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06/23/15 6:00am
06/23/2015 6:00 AM
North Fork egg farms such as Ty Llwyd (above) have not noticed a substantial increase in demand even though conventional egg prices are rising due to bird flu. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

North Fork egg farms such as Ty Llwyd in Riverhead haven’t noticed a substantial increase in demand even though conventional egg prices are rising due to bird flu. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) implored Congress Sunday not to cut federal funding for research to combat avian influenza as the price of eggs continues to rise.

Outbreaks of bird flu have damaged the poultry industry, Mr. Schumer said in a press release Monday, noting the average price of eggs in New York City is almost 50 percent higher than it was at this point last year.

As part of the proposed federal budget, the government would scale back its allocation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $500 million.

“This funding can be used towards preventing the outbreak from spreading,” Mr. Schumer said. “I am urging Congress to give USDA the funds it needs before the egg shortage gets worse, and before grocery bills continue to rise.”

But despite rising prices elsewhere in the state, many North Fork farmers haven’t noticed a change in demand for their locally produced eggs.

“We have been selling out of eggs most days, but that’s fairly normal for this time of year,” said Elizabeth Wines, owner of Ty Llywd farm in Riverhead. “We’ve been busy, but I think it’s probably because of the summer season.”

At Browder’s Birds in Mattituck, owners Chris and Holly Browder both noted a similar situation: they sell so many eggs in the summer that it’s difficult to see whether there has been a true increase in demand.

“How it plays out in the fall and the winter will be interesting to see if the flu is a problem, but right now, we really haven’t seen a big difference,” Mr. Browder said.

Although both the Browders and Ms. Wines hadn’t noticed much change from individual consumers, they said they have received a handful of inquiries from businesses looking to cut down on rising egg costs.

“I had one baker call who bakes for a lot of farmers markets because she buys the liquid eggs that are already broken, and her price doubled overnight,” Ms. Browder said. “She wanted to revert to buying dozens of whole eggs from me, but at this point in the season, I’m already maxed out.”

More than 48 million birds have died so far from bird flu in the United States this year, either as a result of the disease itself or from being culled to prevent further infection, according to the USDA. Bird flu has been confirmed in 15 states, most of which are in the Midwest.

No state east of Indiana has a confirmed case of avian flu, but because the Midwest produces so many eggs, consumers around the country have felt the diseases’ effects on the market.

“When the cost of eggs skyrockets, we all feel it in our wallets because, unlike other foods, most egg substitutes use egg ingredients,” Mr. Schumer said in his release.

In the New York region, the wholesale price for eggs — what businesses pay — was about 30 percent higher this May than in May 2014, according to a Tuesday report from the USDA. Schumer’s press release stated that supermarkets in New York City have increased the price of a dozen eggs by up to 48 percent.

Mr. Browder said such an uptick could be beneficial for his and other local farms.

“We’re expensive relative to a store-bought egg, so if the differential becomes smaller, then maybe the demand would pick up,” he said. “People who have said ‘Browder’s Birds is too expensive for us’ — maybe they’d reconsider.”

The Browders also said while it is important to fund an immediate solution, the government must also think critically about how industry standards affect the disease.

“As far as I know, outdoor hens like ours haven’t had a problem with avian flu,” Mr. Browder said. “Isn’t that interesting? To me, it’s the system of farming that’s probably to blame.”

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05/07/14 8:00am
05/07/2014 8:00 AM
Asparagus is slowly making its way into spring at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead. It is not ready to be harvested until it reaches a height of at least six to eight inches. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Asparagus is slowly making its way into spring at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead. It is not ready to be harvested until it reaches a height of at least six to eight inches. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The lasting effects of a stormy winter have put a damper on the spring growing season, and produce that would otherwise be on farm stand shelves by now has yet to even break through the ground.

April’s end usually marks the beginning of the spring harvest across the North Fork, said Philip Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead.

But this year, the season has become something of a waiting game.

“We’re hoping by the weekend to get started with some of the winter spinach,” Mr. Schmitt said. “With the rain from late Thursday and the nice weekend, things did jump a little. But we do have a long way to go. If Mother Nature cooperates from here on out we’ll be OK.”

Mr. Schmitt said the harsh winter cost him about 20 percent of his winter spinach crop, as well as some of his parsley — though he did say that there were some benefits to the deep freeze.

“When the ground freezes, it expands, and that helps to aerate the soil a little,” he explained. “It can also help with the pressures of disease and insects. With a winter like we just had, it’s certainly beneficial in that regard.”

Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms, an organic farm in Southold, said she’s about a month behind in both harvesting and planting her next round of crops.

“Everything we do is by soil temperature,” she said “The soil temperature is about 10 to 11 degrees colder than it normally is.”

