Meet 8 Long Island farmers growing your food

Enjoying a meal in a restaurant or at home is actually the end of a process that begins in a field and reflects a farmer’s care, expertise and hard work. So we decided it was time to return to the source and find some interesting producers to inspire us all. Against great odds, Long Island is still home to many extraordinary farmers, and those showcased here demonstrate their commitment to the land, as well as food prized for freshness and flavor. Thanks to folks like them, we are eating better than ever.

Vincent Lopez

4e Green Farm, Yaphank

Vincent Lopez tried to deny that his destiny was farming. He grew up on his grandfather’s 150-acre farm in Guatemala, and after immigrating to the United States at age 19, he eventually established his own construction business. Starting in 2012, however, a part-time job at D & J Organic Farm in Yaphank got its hooks in him and wouldn’t let go.

In 2019, Lopez bought the farm from previous owner David Yen and named it after his three sons and goddaughter, whose names all begin with “e.” Along with almost four acres of tilled fields, there are 10 greenhouses, which allow Lopez to grow and sell greens year-round and also protect his young fig trees. But, come spring, the heaters are turned off and the fabric “roofs” are rolled back to let in rain and direct sunlight. Lopez grows dozens of vegetables, including Tuscan kale, rainbow chard, sorrel, lettuces, beets (red, golden and candy-cane), radishes (breakfast, watermelon and daikon), potatoes, eggplants and squashes. From Yen, a native of Taiwan, Lopez inherited an appreciation of and knack for Asian vegetables such as yu choy, gai lan, baby bok choy and Japanese sweet potatoes.

There is no retail operation at the farm; all the produce is sold at farmers markets in New York City and the suburbs (including Huntington and Setauket). Lopez keeps an eye on all of this while fielding calls from homeowners all over Long Island who need him to construct a wall, extend a driveway, install a pool. At 63, he has no plans to slow down. “My grandfather told me, ‘Never stop working, or you will rust like any metal. Keep working, teach your children how to work and they will thrive too.’ ”

4e Green Farm (631-522-2718; 4egreenfarm.com) is at the Huntington farmers market (parking lot at 228 Main St.) on Sundays from 7:30 to noon and at the Setauket market (Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Rd.) on Fridays from 3 to 7.

Vincent Lopez in his French arugula greenhouse at 4e Green Farm...

Vincent Lopez in his French arugula greenhouse at 4e Green Farm in Yaphank.  Credit: Raychel Brightman

Caroline Fanning and Daniel Holmes

Restoration Farm, Old Bethpage

Restoration Farm may be nestled in the cradle of suburbia, but it also provides a journey back to Long Island’s rural past: It’s on the grounds of the Old Bethpage Village Restoration and, standing in its patchwork of idyllic fields, you can imagine yourself in the 19th century. But Caroline Fanning and Daniel Holmes have a very modern mission: to engage the community in the ever-diminishing practices of traditional agriculture.

First-time farmers Fanning and Holmes launched the farm in 2007 and, two years later, married “on the premises” at the restored 1857 Manetto Hill Church. For the past 15 years, they have farmed their five acres organically and with “minimal till,” that is, their plows break up the ground as little as possible and weeds are allowed so long as they don’t interfere with the crops. “The less you disturb the soil, the less you disturb the microbes that give the soil its life,” Fanning explained.

Among the dozens of crops, there are always a few, such as artichokes or bitter melons, “that aren’t really profitable, but great conversation starters.” There’s also a devotion to the storage vegetables that help the farm stand stay open all year — a rarity on Long Island — when little beyond onions, garlic, beets, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, cabbages and parsnips (harvested in February) are available.

Year-round involvement with the public, especially with the CSA community, is critical. In the winter, there are strolls “to see plants in stages of decay” and maple-syrup-making demos; spring brings fig-tree swap sales and rock hunts (i.e., getting kids to clear the fields). Summer is for sowing and reaping, but there are also herb-identification walks and, in October, a children’s extravaganza for Halloween. “We’re on public land,” Fanning said, “and we’ve found that the best way to cultivate and retain customers is to bring them onto the farm.”

