11/20/15 5:30am

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In 2004, after 20 years as a banker in Manhattan, Chris Browder was ready for a change.

So he packed up his desk, grabbed a copy of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and made the move to the North Fork, where he and his wife, Holly, own Browder’s Birds in Mattituck.

For a couple with no farming experience, the next several years were a winding journey into a business filled with unforeseen roadblocks. To become a successful farmer without having grown up in a farming family presents a unique set of challenges, they found.

The Browders are one example of a new era of beginning farmers who must learn as they go along.

It took them six years to establish their business. To get started, Mr. Browder applied for an apprenticeship with Garden of Eve organic farm and market in Riverhead, where he spent a season. He raised a flock of meat birds, which he later slaughtered and sold.

Browder’s Birds was finally born in 2010. But getting it off the ground was far from simple.

“First of all, the capital required to simply start a farm is enormous,” Mr. Browder said. “A lot more than I was expecting it to be.”

After acquiring the land, he said, he needed to get the basics — tractor, tiller, animals and more — which was a “daunting” task when it came to cost.

“It’s not like I’m sitting over here made of money,” he said. “That’s been probably the biggest challenge, just how much money it actually costs … It’s not like we’re sitting here with mountains of equipment and lots of structures and so forth. Pretty much everything we have is kind of made homemade. Even with that, it’s still very expensive.”

Dan Heston, senior manager of agricultural programs at Peconic Land Trust, said that many people entering the industry today are what he calls “second-career farmers,” like Mr. Browder. Since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that trend has pushed the national average age of a farmer from 55 to 57. In the last five years, the number of farmers in the U.S. over age 75 has risen by 30 percent and the number under age 25 has dropped by 20 percent.

In Suffolk County, the cost of one acre of farmland starts at around $12,000 and can go as high as $2 million, according to a study done by Farm Credit East, a borrower-owned lending cooperative specifically serving the agricultural industry. And that’s just for land.

To help ease the financial strain of getting into agriculture, numerous organizations, including Farm Credit East and Peconic Land Trust, have created scholarships and grants specifically meant to assist beginning farmers.

One related program is FarmStart, established by Farm Credit East in 2005, which will invest up to $50,000 of working capital in the operations of new farmers and cooperatives. Each beneficiary works with a FarmStart adviser who provides financial and management training throughout the term of the investment, said Bob Smith of Farm Credit East. The objective is not only to provide start-up funding, but to help new farmers establish strong business plans and solid credit records.

Farm Credit East also offers scholarships to college students interested in agriculture, pays fees associated with USDA-FSA loan guarantees, reduces interest rates for young farmers through loan guarantees and offers discounts on financial services.

Farmer Abra Morawiec holds a six week-old roo (male) Cortunix at her Feisty Acres farm where she leases land from farmer Phil Barbato of Biophilia Organic Farm on Manor Lane in Jamesport Manor Lane in Jamesport. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Farmer Abra Morawiec holds a six week-old roo (male) Cortunix at her Feisty Acres farm where she leases land from farmer Phil Barbato of Biophilia Organic Farm on Manor Lane in Jamesport Manor Lane in Jamesport. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Abra Morawiec, owner of Feisty Acres Farm in Jamesport, New York’s first organic quail farm, agreed that capital is one of the largest hurdles in starting a farming enterprise. The costs of owning farming materials are high and farming isn’t an immediately lucrative venture.

“The biggest challenge for me was starting from the bottom, as an apprentice, and trying to figure out how can I save my money up to actually start my own enterprise,” the 29-year-old said. “The only way that I could possibly make that happen is by forming relationships.”

Ms. Morawiec did just that with numerous farmers on the East End, she said. But most notable were her friendships with Chris and Holly Browder and Phil Barbato, owner of Biophilia Farm in Jamesport.

Ms. Morawiec rents land and barn space from Mr. Barbato and uses the Browders’ mobile processing unit to slaughter her birds.

“Especially in this part of the state, it’s tough to get a start because the land prices are so high. But on the flip side, the market is right here,” Mr. Barbato said. “So, I think it’s important that we give young and/or beginning farmers help … We want to be able to pass things on and we want things to stay healthy and wholesome like they are now.”

Another problem beginning farmers face involves the availability of farmland, a particularly pertinent issue on the North Fork. The Peconic Land Trust has worked to fix this, Mr. Heston said, through its Farms for the Future program.

