10/20/13 8:00am
10/20/2013 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Seven-year-old James McGrath of Islip hauls a pumpkin last Saturday at Gabrielsen’s Country Farm in Jamesport. Pumpkin-picking is one reason people flock to the North Fork in the fall, leading to plenty of traffic.

I love my commute to work. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one around here who considers it a privilege to be able to drive Sound Avenue and other scenic routes in the area during their daily commute. Driving into – or even away from – a rising sun while farmers tend their fields or passing a tractor rolling along seems to offer a sense of “away-from-it-all” peace that, for me at least, makes the daily drive pretty enjoyable.

Then comes the weekend.

JOSEPH PINCIARO

JOSEPH PINCIARO

Particularly this time of year, as most of us know, those drives — though you’re often not doing too much actual “driving,” but rather “slowly traveling” — can easily become a little less enjoyable.

Yes, it’s pumpkin-picking season. Corn maze season. Apple-picking season.

If you haven’t already, you’ll probably read plenty on Facebook or maybe hear it in the grocery store about those dreaded tourists, the people from “up west” who annually swarm the slice of heaven we’re blessed to be able to call home year-round. They’ll pay someone to harvest their crops for them (extra points for the farmer who thought that one up!), the young-uns will post some selfies on Instagram (look guys, no pavement!) and someone might even bring grandma out into the farm in an electric wheelchair (I actually saw that one last weekend).

What they’re all doing, ultimately, is clogging up all these one-horse (or five-lane) roads and getting in our way as we just try to get our hair cut or make a trip to the hardware store.

They really should just go back to where they came from and leave us all alone, right?

I honestly doubt many people out there think all tourists should leave us alone. But what do we do exactly — close the gates at the Brookhaven Town border?

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, a place people don’t really travel to. They live there, as do their family and friends, and they have fun together and watch the Red Sox together and make plenty of beautiful memories there. And they travel short distances when they want to be somewhere different for a weekend or so. Now, I happen to live in that place I used to travel to.

So I guess I don’t really get some of the complaints about tourists. If someone’s drive is delayed 20 minutes because people are dragging their bags of pumpkins across the street and wheeling their kids down the road in their wagons, to me that means a lot of people really wanted to come to the area I live in. Which I think is pretty neat.

I do hear horror stories about the way some tourists behave. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all tourists are angels or that dealing with agritourism traffic couldn’t be improved. But let’s not let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. And we’ve all heard that saying about people in glass houses (not greenhouses), right?

I was told by Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, that from Labor Day through the end of October, agritourism will generate anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the annual revenue that comes into the farms that I’m able to enjoy long after those families are gone, the pumpkins rotted on their doorsteps. Agriculture as a whole in Suffolk County leads the state in terms of sales dollars generated, according to a 2010 study, bringing in over $240 million. And Cornell University found in the early 2000s that over 70 percent of farm owners said their agritourist customers were repeat customers, while nearly half of the customers themselves reported spending money at those destinations on more than one occasion.

I’m not exactly sure what all those numbers mean when it comes down to a direct impact on my pocket.

But if working around really bad traffic for a few weekends — or just staying home and doing work around the house or watching college football — is part of the cost of maintaining those morning drives on Sound Avenue while most of the tourists are taking the LIRR, I’ll take it.

Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The News-Review. He can be reached at jpinciaro@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow him on Twitter @cjpinch.

10/19/13 10:00am
10/19/2013 10:00 AM

Has anyone ever told you that you “just have to learn to say no”?

Do you feel guilty when you have to choose between participating in two benefits on the same day and wish that there were two of you so you could? Do you see the same people working at almost every charity event? When asked to help, and you really want to beg off, does “yes” or “sure” inexplicably come out of your mouth instead?

Tom Hashagen

If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, I’m afraid to tell you that you have a serious disease — yes, you are a professional volunteer. While that may seem to be a contradiction in terms, volunteers who exhibit the described symptoms have gone to the next level, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure.

