On the Road: Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork

This post is part of a series of On the Road Farm Stand Series It is best viewed at the blog site. If you are not viewing it there, just click on the title and you’ll go there.

The South Fork of Long Island extends along Route 27 — Montauk Highway — from Riverhead to Montauk. On the north it is bordered by a series of bays that separates the North and South Forks. Principal among these are Peconic, Noyac and Gardiners Bay. On the south, it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. And to the east is Block Island Sound. For seasonal farm stands, the South Fork is a perfect storm that includes a long agricultural legacy and a large, sophisticated, affluent vacationing summer population with time and interest in at home vacation dining. As a result, Long Island’s South Fork is a veritable Madison Avenue of farm stands.

From west to east along the Atlantic shore, communities includes Quogue and Hamptom Bays, Southampton, Water Mill, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack, East Hampton and Amagansett. Sag Harbor sits on the north shore.

East of Amagansett is a long, arrow stretch of road that dead ends in Montauk. In addition to its status as summer resort more Key West than Hampton, Montauk is the center of what remains of Long Island’s once thriving commercial and sport fishing industry. The early 1990’s saw the collapse of the cod population and the sudden decimation of commercial fishing throughout the North Atlantic. Where swordfish once thrived, today it is said that “swordfish are as common as a virgin in Times Square after midnight.”

The premium residential land hugs the shore and provides ocean views. That leaves lots of interior land where modest-sized farms continue the farming tradition that stretches back to the earliest Dutch settlers in the 1600’s. In 1609, Henry Hudson, representing the Dutch East India Company, sailed up the river that would eventually bear his name. At the base of the river New Amsterdam was established. In the mid-1600’s, English Puritans began to arrive, extending the New World base they established in Plymouth Colony. By the late 1600’s the English reined supreme throughout as New Amsterdam became New York in 1674 — following a series of conflicts between the Dutch and the English. Of course, the aboriginal native residents occupied this land long before the arrival of the Dutch and English and they suffered the same fate as most Native Americans in the face of the European onslaught. Small, depressed enclaves of Native Americans continue on the South Fork.

This church’s history provides a capsule of the area’s history over more than 300 years. It was originally known as the Old Barn Church owing to the areas farm origins. By the late 1700’s, the first “oil boom” — whale oil — drove much of the early American economy. In 1766, the church became the Old Whalers Church as Sag Harbor became a center of the South Fork whaling industry. Sag Harbor, with it’s safe north shore harbor, replaced the less Southampton harbor along the Atlantic, and was home port. In 1840, Sag Harbor was home port to 63 whaling ships. The current building and its life as the First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor dates from 1844. It is an example of the Egyptian revival architecture of its day. The original 185 foot steeple was destroyed in the hurricane of 1938. Since 1997, the church’s space has been shared by the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons.

Adjacent to the church is the Old Burying Ground with its first internment in 1767.

It is the resting place for “Sag Harbor’s early residents of Revolutionary War Patriots, Whaling Captains, Portuguese Seaman, African Americans, and the founding fathers of the village.”

Beginning in the mid 1800’s, efforts increased to provide better access from New York to Long Island. By 1844, the predecessor of the Long Island Railroad completed service connecting the west end to the east end of Long Island. With the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the first non-boat connection was made connecting Long Island to the “mainland.” But in no small measure, Robert Moses is the father of modern Long Island. It was New York’s modern-day Moses, the “Master Builder,” whose vision — for better and worse — was for a system of new bridges and roadways that literally paved the way for west to east migration. In 1953, when Moses proposed the “Central Motor Expressway” to then Governor Dewey, Suffolk Country — Long Island’s western county, had a population of about 270,000. It took 32 years to complete the LIE. Today, Suffolk County’s population is more than 1.5 million – not including summer vacationers.

It was Moses’s favoring of highways over mass transit that helped create the model for today’s suburban sprawl throughout the United States. Moses was the antithesis of my personal urban planning model, Jane Jacobs and Jacobs battled Moses throughout much of her activist life. Moses believed in simply knocking everything down and starting over whereas Jacobs believed in building upon the existing community fabric.

The conventional view of “the Hamptons” is that of great affluence. While I am suspect of stereotyping, as I drove west along Montauk Highway, I shared the road with an unending caravan of BMW’s, Mercedes, shiny convertibles and dark SUV’s that certainly reinforced that the stereotype.

I came to see Mini-Coopers as a sort of dinghies. In all of my farm stand visits this summer, it was only in the Hamptons that I noted an African-American chauffeur walking a small white poodle while the poodle’s master shopped at the local farm stand.

The distance from the canyons of Manhattan to the Atlantic shores of the South Fork is about 85 miles. The median value of a house or condo in Southampton is $908,000 compared to New York State as a whole of $318,000. That means that house in Southampton is nearly three times the value of an “average” New York State house. The value of homes is driven by those owned by affluent “summer residents.” The South Fork is home to Three Ponds, a sixty acre estate in Bridgehampton for sale for $68 million — reduced from $75 million. Even at its reduced price it is one of the most expensive “homes” in the world. It includes a private 18 hole golf course.

