Richters Orchard in Northport and Schmitt's Family Farms in Dix Hills offer two different fall experiences, but both families who live there love it. Newsday real estate reporter Arielle Dollinger reports. Credit: Anthony Florio

On the 23-acre grounds of Richters Orchard in Northport, there is one house. Over the years, members of the Amsler family have taken turns living there. El Jay Amsler, 33, is the current occupant.

"It's nice; it's peaceful," he said of his life on the orchard. "It's tucked away up here."

Having lived elsewhere, Amsler hears the difference. He moved onto the property about five years ago from an apartment just outside Huntington village. The sounds of cars and miscellany he associated with his downtown-adjacent apartment are a ways from the orchard.

"Here, maybe I hear the train drive by once in a while, if I'm awake," he said.

His commute is peaceful. And there is not a neighbor in sight.

The Amslers are among a smattering of Long Islanders who work and live on the grounds of Long Island's orchards and farms.

"Many farmers still live on or in immediate proximity to the farm," said Robert Carpenter, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. "It is still something that happens on a pretty regular basis as the farm gets passed down from generation to generation."

But with the growing demand for what the farm industry calls "agritainment," each generation of farmers has pivoted in its own way to continue turning a profit.  

"Now you have things like garlic festivals and pumpkin festivals and winery festivals and all different kinds of things that have helped agriculture survive," Carpenter said.

I want to see people coming through the yard — that's a good thing.

— Jim Schmitt

For some, during the busy autumn season, adaptation has meant inviting thousands to their farms — and sometimes, unintentionally, into their homes.

"I don't think my grandparents ever expected to have this many people wandering around," said Jean Schmitt, who commutes from Yaphank to the Melville farm that doubles as a residence for her brother and sister-in-law. "And the concept of pick-your-own pumpkins to them would be crazy."

Jim Schmitt, 51, started his family's you-pick pumpkin business when he was in junior high school, he said, and the farm's offerings have evolved since. He has long been accustomed to having visitors on the property.

"I want to see people coming through the yard — that's a good thing," he said.

Albert H. Schmitt Family Farm: From potato farm to selfie sanctuary

From left, Albert Schmitt, Dottie Schmitt, Jenn Schmitt, Jim Schmitt, Jean Schmitt and James Schmitt Anson are members of the family that has owned Schmitts Farm in Melville for more than a century. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

I guess you just kind of get used to people walking around on your property. We do block off the back doors because we've had people wander in like, 'uh, is there a bathroom?'

— Jean Schmitt

When she matched with a man on an online dating platform over a decade ago, Jenn Schmitt, now 51, figured his house was just a house. White shingles, green shutters and an earth-toned roof seemed suburban standards.

Then she saw the backyard.

"I pulled in the driveway; I didn't even notice the greenhouses," she said of her first visit to the Melville property. "I didn't know it was Schmitt's Farms."

Now married, Jenn and Jim Schmitt live in that house. In autumn, first- and second-story windows of the three-bedroom, three-bathroom Colonial frame a quintessential Northeast scene.

From each window, Jim Schmitt sees the work that needs to be done. In the fall, his yard is a pumpkin patch; in the spring, there are greenhouses full of flowers.

"I've been living and working at home before it was cool," he said. "Now everybody's doing that, right?"

Dottie and Albert Schmitt ride around in a golf cart on the Schmitt farm property with dog Cassidy. Their daughter-in-law Jenn Schmitt, right, lives on the farm with her husband. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The Schmitts' farm — formally, Albert H. Schmitt Family Farm — has held its place on Bagatelle Road since the mid-1800s, when its owners were growing potatoes. Over the years, the potato crop was displaced by cabbage; the cabbage crop was displaced by greenhouse-grown flowers. The farm itself was halved by the Long Island Expressway and has shrunk since, but the farmhouse has remained.

As suburban development and economic evolution pushed potato farms out, farm offerings began to change — and so did farm life.

Over the past two decades, the farm has held its full-blown fall festival. On busy fall days, Jim estimates the farm welcomes hundreds of visitors who take hay rides, climb a metal cow and leave with photos to post on social media.