By definition, a professional is someone who gets paid regularly for a service rendered. One could argue that most volunteers are “semi-pros,” in the same way that most semi-pro athletes play a sport but must supplement their income with day jobs. But the only payment volunteers get is satisfaction for a job well done, and most of them log enough annual hours to count as a part-time job at the very least, so professional volunteers it is. True, many professional volunteers are retirees, but seeing as simply maintaining the house and yard and keeping the deer out is a full time job anyway, the rating stands.

When helpmate informed me that somehow I had been left off the kitchen crew list for an event raising money for a great local cause, my throat started to close up as I ran for the phone to rectify the error.

“No!” she said, “It’s all right. They said to just show up.”

I relaxed, a little. But you know what? I didn’t show up.

Here’s what happened. Early afternoon on Sunday we decided to explore a few wineries, keeping to Route 25 so as to avoid that vortex of agritainment, Sound Avenue. We wound up at McCall’s, where it had been suggested we go to try some really good reds. In conversation with our server, we discovered that we were mutually acquainted with Tom Schaudel, a famous Long Island chef, and learned that he was busy helping at a benefit in Cutchogue.

Turns out the benefit was for another chef, Gerry Hayden of the North Fork Table and Inn, who has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He gets around with help nowadays, but his eyes, nose and taste buds are as good as ever.

I start twitching. On we go toward the ferry, and helpmate spies yet another chef friend chatting with someone in a west-bound parked car. “Hey,” she exclaims, “isn’t that Mike Meehan?” Yes, the same Mike Meehan of H20 in Smithtown. “He’s got to be here for that benefit,” I say, as I start to sweat.

We had already decided to stop at the famous lunch truck at the North Fork Table, and as I’m waiting for my hot dog with “all three” toppings, I see co-owner Mike Mraz and get the details. “You need to go,” helpmate says, matter-of-factly. A quick phone call to Shaudel and I’m committed. Home, I change in to my chef togs and back on the ferry I go.

Arriving at Eight Hands Farm in Cutchogue only forty-five minutes before hors d’oeuvre, I felt a little like an interloper, but that feeling evaporated as I was immediately put to work by Shaudel spooning black coconut rice into small tasting spoons, soon to be topped with a seared scallop, pumpkin relish and a delicious sauce, the ingredients of which I am not at liberty to divulge. That dish finished, I’m off to help wherever I can. I am drawn to a cutting board where a slender log of puff pastry filled with braised lamb and figs is being bias-cut for a platter. Across the tent someone is shucking Race Rock oysters. There’s duck breast being seared in a rondeau out back, next to a huge pot of simmering sauerkraut. The aroma is intoxicating.

The fire-power at this event is staggering. Restaurants and purveyors like Mirabelle, Nick and Tony’s, H20, Alure, Jewel, the Square at Greenport, Blue Canoe, Catapano’s, McCalls, Browders Birds, Blue Duck Bakery, the Riverhead Project, Town Line Barbecue and the Art of Eating have sent their chefs or representatives to be counted as helping one of their own. I spend the night moving sheetpans of duck, local kielbasa and tomato-crusted striped bass, platters of roasted beets and red cabbage, bowls of braised kale and crispy fingerling potatoes.

The crowd of 200 or better barely has room for Claudia Fleming’s Apple-Raspberry Crostada, as Gerry eloquently thanks his guests and comrades-in-food for an unforgettable evening.

Great people, great food, great cause.

At a recent “old-timers” softball game, I saw plenty of the familiar faces at the grill and doing whatever else needed to be done to help raise money for the Shelter Island Boosters. It was especially good to see two or three of the next generation of volunteers coming up, but we could use a few more. I mentioned earlier that a lot of our local volunteers are retirees and they do a tremendous work, but they won’t be around forever.

Do you have what it takes to be a volunteer, even a semi-professional one? There’s plenty of work to go around!

