A New Farm-to-Table School

The North Fork is a great place to raise kids. We have farms, beaches and fresh air. But there hasn’t been an alternative to traditional or faith-based schooling, or innovative programs that include education about the environment, community and local agriculture. People have had to send their children to the South Fork for that.

Now, North Fork parents have an option. The Peconic Community School, based at the East End Arts Council in Riverhead, started this fall with a multi-year classroom for kids, kindergarten through second grade. It’s a place that creates “collaborative growth, artistic experience and inspired change” and that taps into local food and cultural resources, says Liz Casey Searl, co-executive director. Hands-on farming will be part of the curriculum; the school has a plot at the Roots and Shoots community garden, and the children will cultivate vegetables that will be added to the lunch menu.

So far, about a dozen kids are signed up.

The group will rely heavily on fund-raising to make the school happen. “We are starting from scratch,” Searl says. “SHARE: A Field to Plate Dinner” fund-raiser was held in August at the Golden Earthworm Farm in Jamesport (which also hosted a class field trip, above). It was a lively evening featuring local chefs, including Noah Schwartz of Noah’s in Greenport and Michael Meehan of H2O Seafood Grill in Smithtown. Wine and dessert was donated from Shinn Estate Vineyards and Joe & Liza’s Ice Cream. Searl and her sister, Kathryn Casey Quigley, relocated back to the North Fork, where they grew up. Starting a school is a lifelong dream, Searl says, and now, with children of their own, the time is right. “We want something different for our own children,” she says. “We had always talked about wanting to create a school like this out here, something that was artistic and creative.” Their philosophy is founded on three tenets—the arts, the environment and community. Creativity, exploration, problem solving and critical thinking will be encouraged and developed through art, drama, gardening and farming, and outdoor time. Reading and math skills will be taught, too. The daily schedule will reflect the flow between structure and freedom, Searl says.

The North Fork Education Initiative is the parent not-for-profit, and the Peconic Community School is the first “spoke of the wheel, ” Searl explains. Also in the works are after school and summer enrichment programs. While parents do pay tuition, it is on a sliding scale, Searl says.

For more information, go to northforked.org.