The Condzella family farm in Wading River is among dozens in New York that will be preserved with $38 million in state funding. The deal allows the farm to be handed down to the owner's children and grandchildren. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone, NY Governor's office

William George Condzella’s Wading River farm still stands nearly 100 years since the Polish immigrant planted his first crops in 1923, although it’s smaller than it once was. The operation was 55 acres in its heyday, but later shrunk to about 15 acres as Long Island’s wholesale potato market faded and the second generation sold off portions of the land.

Now thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit Peconic Land Trust and a $7.9 million land deal paid for mostly with state grants, much of those fields will return to farmland with Condzella’s grandson, John Condzella Jr., at the helm. The deal allows today’s family farmers, who also include Condzella Jr.’s wife, Virginia, son John Condzella III and daughter Kathryn, to reclaim their legacy.

“I never thought it would happen, but the opportunity came about just recently and it’s great,” Condzella Jr. said during a recent interview at the farm. “I consider it a gift.”

John Condzella Jr., second from left, and his wife Virginia...

John Condzella Jr., second from left, and his wife Virginia at their Wading River farm with son John III and daughter Kathryn. Credit: James Carbone

The project, a complicated land deal involving six parcels totaling 38 acres north and south of Route 25A, was funded through $5.6 million in state grants, about $2 million worth of land discounts on behalf of the sellers and $305,000 raised by private donors, according to the land trust.

KEEPERS OF THE LAND 

The 1970 Nassau-Suffolk Comprehensive Plan Summary recommended the preservation of 30,000 farmland acres to keep farming a viable Long Island industry. More than 20,000 acres have been preserved since then.

About 7% of land, or 38,979 of 583,362 acres, is in agricultural use in Suffolk County.

The biggest share of farmland is in Riverhead Town, which has 39%.

Source: 2015 Suffolk County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on July 18 the $3.65 million in funding to preserve six acres previously owned by Ken Barra, which totaled $1.65 million, and nine acres owned by the Zoumas family, which totaled $2 million. The news, which the land trust learned of in May, means the organization has all the funding needed to make the deal happen.

Julie Wesnofske, senior project manager for the Peconic Land Trust, said the organization began speaking with the elder Condzella about a way to preserve the farm, now known for its U-pick strawberries, asparagus and hops, 20 years ago.

“This is really just going to cement the fact that the next generation will be able to continue to have a viable agricultural operation going forward,” Wesnofske said.

When the deal is completed, the Condzella family will own the properties and the land trust will own the development rights, Wesnofske said. The land was all once part of the Condzella farm.

The Long Island acreage makes up a small portion of this year’s $38 million state farmland grants covering 40 projects totaling nearly 12,000 acres. State-funded farm preservation is less common on Long Island, where land is more expensive than upstate and the bulk of farmland conservation has been done through Suffolk County and town programs.

A 2015 report from the Suffolk County Department of Economic Planning and Development estimated that state funding made up just .18% of the 20,000 acres that had been preserved at that time.

Although the Condzella farm is a relatively small operation, Wesnofske said it will help keep Wading River — which she described as the gateway to the North Fork agricultural corridor — rural. A shopping center had been approved for the Zoumas property, which will now stay undeveloped.

“Acreage-wise, this isn’t a huge acquisition,” Wesnofske said. “But the impact on the community will be huge.”

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