Mr. Hashagen, who teaches culinary arts at Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Riverhead, writes a monthly column for the Shelter Island Reporter.

10/12/13 8:00am
10/12/2013 8:00 AM

Capitol

Working in local media, it can be hard to keep up with the news beyond our coverage area. “Did you hear about ______?” my wife will sometimes ask after I get home from work. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a big splash in the sports world or something out of Washington, D.C., my response is often just, “I saw the headline. Wait. What was that about?”

JOSEPH PINCIARO

So when I started hearing more, and then some more, about what was happening in the nation’s capital Oct. 1 — the “federal government shutdown” as it was being labeled — my interest was piqued. But still, local news called. Plus, the phrase “government shutdown” struck me as indicating that the entire conflict was being a bit overplayed. Will martial law ensue? I doubt it. Back to the grind.

While I have yet to see any ships storm the coast of the North Fork, plundering our fields and rip asunder our families, it turns out this national headline has affected us here in the Times/Review newsroom a little more than I expected. Which means it’s also affected you — the reader.

Perhaps most noticeably — at least for us at the paper — Newsday broke a story Oct. 1 about a drug sting in Riverhead led by the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Unit. Reporter Paul Squire worked hard to get some original reporting of his own done as soon as we heard about it, but his hands were largely tied.

When he arrived at the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Wednesday, just two of about a dozen desks were occupied, with no criminal complaint on the case to be found. Typically inputted in the federal court’s system by then, it was not made available until late Thursday night. Once he got it, Paul was able to put together a 1,350-word report detailing exactly how federal agents uncovered nearly 1,700 marijuana plants inside a nondescript Osborn Avenue home. The news was up two days later — which can be considered a long time in today’s news cycle.

Mug shots for the men — both currently facing 10 years to life on charges of distribution of a controlled substance — remain unavailable because the media contact for New York’s Eastern District Court is still out of work.

Pot busts weren’t the only story we were covering that reached the federal level, though.

Carrie Miller penned a front-page article recently about the immigrant workforce on the North Fork. Finding something as simple as U.S. Department of Agriculture data for a potential follow-up was no longer possible once that department shut down its website. And who knows when it will be available once — or maybe more like it, if — leaders in the nation’s capital come to an agreement.

The website simply states: “After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again.”

It was the same message I got Oct. 1 while looking around for some background information on USDA sharpshooters.

And how about writing an actual news story about local impacts of the shutdown itself? It’s hard to get too much detail about something when the people whose job it is to relay information to the press aren’t working, our congressman’s spokesman being the lone exception, I’ve found. But even he couldn’t track down info for us relating to Plum Island — since nobody was there to receive his requests.

So on some recent evenings, it turns out, I’ve had something to say when my wife has asked me about national news.

Apparently 800,000 people losing their jobs is some kind of news story.

Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The News-Review. He can be reached at jpinciaro@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow him on Twitter @cjpinch.

10/07/13 4:28pm
10/07/2013 4:28 PM

The East End could see a string severe thunderstorms Monday afternoon into the evening, National Weather Service officials said.

The Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm watch to be in effect until 10 p.m., said meteorologist Ashley Sears.

A cold front pushing through New Jersey this afternoon will make conditions “favorable” for thunderstorms to form, with gusts up to 50 mph and rainfall totals as high as 3/4 of an inch, Ms. Sears said.

Residents shouldn’t be fooled by the pleasant weather on the North Fork early Monday, she added.

“The more sun you see the better chance you have of seeing a thunderstorm out there,” she said.

The area may experience some “nuisance flooding,” but added the risk of flash floods or serious damage was low.

The Weather Service had earlier issued a tornado warning for parts of New Jersey and the New York metro area after the storm began to rotate, but the warning has since been cancelled with no reported tornadoes touching down.

