Leasing and Grant Program Supports Growth of Farms

August 8, 2018
Farms for the Future

Agricultural Capital Grant Helps Farmers on Long Island

You can’t have local food without local farmers. Supporting Long Island’s working farms is a high priority to the Trust and is the driving force behind our Farms for the Future Initiative. In fact, since our founding in 1983, and with your help, the Peconic Land Trust has preserved more working farms on Long Island than any other private conservation organization. Long Island’s farms and farm families are central to our economy and our heritage. Given intense development pressures, escalating real estate values, competition for farmland, and the lack of affordable farmland for both new and established farmers, our Farms for the Future Initiative has been an excellent program to help address some of these challenges.


As part of this initiative, we are focused on providing access to affordable farmland by purchasing, protecting, restoring and reselling protected farmland to farmers. In addition, the Trust’s expanded Farmland Leasing Program provides local farmers access to affordable land – whether to expand their existing operation, or to provide them a place to start.  Farmland owned by the Trust is available for leasing, primarily in Amagansett and Southold. Farmers currently leasing include Balsam Farms, Amber Waves Farm, and Bees’ Needs in Amagansett (see Mary’s story below); Sang Lee Farm, Invincible Summer Farms, and The Farm Beyond in Southold, and many more. The Trust is proud to partner with and support these hardworking farmers. We are currently leasing over 250 acres to 30+ farm operations across the East End.

“We are a small farm focused on raising native solitary bees and growing blueberries and raspberries. Through the Ag Capital Grant, we received assistance in building our barn and purchasing a tractor — big ticket items critical to our growth and success. We are happy to report that our mason bees had a banner year, and our future work with these pollinators looks promising. Thank you Peconic Land Trust!”

Laura Klahre - Blossom Meadow Farm

A Farm of a Different Type: Bees

While much of our leasing is with farmers who are growing row crops, we’ve had a wonderful partnership with a farmer of a different type: Beekeeper Mary Woltz. Mary, owner of Bees’ Needs, has been raising bees at Quail Hill Farm since 2004, providing the farm with very effective pollination services and her delicious honey for farm members.  Mary remarked, “the Peconic Land Trust, through its extensive preservation of farmland and open space, is an important general contributor to maintaining bee habitat in our area.”

Mary feels fortunate to have met Farm Director Scott Chaskey, and believes that his continuing advocacy on behalf of the bees – planting cover crops to feed both the bees and the soil – provides the support they need to flourish during challenging times. “What my Quail Hill bees lack in production, they compensate for in quality. Quail Hill honey was nationally recognized with a Good Food Award in 2014.” Mary’s apiary business has grown from her original six hives, to 11 hives situated in three farm locations, and she manages a total of 63 hives at 14 South Fork locations!

“The Ag Capital Grant was essential in getting the Great Gun Shellfish Farm established and running —literally. It enabled the purchase of the farm’s work skiff, outboard engine, and trailer — without which the farm could not operate. Awarded during our startup year, the grant could not have come at a more crucial time. I feel very fortunate to have received this assistance from the Peconic Land Trust and Empire State Development.”

Paul McComick - Great Gun Shellfish Farm

Agricultural Capital Equipment Grant: Farmers for the Future

Because of our successful efforts to support local farmers, the Trust was selected in 2015 by Empire State Development (ESD) to oversee the administration of $1 million in funds available to farmers through an Agricultural Capital Equipment Grant program.  Grant recipients Michael and Isabel Osinski of Widow’s Hole Oyster Company in Greenport are one of the many agricultural operations to receive financial assistance through this program to improve or expand the function of their businesses (read the Osinskis’ story below).

A variety of local farmers have benefited from the grant funds provided by ESD. Funds have been used for the purchase of agricultural structures like deer fencing, farm equipment, infrastructure needed to convert a local farm to a dairy operation, upgrades for energy efficiency at a local winery, and more. With $1 million available through the ESD and just over $300,000 provided to applicants to date, there is still funding available for agricultural operations that qualify. In addition, changes to the current grant include increasing the grant limit from $25,000 to $50,000, and allowing a grant recipient to request a second grant, as long as the request is for a new project and the total request is $50,000 or less. Applicants also need only prove that the past three years tax returns have been filed.

Widow’s Hole Oyster Company

It was 2002 when Mike and Isabel Osinski learned that their Greenport harborfront property included five acres of bay bottom, and with time on their hands since retirement, they decided to start an oyster farming business. Widows Hole Oyster Company grows only Long Island native oysters, “Crassostrea virginica,” using a traditional oyster cage system that rests very close to the bay bottom.

The bottom-resting system was adequate but impacted the speed of the oysters’ maturity, their cleanliness  upon harvesting, and the amount of algae available for the oysters to feed on (algae grows closer to the surface). Through research, Mike and Isabel learned about a newer technology of oyster baskets that float close to the surface, eliminating some of the challenges they were facing.

Interested in converting to floating baskets, the Osinskis applied for and were awarded funds from the Agricultural Capital Equipment Grant Program (see above) toward the purchase of the new equipment. The Osinskis felt the funding assistance made a real difference to their upgrade. Mike remarked, “We needed the incentive of the 20% to make the commitment to changing to new gear, otherwise we may have stayed with the method we knew.”

The new baskets’ proximity to the surface has enhanced the amount of algae available for the oysters to feed on. The oysters also come out of the water cleaner, reducing the processing time required for Mike and Isabel to get them market-ready. In addition, the wave action of the Greenport Harbor tides gently tumbles the growing oysters in the baskets, altering the cup-shaped shells and allowing for fatter, meatier oysters, the kind that knowledgeable foodies and restauranteurs demand. The new system is making a difference to the Osinskis’ operation. 

Wölffer Estate: In their own words on the Agricultural Capital Grant

At Wölffer Estate, we have always had the goal to produce the highest quality product while protecting the land that we grow on.  This mission led us to become one of the founding members of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing and to constantly challenge ourselves to evolve business and farming practices to incorporate more robust sustainable practices into day-to-day operations.  To do so take a great deal of human and capital investment which is why we applied for the grant.  

Through the (Agricultural Equipment Grant) program, we were able to purchase two new tractors. One will play a key role in kicking off a composting program on the estate; the other will not only alleviate the use of an older tractor but will also expand our acreage capabilities.  We also secured a new cultivator which will help us to reduce the need for herbicides in the future. We were also able to invest in winemaking equipment.  Our new stainless steel tanks enable us to keep up with production demand here on the estate while simultaneously applying our rigorous quality standards.  

We are thrilled that New York agriculture is getting such great support and we hope investment continue to ensure that farmers across the East End have the resources to maintain their operations and continue to produce high quality, local product.

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