New owners of Catapano Dairy Farm are living the dream in Peconic

When Catapano Dairy Farm was placed on the market last year, it caused a bit of a stir on social media from those who dreamed of living life on a goat farm.

“I am so interested,” one Northforker reader wrote in a comment. “My wife not so much.”

One woman tagged a friend to share a fantasy of opening a bed and breakfast, while another said she hopes things stay exactly the same at the popular Peconic farm.

Living and working on a North Fork goat farm is an upgrade many would aspire to, but it was only possible for one local couple acquire it, something Erin Argo Burke and Connor Burke say they were “blessed to be able to do.” The couple moved to the North Fork in 2018 and were already familiar with Catapano Dairy Farm when they came to learn it was for sale last year, as prior owners Karen and Michael Catapano looked to retire.

The couple took a tour of the farm and eventually closed on it in November. They plan to keep the Catapano name when they reopen April 2 and will continue making the existing products.

“The North Fork has always has been such a wonderful agricultural place,” said Ms. Argo Burke, an attorney and Alabama native.

The Catapanos, left, with Argo Burke and Burke at the farm last fall. (Credit: Erin Silber Photography)

Like the Catapanos before them, they say they weren’t necessarily looking to buy a goat farm when the opportunity presented itself.

Mr. Burke, a Northport native who grows oysters in the Peconic Bay, said it hadn’t even occurred to him that they’d be doing this, but they quickly saw a new future for their family of four, which includes a newborn baby girl. 

“The opportunity is there to have a real self-sustaining family farm for the next 50 years or so,” Mr. Burke said of the farm which was founded in Mattituck in 2003 and was moved to its current location two years later.

Mr. Burke will focus on the day-to-day operations of the business. He spent a part of last fall, before they had even completed the purchase, learning how to make cheese with the previous owners — something he said he was “fortunate” to be able to do. The Catapanos have also stayed in touch to help them “through the bumps” and the farm’s two other employees will stay on board, helping to ease the transition.

The team is currently making slight renovations to the farm stand on the Route 48 property, making it “lighter and brighter,” as Ms. Argo Burke explained. They’re also looking to add a few more animals. They were recently given some ducks and hope to buy chickens this spring and are looking to plant some more native species on the property. Mr. Burke’s Eastern Bays oysters can also be sold at the farm stand.

A few of the 60 goats at the dairy farm. (Credit: Erin Silber Photography)

Over the next three years the new owners hope to expand production and will look to grow the number of goats on the farm from the current 60 to about 90. They’ve leased neighboring land from Peconic Land Trust to support that growth.

But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean dramatically different, as most of the other tweaks they’ll make will be more cosmetic or related to branding.

“The products are amazing,” Ms. Argo Burke said of the Catapanos’ lines of cheese and skin care products. “We want to keep that same quality.”

Life on the farm invokes for Ms. Argo Burke traces of her Southern upbringing, as she recalls riding horses her whole life and attending 4-H camp through high school. The educational aspect of agriculture is something that’s important to the couple. They both affectionately described farming as an “art form,” elements of which have been lost over time. To be able to make their own farm more of a learning experience is important to them.

“We hope people will hang out on the farm and maybe learn something when they’re here,” Ms. Argo Burke said. “They can learn about animal husbandry, farming … native plant species. That is important to us.”