The farm stand at Restoration Farm (140 Bethpage-Sweet Hollow Rd., Old Bethpage; 516-572-8408 and restorationfarm.com) is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 6 and on Saturdays from 9 to 1.

Daniel Holmes and Caroline Fanning own Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage. 

Daniel Holmes and Caroline Fanning own Restoration Farm in Old Bethpage.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Sean Pilger

H.O.G. Farm, Brookhaven

Sean Pilger grew up in Brookhaven hamlet, but cultivated his love of agriculture first at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and then during an internship at Red Fire Farm in Massachusetts. In 2006, 10 years after H.O.G. Farm was founded on 20 acres owned by the Puleston Family and the Post Morrow Foundation, Pilger returned to Long Island to run it. “My passion wasn’t botany or horticulture,” he said, “but the problem-solving involved in running a farm.” The problems facing H.O.G. all involve sustainability, not only from an agricultural perspective (H.O. G stands for Hamlet Organic Garden) but from a financial one. “We need people who are willing to dig a little deeper into their pocketbooks to buy local,” he said, “because it’s the only way to pay our workers a living wage.”

About half of the farm’s revenue comes from its CSA, the rest is split between the farm stand and selling produce to restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn and on Long Island, among them Verde Kitchen & Cocktails in Bay Shore, Bakuto in Lindenhurst, Orto in Miller Place and The Trattoria in St. James. H.O.G.’s restaurant customers dictate some of the more unusual crops grown here, including shiso, nettles, puntarelle (the bitter Roman green), ginger and salsify. But CSA members also have the option of adding Briermere Farm fruit and/or Acabonac Farms beef to their weekly haul. The stand sells heritage pork from Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton and pizza dough from local bakery KC Wild Bread.

The farm stand at H.O. G Farm (319 Beaver Dam Rd., Brookhaven; thehogfarm.org) is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 to 6:30 and on Saturdays from 9 to 1.

Sean Pilger, farm manager at H.O.G Farm in Brookhaven. 

Sean Pilger, farm manager at H.O.G Farm in Brookhaven.  Credit: Randee Daddona

Marilee Foster

Marilee's Farmstand, Sagaponack

Marilee Foster had graduated from college, a liberal arts degree under her belt and trying to work out where to go in life, when she was drawn back to the family potato fields. It was the summer of 1994, a very hot, dry one and every pair of hands was needed to move irrigation equipment from field to field. Today, Foster and her brother, Dean, are the sixth generation to work their family’s land, and although farming in the Hamptons is increasingly fraught, “We are farming some of the best soil in the country,” said Foster. “And you can really taste the difference.”

Heirloom tomatoes are a particular obsession. “I’m really crazy about tomatoes,” said Foster, who can start as many as 80 varieties each year. “They are crazy hard work. They all have to be staked and by the time all three plantings go in, we have well over a linear mile of them.”

And then there’s the vodka, made from the farm’s spuds at the Sagaponack Farm Distillery, founded in 2017. “You would think that it is very far from the vegetable itself,” said Foster. “But what you are tasting is the vegetable in essence form.” For vodka drinkers used to an odorless, tasteless vehicle for other flavors, this one, with its earthiness, roundness and beautiful nose, is a revelation. “It’s excellent in minimalist cocktails, like a martini,” noted Foster. “We are always transitioning,” she added. “My father transitioned to potatoes, and Dean and I transitioned, too.”

Marilee’s Farmstand (698 Sagg Main St., Sagaponack; marileesfarmstand.com) is open 11 to 5 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Visit The Tasting Room at Sagaponack Farm Distillery (369 Sagg Rd., Sagaponack; 631-537-7300) or see sagaponackfarmdistillery.com for where to find Sagaponack’s spirits.