“That threat has definitely subsided,” Ms. Sears said.

psquire@timesreview.com

10/05/13 10:20pm
10/05/2013 10:20 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | On a beautiful warm afternoon Saturday, a big crowd turned out for the Pour the Core hard cider festival.

Apple season has never tasted so good on the North Fork. The second annual Pour the Core hard cider festival drew more than 2,000 people to Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue Saturday.

To see more photos from the festival, check out Northforker.com.

09/29/13 2:30pm
09/29/2013 2:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | This Aquebogue home recently renovated by owner/builder Daniel Cartagena is on the market for $279,000.

Home-buying can be stressful for anyone. But for buyers shopping at the more affordable end of the North Fork price spectrum – say, under $300,000 – a slim inventory and a high-demand area can make the process even harder.

So what can one expect to find?

For one, competition.

“It’s a very popular slot price-wise,” said Pat Wilson with Colony Realty in Jamesport.

Second, be prepared to get your hands dirty.

“I would imagine there would be some work that would need to be done,” said Sheri Winter Clarry of Corcoran in Southold.

And third, understand that the house itself will likely be somewhat modest — but it will be yours.

“You’ll find a fairly decent starting house,” said Patrick Fedun with Fedun Real Estate in Aquebogue.

In addition to a North Fork market that’s inherently competitive due to its location, real estate overall appears to be on the rebound, making homes in the $300,000 area tough to come by.

Mr. Fedun added that, so far this year, “we’re pretty much back to normal with what’s going on with sales. If you look at what was going on five years ago, it’s pretty much the same.”

This year’s numbers to date tend to confirm this.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The kitchen and living room of Mr. Cartagena’s house. In order to create an open floor plan, he added a steel beam between the two areas.

According to Suffolk Research Service, a real estate data tracking firm, median home values in Riverhead Town bottomed out last year, when the median price of a single-family home fell to $320,000. So far this year, it’s jumped to $349,000. In 2009, the median home price was $355,000.

The number of sales in the $150,000 to $300,000 range has picked up as well, particularly since the beginning of 2012.

Last year, 111 homes in that range were sold in Riverhead, well above the 74 sold in 2011. Through mid-August 2013, 68 homes priced at or under $300,000 had been sold. The median selling price in the range is up 3.8 percent this year over last.

“We’ve been incredibly busy this year,” Ms. Wilson said. “We started running in January and have been selling and showing since. I think we’ve had a hell of a year.”

Ms. Wilson is currently showing one home listed for $279,000. While most homes on that end of the overall real estate market can be expected to have some wear and tear, this three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom ranch in Aquebogue was renovated by the owner and sports granite countertops, new appliances and more. It’s more the exception than the rule, however.

“Unfortunately, a majority are in horrendous shape,” Ms. Wilson said.

Many of those homes end up staying on the market for extended periods, she said, creating a cycle that makes it harder and harder for a first-time homebuyer — or any buyer in the price range — to invest their money, as neglected homes get no better over time. Some vacated short sales currently on the market have sat for over a year.

For first-time buyers, Suffolk County recently jump-started a program that offers up to $14,000 in down payment assistance for qualified individuals buying homes costing up to $333,000. Applicants have until the end of October to apply; as of Sept. 19 — less than three weeks after the county started taking applications — 64 people had applied. In total, the county is offering $500,000 in down payment assistance.

In the meantime, interest rates have risen more than a full percentage point from an all-time low of 3.38 percent about a year ago.

Aidan Wood, senior vice president with Bridgehampton National Bank, said he’s noticed more movement in purchases on the East End this year, as refinancing has slowed with rising interest rates.

Mr. Fedun echoed Mr. Wood’s sentiments.

“We’ve seen a good jump in [purchasing] interest because interest rates have gone up,” he said. “It’s encouraged people to buy a little bit. We’ll see where it goes.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

To see some examples of affordable homes on the market, northforker.com features regular North Fork real estate segments, Three Under 300K and Three Under 350K.

