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Benner’s Farm

Photo from Benner's Farm

Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket will host a Harvest Centerpiece workshop on Saturday, Nov. 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Make a beautiful and unique pumpkin centerpiece for your mantle or Thanksgiving table that will be the talk of the family. Refreshments will be served. $40 per person. To reserve, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.bennersfarm.com. Photo from Benner’s Farm.

Minnie the cow. File photo

An East Setauket farm’s way of life has been under attack, and its owners are fighting back.

An online petition with more than 2,000 digital signatures spurred protestors to take to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket this week with hopes of convincing its ownership to save 2-year-old Minnie the cow from slaughter to feed the Benner family, which has lived there for 40 years. But Bob Benner said the outcry was misled and not in-step with the sentiments of those actually living in the Three Village community.

“There have been literally thousands of people who have supported us and a majority of them live right here in the community,” he said. “The people that are trying to impose their values on us do not live here. We’re talking about a national group of people who have a direction — they’re trying to tell us how to live.”

The group Benner mentioned included names from all over the United States that made up the online petition calling for Benner’s to keep Minnie as a pet. A private Facebook page, “Save Minnie from Slaughter,” was also launched and collected more than 700 followers within days.

The entire debate started on April 2, when Jean Benner was taking a birthday party group on a common educational tour around Benner’s Farm, answering questions about what it is like to live on a farm. One mother, Kimberly Sherriton of Commack, asked about the fate of the cow, and was told it would be used to feed the Benner family. Sherriton offered to help Minnie find sanctuary where she can live out her life.

“Jean tried to explain the difference between an animal on a farm and a pet, explaining that our farm was a homestead where we raise animals for meat, as it has been since 1751,” Bob Benner said. “We grow and produce food for our family on our property.”

The next day, Sherriton and Bob Benner continued the conversation via telephone, ending in disagreement, the farmer said. Since then, the Benner family has been “inundated and harassed with phone calls, Facebook posts, bad reviews and threats all aiming to change our mind,” Bob Benner said.

“She is used as the face of the farm for all their educational programs, birthday parties and festivals…the events are too numerous to name,” the Change.org petition said. “She is quite personable and has been a wonderful animal ambassador for the ‘farm.’ The public was led to believe that this was a resident cow.”

Protestors with signs setup at the farm over the weekend, drawing attention to the East Setauket spot more commonly known for its peaceful landscape. But the Benner family said that while it was saddened by the public outcry, it was also touched by the support coming from Three Village natives.

“They understand that we care for the animals we raise, and also understand that some of them are being raised for meat,” Bob Benner said. “In part because of our farm, the families who spend time with us are able to have this connection to where food comes from. We are sympathetic that many people today do not have a direct connection to their food source. We get it. There is a disconnect for people, and that is hard. But we are farmers, and we do have that connection to our food.”

The hills of Benner’s Farm in Setauket were alive with children this past weekend.

Around 3,200 guests filed onto the farm for its seventh annual Easter Egg Hunt, with some families coming from as far as Queens and the Bronx. According to Bob Benner, the event grows more popular every year, with more than 11,000 eggs used for this year’s hunt.

Participants purchased spring flowers, took photos with the Easter Bunny, visited the farm’s new baby piglets or held baby chicks and bunnies while they waited for one of the farm’s three egg hunts to start.

Benner’s Farm, located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, officially opens to the public for the spring on April 16 and 17 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.bennersfarm.com.

The community roamed around Benner’s Farm in Setauket in search of sweets on Saturday, Feb. 20, during its annual Maple Sugaring Day. Families learned the history of maple sugaring, how to tap trees, turn sap into syrup and how to make sugar candies. Participants also enjoyed freshly made pancakes with farm-made syrup. Maple syrup, sugar candies and jams were also sold during the event.

In between eating pancakes, learning about maple sugaring and sampling sap from a tree, families roamed the farm to visit the animals and treat some to a leftover pancake. Children played on the Big Swing up in the woods and visited with the resident barn cats, Lightning, Thunder and Storm. A sweet time was had by all!

‘Dance of the Haymakers’ by William Sydney Mount, 1845

By Erin Dueñas

The sounds of bluegrass, blues, acoustic and folk music are coming to East Setauket as the fourth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival returns to Benner’s Farm on Sept. 13.

According to Amy Tuttle, program director of the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, a festival sponsor, the festival is a celebration of acoustic music. “The formula we have found to be successful is to bring in a national act, a well-known blues based act and a Long Island band,” Tuttle said.

Headline acts this year include The Kennedy’s, Brooks Williams and Buddy Merriam with his band, Back Roads. During the festival, Merriam will be given the Long Island Sound Award honoring him for bringing bluegrass music to Long Island for 35 years, presented by the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

The festival will feature a main stage where the headliners will perform, as well as a smaller stage that will include workshops and question-and-answer segments with the musicians. Another stage will host a jam session where not only will headliners play together to conclude the concert, but festivalgoers can play their own instruments. A kid’s corner will be set up offering story time and music, and the night will conclude with a contra dance, complete with a live band and caller. The farm will also be open where guests can check out organic gardens, barns and farm animals.

“This is an all-ages, family friendly event that people can either sit back to watch or participate in,” Tuttle said.

Charlie Backfish, who hosts the acoustic music show Sunday Street on WUSB 90.1, the radio station on the campus of SUNY Stony Brook, another festival sponsor, said Benner’s Farm is a good location for the event.

