Mary Foster Morgan traces her family’s roots to 1792, when her great-great-great-grandfather paid the Conklings of East Hampton £330 for 19 acres on Springs Fireplace Road just north of where Nick & Toni’s now stands. This is the Stephen Sherrill Farm, one of the last intact farms of the town’s original settlers.
Most of Morgan’s ancestors were born on those acres, the last her mother, née Sherrill, a preserver of indigenous food culture like samp and clampie, who bequeathed the remaining three acres and the homestead to her son, Jonathan, an architect, and Mary.
Unfortunately, financial pressures are now forcing the siblings to sell.
The development rights of 16 of the original acres had previously been sold, ensuring the land’s use for agriculture, but the remaining residentially zoned land could make way for three new residences. Which isn’t really what Morgan—who with husband Tom founded Slow Food East End—had in mind. (Full disclosure, Mary also sells advertising for Edible East End.)
“I grew up spending summers there,” she says. “As a kid I watched the fog roll in. You hear that phrase, you imagine something, but when you’re that close to the ocean and surrounded by hills, you see it. And I thought, ‘Oh that’s what “the fog rolls in” looks like.’ ” Foster adds, “It’d be a shame not to preserve it.”
Local Prudence Carabine approached Morgan with an idea: why not have the town buy the land using its Community Preservation Fund, a voter-approved tax that dedicates a 2 percent fee on all sold properties for land preservation? And then turn the property, with its farmhouse restored by Jonathan and a solar-powered outbuilding commissioned by Mary’s mother, into a public resource with space for a farmer-in-residence, a community garden, a living museum and a nonprofit for education focusing on children.
Community support is building. The East Hampton Star’s editorial page has endorsed the endeavor. Bennett Konesni, director of Shelter Island’s Sylvestor Manor, where a similar project has taken hold, wrote a letter saying, “We are growing a stronger community alongside our vegetables and believe every town deserves just such an institution. Here’s an opportunity to create this sort of place within walking distance of downtown East Hampton. Seize it while you can!”
“I’d be thrilled if that could happen,” says Morgan. “The local agriculture and food history is so interesting. We’ve got whaling museums, why not something for the farms?”