09/27/13 7:00am
09/27/2013 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Many in the local agricultural industry say finding suitable farmhands is becoming a challenge because of an increased focus on proper documentation of workers, economics that limit how much farmers can pay and a visa program they say is too expensive.

Constantine Curup’s life as a farm worker would hardly be considered enviable.

The Guatemalan immigrant left his family in 2002 to work in the fields of Long Island.

“It’s hard, because we work in the sun, in the humidity,” said Mr. Curup, who earns $12 an hour. But his English skills have improved in his 11 years here, which helped him in picking up some better-paying landscaping work. He hasn’t seen his wife and three children — two girls and a boy, all in their teens — since 2007.

He doesn’t know when he’ll see them again.

“I have to do so much for my family,” Mr. Curup said as he waited to pay for a sports drink at a Polish Town deli one recent afternoon.

Local farmers say the number of people willing to live a life like Mr. Curup’s is dwindling — and not due only to the long, hard hours and time away from their families. Immigrant farm workers look at working in the fields as a stepping stone to more lucrative and more comfortable jobs, so they’re not likely to return after landing positions in other industries. It’s also becoming more problematic to hire such workers if they’re not in the country legally.

Scrutiny of national immigration policies has intensified in recent years and farmers have experienced greater pressure from more scrupulous government monitoring of illegal hiring practices. Many immigrants have also returned to their home countries because of the prolonged downturn in the U.S. economy.

“Usually you have lots of people knocking on the door, and this spring there was nobody,” said Paulette Satur, owner of the 180-acre Satur Farms in Cutchogue.

This season, she said, her field worker staff is down by 40 percent, pushing her to change which crops she grows and when she grows them.

Philip Schmitt of the 165-acre Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead said he had to leave some crops to wilt in the fields this year — lettuce and turnips, for example, both labor-intensive crops — due to a lack of farmhands.

“We basically stopped taking orders [on parsley] because we didn’t have time to bunch it,” Mr. Schmitt said. “As it’s tightened up, some [immigrant workers] have gone to working for catering halls, where the money is better and they are working in air conditioning.”

Mr. Schmitt usually needs 20 to 25 workers during busy times, but he’s been trying to get by with just 15 to 18.

ON REFORM

Immigration reform advocates have championed recent efforts in Washington, D.C., specifically the Senate’s passage of a reform bill in June, as part of the answer, saying it will bring relief to employers, immigrant workers and the overall economy by getting more people on the tax rolls. But local farmers say the revamped guest worker programs included in the bill come with the same fundamental flaw as the current program: it’s too expensive for the growers, especially at the smaller farms that dot Long Island’s East End.

Joe Gergela of the Long Island Farm Bureau, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Calverton, said local farmers simply cannot afford to pay workers higher wages.

For one thing, he explained, small farm operations are much more sensitive to the slightest changes in the cost of growing and preparing products for market. Larger companies like Dole and Green Giant — or “big agriculture out west,” as Mr. Gergela calls it — have lower overhead costs because they use machinery and automated production procedures instead of relying on bodies to care for and harvest crops.

Because local farms must compete with larger operations, which set market rates, they can’t raise their prices to make up for higher wages, Mr. Gergela said.

Currently, the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program allows farmers to bring in foreign workers for up to one year, with extensions available for up to three years total. Although there is no cap on the number of workers who can enter the country legally through the program, it’s under-used because of the high costs associated with it, he said.

According to data from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, New York State farmers petitioned for 3,953 guest workers in 2012. Only 23 of those petitions — less than one-half of 1 percent — came from farmers in Suffolk County.

“It’s cumbersome, expensive and farmers do not want to deal with that type of program,” Mr. Gergela said.

