Localism. Farm to table. Sustainability. Know your farmer.
Any and all of these are applicable to the farming and food scene of the East End, a place that’s rich in gorgeous veggies and fruit. It’s not just about picture-perfect produce, though; it’s a way of life for our farming community, some of which go back a multitude of generations. The sentiment for most of these local farmers is simple: if there’s no farms, there’s no food. Yet another excellent reason to fill your basket with their bounty while the filling’s good.
Here on the South Fork, summer equates to some of the year’s most delicious earthly delights, and while certain farms may specialize in specific items, or the amount of product some yield will differ substantially from others, whichever one you choose to frequent, you’ll walk away winning. Be sure to check these locales out. The knowledge and product you’ll get are edibly invaluable.
If it ain’t broke…
Pike Farms (Sagg Main Street, Sagaponack) has been in operation since 1987, stretching over 35 acres that’s spread out over four different fields, with one situated in Water Mill. Operating out of what owner Jim Pike calls “a traditional, summer-type farm stand,” (situated on the right side of the street if you’re heading south on Sagg Main) their selling season typically kicks off Memorial Day weekend and runs through October. According to Pike, “we’ve always focused on direct market vegetables,” with strawberries usually being their first farm stand offering, followed by typical summertime veggies, like heirloom tomatoes, melons and different types of lettuces.
In their nearly 40-year run, Pike notes, “the farm stand hasn’t changed too much in terms of what we offer,” and it’s safe to say they’re best known around the South Fork for their sweet corn, churning out ears upon ears a during the busiest times of peak season.
“It’s kind of difficult to have good corn consistently,” says Pike. “The trick is to have the next planting ready by the time what you’re picking is getting bad.”
One-stop veggie shop
The efforts of sixth generation Sagaponack farmer Marilee Foster are no small potatoes. For well over a century, Foster Farms has been the name associated with locally grown spuds, harvesting their 200-plus acres year after year and putting their beloved and now ubiquitous “Tiger Spuds” on the map. But Foster and her team at Marilee’s Farmstand, (698 Main Street, Sagaponack, 631-537-0070) continue to, for lack of a better word, grow, offering a true smorgasbord, featuring nearly every varietal of vegetable you could imagine.
“We literally grow nearly every kind of vegetable you could think of,” says Suzannah Wainhouse, the farm manager. “In July it’s different types of zucchini, summer squash, okra, green beans, carrots, beets, Japanese cucumbers, and nearly every type of leafy green,” she says. “Lots of kales, swiss chard, spinach and tons of baby gem lettuces. And although we don’t do any fruit, our summertime crops and herbs are always changing.”
According to Wainhouse, the first few weeks when July transitions into August is when the highly coveted heirloom tomatoes come. “Hopefully, if it stays warm,” she says, “we’ll have heirlooms until the end of October.”
Learning from the ground up
It’s safe to say that Quail Hill Farm (660 Old Stove Hwy., 631-267-8492) in Amagansett is the OG. This 35-acre farm is a stewardship project of the Peconic Land Trust, located on land donated by Sag Harbor resident Deborah Ann Light. Established in 1990, it operates as a unique location for educational and recreational events all year long and has the distinction of being one of the first farms in the country to install Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
Quail Hill also belongs to “Farms for the Future,” a special initiative to explore the looming pressures and challenges on farming today, with the intent to educate members of the community on sustainable and organic farming practices. They also offer an official apprentice program intent on training future generation of farmers, with the apprentices assisting with harvesting nearly every day in the summer months.
Biodiversity is the name of the game here, with farm director Layton Guenther always striving for cool, distinctive ways to bring farm work into the limelight by working closely with community members. Guenther, who’s been farm director at QHF since 2020, notes that the apprentice program teaches participants everything from field-crop care and harvesting to marketing, assuring the farm’s nearly 250 families it feeds will get served.
“Depending on what time of the year you come,” Guenther says, “that’ll determine how much and what kind of product you’ll get.”
As far as the actual products grown and sold at the Amagansett locale, it runs the gamut, offering tomatoes, eggs, strawberries, nettles, fennel, cabbages, garlic, fairytale eggplant, sweet peppers and edible wildflowers available as part of the farm’s you-pick program.
Bring in a haul
Springtime sees most farmers gearing up with the planting of seedlings, a time when most are doing literally back-breaking work, planting miles of bed feet and thousands of baby plants each day. Now in its 15th year, Amber Waves (367 Main St., Amagansett, 631-267-5664) has streamlined the process with the farm’s new tractor-mounted transplanter, planting seedling trays in no time at all. All of the seedlings were individually started and cultivated in the greenhouses at Amber Waves, with the Amagansett farm offering workshops, field walks and tours for the public throughout the spring season.
Fast forward to summertime at the Amagansett locale, and owners Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow are bringing South Forkers an abundance of fruit, grains and vegetables from their dozens of crops stretched out over about 30 acres.
As this month continues, pick-your-own fields are slated to open, where guests can pick and then harvest their own produce and flowers right then and there. Be sure to check out the farm’s market, a field-to-plate experience that includes a café and full-service kitchen. There aren’t too many places where visitors can shop while sipping on a green juice pressed from veggies harvested mere steps away. Seriously, what could be better?
There’s also plenty to do on the farm nearly every day. Bring the kiddies for an exploration of the garden or a toddler farming class. Adults can explore the farm’s learning labs, where food and agriculture themed workshops are available practically daily all summer long.
No farm is an island
Owned by 10th generation proprietor Eben Fiske Ostby, the historic Sylvester Manor is open from sunrise to sunset every day during the summer. Ostby, along with his nephew Bennett Konesni, have worked closely with the Peconic Land Trust for nearly two decades to conserve the expansive property, which includes the 1700s manor house, farm fields, walking trails, wetlands and shorefront.
This historic farm on Shelter Island is nearly 250 acres, with its farm stand located at Windmill Field at 21 Manwaring Road. Open since May, the summer season allows the Manor’s farmers to sell eggs from their own chickens as well just-picked fruits, vegetables and dozens of different flowers cultivated from about five acres. Farmers at the Manor also raise their own hogs (the meat of which is available at the farm stand) to improve the health of the soil. Ever the hands-on experience, Sylvester Manor also offers farm apprentice programs, where participants can get daily livestock management experience as well practice the day-to-day vegetable, fruit and cover crop maintenance. They also offer a community composting program for CSA members (the latter of which offers produce from the farm as well as an egg share and pork share, too).