Starting Lily’s Farm: Chronicles of a Beginning Farmer

Welcome to a new series about a woman who came home to farm.

#sunrise #chickenchores #goodmorning

A photo posted by Lily's Farm (@lilysfarmmm) on

The skies at dawn and dusk have been amazing lately. This morning, as I turn on to Horton’s Lane from the North Road, I’m treated to a riotous pink and orange sky, ruffled with clouds and breathtaking. I think about pulling over to enjoy it, but I’m so close to my destination I don’t. I pull in as close as I can to the deer fence gate. Thanks to the snow and my two-wheel drive, my car is mostly still in the road. I put the emergency lights on, grab my thermos of hot water and bucket of kitchen scraps and trudge through the snow, admiring the sky and listening to the roosters crow and hens chatter.

The chickens are not as excited as usual to have their coop door opened. They don’t love the snow, but they appreciate the scraps gathered from my extended family. Today it’s a feast of outer lettuce leaves, broccoli raab stems and cooked sweet potato skins. I use the hot water to help thaw their frozen dish of water and fill their feeder with a few scoops of organically grown feed.

After a crazy first season based on a farm incubator in New Paltz, I decided to move my coop, chickens and some perennial herbs back to the North Fork, where I grew up.

I began leasing an acre of land at the Peconic Land Trust’s Agricultural Center at Charnews Farm at the end of October. Besides one corner surrounded by electric fencing for the chickens, right now the rest of the field is an expanse of untouched snow. A few sage plants poke their sad heads through the frozen white drift. I officially started the farm about a year ago by creating an LLC, applying for a loan from the Farm Service Administration, building a website and making crop plans and budgets. After a crazy first season based on a farm incubator in New Paltz, I decided to move my coop, chickens and some perennial herbs back to the North Fork, where I grew up and still have friends, family and an amazing, supportive community who values delicious, sustainably raised food.

One of my earliest memories as a child is sitting in the middle of a pick-your-own field in East Marion, eating strawberries. My grandmother says they would just pick me up as they moved down the row and sit me in a new spot to keep eating. I was three when my parents moved out east from the city, so I’m technically a transplant, but I was grown on Long Island. Farming got in my blood as I grew up here surrounded by it. In high school, I got a summer job working at Latham’s farm stand because I was friends with the farmer’s daughter. I loved being outside all day, snacking on raw corn and tomatoes and talking to people about vegetables.

Farming became a dream, but one I didn’t take seriously for a long time. Now that I finally am, there are still many days when it seems like a crazy, impossible dream. Luckily, every sunrise, and every egg collected from the nesting box, and every seed that sprouts, reminds me that I am living that dream.

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Lily Dougherty-Johnson is a native North Forker, finally pursuing a lifelong dream of farming. She writes from her home in Greenport, New York, with her reluctant farmdog snoring by her side.