Editorial: Helping youth, farmers and our way of life

The Reeve Farm’s farmstand on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
The Reeve Farm’s farmstand on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Imagine a working farm on or near the campus of a college or university, where students of agriculture and natural resources daily apply their growing knowledge of science and technology. Imagine, on this same property, adjoining labs and classrooms where students and professors conduct soil research and engineering tests or study the habits of local insects and wildlife. Perhaps the owners and employees of nearby farms also serve as mentors through student internship programs.

Now imagine such a facility right here in Suffolk County. There are many such programs upstate and elsewhere. And, considering the size of the county’s farming industry — often cited as the largest in the state in terms of sales — it’s hard to understand why such a program hasn’t already been operating here for decades.  SEE STORY

Suffolk County has hardly any agricultural training or educational programs at the college or high school level. Yet farmers and researchers say jobs in the field are available. In addition, taxpayers have already paid millions upon millions of dollars to preserve farmland across the county.

So the land will be there for generations to come.

This amounts to a huge missed opportunity for farmers and the young people who, as we’re so often told, have to leave Long Island to build careers. Given these realities, farm industry advocates had little trouble convincing County Executive Steve Bellone last week that agricultural training and educational programs are sorely needed here.

Mr. Bellone immediately pledged to put together a working group of interested parties, headed by the county Department of Economic Development and Planning, to figure out how to build a locally trained and educated and highly skilled farming work force.

It’s easy to dismiss a politician’s creation of a committee, commission or other group as an effort to appease a certain segment of a constituency without any true intention of solving real problems. But in this case it seems like a good start. Given the obvious need — and the likely involvement in this group of some very smart people — it would seem the momentum will only build and the proper pieces will start to fall into place.