For the past three years Apartment Therapy has pledged through 1% For The Planet to donate a portion of our annual revenue to a well-deserved environmental organization. This year we decided to step right out our front door and give our 2009 donation to the Quail Hill Farm, the longest running community-supported organic farm on Long Island, and a stewardship project of the Peconic Land Trust. Last week Maxwell and I visited the farm and spent a leisurely afternoon with Scott Chaskey, poet, author, activist and farmer. As we ate burritos on the grass in the apple orchard and walked a portion of the expansive 30-acre farm, I was inspired by Scott's passion for organic farming and community supported agriculture, and the more he spoke, the more we knew our donation dollars had gone to the right place.
You don't often meet a man like Scott Chaskey. He's an old soul, combining an acute intelligence for the issues and responsibilities surrounding the modern day organic farmer with a romantic's love of the land. A native of upstate New York, Scott moved to England thirty years ago to become a poet. He got a job tending the gardens on an English estate, and soon the "enchanting" land had taken him captive. After returning to the States, he was hired by the Peconic Land Trust in 1990 to develop a few acres of newly-acquired farm land.
Fast forward twenty years and that farm has grown to 30 acres now serving 200 families, and Scott continues to write and speak all across the country on the importance of community, composting, sustainable agriculture, and conservation. In 2005 he published a book, This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm, and he's currently working on a new book about seeds. He is also currently the president of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), and a member of the governing councils of the agricultural committee of the Town of East Hampton, the organic advisory committee for Cornell Cooperative Extension/Suffolk County, the farmer advisory board for Just Food, and various CSA planning committees.
The Quail Hill Farm is owned and operated by the Peconic Land Trust (PLT), and is part of a 220‐acre PLT preserve located 90 miles east of New York City, between the Atlantic Ocean and Gardiner's Bay. Their crop list contains over 225 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, a mature apple orchard, young peach trees, several varieties of raspberries, a few beehives and a flock of hens. The Farm also uses three greenhouses, five small tractors and many hand tools, and is staffed by full‐time preserve and field managers, along with 3-5 apprentices who typically work during the warmer months. In addition to providing food for 200 families who self-harvest every week during the season, the Quail Hill farm also supplies produce to local schools, nearby restaurants, a farmers market, and food pantries. Each year, Quail Hill Farm signs on to the "Farmer's Pledge" of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, and promises "to sustain the land in healthy condition for future generations."
As we walked around the farm—past the greenhouses, the bee hives and the apple orchard, up to the original four acres where the farm started—Scott showed us exactly what our donation had helped fund. A new, larger implement to spray the crops was a much-needed upgrade from an older and smaller implement; another newly-purchased implement now rolls down the fields and lays out a biodegradable plastic mulch which tamps down weeds; and yards and yards of heavy-duty fence finally keep the deer from roaming freely over the crops and eating member's lettuces!
As the afternoon came to a close, I was struck by one of the last things Scott said. He spoke about his life long desire to do something that would have lasting significance, something that could really made a difference in people's lives. "Living a life with purpose," I believe were his words. Organic farming and community supported agriculture have given him that purpose. What a great reminder for us all.
Thank you, Scott!
More: Quail Hill Farm
(Images: Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan)