Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The North Fork

I was raised in Suffolk county, mostly, in the nowhere city of Centereach. As soon as I could drive I began heading out to the North Fork to photograph (my Minolta x-370 and black and white film) the old barns, decaying farmhouses, rusting implements, and the sea. There was, then, hardly a place to eat and no one on the roads. Sometimes I would go with a couple of friends, at night, to hang out at Orient Point. I could drive the car to very near the island's tip, where we caroused while the light house rotations metered our movements. Those were romantic times.

I went out there this weekend with a different kind of eye and another twenty years of life behind me. The weather was spectacular and the wineries were omnipresent. Limos cruising the two laners, Mercedes passing into oncoming traffic. Finally, the Hamptons overflowed to the North Fork. It was inevitable -growing is cool, land prices are high, and the tasting room is the hippest product of the two.

Grapevines at Pellegrini
My brother, who came with me on this scout, suggested that I grow grapes, but I feel there is no money in grapes -only wine. I'm certain there isn't enough land on the fork to be a serious wine producing region, although I believe there are serious wines being produced there. What remains is a showcase and social scene of drinking suburbanites and city slickers. Yet I suppose that is what it takes to conserve agricultural lands in a market consumed by housing development, and we'll take it.

I wasn't sure that I found the actual farm site, although the address was right and the sign for the trust was on the door. Farmers are listed as growing there, but I could hardly see the evidence of a season's work. There was a handful of cows and a lone man worked the roof of a new barn. With my shoe, I scraped the sod of winter weeds and grass, then knelt to dig my finger into the roadside soil. The gritty sand and iron-yellow clay mixture was damp, cool and smelled earthy. A gentle slope descended toward the Peconic Bay, which was just over the southern boundary road and close enough for me to call this another beach farm. This was not the place, as seemed all too obvious at the time. I later found the address of the place I meant to visit, a few more miles to the east, on Google. Another trip is needed.

Not the farm
I am reminded that I am not a farmer. Yet, somewhere in my lineage there are German farmers. When they came to America around the turn of the century, most headed to the Midwest where many Germans congregated and farm land was available. A small group decided to stay in New York City and I am descended from them. My grandfather had a small vegetable plot in his suburban, Long Island yard. Around the age of 75 he bought a neighbor's excess land to grow even more vegetables. He did this until his death at 91. It is from him that I got the taste for fresh green beans and probably the knack for growing them. He never grew flowers -that was my grandmother's work.

I admit that I have a romantic vision of days outside, digging, plowing, and weeding. But there is a lot more to farming than that. Sales and marketing, accounting and record-keeping, business plans and competition. A month to go before my deadline, I am now putting together my plans, researching the competition, building the low-cost, blogger-based website, writing the copy, calculating the costs, guessing the sales forecast (I'm better at weather!), figuring the earning potential, tossing around marketing, and desperately waiting for something to do for my upstate garlic which really needs no help from me at this hour.

Have any of you sought seed garlic on the internet? What was your experience? Was price not an object? Retail on line sales of seed quality garlic are quite high (but, of course, that's the only way to make a living). I am now looking into what the retail market for kitchen garden garlic can bear. Most on line sources sell out by September. Hmm, only time will tell.


  1. Every day I think to myself that I would love to move to a small farm and do that for a living. Five years ago, my in-laws sold their house and bought a farm way up north and now they sell organic vegetables. It's a lot of work, but It can be a dream come true.

  2. And so much other work, besides the growing.

    I'm working on my business plan over the next week.

    That is enlightening.

  3. i do not consider price much for seed garlic, but i grow only a small amount, and i will start keeping varieties i like to plant.

    who knows when it is best time to become a farmer? it seems you really would have to do well in the farmer's market circuit. today's local farmers have to be more gregarious than their forebears.

  4. When you say gregarious, I hear marketing marketing marketing your produce and self!

  5. yep. can't just be a cranky old farmer anymore. god forbid my father (not cranky, but terse & impatient) had my mother (ALWAYS pleasant & chatty, with infinite patience) to run interference at our orchard.

    and market market market they did.s


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