“What we do is basically provide someplace for them to be,” he said. “We have the land and some infrastructure, such as wells and fencing,” he said. “And then we also, if they want, we provide some mentoring.”

The land offered is through a preservation program established in the 1970s that sets land aside to be used strictly for agriculture, allowing it to be leased, rather than purchased, at a relatively affordable cost.

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Yet another potential stumbling block can come with the business side of agriculture, which Mr. Smith said novice farmers don’t always realize plays such a big role. To help educate farmers, Farm Credit East offers classes and webinars focused on the business aspects of farming.

“It’s the combination of really being a top-notch producer, understanding your market and market challenges with competitors and being a good financial manager,” Mr. Smith said of the profession.

Understanding the market is especially important on the North Fork, where the saturation of agricultural operations can make success elusive. Mr. Smith and others agreed that one effective strategy for new farmers is to offer a niche product that people can’t find elsewhere.

The final challenge — a lack of fundamental knowledge — comes with no immediate or clear-cut solution. Mr. Heston said some people “don’t have the skills to farm, but they think they do.” There is a lot more to farming than meets the eye, he said, which people who didn’t grow up in the industry fail to realize. This includes how to work all the equipment, how to set up an irrigation system, what equipment is necessary and more.

It can take time to acquire all that vital knowledge, but Mr. Heston said that pursuing apprenticeships and making connections within the agricultural community can help speed the process. Ms. Morawiec, who found her success through mentorship, said more programs are needed to pair new farmers with more established ones who can offer experience and guidance.

Despite all the hurdles a new farmer faces, interest in joining the agricultural industry remains high.

“There’s more interest now than there’s been in the last 15 years, I know that,” Mr. Heston said. “People really want to get back to their roots and grow something and do something.”

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Photo caption: Mattituck farmer Chris Browder with some of his chickens, a cross of Rhode Island Reds and White Rock. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

07/02/15 2:41pm
07/02/2015 2:41 PM
On Thursday, Scott DuBois at Breeze Hill Farm was selling corn he purchased from Georgia, but by Friday or Saturday, he will begin selling his own corn — just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

On Thursday, Scott DuBois at Breeze Hill Farm was selling corn he purchased from Georgia, but by Friday or Saturday, he will begin selling his own corn — just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Fret not, barbecue lovers of the North Fork: you should be able to enjoy local corn during the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.

Despite a brutal winter and a somewhat rainy June, several local farms said they have already begun harvesting corn — and they’re anticipating plenty of demand over the next few days.

“We just pulled some [Thursday] morning and it’s looking very good,” said Herbert Barron, an attendant at Wesnofske Farm in Peconic. “They look very good despite the rough winter. Actually, they look better than last year, in my opinion … For early stuff, it’s quite large.” (more…)

04/26/15 8:00am
04/26/2015 8:00 AM
Eve Kaplan, owner of Garden of Eve in Riverhead point to cold damage on a small tomato plant. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Eve Kaplan, owner of Garden of Eve in Riverhead points to cold damage on a small tomato plant. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Wading River farmer Robert Andrews’ crops are mostly still in the ground, shielded from the recent cold snaps by warm earth.

Mr. Andrews said Saturday morning’s cold snap didn’t damage too many of his crops.

“It’s not bad at all,” he said. “It just slowed things down a bit.”

Not all farmers have been so lucky.

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for early Saturday, warning that “sub-freezing temperatures will kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.” Another frost advisory had since been issued for early Sunday from 2 to 8 a.m.

While most farmer’s crops have just been planted, other farms — like Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market in Riverhead — are feeling the hurt from the wind and cold.

“It’s just tough on everything,” said Garden of Eve owner Eve Kaplan. “You get a warm day and you think it’s over and then you get a 40-degree day with wind.”

Ms. Kaplan held up a tomato plant in a small pot. The edges of the small leaves had withered and died.

That’s thanks to the freezing temperatures and the harsh wind, which Ms. Kaplan said is especially blustery on her farm. Even cold-tolerant plants like cabbage and lettuce have been damaged in their pots, she said.

“People won’t buy these because they think they’re diseased,” she said.

Ms. Kaplan said her employees have been carrying plants inside at night and putting down covers over the rows to shield other crops.

Even farms like Mr. Andrews — which use greenhouses — are feeling a sting, not on their plants but in their wallets.

“We’ve been running [through] oil to get the greenhouse going,” he said.

