Agriculture

Condzella’s Farm in Wading River partners with Peconic Land Trust for preservation effort

In the early 1900s, John Condzella’s great-grandfather William and his wife, Mary, immigrated to the United States from Poland and soon purchased farm property in Wading River. They grew potatoes and planted strawberries, a crop for which his family was well known back in Poland.

Years earlier, the property had been the site of a successful dairy operation run by J.K. Major, who would deliver milk to neighboring townships on horseback.

The barn that housed Mr. Major’s cows still stands at Condzella Farm off North Country Road in Wading River — although it’s gotten some upgrades in recent years, with a new roof and siding.

Inside the barn today, instead of cows, crates of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown on the diverse, small farm can be found piled high.

“One thing about farming, there’s always the need for change,” Mr. Condzella said. “You always have to adapt and evolve. It’s as true today as it was back four generations with my great-grandfather.”

The Condzella Farm once sprawled across 60 acres, but today stands at 16, as various parcels were sold over the years. Now, the Condzella family is hoping to protect the area’s future by partnering with Peconic Land Trust to purchase development rights on six properties totaling 38 acres, to ensure the land remains farmland and to allow the Condzella Farm to expand. 

Peconic Land Trust has set a fundraising goal of $700,000, of which $200,000 is already in hand. To build awareness of this conservation effort, PLT and the Condzella family hosted a tour of the property Oct. 14, as Mr. Condzella detailed the farm’s history and discussed its evolution. For example, the farm is still well known for its U-pick strawberries, continuing a tradition that dates back to its very beginning, but for about a decade they’ve also grown hops on the farm that are sold to some local breweries, as well as some in Brooklyn and upstate New York.

About 30 people participated in the tour.

Peconic Land Trust is operating under a deadline of March 31, 2022, to raise the rest of the funds. That deadline is tied to a grant awarded by New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to purchase the development rights on 15 acres currently owned by the Condzellas. Funding is also needed to purchase 17.6 acres on the south side of Route 25A that is currently owned by the Zoumas family, as well as six acres already owned by PLT that is adjacent to the property already owned by the Condzellas on the north side of Route 25A. The Condzellas are currently renting those six acres.

PLT project manager Julie Wesnofske, said there are three current applications on file with the state. She said the application for acquiring the land the Condzellas already own has been funded and they’re “very close” on the other two.

The fundraising campaign is necessary, she said, because New York Ag and Markets pays for only 75% of the total project cost, which includes what PLT will need to buy the development rights.

The land trust went as far as to guarantee it will match the necessary funds if all the money can’t be raised by private donations.

“It was kind of unusual for us to do, but we felt like it was too good an opportunity to pass up,” said Amanda Abraham, PLT’s director of development. “So we have to make it work somehow.”

The Zoumas family is on board with the conservation effort to sell the development rights to their property, which is currently split zoned for residential and commercial, Ms. Wesnofske said. A shopping center with a bank and restaurant has already received Planning Board approval dating back to 2012, but was never built. The same application was later resubmitted and approved again in 2020. 

“They are being exceedingly generous in doing this and accepting much less than what the development rights are actually worth,” Ms. Wesnofske said.

By purchasing the neighboring property, the Condzellas plan to grow their farming operation and increase their sale of produce.

More information on the conservation effort can be found here.