While she has planted some varieties of tomatoes and peppers known to ripen early, she’s held off on planting other tomatoes.

“I have to wait for things to heat up,” she said, adding that she may consider planting some varieties in mulch to speed up the growing process.

“Even our asparagus came up later than usual,” she said.

Asparagus is the staple spring crop at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead, said grower Lyle Wells.

“We started [harvesting] the 15th of April last year, and by the 20th we were picking tremendous amount of asparagus,” he said. “This year it’s very slow growing.”

He started to harvest May 1, explaining that unlike most other vegetables, asparagus grows multiple spears from the same crown, so fields can be picked continuously.

“Instead of picking every 24 to 36 hours like we would otherwise, we’re picking every 72 hours,” he said.

But the upside of the slow start has been a surge in demand, Mr. Wells said, allowing him to sell at a higher price than normal this season.

He said he’s selling asparagus wholesale for between $2 and $2.50 a pound, where $1.50 to $2 tends to be the industry norm, though he’s not expecting those prices to last long.

“The weather seems to be turning this week, so I’m sure the price and supply will level off,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a plentiful supply for Mother’s Day so we can fire up the grill and enjoy it.”

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11/09/13 2:30pm
11/09/2013 2:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

The Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board will host a series of meetings to discuss updates to the county’s farmland protection plan. Local meetings will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead and Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Southold Town Hall. Light refreshments will be served.

The program is held in cooperation with the Suffolk County Division of Planning and the Environment, Peconic Land Trust, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Long Island Community Foundation, Long Island Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

RSVP to Robin, 283-3195 or [email protected].

09/07/13 10:00am
09/07/2013 10:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Farmer KK Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southold, said biodynamic preparations cost her as little as $8 an acre.

It’s easier to work with Mother Nature than to fight her, according to some North Fork farmers.

These farmers don’t use conventional farming methods – applying synthetic pesticides and fertilizers — but they aren’t considered “certified organic” either, although their growing techniques involve only natural materials.

They farm using biodynamics.

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association describes this technique as “a spiritual, ethical, and ecological” approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. It dates back to the 1920s, when a group of farmers became concerned with the declining health of the soils, plants and animals on their land, according to the association.

“The basic premise is to bring the natural ecosystem and natural local ecology back on to your farm,” said Barbara Shinn, owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck. She described it as “restorative farming.”

Ms. Shinn said synthetic fertilizers and pesticides upset a farm’s natural ecosystem, stripping away healthy organisms as well as the pests they are designed for.

“It’s about balance,” said KK Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southold. “When you have a lot of pests it’s an indication there is an imbalance in your soil.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Blueberries grown using biodynamic preparations on the vine at KK’s The Farm.

Instead of chemicals, these farmers use what they call “preparations” made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs, Ms. Haspel said.

Different preparations add microbes back into the soil, stimulating effects like root growth and photosynthesis, combating fungus and regulating the plant’s use of nitrogen naturally bound up in the soil, according to the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics Inc., which makes the preparations.

“It increases the microbial action exponentially in the soil,” Ms. Haspel said, who began planting biodynamically in 2000 and attended a year-long course at the institute to learn about the different farming methods.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An infestation of insects indicates an imbalance of microbes in the soil, according to the owner, who said she does not use any pesticides on the farm.

Other techniques include following a calendar that estimates the best days for germination when planting seeds, and leaving parts of the farm untouched.

Ms. Haspel said she farms only two of her five acres.

Both she and Ms. Shinn said that, aside from helping the environment, there is a cost benefit to biodynamic farming.

The preparations cost between $5 and $8 per acre and are simply mixed with water. The solutions are then applied by hand using a whisk-type tool, Ms. Haspel said.

“I can say with using the natural additions to my soil, and not man-made fertilizer, I estimate I save approximately $2,000 a year just on soil additions alone,” Ms. Shinn said.

She began the transition to biodynamic farming in 2004, wanting to take a more organic approach to maintaining her vineyard. She said she relies on books and seminars to learn the farming methods.

Biodynamic farming, she said, allows her vineyard to use the yeast that occurs naturally on the grapes’ surface for fermentation.

“What you’re growing is going to be a much more natural reflection of the farm and of the place your food and wine is growing from,” Ms. Shinn said. “We’ve definitely seen an evolution in our wines. Our wines have become much more complex much more concentrated and definitely have an earthy characteristic.”

Those who take a biodynamic approach “treat their farm as a single living organism,” Ms. Shinn said.

“It is a whole different way of thinking and doing things,” Ms. Haspel said. “I’m doing it, and I am doing it successfully.”

Both farmers, who are among just a few currently using biodynamics locally, say they hope others will begin using these methods to restore the health of the North Fork’s soil and surface water.

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