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Benner’s Farm

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND: Called everything from ‘hillbilly-Pink Floyd’ to ‘folk-pop’ to ‘surreal Americana,’ the Slambovian Circus of Dreams returns to this year's festival. Photo by Tom Moore

By Julianne Mosher

If you have a love for folk music, head over to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket on Sunday, Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the 11th annual Fiddle and Folk Festival. Just in time for fall, the event will have a little something for everyone.

Held on the grounds of the historic farm, that has been owned by Bob Benner and his family since 1977, festival-goers can always expect the best in traditional and contemporary folk music plus other fun-filled farm activities suitable for all ages. 

Singer-songwriter Cassandra House

“Bob Benner has been instrumental in the Fiddle and Folk Festival for years,” said Amy Tuttle, program director for the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council.

Tuttle added that the festival was held for many years at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Unfortunately, it stopped for a bit, until Benner “resurrected it.” 

“It’s always on the first Sunday after Labor Day,” said Tuttle, who said that the GPJAC has been involved every year at Benner’s since — except for one year which was during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have an eclectic variety of music, so there’s something for everybody.”

This year’s performers include The Slambovian Circus of Dreams (back by popular demand), Cassandra House, Barbecue  Bruce and the Brisket Brothers, and last year’s “Pick of the Crop,” Stephen Robinson and Hank Stone. Bob Westcott will emcee and entertain between sets with stories and song.

With the exception of The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, who are popular regulars on the folk festival scene, the rest of the performers are all Long Island locals; Cassandra House is from the South Shore and Barbecue  Bruce and the Brisket Brothers (Bruce MacDonald, Dan Skabeikis and John Brisotti) hail from the North Fork.

Tuttle also mentioned the “Pick of the Crop,” a new contest that was implemented last year. The idea is for performers to virtually audition online before the festival with finalists performing in-person the day of the festival in front of a group of judges. Those judges then decide which of the finalists will perform on the main stage at next year’s festival. 

Right now, there is an online submission page where musicians, singers and songwriters can submit their work. The first round of judges will then choose from those submissions who made it to the next round, performing on the Shady Grove Stage. 

“It’s a really nice festival,” Tuttle said. “Everyone always has a great time.”

If the main stage and contest stages weren’t enough, there’s more. This year, an open mic stage will be presented on the back of Bob Benner’s old ’24 Model T Truck.

Benner said that other than the music and food that will be available to enjoy, there will be other fun things to do — especially for the little ones. 

“We’ll have a kid’s corner and caricatures,” he said, adding Long Island’s largest swing will be available to play on. Visitors will also be available to visit with the farm’s many animals including sheep, goats and chickens.

“The Fiddle and Folk Festival is a perfect way to ease out of all the fun things we have been doing over the summer and head into the fall,” Tuttle said. “It’s relaxed and a great way to unwind before the start of the school year.”

Presented by Homestead Arts, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and Benner’s Farm, the music festival will be held rain or shine.

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Advance sale tickets for the Fiddle & Folk Festival are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and $10 for children. Tickets on the day of the event are  $23 adults, $20 seniors and $10 for children.

Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating. A full schedule of performances and events along with applications for the “Pick of the Crop” contest are available at www.fiddleandfolk.com. For more information, call 631-689-8172.

Throughout Saturday and Sunday, April 8 and 9, children filled the fields at Benner’s Farm looking for plastic eggs with treats, especially the golden eggs that held special surprises.

Families were also able to visit with the Easter Bunny and the farm animals and buy goods from local craft vendors.

Participants at Benner's Farm egg hunt in 2022. File photo by Rita J. Egan

By Heidi Sutton

Looking for Easter Egg Hunts on the North Shore? Here is a list of events for the next two weeks so grab your baskets and camera and hippity hop over to these fun springtime celebrations!

Cold Spring Harbor

Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, 1660 Route 25A, Cold Spring Harbor will host egg hunts on April 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 in 20 minute sessions from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for children up to the age of 6 years old. Tickets are $12 per participating child, $5 “helper siblings” ages 7 to 12, $6 seniors, and $7 adults. To register, visit www.cshfishhatchery.org. 516-692-6768 

Commack

Burr Winkle Park, Harvest Lane, Commack hosts a free egg hunt with over 4,000 eggs on April 8 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with games, prizes, special golden eggs and a free photo of your child with the Easter Bunny. Register at www.commackegghunt.com. 631-486-3811

East Northport

Seasonal ‘Scapes LI, 638 Larkfield Road, East Northport is hosting an egg hunt, craft and petting zoo for children ages 2 to 12 on April 2 from noon to 3 p.m. with a visit from the Easter Bunny. Each child will receive a basket as well. $10 per child. 631-888-3655

East Setauket

Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, East Setauket invites the community to their annual Easter Egg Hunt Weekend on April 8 and 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be craft vendors, baby bunnies and chicks to hold, baby goats and sheep to see and pet, many other barnyard animals to visit with and feed, an egg hunt in the fields every half hour from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (book your time slot online), pictures with the Spring Bunny and more! This is a ticketed event only. Tickets are $12 per person and are sold only online. No tickets will be sold at the door. Visit www.bennersfarm.com. 631-689-8172

Elwood

Elwood Park, 305 Cuba Hill Road, Elwood will host an Easter Egg Hunt, on April 1. Sponsored by the Town of Huntington and Suffolk County Second Precinct police, the hunt will start at 9 a.m. for children ages 3-4; 10 a.m. for those who are 5-6, and 11 a.m. for  children ages 7-8. The event is free but registration is required by visiting www.tohparks.net under special events.

