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Unlikely farmers take root on East End

On the East End, where suburbia gives way to open spaces, a new breed of farmer is taking root — an unlikely group that traded white-collar careers for a lifestyle in which the work is hard and the financial rewards are few. The farmers include a former investment banking, a custom furniture designer and a psychology major.

Despite their backgrounds, they hold a commitment to sustainable agriculture, to the land and to the livestock.

"The animals need to be fed, whether you are sick or not, whether your cousin is getting married or whether it's raining buckets," said Holly Browder, who runs Browder's Birds with her husband, Chris. "If you can afford to take a vacation, you take it in the three-month offseason."

Newsday videojournalist Chris Ware spent 18 months spanning two harvest seasons at farms run by unlikely owners, compiling hours of footage from the fields, milking sheds and pig pens at places like a chicken farm in Southold and a vegetable farm on Shelter Island.

We interviewed 10 East End farmers at length, and spoke with experts on the high-price of land and the financial risks new farmers face.

Meanwhile, there are efforts to help them survive. Under its Farms for the Future initiative, the Peconic Land Trust, which protects more than 10,000 acres on the East End, including numerous working farms, leases land to some of the new farmers featured in our video.

"The land trust was created basically to save local farms and keep them in production," said Chris Browder. "Without them, I wouldn't have had a pasture to lease." 

Tags: East End , Hamptons , North Fork , Shelter Island , agriculture , farming

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