Under the H-2A program, farmers are required by the Department of Labor to pay guest workers what’s called the adverse wage effect rate, an average hourly wage calculated regionally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according Mr. Gergela and the department’s website. The New York State rate is $10.91 an hour, higher than what some farmers say they can currently afford to pay. And, Mr. Gergela explained, if growers bring on a guest worker, the minimum rate becomes mandatory for all other workers on the farm. At the same time, the rate in New York is higher than in western states like California – home of the Green Giant — where the adverse wage effect rate is currently $10.74 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor at dol.gov.

H-2A program requirements also make farmers responsible not only for the guest worker’s room and board here but also for their round-trip travel costs to the U.S. and back home.

There are about 5,000 agricultural workers on the East End, Mr. Gergela said. An estimated 60 percent of that workforce, or 3,000 people, are undocumented workers from other countries, he said.

While there is currently no official limit on the number of agricultural guest workers allowed annually under the H-2A program, only 183,860 visas were granted in 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security website, dhs.gov. Yet close to 1.4 million workers are needed annually nationwide, Mr. Gergela said.

The Senate’s new immigration reform bill, if enacted, would cap the number of agricultural guest workers at 112,333 annually for the first three years. After the three-year mark, the bill reads, those numbers would be re-evaluated and adjusted, depending on the need and the economy. Farmers would still foot the bill for room, board and travel under the proposed program.

Under the bill, the hourly wage rate for some workers would drop to a national minimum of $9.19 per hour — at least for the first year. But wages would also vary with a worker’s job description; equipment operators, for example, would earn an hourly minimum of $11.30.

The proposed law also includes a new Blue Card provision, which Mr. Schmitt said could affect his workforce.

The Blue Card would give agricultural workers who “have performed agricultural employment in the United States for not fewer than 575 hours or 100 work days during the 2-year period ending on Dec. 31, 2012,” U.S. temporary resident status. Eventually, according to the bill, they would be able to earn American citizenship.

Mr. Schmitt warned of unintended consequences under the bill, which he said could actually further deplete the available workforce.

“Once everyone here is documented, they are going to move on to other things,” Mr. Schmitt said. “They are not going to stay on the farm. Who is going to replace them?”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO |  Workers harvest grapes at a North Fork farm this summer.

THE WORKERS

Most migrant workers now coming to Long Island are from Guatemala, México, El Salvador and Colombia, according to a state Department of Labor spokesman.

In 1990, there were about 2,100 migrant workers in Suffolk County, mostly on the North Fork, with about half living here year-round and the other half traveling the country or internationally during the off season, according to an earlier article published in the Riverhead News-Review. Of that population, roughly 80 percent were Hispanic and 20 percent African-American, the article reported.

A current racial or ethnic breakdown of the local migrant worker population was unavailable.

José Pirir, originally from Guatemala, found his first job on a Long Island farm when he arrived here some 10 years ago.

He said migrant workers see working in the fields as a stepping stone in the local workforce.

“When they first come, they can’t speak English here,” Mr. Pirir said from a Griffing Avenue store in downtown Riverhead recently, where he had been speaking with his mother by phone. “They learn some English and then they start looking for other jobs.”

That’s what he did, he said.

After two years on a farm in Peconic, he found work with a contractor and now does carpentry.

“I was treated good there, but it’s really hard work and they do not pay enough money,” Mr. Pirir said of his life in farming. “I understand why. [The farmers] only get a few dollars for a pound of tomatoes. It’s not easy to pay $20 an hour to have a man pick tomatoes all day.”

He blamed the unstable economy and competition among East End farms for the current shortage of farm workers on the North Fork.

“It depends on the location,” Mr. Pirir said “In Southampton or Bridgehampton they give you $15 an hour. If you go to Sound Avenue [on the North Fork] you’re going to get $10 or $12. Where would you want to go?”

Amagansett farm owner Alex Balsam didn’t deny that farms on the South Fork often pay more.

He said his $15 hourly wage helps him keep the workers he needs — and that he needs to pay those rates.

“We’re in a situation on the South Fork where everything is more expensive,” he said. “We sell our produce for a higher price, but even though it seems higher, it’s just all part of the game out here” on the South Fork, where the cost of living is higher than other areas in the region.

