Jamesport Farm Brewery’s bid to become Long Island’s first “farm to pint” brewery took a step forward last Thursday after numerous speakers urged the Riverhead Town Planning Board to approve the project and officials decided to not require a potentially lengthy environmental study.
Melissa Daniels and Anthony Caggiano, who run the Plant Connections nursery on Sound Avenue in Jamesport, want to convert an old potato barn on the property into a 3,200-square-foot brewery and tasting room that will use hops and barley grown on the 42-acre site.
“This is the first time we’re going to have a brewer that actually grows hops,” said Andy Calimano of Babylon, a member of the New York State Brewers Association, the New York City Brewers’ Guild and the Long Island Brewers’ Guild. “We have hop farms on Long Island, but they don’t make beer.”
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Ms. Daniels and Mr. Caggiano already grow hops and barley, which they sell to other brewers. They also hosted a Fresh Hop Festival in the fall, during which brewers use local hops to make a beer and attendees vote on which is best. They plan to reprise the event.
After hearing nothing but support for the proposal, Planning Board members voted to waive an environmental impact study on the septic system for the project.
A planning staff report from two weeks ago had already recommended forgoing such a study.
The Planning Board expects to vote April 20 on the overall site plan application.
Ms. Daniels had asked the board to expedite approvals, saying that because they rent the land, it was important to be able to get started by the summer season.
“This is a timeliness issue for us,” she said. “It’s important we get open for the summer and fall seasons in order to make enough money to afford our lease and financing payments.”
Ms. Daniels said she and Mr. Caggiano hope to purchase the property someday, but the selling price is $4 million.
“That’s pretty much out of reach unless we can find a business model that can generate enough income,” she said. “So our hope is that, between nursery production and this, we’ll be able to generate enough income to buy it and keep it out of residential development.”
Development rights are still intact for the property, Ms. Daniels said.
Local residents and fellow brewers like Moustache Brewing Co. of Riverhead supported the plan at the public hearing last week.
Angela DeVito of South Jamesport, president of the Greater Jamesport Civic Association, favored the project.
“This is representing all that we want in our agricultural community here,” Ms. DeVito told the Planning Board.
But she added that she’s concerned about how long the review process has taken.
“This process began in November, now here we are starting the planting season. For these two young entrepreneurs, missing the season means they may lose their livelihood, their farm.”
Ms. DeVito asked if there was any way the board could speed up the progress.
Lauri Spitz of Moustache Brewing Co., which she founded with her husband, Matthew, said there is no competition among local craft brewers, who help and support each other.
“What’s good for one microbrewery is good for all of us,” she said. “At the end of the day, we are all collectively fighting to gain market share from big beer, such as Budweiser, Miller and Coors.”
In 2015, breweries in New York contributed $525 million to the state economy and provided the equivalent of 11,366 full-time jobs, Ms. Spitz added, quoting statistics from the Craft Brewers Association.
“I come from a family of farms that were in Mount Sinai and that are no longer there,” said Mike Dionisio of Mount Sinai, who is also a director of the Long Island Antique Power Association, based in Riverhead. “I would like to see farming continue in the future.”
“Each of us drives past housing developments which used to be someone’s farm,” said Ellen Talmage of Calverton, a member of one of Riverhead’s oldest agricultural families. From 1882 to the present, her family went from growing food crops like potatoes, onions and cabbage, to growing daffodils and ornamental crops in a greenhouse, to having the Talmage Farm Agway Store, she said.
“If you cannot think ahead and plan for the ever-changing market, another farm, which is land-rich and money-poor, will go into housing,” Ms. Talmage said.
File photo: The hops field at the Plant Connection property on Sound Avenue. (Credit: Krysten Massa)