After 26 years, 700 episodes, and countless shots of pumpkins, apples, varieties of grapes and the intrepid farmers who produce them all, Doug Geed will end his run as host of News 12 Long Island's "The East End" this weekend. Final segments will include profiles of Rottkamp's Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow and Fink's Country Farm in Wading River.
"How does it feel?" says Geed, 64, who retired as News 12 anchor in July after a 37-year run there. "It's definitely sad. It's my child, really, but the new hosts, Erin Colton and Joe Arena, know how important the show is to all of Long Island. I'm sure they're going to try to keep that tradition alive."
What they can't bring, or possibly could, is a bespoke approach born of personal history and an abiding respect for those who have worked the land for generations. While "The East End" occasionally profiled B&Bs, even artists, Geed reserved most airtime for those with dirt under their fingernails and calluses on their hands.
Fifth-generation farmer Jeff Rottkamp says, "We'd like to continue farming, but I can tell you the rules and regulations and all the government policies are making it tough."
"The East End" offered a necessary salve through the years, he said, adding, "He does a great job, and the show is definitely a good promotion for agriculture. There's not a lot left out here."
Yet, as Geed often reminded viewers, there's much more than they imagined. According to Rob Carpenter, director of Calverton-based Long Island Farm Bureau — which supports the agricultural industry — there are "probably" 475 agriculture operations on Long Island and "maybe 450 of those are out here."
"The East End" has long defined "out here" as anything east of the William Floyd Parkway. Excluding the Hamptons — which Geed always has, or at least the glam parts — that's a huge spread of farm country to cover. Geed exhaustively has.
As a child growing up in Syosset in the 1960s, his family piled into their Chevy Impala, with a clamming rake in back, and headed east. Memories of the farm stands — and his father's clams — are among the happiest of his life, Geed says, and he brought those with him when he joined News 12 in 1986. After covering the East End as a young reporter, he was promoted to morning show host and anchor. His heart remained out east.
"How many things can you do today that you did 60 years ago?" he said in a recent phone interview. "They have preserved that, which is what I really wanted to focus on."
Geed estimates he's visited just about every working farm (or farmstand) on the Twin Forks, some more than once. (The first profile was of Colorful Gardens on Main Road in Jamesport.)
But the East End's most passionate booster admits he's had his critics too. "It's definitely fair to say that some of the locals, especially on the North Fork, resented the show," he says. "I was at a farm stand buying some vegetables and there was a guy getting in his pickup truck. He goes, 'Doug Geed, the guy that ruined the North Fork.' He kind of smiled."
"The East End" lifted farmer profits when they badly needed them, but also increased traffic congestion and crowds. Yet, without the show, "some of those family farms would have closed and there'd be houses where a beautiful farm once was," he says.
"Doug should not take all the bad credit, if you will, for the traffic out here," says Carpenter. "It's such a beautiful place and people need to come out to see what we have."
But, "absolutely, I've had many farmers tell me that once they appeared on Doug's show, you could track the increase in sales.
"We're very sad to see the end of an era, and don't know what's going to happen next," Carpenter said.
The last episodes will air Saturday and Sunday, both days at 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. (The show will return in January.)