“This is the kind of music you probably could’ve heard at a farm at some point in history,” he said. “It really makes sense to have it there.” Backfish will host the question-and-answer session of the festival.

Bob Benner, who lives and works on the 15-acre farm, said the festival is a celebration of not only music but farm life. Benner referred to a painting at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook by famed local artist William Sydney Mount of a fiddler playing at a barn dance on a farm. “What we are trying to do at the festival is to show what people would do way back when,” he said. “Everyone lived on a farm here on Long Island up until the 1900s.”

The festival is also sponsored by Homestead Arts, the nonprofit educational arm of Benner’s Farm that works toward keeping what Benner called “old time arts and processes” from fading into history. “Homestead arts are all the different things that people had to know how to do away from our modern sensibilities — things like meat processing and vegetable canning,” he said. Music is a big part of that.

“Way back when there were no phonographs, no forms of playing music. The festival has the kind of music you would hear when neighbors got together for haying or working in the fields,” Benner said. “This really is the perfect place for the festival.”

The fourth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival will be held on Sept. 13 at Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 adults, $11 children and seniors. The event will be held rain or shine. Bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating. Food and drink will be available for purchase. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.fiddleandfolk.com.

Camp counselors and young campers yank on a rope in a tug-of-war exhibition at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michaela Pawluk

By Susan Risoli

Benner’s Farm doesn’t slow down for the summer.

Dave Benner gives some of the farm guests a ride across the property. Photo by Susan Risoli
Dave Benner gives some of the farm guests a ride across the property. Photo by Susan Risoli

Since 1751, this working farm in Setauket has been an oasis for anyone who cares about a way of life that surprises as much as it teaches. Bob and Jean Benner bought the 15-acre property in 1977. They still run the place, but now their sons Dave, Sam and Ben handle much of the outdoor work, while daughter Kirsten, who used to teach in the farm’s community education program, now lives in New England.

The Benners host a summer camp for children, toddlers to teens, including a full-day showing of how to care for the animals and the gardens. Times Beacon Record Newspapers spent a day at the farm for a firsthand look at life as a Benner.

7:50 a.m. The Benners and their staff of counselors are getting ready for the campers. Some of the children have seen farm animals up close.

“They have backyard chickens and such,” Bob Benner says.

Most, however, have never been at a place like this, and Benner calls it “amazing, to see how quickly they warm up to it.” Today, the children will do farm chores and help feed the animals.

Pancake the chicken and her baby, Waffle, go by. This chicken has flown the coop, preferring to hang out with the cow. She’s actively raising her chick.

This is unusual behavior, Benner says, as modern chickens have been bred to spend more time laying eggs for profit and less time nurturing babies.

Pancake walks briskly, clucking constantly to Waffle, who runs on teeny legs to keep up.

“She’s showing the chick how to eat and how to be,” Benner says.

There are always some chickens that forsake the safety of the coop for an independent life in the open, says Benner. And when they do, “they have to live by their wits.”

8:30 a.m. The lambs are getting antsy.

“Their stomachs are talkin’,” says Sam Benner.

Camp counselors and young campers yank on a rope in a tug-of-war exhibition at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michaela Pawluk
Camp counselors and young campers yank on a rope in a tug-of-war exhibition at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michaela Pawluk

One runs to the fence and makes a tentative baa. Soon, three others follow. Now the group is singing a loud, indignant chorus of appeal for their breakfast. Benner tells them they have to wait until the campers get there.

Farm life is satisfying, says Dave Benner, but the hours are long. When it’s time for “spring baby-watch,” he says, “any time the animals go into labor, we have to be there to help ‘em, for as long as it takes.”

Each animal has a distinct personality. Take Shrek, the little pig born in April. “Shrek is a handful,” Benner says, looking over at the piglet that, in the span of about a minute, has pushed his nose through the fence, run around his pen, rooted in the dirt and enthusiastically munched a snack.

10 a.m. The campers are here. Some are gathering hay from the barn. The littlest ones sit on counselor Michaela Pawluk’s lap, as she teaches them how to milk Zoe the goat. The milk is used to feed baby animals, Pawluk says, or is made into cheese.

Other kids wield rakes and shovels. Counselor Nick Mancuso is helping them make a feng shui-themed rock garden.

All the children have a multitude of questions. Nine-year-old Teppei says the animals “are funny sometimes. The chickens look like they’re playing running bases, because they’re running back and forth.” Teppei says he was surprised “at how big cows can get, at a really small human age.” He drew that conclusion after meeting Minnie, the Benners’ massive two-year-old cow.

2:30 p.m. Afternoon on the farm is a time for noticing — the feel of the strong sun, the sound of water rushing out of a garden hose into the goats’ drinking basin, the fragrance of oregano as a breeze blows across the herb garden.

Grown goats and sheep are out of the barn, grazing on the grass. Their babies rest in the shade, leaning on each other with their eyes closed. Minnie the cow is like a big puppy, licking the arms of any human she can reach, her soulful brown eyes trusting and calm.

7 p.m. Campers are long gone, and grown-ups are gathering on the farm for an outdoor bluegrass concert in the pasture. The sheep are starting to hunker down in groups.

Minnie and Shrek are beside themselves with joy as people gather to admire them. But soon, even they will settle down for the night. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

Benner’s Farm in Setauket held a May Day festival on Sunday, May 3, much to the delight of the local community. The festivities included a dance around a maypole, live music and other activities.

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