Marilee Foster of Marilee's Farmstand in Sagaponack. 

Marilee Foster of Marilee's Farmstand in Sagaponack.  Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Michael Chuisano

The Naked Farm, East Marion

You can’t tell anyone how to get there without sounding as though you’re reading a child a story: Down a little lane in a little hamlet, there’s a little farm … And the locals who patronize the farm’s stand — it’s little, too — feel like they’ve discovered something magical. Perhaps it’s the heading lettuces that could pass for wedding bouquets, or the carrots, beets, turnips and radishes that are so vibrant, they seem to glow from within. Or perhaps it’s because all of this great stuff and more comes from just one-tenth of an acre in a backyard. Which does not belong to farmer Mike Chuisano, but to a nearby friend who, four years ago, welcomed the farm in exchange for a new roof (Chuisano is a contractor by trade) and other upgrades.

It would be easy to dismiss this tiny, one-man operation as a boutique farmlet, catering to an exclusive group of people in the know, but behind the neat-as-a-pin beds (24 in all) and a high tunnel full of tomatoes, there is rigor and efficiency. Chuisano works hard and he works smart, relying on tools such as a quick-cut greens harvester that utilizes a rolling brush to lop off the tops of loose-leaf lettuces (he will sell 45 to 50 bags in a day) and an ultra-accurate sprocketed seeder, both powered by the same cordless drill. Then there’s a tilther, which works the top few inches of soil without harming the earthworms ("that’s the most important thing”). Chuisano grows high-value crops in rotation. “Nothing is in the ground more than 45 days,” he said. Chuisano also heats the high tunnel for a winter’s-worth of microgreens. But extending the season is one thing and expanding the business is another. “I’m not getting any bigger,” Chuisano said. “That’ll take the love out of it.”

The Naked Farm (880 Old Orchard Lane, East Marion; 516-680-5617) is typically open 10 to 3 — or until everything sells out — on Saturdays. The best way to check hours/availability is @nakedfarmnofo on Instagram.

Michael Chuisano, owner and grower at The Naked Farm in...

Michael Chuisano, owner and grower at The Naked Farm in East Marion.  Credit: Randee Daddona

Chris and Holly Browder

Browder's Birds, Mattituck

Chris and Holly Browder saw a niche on the North Fork and filled it. “We were the first people here to do pastured poultry,” Chris said. His desire to become a second-career farmer (he and his wife were once in the world of finance) was kindled by “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, an instant classic when it was published in 2006. With an assist from the Peconic Land Trust, Browder’s Birds was created in 2010. Today, the home farm boasts the only licensed mobile poultry processing unit on Long Island, as well as flocks of about 1,000 layers and close to 2,000 meat birds. But a recent look at the family’s sweep of land showed the business is growing in new directions. Bees from the farm’s hives were busy foraging pollen and nectar from sweet-smelling patches of white clover; hardy, multipurpose Dexter Irish cattle grazed while keeping an interested eye on the Browders’ six-year-old son, J.B. And Cotswold sheep have provided entrée into a whole new world. “We shear twice a year,” explained Holly. “And there is so much raw fleece!” Through the North Carolina-based nonprofit Livestock Conservancy, and its “Shave ’Em to Save ’Em” challenge, the Browders connected with fiber crafters and now ship their fleece throughout the Lower 48. “You know, we love telling our story,” Holly said. “But chickens led us to livestock and wool led us to fashion, and now there are so many different stories to tell.

Browder’s Birds (4050 Soundview Ave., Mattituck; browdersbirds.com) has a farm stand on the property that’s open every day from 9 to 5. They also sell at the Westhampton Beach farmers market (Village Green) on Saturdays from 9 to 1.

Chris Browder of Browder's Birds in Mattituck. 

Chris Browder of Browder's Birds in Mattituck.  Credit: Randee Daddona