In East Hampton, the Future of Farming is Female

As Share the Harvest Farm grows, so, too, does the next generation of female farmers.

CSA coordinator and intern supervisor Melissa Mapes Miller—photographed in 2016 by Lindsay Morris.

“Fertile land, fertile women,” said Melissa Mapes Miller.

It was a typical rainy day in April when I revisited Share the Harvest Farm on Long Lane in East Hampton. The last time I’d seen Mapes Miller, the farm’s director of community outreach and education, was last July when she was seven months pregnant.

Juniper Glory, now six months, is already an old farm hand. Strapped to her mother’s bosom by way of a baby backpack, Juniper Glory tags along on all farm duties. “She’s usually on my back when I’m in the field,” said Mapes Miller.

The baby especially loves playing in bins of winter greens and bossing people around. “She’s the new supervisor. She screams if we stop working,” said the new mom.

Last year, Marielle Ingrams was manning the farm stand but gave up retail to work as field manager. Now, Ingrams is seven months pregnant. She won’t give up potential baby names just yet.

One thing is for sure. “She’s going to get an Olivier for her first tractor,” said Ingrams, who was washing thousands of seedling trays to be reused for planting this year’s seeds.

Standing in the mud, a smile crosses her face at the thought of help’s arrival. “Six interns will be here May 15,” she said, counting down the days.

Both women grew up proud Bonackers admiring the farmers around them yet watching their numbers dwindle. By holding onto a location tradition, they see their generation as a resurgence of sorts, taking back their beloved community.

After studying agriculture, Ingrams worked as a butcher at a small slaughterhouse in Altamont, New York. “It was pride, knowing that animals had a good life and death, and provided food for people,” she said.

We lament the lost art of butchering. We pity the farmers and their animals for having to truck upstate or further for processing, and commiserate over the lack of a Long Island facility. “Can you imagine all the local meats we’d have?” said Ingrams.

Indeed, but that is another story.

Farm participants weeding at Share the Harvest Farm in 2016.

The not-for-profit organization has acquired two more acres inside EECO farmland, bringing their total acreage to six. “We’re getting ready for a great summer,” said Mapes Miller, as we all lean into the warmth of the heated greenhouse where spring garlic, scallions, kale, giant spinach, Swiss chard, parsley, beets and carrots have taken root.

The farm originated in 2009 as the “Food Pantry Farm.” A name change to “Share the Harvest Farm,” last December reflects their growth. “We do so much more than donate to just food pantries,” said Mapes Miller.

“In addition to the Springs Food Pantry and Sag Harbor Food Pantry, we now donate to the East Hampton Town Senior Citizen’s Nutrition Center, the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, Montauk Community Garden, East Hampton Affordable Housing developments such as Whalebone Village, Accabonac Apartments, Windmill Housing and St. Michael’s Housing.” she said.

Share the Harvest Farm will continue to offer membership shares in their “Working Families” CSA, up from 25 to 35 families in its second year. The $150 fee has remained the same, a mere fraction of other local CSAs. Members will receive produce from June to September. Harvest will be extended two months to mid-November, in order to hit Thanksgiving.

The affordable CSA is spreading. Share the Harvest Farm has inspired the Bridgehampton School’s garden club to start a CSA for 20 members, using the lot next to the brick schoolhouse, a former Christmas tree farm on Montauk Highway, to grow produce.

Even preschool children, at the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center in East Hampton, are being inspired by the farm’s educational outreach. “We have been creating a farm-to-preschool curriculum with the school staff called “Healthy Harvest,” said Mapes Miller, who gives lessons and reads to the kids about plants, food and farming.

“We’ve helped them install three small indoor greenhouses, filled with seedlings that I planted with the students over February and March, and three worm farm boxes to teach them about compost,” she said. Once the weather clears, garden beds will be constructed outside each of the three classrooms.

Farmers transplant seedlings in a freshly sown field.

Plants will soon fill the farm’s three hoop houses, where summer temps can reach 100 degrees. “It gets so hot that tomatoes are sun dried on the vine,” said Mapes Miller. For now, heat mats are used to keep the celosia flowers warm and cozy.

“Our main crop this year has shifted to a bigger focus on broccoli and onions, as was requested by our donation locations,” she said. They’ll still grow large amounts of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, kale and lettuce.

Mapes Miller will set up a baby bouncer near the broccoli while Ingrams anticipates her baby’s birth at summer’s peak harvest.

“It’ll be exciting having two little girls running around,” said Mapes Miller. What a wonderful experience for a child, spending days in the fresh air, rolling around in the dirt and learning to share.

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Kelly Ann Smith lives in East Hampton between Gardiner's Bay and Accabonac Harbor. She's been writing about the East End since 1995. Her weekly column, "A View from Bonac," can be found in the East Hampton Press.