By Melissa Laker
Heather’s feet have worn the brunt of the blow. Larry’s knees have had it. After finally reaching their limit, Heather and Larry sold Fox Hollow Farm this year and for the first time in almost 35 years, the married couple will not be physically gearing up for the new farm share season starting mid-May.
Consumer demand for organic produce, since 1997, has grown in double digits, showing a 10.8 percent growth rate in 2015, sitting above the 3.3 percent increase of the overall food market, reported the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
There are now 22,000 organic businesses across America, after a record high 12 percent increase in 2015 and approximately 170,000 acres of U.S Farmland transitioning to organic.
“There were no farmer’s market when we started in 1990 and now there are farmer’s markets in every village out here,” Director of Quail Hill Farm, Scott Chaskey, said. “The first meeting that I went to was with 25 Community Supported Agriculture farmers and then the next year it was 50 and the next year was 100 and it has grown to an estimate that there are something like 7000 CSA farms across the country now.”
Long Island is a historical landmark for organic farming, being the location of the third CSA farm ever in the United States, Quail Hill Farm which opened in 1990. In 2013, there were 26 farms listed as organic and registered as Community Supported Agriculture farms here on Long Island, according to the Suffolk County Government website. Now, there are more than 35 CSA organic farms on the East End of Long Island.
Depending on their local communities to support them, the majority of organic farms on Long Island have turned to farm share programs, like CSAs. CSA farm share programs offer memberships to consumers, from mid-May through to November, for an upfront price in return for weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of organic produce from their local farm.
“Most farms have either been involved with a retail or wholesale system and this is about a local community choosing to support a local farm and farmer,” Scott Chaskey said. “Choosing to support the land and how the land is being cared for.”
Farmers who previously took out “seed” money at the start of the season and only found out whether they had profit at the end of the season, are now being offered financial certainty throughCSA programs.
“We got into CSA because it gives farmers a lot of predictability because you sort of have things pre-sold so you have a better sense of what to grow and you have less waste,” Owner of Garden of Eve, Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “You are growing for how many people you have it’s before you start the season so you’re trying to produce a balanced share for them but hopefully not too much and not too little.”
CSA program memberships are usually subject to the entire season; however, some farmers are customizing their farm share programs for consumers.
“I have a program that is different to anybody else’s,” Owner of KK’s The Farm, Ira Haspel said. “I have a membership list and every week I put out what is available at the farm that week. There is no money up front, you’re getting what you want, not what I want to get rid of and you’re getting it in the amounts that you want and when you want it.”
New York State is currently in line with the United States average of 82 percent of US households that purchase organic products, according to the 2016 Nielsen UPC Scan Data Report.
While organic produce is being added to more carts in the supermarket, Long Island organic farmers are asking families to support their local farm.
“I know personally, I know so many friends and relatives, people are mostly spending their money at big corporate stores,” Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “It’s good to see that people are buying and supporting more organic but I would just ask people to be aware to shop local. It really helps your own community.”
In South Huntington.
“This is hard hard work and when you hear someone say “I’m going to go the supermarket, I can buy a cheaper zucchini than you are selling at the farmer’s market” I just, a part of me sighs because the value of that zucchini is not just in pennies it’s in the hard work and effort of the people who actually grew it for you,” Owner of Fox Hollow Farm, Heather Forest, said.
And in Amagansett.
“Go out and visit a local farm near you,” Chaskey said. “See what is happening at a farm near you. Steer clear of supermarkets. There are many other ways and hopefully many more locations to get good fresh food.”
Despite the farm share programs, farms are frequently subject to leftover crops. Each farm More Than Bagels contacted, delivers their remaining crops to food pantries in their local community, assisting the clusters of other organic businesses nationwide that are lowering the poverty rate by 1.35 percent, as reported by OTA.
“There are a couple of food pantries around here that serve food to homeless people and we always try to make sure that we have extra because initially the produce that is available is not fresh, or not at all,” Forest said. “They will have dried macaroni and cheese, canned goods, but nothing fresh and green. So we would always try to make sure that people in our community had access, and we have always done that.”
Some organic farms are also extending their hand to other groups in the community. Fox Hollow Farm, the farm previously owned by Heather and Larry, was sold to be renamed to Elija Farm CSA, and is now being used as a training facility for young Autistic men and women.
Whilst also helping the local community, organic farms are aiming to protect the local environment.
“When people spend their food money with their local organic farm it really keeps a lot of chemicals out of the environment, not just any environment, but the environment right where you live so, it is helping protect your own water and your own soil,” Kaplan-Walbrecht said.
Some farms are going a step beyond organic farming with “biodynamic” farming, which similarly does not use any harmful chemicals but instead of outside sourcing of seeds, produces everything on premises and works by a biodynamic calendar.
“They have found that different days are better to work with different crops,” Haspel said. “You work on the right day at the right time and this calendar goes hour by hour for the whole year and it varies every year. It all depends on where the planets are, where the moon and sun are, these are real forces that are coming to the earth and they affect the energy coming to the crops.”
This June will be the first time Heather Forest will not be running her own CSA program but that does not mean she will be deprived of fresh organic produce.
“I have such an avid interest in this that I complained to my husband that, you know, what am I going to do when I need a lettuce?” Forest said. “Am I going to go next door and get the lettuce from the CSA, you know? I’m used to having my own farm and so my husband took the tractor out of the barn and plowed up our front lawn. I mean, it’s hard to get an old doll to learn new tricks so I am trying very hard to be okay with having my own garden here.”
As Heather holds onto farming, training the new staff for the Elija Farm CSA, she wishes to share one piece of advice to More Than Bagels readers.
“It is something you have to take care and not take for granted,” Forest said. “Everything comes from the earth. There is an old folk tale, “what’s the richest thing, what’s the fastest thing and what’s the sweetest thing?” The richest thing is the earth because all the riches come from the earth ultimately, the fastest thing is a thought and the sweetest thing is sleep to one who has worked hard and is weary. I can attest to that.”