He also said there are so many farms on the North Fork that workers can be harder to come by, due to the demand.

The migrant worker population has increased over the past two decades in part because of the burgeoning wine industry. And vineyard owners say they are facing their own challenges.

“We have steady, year-round employees,” said Ron Goerler Jr., owner of Jamesport Vineyard and president of the Long Island Wine Council trade group. “The real issue has become the part-time people that we need to harvest. You can’t do certain things, say, leaf removal. And if you don’t do it on a timely basis, the fruit can’t ripen properly. Hand-picking is the best, and if you’re trying to make the best quality wine, you still need the bodies to get the work done.”

He also said vineyards are trying to pool resources, noting that he’d received a call just this past Friday from a neighboring winery asking to borrow four or five workers for harvest. And while wineries are getting by, he said, the trend can be alarming to the entire industry.

“A lack of workers presents a lot of different challenges in terms of the future,” Mr. Goerler said. “If you’re not going to have the labor, you’re not going to expand, which means you’re not in a healthy situation.”

THE COSTS

Scrutiny of hiring practices has intensified in recent years, which has also hurt the availability of immigrant workers, Mr. Gergela said, adding that farmers are being audited to ensure paperwork is complete and Social Security cards are available, and it’s happening more frequently than in the past.

“It happens every few years,” he said of the average crackdown on farmers.

“The government has stepped up pressure on employers,” he said. “We have to be careful that workers are who they say they are, which is affecting hiring practices.”

Documentation issues on farms may also be pushing migrant workforce into other sectors, he said.

Some experts say local immigration laws, and with them stepped-up enforcement efforts, have already hurt agriculture in other states.

“In Alabama they lost around 40 percent of their workers when they passed an immigration law, and a similar pattern was repeated in Georgia,” said John Rizzo, an economics professor at Stony Brook University and chief economist for the Long Island Association, a regional business advocacy group. “So we can expect that if it happened on Long Island the agricultural industry would suffer significantly.

“The question is, these undocumented immigrants who are agricultural workers, are they taking jobs away from immigrants who are documented or U.S.-born citizens?” he continued. “I think the evidence suggests that people are not beating down the doors to take these jobs. And if these jobs aren’t filled, the agriculture sector is going to suffer.”

As for the social and public services undocumented workers use, Mr. Rizzo said much evidence suggests that government health care spending for undocumented immigrants — often cited by the public and media pundits — is about 40 to 60 percent below what is spent on other populations.

“The challenge is that undocumented workers aren’t evenly distributed across geographic areas, including Long Island,” he said. “So areas with high concentrations of undocumented immigrants, like Texas and Arizona and some areas of Long Island, may incur substantial net costs to their local and state governments. Undocumented immigrants are going to use public assistance, medical care and schools and with areas of high concentrations, those areas may bear those costs disproportionately.”

Gregory Maney, a professor of sociology at Hofstra University who specializes in day labor markets on Long Island, said there is much evidence that shows a net economic benefit of the overall immigrant workforce in the county.

“I think this emphasis on all take and no giveback to the community is misleading,” Mr. Maney said. “The wages they receive are often low. They are effectively subsidizing the farmers who are using them, and the consumers, who are getting cheaper produce as a result.”

As for the immigration reform measure passed by the Senate, Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), whose district spans the entire East End and Brookhaven Town, called it “a good bill,” but added, “There’s no such thing as a perfect bill.”

He said he believes the bill stands little chance of approval in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where GOP leaders in July declared it ”dead on arrival.”

House Republicans are largely against “path to citizenship” provisions that give immigrants who came here illegally preferential treatment over those living here with proper documentation.

The House will likely be looking at immigration in a piecemeal approach, Mr. Bishop predicted, taking sections from the Senate’s comprehensive bill – which includes the agricultural worker program — and passing them over time. But even that may take a while, he said.

