New farmers living and working on preserved Southold land

For Leslie Howard, whose family has a very long history as farmers on the North Fork, moving with his wife, Priscilla, to an 18th-century Southold farm is an example of history coming full circle.

Earlier this month, the Howards took up residence in the historic Case house, built in 1747, as part of the Peconic Land Trust’s Farmers for the Future Initiative. In addition to occupying the house on Horton’s Lane under a five-year lease with the Trust, the couple will farm the adjacent five acres.

“We are very happy to be here,” Mr. Howard said as he and his wife, along with Dan Heston, the Trust’s director of agricultural programs, showed a visitor their new home. “We have bought seeds and we will soon be planting.”

As the Howards showed the inside of this historic home, which has been meticulously restored, Mr. Heston explained that the couple are graduates of the Trust’s future farmers program and successfully responded to a request for proposal to live at the house and work the land around it. 

“For us at the Trust,this checks all our boxes,” Mr. Heston explained.” A historic home has been saved and restored, and the land will be farmed. It’s everything we want to accomplish at the Trust.”

Mr. Howard can trace his local roots back to the Wells family, who arrived on the North Fork in the 1600s and farmed land on Sound Avenue in Riverhead for generations. He shared a photograph of his great-grandparents Leslie and Sarah Wells on their farm.

“We are continuing that farming history here,” he said. The Howards pointed out a table in their sunny parlor covered with packets of seeds. Their goal is to plant five acres of organic flowers and vegetables that they’ll sell at a farm stand they intend to establish.

The couple joined the Trust’s Farms for the Future Initiative in 2018, taking a lease on one-acre of farmland across the street from the Trust’s Charnews Farm in Southold. Over the years, they signed leases for additional parcels to grow flowers, fruits and vegetables. Ms. Howard is also involved in a local Community Supported Agriculture program that sells produce at local farmers markets.

The Case house and farmland lease is the latest success for the Trust, which kicked off 2024 on a high note with the purchase of 151 acres of rich farmland in the Oregon Road farm belt in Cutchogue. Some of that acreage has been sold to others who will use it to grow crops.

A release from the Trust said it purchased the property from the Bacon Family Trust and, in turn, had sold two parcels totaling 38.9 acres to qualified farm operators who, like the Howards, are also part of its Farms for the Future Initiative.

Fred Lee of Sang Lee Farms purchased 26.07 acres at 8500 Alvah’s Lane in Cutchogue. Two other parcels, comprising 12.83 acres along County Road 48 in Cutchogue, were sold to Anthony and Lisa Sannino of Sannino Vineyards.

Portions of the remaining 113 acres will be leased out through Requests for Proposals as part of the same program.

In their new home, the Howards are surrounded by North Fork history. It’s likely the original Lt. Moses Case house stood on Indian Neck Lane in Peconic. Sometime around round 1960, it was moved to Boisseau Avenue in Southold, where it often served as a gift shop. The Case house was moved to Horton’s Lane, just south of Route 48, in 2016, when the Trust purchased it after learning it had been slated for demolition. 

After the relocation, Sid Beebe and Sons Contractors of Cutchogue restored the house to its Colonial-era appearance.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Ms. Howard said.