Column: This is, was and will be a farming town

09/14/2011 4:12 PM |

Before I am accused of launching the following stones from my glass house, please be advised that the former Joan Giger Walker and I have lived next door to an actively farmed field for the past 34 years. It’s currently planted with nursery stock, but for many years before that it was Bob Van Nostrand’s vegetable farm, complete with plows and dust and its fair share of farm-related noise.

When we first moved in, we had a pretty good idea what we were in for. Our family had only one run-in with Farmer Bob over the years, and that was only after our 10-year-old daughter and one of her schoolmates damaged a couple of his pumpkins as part of a Halloween prank. Their penalty was a few hours of unpaid labor in his farm field, and we were OK with that.

We also were OK, if you can believe it, when the pesticide Temik was measured at hazardously high levels in our household water well. The manufacturer, Union Carbide, paid for the water filter we used for the next few years, and the precise source of the plume never was definitively revealed. Still, logic suggested at the time that the Temik originated in Bob Van Nostrand’s farm field.

I raise this issue today, of course, because of the vitriolic debate that has been waged on these pages in recent months. Farmers from Cutchogue to Orient have come under attack for being bad neighbors, and I think the time has come for someone who is not a farmer to stand up and say this:

If you don’t like living next to a farm (or a vineyard), then sell your house and move to Smithtown, where they managed to replace all the farms with housing developments many years ago.

There are a few notable examples of farms being a bona fide nuisance, of course — and I would include idling refrigerator trucks in the middle of the night among them — but generally speaking our farms (and our vineyards) are what have saved the North Fork from suffering the same fate as Smithtown and other communities on Long Island. Our air here is cleaner, our spaces here are more open and our taxes here are lower because of farming. Yes, there sometimes is a price to pay in the form of noise and dust, but it is a small price to pay when weighed against the positives.

This always has been, and hopefully always will be, a farming community, and if you can’t accept that, then do yourself and your neighbors a favor and get out of town.

We recently had occasion to reach back in time and taste some North Fork wines that date back almost to the beginning of winemaking here. The oldest was Hargrave’s 1978 (!) Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, and I’m here to attest that it remains surprisingly drinkable 33 years after it was made.

Also good, and perhaps surprisingly so because they were consumed more than a decade beyond their recommended “drink-by” dates, were several white wines made in the ’90s at Hargrave and Lenz. I wish I could take credit for having cellared them properly over the years, but the truth is they were set aside in a wooden box and completely forgotten until a recent “let’s finally clean up the basement” push.

Also tasted that night, and standing up well to the test of time, were red wines made at Paumanok and Bedell.

Who says North Fork wines “arrived” just recently?

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