"Back in the day," said Jean, "they would just come, they would pick a pumpkin, and that's it."

Living on the grounds, Jim and Jenn can take a break from the bustle, Jean said; but they cannot escape it. The grounds are open to the public seven days a week.

"It's kind of like having a desk in your bedroom," Jean said of her brother's living arrangements.

To protect the farmhouse from the party guests, the family does take precautions.

"I guess you just kind of get used to people walking around on your property," Jean said. "We do block off the back doors because we've had people wander in like, 'uh, is there a bathroom?'"

At Milk Pail in Water Mill, 12th-generation farmers balance modern and manageable

Jennifer Dupree is a 12th-generation farmer whose family has worked...

Jennifer Dupree is a 12th-generation farmer whose family has worked the land at Milk Pail in Water Mill since 1969. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

It's much easier to run a farm when you're living at it.

— Jennifer Dupree

As apples redden and pumpkins ripen, you-pickers flock to Milk Pail, owned by 12th-generation farmers. As residents of a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house on the Water Mill property, which borders Mecox Bay, the family takes a two-pronged approach to security: a fence keeps the deer away, and security personnel patrol the perimeter on golf carts.

"I really like where I live," said one of the family members, Jennifer Dupree. "And it's much easier to run a farm when you're living at it."

Three households live on the farm: Jennifer, 48, her husband, Craig Dupree, 49, and two children, Jennifer's parents, and Jennifer's sister and brother-in-law. The parking lot for the you-pick section is halfway across the farm, separate from the area the houses occupy.

Most of the estimated 500 to 1,000 people who visit the 60-acre property on an autumn Saturday buy the one-size-only bag to pick apples, and treat the owners with respect.

"Most people get it," said Jennifer Dupree. "The biggest thing where they don't understand private versus public is, they come and they just want to walk around ... which usually entails taste-testing the apples."

Once, Dupree looked out an upstairs window in her mother's house to see apples flying over the treetops.

"So I holler out the window, I'm like, 'There's no throwing apples here,'" she said. "And they're like, 'Who's that?!' "

Life on her family's farm has "its ups and its downs," she said. While the revenue generated by you-pick apples and pumpkins does not make or break the business, the autumn season is the busiest. The farm is open for you-pick on weekends only.

"The one major difference with our you-pick and most of the others," she said, is "we're not into the agri-entertainment. It makes a ton of money, but it's like a crazy headache."

Instead, Milk Pail continues to sell produce, baked goods and gift items at the Milk Pail Fresh Market on Montauk Highway and the Milk Pail Farm Stand on Mecox Road.

"The only issue that we've come up against on the South Fork," Dupree said, is "the property value is extremely high, and the property taxes, therefore, are extremely high."

But her passion for farming has kept her from considering selling the land, and the taxes have not priced the family out of farming yet, she said.

Milk Pail's property borders Mecox Bay.

Milk Pail's property borders Mecox Bay. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

35,000

acres of farmland left on Long Island,

according to Robert Carpenter, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

Throughout her career, Corcoran real estate agent Sheri Winter Parker has sold vineyards with houses on them and the gamut of open farmland. The variability in type of sale and the relevant details are the only consistency she has experienced.

"With every single land sale that I've had, not one has been the same," she said. "There's never been a specific pattern, I have to say, and I've sold a lot of land."

The one commodity that is always in demand, she said, is land. Land with development rights intact is typically more desirable, she conceded, but selling the rights does not mean the land will not sell.

"Land is always in style," she said. "Always."

What does farmland cost in 2023?

Across the United States, farm real estate value averaged $4,080 per acre in 2023, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Land Values 2023 Summary. The country’s cropland value, which includes only land used to grow field crops and vegetables or land harvested for hay, averaged $5,460 per acre for the same time period.

The average farm real estate value in New York State is $3,600 per acre — a 4.3% increase overthe same number from 2022 — according to the same report. Cropland value is $3,300 per acre in the same region. This represents a 4.8% increase over the previous year, according to the same report.

