Young Farmers

It’s warm, damp, poorly lit and kind of a weird place to be eating dinner on a Thursday in February: a greenhouse in the middle of fields dedicated to growing
ornamental plants.

But it isn’t too far from the ordinary for those gathered round the folding tables, sitting on plastic chairs as they dig into a local dinner (duck, scallops), prepared by a local chef (Charles Germano), while talking fertilizer and recycling plastic ground cover. These are the next generation of farmers in Suffolk County, as well as those who support them. At one table is Alex Balsam, 31, a member of the board of the Long Island Farm Bureau (LIFB) and fresh back from the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention in Atlanta. At another table are employees of Farm Credit East, a cooperative with a branch in Riverhead that makes loans to agricultural businesses. County workers for the soil and water district are also there.

It is one of the two dinner meetings held each year for the Young Farmers group, comprised of ag workers between 18 and 35, sponsored by LIFB. Revived five years ago by the honorarily young Rodney Anderson, of Anderson Farms in Riverhead, with about a dozen members, the Half Hollow greenhouse is now hosting nearly 60 local growers of plants and food as well as a couple from upstate who are planning to start a goat farm in the area.

There is talk of national and local issues including migrant workers, food safety, nitrogen levels in water supplies, the estate tax and the deficit in Albany, reminding everyone, as if they needed it, that farming is more than dirt and seedlings, it involves politics, business and people.

They’re also reminded that farming is thriving on Long Island. Jessica Anson, a senior at Longwood High School, is at the dinner to accept a scholarship from the New York Farm Bureau after winning first place in the state. Balsam says Suffolk County had the best turnout at the convention.

And that farming on the East End is continually evolving. John Condezella of Green Island Farm in Wading River plans to plant hops this year to sell to the increasing number of microbrewers in the area. Will it be profitable? “I’m going to find out,” he says.