The demise of traditional industries and the accompanying middle class on the North Fork has been predicted again and again. Think farming, fishing, whaling, shipbuilding, farming …
By now, the doomsayers warned, the only career options left out here — other than teaching, law enforcement, health care or government — would be retail or hotel worker. Not that there’s anything wrong with those jobs, but a healthy economy and thriving middle class need more variety.
In short, the area needs both people who are full of ideas and an environment that encourages action on those ideas.
Thanks to a healthy and ever-changing mix of transplants, lifelong residents, second-home owners and people returning to the area after building careers elsewhere, energetic people and their innovations have kept the region moving forward without compromising or overshadowing its heritage.
Those in agriculture, especially, have been at the forefront of many business trends in the last several decades — less by choice than because they’ve been forced to reinvent themselves repeatedly. With a gradual decline in traditional farming for wholesale markets came horticultural endeavors and, of course, Wine Country. Today, many produce farmers have shifted from wholesale to retail. They’re processing and packaging their crops. They’ve embraced, even helped create, a huge demand for agritainment. They’re growing vegetables indoors, specifically unique microgreens destined for high-end restaurant plates in the city. Many farmers are now raising pigs and poultry and providing eggs, milk and cheeses for the growing “locavore” crowd. With the loss of natural lobster, clam and oyster stocks came aquaculture — and the region’s (now-farmed) oysters are once again renowned. For the first time in 69 years, the Long Island Farm Bureau’s president, Karen Rivara, farms in the water — not on the land.
And let’s not overlook the visionary restaurateurs who not only support farms and create jobs, but revitalize hamlet centers and add value to the North Fork’s brand as a tourist destination.
Of course, those riding the waves of trends can sometimes be ahead of the game when it comes to the surrounding regulatory environment. One case in point: prospective kelp farmers who see much earning potential but can’t operate in local waters due to state laws. That’s why it’s so important elected leaders take very seriously the concerns of entrepreneurs who find themselves running up against outdated laws whose consequences today might never have been intended — or new regulations that defy common sense. The value of studies is debatable. Grants, tax breaks and tax zones make good headlines. But lawmakers listening to the concerns of small-business people — and actively responding by either rethinking proposed legislation or revisiting existing laws — can help stimulate regional economies without raiding government coffers.