Peconic Land Trust Article

Plowing the Fields at the Sisters of St. Joseph  

Since 2015, the Trust has been working with the Sisters of St. Joseph on a conservation plan for this spectacular 212-acre property in Brentwood, Long Island. Serving the community since the late-1800s, the Sisters of St. Joseph in recent years have turned their attention to returning active agriculture to their lands.

The Trust has been helping the Sisters move forward with a sale of development rights on approximately 27 acres of farmland to Suffolk County. The County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program is the oldest in the country, the proceeds of which often provide farmland owners with capital to improve and expand their agricultural businesses. The County’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee earlier this week approved the PDR with the Sisters and a final offer is expected in the coming weeks. Senior Project Manager Kim Quarty, and Dan Heston, Senior Manager of Agricultural Programs, have been working with Sister Karen Burke and the team at the Sisters of St. Joseph not only on the conservation plan that includes restoration and leasing of their agricultural fields, but also a Master Plan for the entire property.

The County’s decision to move forward is, in part, based on its recognition that Western  Suffolk is under-served when it comes to access to fresh, local, organic food and that the Sisters are committed to providing the Brentwood community with the opportunity to benefit from locally grown food.

The Sisters have seen success — and more importantly joy — from growing healthy, organic vegetables on their land. For many years, they have had a community farm, providing volunteers and visitors with the harvest. Most recently, the Sisters have been leasing land to local farmers. One of the most successful has been Thera Farms, run by Teddy Bolkas. Recently, both Waldo Cabrera from FiOS TV and Danielle Campbell from News 12 Long Island have visited the Sisters of St. Joseph and the farm — shining a wonderful light on the work they are doing. Check out their reports! Teddy has been growing a popular assortment of vegetables — lettuce, squash, peas, beets, peppers and onions — that are affordable and appreciated by the families in the community.

In addition to the land being cultivated by Thera Farms, the Trust is helping the Sisters of St. Joseph improve the soil quality on another 9.25 acres of farmland. This summer, the Trust’s Dan Heston has been working on the land, bringing in our equipment to plow and disc the soil in anticipation of planting a healthy mix of  sorghum and sunn hemp. Why this mix? The sorghum provides organic matter to the soil and the sunn hemp (a legume) produces nitrogen to feed the sorghum thereby further increasing its contribution of organic matter.

We look forward to sharing more of the story of this land’s return to agriculture in the coming weeks, months and years. Want to learn more? Reach out to Kim or Dan at 631.283.3195.

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