A longtime farming family and conservation advocates said the recent sale of nearly 14 acres of prime agricultural land in Water Mill will not only preserve the family’s business, but is also a major step toward ensuring local farmland is used only for farming.
The nonprofit Peconic Land Trust announced the sale of the final piece of a 33-acre parcel off Uncle Leo’s Lane that had been leased to Jim and Jennifer Pike, owners of Pike Farms in Sagaponack. The couple had been leasing the land, which was sold for $360,809 to the Pikes.
Southampton Town purchased development rights from the trust that, for the first time, included enhanced easement restrictions specifying the land will be actively farmed.
The Pikes, who farm and sell a variety of crops including sweet corn and tomatoes, first worked with the trust in 2007, when their landlord told them he intended to sell the 7.6-acre land parcel housing their farm stand. The trust acquired the land in 2011 and sold it to the Pikes for $167,200.
“The trust was very helpful over the course of those four years,” said Jim Pike.
“Four torturous years,” added Jennifer Pike with a laugh.
In recent years, the Pikes, who said they rent more farmland than they own, lost some of their rental properties, which made it hard for them to keep their business running smoothly.
Though the family is still deciding what crops will be farmed there, purchasing the Water Mill parcel at a reduced price “makes sure that we have enough land to work with in order for us to continue conducting our business operation,” Jim Pike said.
Previous development restrictions on residential or commercial development in Suffolk County have not included assurances that protected farmland would be farmed. That puts local food production on the South Fork at risk of disappearing, said John Halsey, the nonprofit’s president.
Halsey said the trust had seen a trend in recent years of non-farmers buying land in Southampton and using it for equestrian purposes, especially in Southampton Town, which drives up the price on such lots and makes it harder for local farmers to purchase them.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said such special easements were critical in protecting traditional food farming in Southampton from “being squeezed off.”
Halsey agrees, calling local food production a staple of Southampton’s history.
“Through this deal, these restrictions are assuring that food production remains a critical part of our culture in Southampton,” he said.