With the conflicts in Syria and fiscal issues taking precedence, Mr. Bishop said, “immigration will be pushed to a very distant back burner.”

Thirty-four thousand acres of farmland can be found in Suffolk County, contributing close to $300 million annually to the state’s agriculture economy — more than any other county in the state, according to the American Farmland Trust.

It’s an industry that could be severely affected by a lack of action in Washington to fix a “broken system,” Mr. Bishop said.

“I have been working with the Long Island Farm Bureau for years on immigration and I will collaborate closely with them as comprehensive reform continues through the legislative process,” he said of the local farmers’ criticisms with the bill passed in June. “The Senate bill is not the law of the land, but it represents progress towards the ultimate goal of delivering farmers the legal and taxpaying workers they need to operate.”

Stressing the local importance of some sort of resolution to the immigration dilemma, Mr. Bishop said that if costs and labor shortage issues drive more and more East End farmers to get out of the business, the region “could have open space preservation issues.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

09/18/13 6:00pm
09/18/2013 6:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A view of the Peconic Bay waterfront in Jamesport.

A proposal to limit home rentals in Riverhead Town for less than 30 days ran into some opposition at a public hearing Tuesday.

Some speakers said the limit will hurt the local economy, but town officials said that by renting homes in residential neighborhoods, homeowners are in effect operating a commercial venture while avoiding the state and county taxes that hotels and motels must pay. The legislation is also designed to prevent homes from becoming party houses on weekends.

“My biggest concern with the restrictions is the economic impact it will have on the North Fork,” said Simon Kahn, who said he has a house in Northville but doesn’t rent it.

Mr. Kahn said Long Island wineries attract more than a million people annually and many of the visitors to the North Fork  cannot procure short-term rentals, Mr. Kahn said.

“Many simply will not come, and that will have a far reaching economic impact,” he said.

Andrew Barrett of Aquebogue said short-term rentals create a homelike atmosphere for families.

“By staying in a house versus a hotel, these guests are able to be in a communal environment where they are not segregated into separate hotel rooms and can only gather in public places,” he said.

There are more than 8,000 such homes in New York and more than 300 on the North Fork, he said. President Barack Obama even stayed at a privately owned vacation home for a week on Martha’s Vineyard, and former President Clinton rented a home on the South Fork for two weeks, he said.

“They chose not to stay in hotels for the reasons I mentioned,” Mr. Barrett said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said President Clinton was in violation of Southampton’s regulations, since the proposal Riverhead is putting forward was taken from Southampton Town’s code.

“The issue for me is I wouldn’t want it next to me,” Mr. Walter told Mr. Barrett, who rents a home. “I’m choosing not to live next door to a commercial establishment. You’re a commercial establishment.”

The proposal defines transient as a rental period of 29 days or less and makes transient rentals of homes illegal.

Legally operating hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts are exempt from the proposed regulation.

The town proposed the regulations after hearing complaints from Aquebogue resident Ron Hariri, who said a home near him is constantly rented to multiple groups of people for one-night stays. He said there are issues with noise and security resulting from the house.

Amy Csorny of Wading River was the only speaker to support the proposal at Tuesday’s hearing. She said there are three rental houses on her block and they often leave their garbage out on Sunday night before heading back home. By Monday, animals throw the garbage all over the street before it can be picked up, she said.

Joe Stella of Aquebogue, who rents his house there, said the restriction should be on the number of people that can rent a home and not the number of days.

Mr. Walter said homeowners who do short-term rentals are essentially running a commercial business in a residential zone and questioned if they could even stay in business if they had to be pay the state and county hotel tax, as commercial establishments do.

Bruce Gephard, who rents a home in Aquebogue, said they’re addressing the wrong issue.

“This is not Hampton Bays,” he said. “Nobody is renting these houses to come here to party. Where would they party? There’s nowhere to party.”

tgannon@timesreview.com