Though affluence is apparent on the main rounds, the large year ’round resident population and those whose summer residence is a result of summer employment lead a very different life than the summer vacationers. While the median household income of Southampton is a solid $71,160, that is only about a third higher than New York State as a whole. The disparity in the median house value and the median household income compared to New York State as a whole illustrates the gap between the summer residents and the year ’round residents.

Not every backyard has an ocean view.

My Labor Day weekend visit to the South Fork was in preparation for the annual birthday dinner I prepare for my brother who has a home in Remsenburg. Remsenburg sits at the western end of the South Fork near Westhampton. Fields of pumpkins foretold summer’s end and the approach of Fall.

While the North Fork has a goodly number of excellent farm stands, the farm stands of the North Fork — that I had previously visited — serve a less concentrated affluence. In fact, it is hard to imagine anywhere in the U.S. where there is a greater confluence of farm stands and affluence than on the South Fork.

Though I do not go to farm stands for bargains, my sense was that prices at South Fork farm stands, were a dollar a pound more expensive than at stands I have typically visited throughout the summer — definitely Madison Avenue prices.

Located in Water Mill,  a contemporary looking Halsey’s Green Thumb traces its lineage back 366 years back to 1644!

Given the challenges of farming and cosmic changes that have taken place in the world over those 366 years, Green Thumb would be worthy of “Hall of Fame” recognition simply by virtue of longevity.

But, clearly you don’t survive that long resting on your laurels…or resting at all. Though Frog Commissary has existed for 37 years, we are driven by the notion that “you’re only as good as your last meal!” Green Thumb is more farm market than stand and includes a permanent building with ample awnings extending the selling area. A multi-generation family affair,

In the hyper-competitive farm stand world of the South Fork, you’re only as good as your last eggplant…or tomato..

…or pepper…

…or pluot, a hybrid of plum and apricot.

Unlike most South Fork stands, Green Thumb specializes in organic produce.

With 60 acres under cultivation, Green Thumb is a substantial operation. Despite its size, it is a multi-generation family affair. As I paid for my purchases, I heard a a young worker say “good-bye grandma” who was at the register tallying my order.

Mecox Bay is a small bay on the Atlantic shore known for oysters. Mecox Bay Dairy sits adjacent to the bay. As I have traveled throughout this summer, it has become clear that there are many local artisanal cheesemakers making world-class cheeses the equal of those that come from France, Italy and Spain. Mecox cheeses come from raw cows milk from cows raised on this South Fork pasture.

Sitting adjacent to the dairy’s pasture is Fairview Farm – a small jewel.

The stand consists of a small building with several open-air tables…

…and an adjacent tent.

As I had for the prior week’s birthday celebration for my brother-in-law Larry, I had bought Padron Peppers shipped from California for my brother Fred’s birthday celebration. Fairview is only the second farm stand during my summer sojourn to sell Padron Peppers — the other being Blooming Hill in Hudson River Valley.

Labor Day weekend in the northeast is prime time for tomatoes including a rainbow of cherry tomatoes.

Inside the small building – little more than a shack, were breads and a few books and condiments. Sometimes you walk into a shopping environment and you just have a sense that everything about it is right…consistent. The shop is the work of a connoisseur — someone with excellent taste, a wonderful sense of display, variety at a consistent level and nothing that doesn’t belong. When I returned to Fairview Farm several days later to show Christina, it was gone! No tent! No shack! No produce! It turns out that the operation — shack and all — was picked up and moved down the road to get ready for the corn maize that Fairview operates — apparently beginning just after Labor Day!

With so much selling opportunity, nameless temporary stands can be found along roads that crisscross the South Fork

Here is a roadside “farm stand” that is nothing more than a series of tables and umbrellas in a front yard — no farm in site.

Here a farm trailer with a corrugated roof make up the core of Lisa and Bill’s stand — with the farm’s pumpkin field in the background.

No two farm stands look the same. Most have a rustic warmth.

Some don’t. Here a large industrial shed protects the produce from the elements as laden wagons extend the merchandise.

Often there is a small building that protects the cash register and the balance of the stand made up of farm wagons.

Iacono Farm’s sign says it all — Fresh Eggs and Chickens.

In the summer’s sun, chicken’s, like people, seek shade.

Fortunately for these ducks, there time had not yet arrived as duck availability was still some weeks away.

Cars crowded the parking lot and inside the all-weather building customer lined up for their Labor Day Weekend supply of eggs to scramble and chickens to barbecue.

According to Vicki’s Veggies Facebook page, “Vicki started her farm stand when she was 11 years old. This is her 29th year in business.” Located in Amagansett, to the best of my knowledge, Vicki’s Veggies bright and friendly stand is the South Fork’s eastern most. From Water Mill to Amagansett, the road is filled with cars as you hop-scotch from one community to the next. That ends in Amagansett. As you leave Amagansett behind, there is a largely barren twelve-mile stretch east along Montauk Highway that connects Montauk to the South Fork. Much of this finger of land is a state park.

