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In Yaphank: 3 acres, 2 green thumbs

Julie and Davie Yen began their Yaphank farm

Julie and Davie Yen began their Yaphank farm more than 15 years ago, after owning various other farms across Long Island. (Jan. 9, 2013) Credit: Nancy Borowick

'You run the shop and stay home with the children, and I'll look for something new for us to do."

That's what Davie Yen told his wife, Julie, in the late 1980s after the couple's jewelry business in Great Neck had stalled during the recession.

He remembered that he had enjoyed working on a local farm when he was growing up in Taiwan. But what he really liked was how in Taiwan nothing was wasted -- it was reused.

Yen returned to Taiwan and spent almost a year volunteering on a hydroponic farm, where he lived, worked and learned. Then he went on to Japan for about a month to learn about weaving farming with aquaculture, and next he visited the Netherlands for almost two weeks to learn about greenhouses.

"That's the Chinese way -- one of us keeps the family safe while the other goes out to do what we have to do," Julie Yen, 65, said of her husband's journey.

On his return in 1990, the couple sold their jewelry stores in Kings Point and Great Neck and moved to Patchogue. They rented land with two glass greenhouses in disrepair and launched D & J Organic Farm. In the years that followed they rented plots between there and Manorville until finding and purchasing their 3-acre property in Yaphank.

"The area around here, the pine barrens, has very poor soil," said Davie Yen, 67, "but we have made it into fantastic growing land." Into the soil goes everything from household compost to fermented soybean waste and seafood waste that Yen collects from local fish stores and boils and purifies.

They started with two crops: baby bok choy and Madeira vine, used as a Chinese medicinal herb, which they sold to Chinese markets. When they joined Green Thumb, the nonprofit that runs many of the farmers' markets in New York City, they expanded. Now the Yens grow more than 100 varieties of leafy greens, peas, beans, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash and herbs, and they also raise chickens, geese and ducks for eggs, which they sell at farmers' markets in Huntington Station, Northport and Commack and at the Sunday market in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Next year they plan to sell at more farmers' markets.

"I am trying to tell Americans about farming, because we need young people to continue farming," Yen said.

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