Editorial: It’s about our way of life

Just a glance at a satellite image of Long Island will reveal the North Fork’s uniqueness. While the rest of Nassau and Suffolk counties is shrouded in green or even a sort of grayish color that represents our densest hamlets, the long stretch from Wading River to Orient appears as a patchwork of oranges, reds, browns and beiges.

Those are our farms. And they’re at the heart of the quality of our local economy and the quality of life we have all come to cherish.

Suffolk County is home to the largest agricultural industry in the state, by way of dollars. But farming is by no means a risk-free venture. Each year the industry faces new challenges, from drought to excessive rain to pests to surging fuel prices. If the farmers can’t turn a profit, their farms shut down. And life as we know it is threatened. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to support our local farmers through our shopping habits.

Right now, North Fork farmers are feeling pain at the pump, as they did during the spring and summer of 2008. Keep in mind that fuel isn’t used only to ship goods but also to run tractors and sprinklers and heat greenhouses in the cooler months. Growers are also facing spiraling costs for everything they need in order to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to our tables. Fertilizer, for instance, is a petroleum product that skyrockets along with crude oil prices.

“For growers, the cost of production is the major issue right now,” Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, told the editorial staff this week. “There’s only a few places in the world that make the fertilizer.”

Most would agree that the 2 percent real estate transfer tax has been indispensable in financing the purchase of development rights, thereby preserving forever thousands of acres of farmland that might otherwise have become residential subdivisions.

But, as Mr. Gergela has been saying wisely for years, “The best way to preserve farmland is to ensure our farms are profitable.”

Buying locally from our many wonderful farm stands, which are just beginning to open, is one sure way to keep farmers in business during uniquely challenging times. What you get at a farm stand — often for about the same prices as the supermarket — is the best and freshest that nature has to offer.

It’s also the very best our local farmers, our neighbors, have toiled so hard to provide.