Will Rogers, who knew his way around a farm and lived through the Dust Bowl, famously said: “They’re making more people every day—but they ain’t making any more dirt.” Mr. Rogers could have been speaking about the East End, home to some of the best dirt on the planet. In fact, Bridgehampton loam—a unique combination of fine silt and clay that will grow almost anything—still occupies the top position in the Department of Agriculture’s soil classification system. But, more and more Bridgehampton loam sits under asphalt, partly because growing houses is more profitable than growing potatoes. The economics of East End farming can be shocking, so consider buying local as a way to protect our precious dirt.
Distance traveled by the average food item in the United States – 1500 miles.
Distance from Riverhead, NY, to Montauk and Orient Point, NY, – 42.5 miles, 29.2 miles.
Value of food and other agricultural products raised in New York State – $3.1 billion
Value of food and other agricultural products raised in Suffolk County, the state’s top producing county – $183.7 million
Farmland in Suffolk County in 1940 – 119,016 acres
Farmland in Suffolk County in 2002 (the latest year for which data are available) – 32,500 acres
Number of potato farms east of the Shinnecock Canal in 1940 – 73
Number of potato farms east of the Shinnecock Canal in 2004 – 6
Value of an acre of farmland in Sagaponack, N.Y. at an auction in March 2005 (a farmer can reduce this value somewhat by selling the right to develop the land) – $1 million
Net value of an acre of potatoes in an average year – $3,200
Sources: Brian Halweil, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket (W.W. Norton: 2004); N.Y. Department of Agriculture; Richard Hendrickson, Bridgehampton, N.Y.; Peconic Land Trust.