High-Tech Farming, Low-Grown Roots

Sang Lee Farms, which has the first FAA certified drone on the East End, uses it to scout out the dry spots in the field and then adjust the amount and pH of the water dependent upon the soil conditions. Mainly though, the farm’s drone is used to get some aerial tracks of the farm in action. Will Lee would love to use it more often, but the drone equipment is only used for special occasions. The farm uses the “latest innovative agricultural techniques mixed with old traditional ways,” says Lee, who manages the farm, and the drone is not the first time they have been ahead of the curve.

Sang Lee Farms was originally established in Melville during the 1940s by Kim Poy Lee, Hugh K. Lee, and George Kim Lee — current owner Fred Lee’s two uncles and father respectively — as a wholesaler of Asian vegetables, a niche market in the United States; the operation became one of the largest of its kind. Today, one in the first bunch of organic farms on the North Fork, the Peconic farm produces certified organic Fresh-Lee-Cut vegetables — some specialties include seedless watermelon, seedless cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, specialty choys and other asian vegetables such as Chinese broccoli — and Loca*Lee made products ranging from soups to salad dressings made from their own produce in their certified organic kitchen, the only one of its kind on the North Fork.

The North Fork is becoming a “foodie capital,” says Lee, and as far as food production is concerned it is a “specialty food region.” Given the amount of acreage, it’s impossible to compete on the wholesale market with cheaper competitors from afar, says Lee, and therefore “the only cutting edge factor is freshness.” To compete with the big growers, the family needs to use the latest techniques and technologies to stay ahead, including the drone up top to keep an eye on irrigation.

“When I was a kid, the only farmer’s hand I ever shook was 40 years older than me. Now, people my age are picking up the farm tools and starting to farm,” says Lee. And with younger farmers comes along new technology for this oldest of professions.

Check back here next week for some Fresh-Lee-Cut aerial footage of the farm, and in the meantime visit the shop at Sang Lee.

For more about the convergence of food and tech, read Brian Halweil’s article about Food+Tech Connect.