There is no standard market rate for Long Island farmland, said Kimberly Krupski, a real estate agent for Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty. Prices on the North and South Fork are "apples and oranges," she said, describing "a very layered equation" that determines a farm's price point.

"The value can vary from, you know, $20,000 to upwards of $100,000" per acre, she said.

One of Krupski's current listings is 36 acres of certified organic farmland in Calverton, complete with 7 acres of planted grapes. The land is listed at $3.5 million, and annual taxes are $1,356. There are no structures on the property.

Local tax assessors determine property tax rate  based on New York State standards, and lower taxes generally come only with land used for agricultural purposes.

Long Island farmland prices can vary from

$20,000 to upwards of $100,000 per acre

according to real estate agent Kimberly Krupski.

"If you have a house and farmland, the house is going to be assessed much the same as any other residential home would be," said Krupski. "The attached acreage is then going to be assessed as farmland, or with different agricultural exemptions; so the agricultural portion of the property is likely going to be taxed at a lower rate than similar attached land on a residential parcel."

Land for which the owner has sold the development rights will cost and be taxed differently from land with development rights intact.

"Farmland is so particular because it depends on specifically what you're trying to do," she said. "I've worked with vegetable growers, and winemakers, homesteaders, and what I'm finding is everyone's looking for something really different."

As a real estate agent, Krupski sells North Fork farmland. As a fifth-generation farmer whose family has worked the land in Peconic since 1909, she lives on the land her family owns.

"It's an incredibly nostalgic lifestyle," she said. "My husband and I have that conversation all the time: how do we pass something forward? It's not going to look the same as the generation before, but it's still going to be special, working the land."

At Richters Orchard in Northport, they pick for you

El Jay Amsler and his dog, Grommet, moved into a 123-year-old house on Richters Orchard five years ago. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

It feels free.

— El Jay Amsler

Bordered by trees bearing ruby-red apples, a long driveway leads to the chestnut barn at Richters Orchard. Grommet, a spirited 7-year-old Corgi, approaches the familiar cars of visitors who bring him treats.

The orchard keeps it simple. The Amsler brothers, whose father bought the orchard from Frederick W. Richter in the 1940s, grow, pick and sell apples at retail prices. Some of the product becomes cider, which the brothers also sell. Over the summers, the brothers grow and sell peaches.

"We're doing what we've always done," said Andy Amsler, 69.

The Northport institution has been around since 1900, according to the Amslers, and its name remains Richters in deference to its founder. Andy and his brothers, Louis Amsler, 74, and Donald Amsler, 73, took over in 1979, when their parents retired. The land is part of Suffolk County's Farmland Development Rights program and is taxed accordingly, Andy said.  

"The house was built with the orchard in 1900," said El Jay Amsler, who lives there with Grommet. "It shows its age in a lot of places, but it's got a lot of charm."

Among original details are intricate woodwork, floral-print wallpaper and painted trim.

El Jay was working for the orchard before he moved on to the property. He spends mornings placing wooden crates out for Richters' two pickers — Rohan Brown and Denton Smith  — to fill. Later, El Jay spends a couple of hours driving the bins in and serves customers looking to purchase product in the barn. Between tasks, he can check on the laundry or handle other household chores.

"It feels free," he said, as he drove a golf cart down an avenue of apple trees, Grommet at his feet.

From left, El Jay Amsler, his father, Louis Amsler, and...

From left, El Jay Amsler, his father, Louis Amsler, and uncle Andy Amsler in front of the family home on the orchard. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

From their home on a dead-end street just outside the orchard, Bernie Dubin, 71, and his wife, Joyce, 69, enjoy the quiet.

"We watch the workers pick the apples and the peaches," said Bernie, who has lived there with his wife for 43 years. "And we know that there's not going to be any development there."

The Amslers are "perfect neighbors," Bernie said.

"We've had no problems with them at all, in all these years," he said. "And we get their apple cider every Thanksgiving."

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