteorologist Mike Layer.

In August 1999, the area was in an exceptional drought warning, he said.

There are other indicators as well.

For the period from January to April 13, NWS’s rain gauge at Islip measured 5.22 inches of rain. That’s the lowest reading ever for that same time period, Mr. Layer said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor makes its drought ratings weekly each Thursday, so that rating applies to what’s already happened, Mr. Layer said.

However, what’s predicted to happened doesn’t indicate much difference.

“Over the next week, it doesn’t seem like much will change in terms of precipitation,” Mr. Layer said.

There is a possibility of rain Sunday for part of the day, but only about a tenth of an inch, Mr. Layer said.

“After that, we’re expecting warm and dry conditions until at least mid-week,” he said.

Aquebogue farmer Lyle Wells said the drought works out pretty well for his farm, and is much better than the wet conditions that existed at this time last year.

“Without the wet fields, we’re able to plant seeds and don’t have to worry about them rotting in the fields,” he said. “As long as you’re set up with irrigation, this is preferable.”

Most farmers get all the water they need from irrigation pumps, he said, so the lesser amounts of rain aren’t a problem.

He said it’s even “pushed up the season by a week or two.”

Of course, if the lack of rain continues for a prolonged period, that could eventually cause problems, he said.

“Everything in moderation,” he said. “Last year we would have loved for the rain to stop.”

tgannon@timesreview.com