On the way to Montauk you pass Deep Hollow Ranch, the oldest cattle ranch in the U.S.A. It was established in 1658. Today it sustains itself by offering horseback riding, a petting zoo, as well as space for weddings and special events.

A Deep Hollow donkey stood guard by the roadside.

Montauk’s “farm land” is the sea water that surrounds it. As previously noted, the once-thriving North Atlantic fishing industry collapsed in the 1990’s as a result of over-fishing. However, Montauk is still home to a substantial fleet of commercial and sport-fishing boats.

It’s not like there are no fish in the waters and Gosman’s Fish Market offers just-off-the-boat fresh fish as well as everything the vacationers need to happily dine at their home away from home.

Montauk is the end of the South Fork line. Once there, there’s no place to go — unless you’re catching the ferry to Block Island. So, turning around, I headed back west toward preparations for my brother’s birthday. Along the long road leading back into the South Fork are a number of roadside restaurants offering fresh seafood.

My choice for my late lunch lobster roll is commonly referred to simply as “Lunch.”

Sag Harbor sits on the north shore of the South Fork. It is off the Hampton’s “main street.” On the way back I headed up to Sag Harbor. I still had a few more stops to make — points on my map — on the way home. These included Balsam Farm where I discovered peanut-sized Yukon gold potatoes unlike any I had seen before.

Then there was the touted Tomato Lady in Sag Harbor — just a small tent in a front yard on a residential street with bakers’ racks laden with red ripe tomatoes and two ladies sitting at a bridge table greeting friends and strangers alike. As noted, farm stands come in many shapes and sizes and no two are alike.

One last stop, and then home.

For readers who are farm stand voyeurs, here’s some farm stand “porn.” You just won’t find anything that looks so good and tastes so good in your local supermarket. It’s too late this year to get these beauties, but keep this image in mind for next summer’s harvest.

No post about South Fork farm stands would be complete without a brief homage to Olish Farms Country Market — Olish’s as it is always referred to around my brother and sister-in-laws summer home. Olish’s is a five minute drive from their home. For years it has been the place where I depend on getting everything from avocado to zucchini when I shop and cook at their home. Unknown are the number of times I would get a call from my sister-in-law Nancy asking if I needed anything from Olish’s. It is the sort of market that blends home-grown and local corn and tomatoes with produce staples like lemons and limes. In addition, Olish’s shelves are filled with fresh-baked breads and pies. It is a summer vacationers’ food shopping paradise that includes a fish and meat shop next door.

Here are the results on my South Fork farm stand shopping spree and the makings of my brother’s Labor Day Birthday Weekend dining. Highlights included Montauk swordfish — I found a virgin in Times Square — for grilling, tuna for tartare, yellow squash and squash blossoms for my version of the wonderful Blooming Hill Farm dinner soup, those tiny peanut-sized potatoes and, of course, corn and tomatoes. In my following post — On the Table: Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork — will share with you what I shared with my brother and friends and family over Labor Day.

Coming Posts
The Farm Stand Series
I am getting to end of this farm stand series with my trips becoming distant memory, but sharing several trips remain.
On the Table: The Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork will follow shortly.
On the Road: Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets — Lunenberg and Halfiax
On the Road: Blooming Hill Farm
The final post in The Farm Stand Series will a sort of Best of and include my thoughts on how farm stands and farmers’ markets could do to do better.

The Thanksgiving Series
I learned yesterday that our home will be the location of my extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is November 25th — about four weeks away. A principle of At Home is that entertaining should be a pleasure and not a chore and that every entertainer deserves one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival. But, “if you leave everything to the last minute you will only have a minute to do everything! We need to plan ahead and spread tasks over time and resources. With The Thanksgiving Series I will share with you my process over the next four weeks in the hope that you will work along with me in planning your own Thanksgiving. If you are going to be a Thanksgiving guest, my suggestion for a “gift” for your host is to pass along word and the suggestion they subscribe to The Thanksgivng Series.

At Home for the Holidays
This is the ideal time to purchase At Home for yourself or add it to your holiday gift list. Among At Home’s strengths is its emphasis on planning for your home entertaining. Part 1 of At Home is a Step-by-Step Guide and even if you do not follow each step literally, it provides a perfect framework for making parties better and easier. Part 2 includes more than 400 home-friendly recipes. The entire contents are digitized and when you buy At Home you receive a key code that provides access to the digital contents. Included in the digital contents are nearly forty recipes from The Frog Commissary Cookbook. At Home is not available in bookstores — except for Joseph Fox Bookshop in Center City and at Coopermarket in Bala Cynwyd. At Home can be purchased on line at www.athomebysteveposes.com.

Thank You Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market
This past Saturday I had a wonderful time at the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market. I made applesauce, talked to lots of nice people, sampled recipes from At Home and sold lots of books. Thank you to everyone at the market who made my day so pleasant.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

1 Comment

Filed under On the Road

One response to “On the Road: Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork

  1. Looks like you had an interesting drive in Long Island. The farm stands look like a great place to buy produce. Thanks for posting.

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