Guest Spot: Working to enhance, protect our land

Since the first settlers came to this area, Long Island has been defined by its agriculture. The farmer’s way of life — deep concern for the land and a close sense of community — is an undeniable part of the heritage and ethos of the East End. We moved our farming operation to Peconic from East Moriches in 1987, excited to be part of the history and evolving growth here, as well as continue a Lee family tradition that began in the 1940s.

Long Island is fortunate to have natural resources that are ideal for farming: a temperate climate — thanks to the three bodies of water surrounding it — and well-drained sandy loam soils that sit on top of an aquifer.

However, with technological advancements, market shifts and outside competition, farming on the East End — and at Sang Lee, too — has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. From a very rural area dotted with potato farms, the East End now has more populated communities and a farming industry that relies increasingly on greenhouse and ornamental crops, nursery stock, diverse vegetable and fruit production, sod and wineries to exist.

This evolution was key in preserving the farming heritage here. These industries have protected the land from further development while staying true to the identity of the region and supporting the local community. Additionally, as more people have found their way to this beautiful area it has offered us, and fellow agricultural businesses, a new market audience.

At Sang Lee, we realized our business model was changing, too. We shifted from wholesale farming to direct-to-consumer. At the same time, we were also raising three children and thinking a lot about how we were farming and what we were putting into the earth. That led us to move toward organic production methods of farming, in which we eliminated chemical fertilizers and pesticides. While it took more than three years for the full transition, we believe in being good stewards of the earth and giving the land to the next generation in even better shape than when we received it, so it was a worthwhile endeavor.

This perspective has been embraced by our peers in the agricultural community and is reflected in their growing methods as well. Many wineries, for example, have become certified third party sustainable, thanks to the work of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing. In fact, Long Island vineyards represent the highest percentage of acreage in New York, and one of the highest in the nation, to modify their growing techniques this way. The ability to practice these sustainable methods will enable the land to remain healthy for many years and ultimately determine the long-term economic viability of our farms.

Though a lot has changed, farming and agriculture are still vital aspects of life and economics on the East End. Our industries employ thousands and also help to attract tourists, which fuels the restaurant and hotel trades, creating a ripple effect that touches every part of our community. Many of our customers at Sang Lee are locals, but tourism has also become an essential part of our business. Whether visiting the East End for the wineries or beaches, many have stopped to buy produce or visit to experience the farm atmosphere.

Still, agricultural and farm operations need the continuous support of the local community to remain viable businesses. We believe that farms and wineries have helped preserve the beautiful landscapes that we call home and the rich heritage of the region. This region as we know it will be threatened, however, if we are unable to collectively recognize the importance of this effort.

Like leaving the land in better shape than we received it, we believe the future of agriculture on the East End also relies on being conscientious and using the utmost care in preserving it. We are asking you — our fellow community members — as well as town, county and state officials, to help support all agricultural businesses, as well as those producing value-added crops that bring tourism, enhance our unique East End culture and contribute substantially to the economic well-being of this area. We hope our efforts will allow us to give our children and grandchildren the experience of living in this exquisite region so tied to the land and its bounty.

Fred and Karen Lee have been growing produce at Sang Lee Farms in Peconic for 30 years. They are two of several notable East End community members who wish to express support for the Long Island wine industry and its positive impact on our region. The Long Island Wine Council invites the feedback of residents and local business representatives. Responses can be sent to [email protected].