Farmingdale

— Head to the Village Green, 361 Main St., Farmingdale for an Easter egg hunt on April 1 for ages 11 and under at 11 a.m. All are welcome to meet the Easter Bunny at the gazebo and have pictures taken. Free. Sponsored by the Farmingdale Village Cultural Arts Committee.

— Adventureland, 2245 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale hosts an Egg Scramble on April 1 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Rain date April 2) Kids receive a treat bag with Easter eggs and a coupon book for vendor tables scattered around the property. Tickets in advance online: $31.99 adults, $41.99 for ages 2-24; at the gate: $36.66 and $46.66 for ages 2-24; parking is free and admission ticket includes access to all the rides. 631-694-6868.

Farmingville

Join the Farmingville Historical Society for an Easter Egg Trail Hunt on April 1 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Embark on an Easter Egg  Hunt through the Farmingville Hills County Park Trails, 501 Horseblock Road, Farmingville. At the last stop in the 1850 historic schoolhouse, kids can recycle their plastic eggs in exchange for a special gift and take a picture with the Easter Bunny. $15 per child. Preregister at www.fhsli.org.

Flanders

Friends of the Big Duck present an Easter egg hunt for “duck” eggs and a visit with Mother Goose at The Big Duck Ranch, 1012 Flanders Road, Flanders on April 1 at noon. (Rain date is April 2) For ages 2 to 9. Free. 631-284-3737 or 631-852-3377.

Greenlawn

Decker’s Nursery, 841 Pulaski Road, Greenlawn invites the community to come meet Peter Rabbit as he hosts an egg hunt on April 1 where you can win prizes. The hunt is separated by age group. Group hunts start 9 to 9:45 a.m. (for ages 3-5); 9:10 to 9:45 a.m. (for ages 6-8) and 10:15 to 11 a.m. (for ages 9-11). Free, register in advance at eventbrite.com. 631-261-1148.

Melville

Take part in an Easter Egg Hunt at White Post Farms, 250 Old Country Road, Melville 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  from April 1 to 9. Visit with the Easter Bunny (take your own pictures) too. Admission is $28.95. whitepostfarms.com, 631-351-9373.

Miller Place

The Miller Place–Mount Sinai Historical Society will host two egg hunts with games and bunny photos on April 2 with the first hunt from 1  p.m. to 2 p.m. for ages 0 to 4 and the second from 2:30 to 3:30 for children ages 5 to 8. $5 per child. Advance registration is required through Eventbrite (2023EggHunt.eventbrite.com). www.mpmshistoricalsociety.org.

Northport

The Village of Northport will hold its annual Easter Egg Hunt on April 9 at Northport Village Park at 1 p.m. Sponsored by the Northport/Centerport Lions Club. 516-380-6444

Port Jefferson

Join the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce for an Easter Parade and Egg Hunt in the Village of Port Jefferson on April 9 at noon. Enjoy an old-fashioned “Easter Bonnet” walking parade from Theatre Three to the Port Jefferson Village Center (all are welcome to wear their Easter best and march) followed by an Easter Egg Hunt on Harborfront Park’s Great Lawn at 12:15 p.m. for children ages 2 to 8. 631-473-1414

Rocky Point

Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, 525 Route 25A, Rocky Point will host its annual Easter Egg Hunt for children ages 6 and under on April 1 at 11:30 a.m. with free Easter candy for all participants. Sponsored by the Rocky Point Lions Club. 631-744-1600

St. James – CANCELED DUE TO WEATHER

St. James Chamber of Commerce presents a free Spring Egg Hunt at Deepwells Farm Parking Field, Route 25A and Moriches Road, St. James on April 1 at 1 p.m. for children 1 to 10 years of age with prizes and fun galore plus pictures with the Easter Bunny. Event will be canceled  if rain or inclement weather. 631-584-8510

Setauket

Caroline Church of Brookhaven, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket will host a free community Easter Egg Hunt with the Easter Bunny on April 8 at 10 a.m. with face painting, crafts and more. 631-941-4245

Smithtown 

Join the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 East Main St., Smithtown for Egg Hunts on April 8 at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Enjoy refreshments, hanging out with the farm animals, and a special guest appearance from the Easter Bunny in between hunts. Event runs through 1 p.m. Admission to the farm is $5 per person via Eventbrite. 631-265-6768.

