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Rottkamp Brothers farm in Nassau feuds with Old Brookville

Richard Rottkamp and his brother Ray, stand together

Richard Rottkamp and his brother Ray, stand together with some of their farm tractors at their farm in Old Brookville, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

The owners of the largest remaining produce farm in Nassau County say they likely would shut down operations if the Village of Old Brookville succeeds in closing their farm stand.

The village’s June 29 cease-and-desist order against the popular 27-year-old Rottkamp Brothers stand is linked to a legal battle between farmers Ray and Richard Rottkamp and their neighbors, Joanne and Joseph Lostritto, over who is responsible for flooding on a farm road that divides the two properties.

The 50-acre farm, in the Rottkamp family since 1953, sits amid large houses and expansive, manicured lawns. It’s an anomaly in a county where few farms have survived suburbanization, said Long Island Farm Bureau public policy director Jessica Anson.

Old Brookville took action after Jeffrey Forchelli, a Uniondale attorney for the Lostrittos, said at a recent village board meeting that the Rottkamps do not have a permit to sell produce from the farm stand, which is in a covered building.

Forchelli said his comments to the board stemmed from frustration at the lack of progress in resolving flooding issues three years after the Lostrittos filed suit against the Rottkamps on the matter.

“Maybe if the village goes after them on the [permits] they’ll wake up and solve the drainage problem,” he said.

Village Attorney John Chase, Mayor Bernie Ryba and village trustees did not respond to requests for comment.

Farm stands are allowed under state law, said Steven Cohn, a Carle Place attorney for the Rottkamps. The stand sells about half the farm’s produce, and without it, the farm likely would not be viable, Ray Rottkamp said.

Cohn said the flooding began after the Lostrittos filled in a trench that had carried rainwater through the Lostritto property and erected metal poles to stop the Rottkamps from clearing sediment, creating a large year-round puddle on the road.

Berms the Lostrittos put in after building their home about 15 years ago exacerbated the problem, he said.

Forchelli, however, blamed the flooding on manure and other farm sediment that he said filled in the trench and raised parts of the Lostrittos’ lawn.

“It’s just a mess,” Forchelli said as he pointed to mud on the Lostrittos’ brick driveway from recent rains. The poles are to stop the Rottkamps from digging up the Lostrittos’ property, he said.

The Rottkamps and Lostrittos agree that a basin to collect sediment is part of the solution, but each wants it on the others’ property.

Customers who regularly peruse the tables of sweet peppers, melons, kale and corn at the farm stand said they would mourn its closure.

Peter Van Der Mije, chef of Osteria Leana in Oyster Bay, said the freshness of the produce he buys daily from Rottkamp “makes all the difference in the world” in the taste of the food he serves.

Ray Rottkamp said he can’t imagine shutting down the farm.

“This is what we’ve done our whole life,” he said.

Violation notice

The Village of Old Brookville sent Rottkamp Brothers Farms a June 29 notice of violation that says in part:

  • “The commercial retail use must cease and desist immediately as it is not a permitted use.”
  • “The flooding, ponding and stagnant water issue must be rectified.”

In response, the Rottkamps filed a lawsuit asking that the village be enjoined from taking action against them.

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