However, vineyards have not been as affected, since the grapes have not yet begun growing. Only a long stretch of cold weather could do significant damage, said Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard general manager Steve Levine.

“A one-night freeze isn’t going to do much,” he said. “We don’t have any damage. We don’t even have grapes yet.”

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04/24/15 8:00am
04/24/2015 8:00 AM
Under the current code, Southold Town farmers can mostly just sell their crops as-is to retail or wholesale customers. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Under the current code, Southold Town farmers can mostly just sell their crops as-is to retail or wholesale customers. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Doug Cooper has no interest in bottling salsa at Cooper Farms, his Mattituck business.

“At my age, I’m not going to get into something like that,” he said.

But the prospect of a Cooper’s North Fork Salsa, or Cooper’s New York City Salsa — pick a name — is one that’s being used by some in local agriculture as the perfect example of a product that could fetch more profits than shipping crates of tomatoes through middlemen in New York and elsewhere.  (more…)

04/01/15 8:00am
04/01/2015 8:00 AM
Bayview Farm owner Paul Reeve (right) with his semi-retired farmer Uncle George Reeve local horseradish root they have been busy grinding up for sale in the farmstand. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Bayview Farm owner Paul Reeve (right) said tractors are ready, but the soil is not. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

In a drastic change to their normal routines, North Fork farmers say they aren’t doing much these days.

By the time St. Patrick Day rolls around, Bayview Farm and Market owner Paul Reeve says he usually has seeds in the ground in anticipation of a May harvest.

But this year’s prolonged winter has put a kink in the system, delaying seeding by more than two weeks. April 1 has come and gone and no planting has been done at the Aquebogue farm.  (more…)

03/13/15 8:00am
03/13/2015 8:00 AM
Potted ornamental plants in one of the greenhouses at Jamesport Greenhouses on Herricks Lane. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Potted ornamental plants in one of the greenhouses at Jamesport Greenhouses on Herricks Lane. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A Greek yogurt boom has brought herculean increases in sales to a couple of upstate counties in recent years, knocking Suffolk County out of its long-coveted spot as New York State’s No. 1 seller of agricultural products, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Between 2007 to 2012, the county fell to third in the state, according to the survey, which is conducted every five years. (more…)

08/30/14 12:17pm
08/30/2014 12:17 PM
Michael Chuisano of Orient Point said his broadleaf tobacco should be ripe for picking within the next two weeks. After the leaves are hung in a barn to dry for eight t weeks, they will be sold to a buyer for distribution. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Michael Chuisano of Orient Point said his broadleaf tobacco should be ripe for picking within the next two weeks. After the leaves are hung in a barn to dry for eight t weeks, they will be sold to a buyer for distribution. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Michael Chuisano retired at age 54 from a career as the owner of a glass business in New York City. But that doesn’t mean he’s done working.

In fact, Mr. Chuisano — now 57 — will be making waves this fall as the first Long Island farmer perhaps in centuries to harvest a crop that was once highly sought after from the island’s soil: tobacco.

Read more on northforker.com.

07/30/14 4:00pm
07/30/2014 4:00 PM
(Credit: BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO) | County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county's farmland preservation bill that would include more agritourism uses on preserved parcels. Pictured is Reeves Farm on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Farmland on the North Fork hasn’t seen an increase an value like the South Fork. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file).

The increase in the value of North Fork farmland pales in comparison to the rise in value of South Fork farmland over the past decade, according to a market study released by Farm Credit East, a local agricultural lender.  (more…)

07/27/14 2:00pm
07/27/2014 2:00 PM
Nicholas Mazard, director of sales and marketing for Koppert Cress USA, explained that natural fiber is used instead of soil to grow  microgreens, enabling the live plant products to arrive at restaurants without bringing 'dirt into their kitchens.' (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Nicholas Mazard, director of sales and marketing for Koppert Cress USA, explained that natural fiber is used instead of soil to grow microgreens, enabling the live plant products to arrive at restaurants without bringing ‘dirt into their kitchens.’ (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Picture a full garden’s worth of flavors: sweet corn, beets, sweet peas, arugula, fresh basil and even crisp green apples.

Now picture all of those varieties tiny enough to be pressed together in your fingertips.

This is happening right now on the North Fork, where Koppert Cress USA of Cutchogue is producing microgreens. Each one is packed full of fresh flavor and boasts more nutrition than varieties grown full size.  (more…)