Wading River

No egg hunt here but The Shoppes at East Wind, 5768 Route 25A, Wading River will host an Easter Celebration on April 1, 2 and 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with craft vendors, bounce house, a visit with the Easter Bunny and more. $10 per child in advance, $15 on day of; adults free. Additional fees apply for a carousel ride and face painting. www..eastwindlongisland.com, 631-929-3500

Benner's Farm hosts their Easter Egg Hunt Weekend on April 8 and 9 this year. File photo by Rita J. Egan/ TBR News Media

Although spring and Easter are still a few weeks away, registration for these popular annual events is now underway:

Spring Festival and Egg Hunt at Sweetbriar

Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown hosts its annual Spring Festival and Egg Hunt on March 26 from noon to 4 p.m. Join them for a day filled with events, fun, and many wonderful animals. There will be games, animal presentations, crafts, face painting, and more. Egg hunts will be held throughout the day with prizes and a separate egg hunt for 2-4-year-olds to do with their parents. A special long-eared guest will be available for photo opportunities and refreshments will be available for purchase. Bring a basket. Tickets are $20 per child, $5 adults. To reserve your spot, visit www.sweetbriarnc.org. For more information, call 631-979-6344.

Benner’s Farm Easter Egg Hunts

Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, East Setauket invites the community to their annual Easter Egg Hunt Weekend on April 8 and 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be craft vendors, baby bunnies and chicks to hold, baby goats and sheep to see and pet, many other barnyard animals to visit with and feed, an egg hunt in the fields every half hour from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (book your time slot online), pictures with the Spring Bunny and more! This is a ticketed event only. Tickets are $12 per person and are sold only online at https://www.eventcreate.com/e/easteregghuntsatbennersfarm. No tickets will be sold at the door. Questions? Call 631-689-8172.

Egg Hunts at the Hatchery

Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, 1660 Route 25A, Cold Spring Harbor will host egg hunts on March 18, 19, 25, 26, April 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 in 20 minute sessions from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for children up to the age of 6 years old. Tickets are $12 per participating child, $5 “helper siblings” ages 7 to 12, $6 seniors, and $7 adults. To register, visit www.cshfishhatchery.org. For further details, call 516-692-6768. 

The New Students return to the festival this year.

By Heidi Sutton

Featuring the best in traditional and contemporary folk music, the annual Fiddle & Folk Festival returns to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket this Sunday, Sept. 11 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The musical event will feature local fan favorites from previous years along with some fresh new faces.

Ten years ago, the event was formed as a reincarnation of a previous festival in the area. “It was a revitalization of The Fiddle and Folk Fest that had been run for years through the Long Island Museum and the Long Island Traditional Music Association,” said Benner’s Farm’s co-owner Bob Benner. 

Returning acts include Buddy Merriam and Taylor Ackley, Fiddle & Folk Fest veterans who have teamed up to perform their signature mandolin duo pieces, featuring their museum-quality Monteleone mandolins; and Brooklyn-based The New Students will be bringing their three-part vocal harmonies and skilled acoustic instrumentation.

New acts this year include The Serpent and The Fiddle featuring Dee Harris on mandola and Lora Kendall on fiddle who will be kicking off the festivities on the Main Stage with their intriguing interpretations of historic and traditional instrumentals; the String Sisters — Annie Mark on guitar and Maria Fairchild on banjo, playing a mix of classic country blues, old time, and original song; CJ and the Say Hey Bluez Crew, a new feel-good group comprised of musicians who share a love of upbeat jazzy blues, fronted by Claudia Jacobs, whose brassy and bold presence gets the audience on their feet; and headliners The Haymakers, a high-energy trio of veterans of the Long Island roots music scene who bring a new punch to retro favorites with the classic rockabilly instrumentation of twangy guitar, upright slap bass, and drums.

Also new to the festival this year is the Pick of the Crop performer contest. According to Amy Tuttle, program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council who’s also on the festival committee, four Long Island singer-songwriters — Josie Bello, Steve Robinson, Hank Stone and Linda Sussman — “will be strutting their stuff in hopes of being selected for a spot on the Main Stage at next year’s F&FF. All four are talented in their own right, and have their own signature styles,” she said. There will be a panel of music professionals judging the contest, and the audience will be given ballots to vote for their choice. The lucky winner will be announced at the end of the festival.

Other activities include a fiddle workshop, an open mic on the back of a 1924 Model TT Ford, vendors and a Kids Korner with crafts, stories and music. Visitors are also encouraged to stroll around the 15-acre working organic farm, meet the resident farm animals, and feel like a kid again on the Big Swing. 

For Bob Benner, it is an event he looks forward to every fall.

“Every year I look out on the great lawn and see hundreds of people settled in and entranced with the musicians, the ambiance of the farm and the slower pace that seems to envelope the crowd. I’m glad our groups can bring that experience to our Long Island community,” he said.

Presented by Homestead Arts, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, Benner’s Farm, TBR News Media and WUSB Radio, the music festival will be held rain or shine.

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Advance tickets are $18 for adults, $15 seniors, and $10 for children at www.fiddleandfolk.com; $20 adults, $18 seniors and $10 for children at the door. Please bring seating. For more information, call 631-689-8172.

Benner’s Farm in East Setauket continued its egg hunt tradition during the spring holidays, and for the second year in a row, created a socially-distanced event. 

On April 16 and 17, families arrived to the farm at their designated time slots to enjoy the egg hunt, take photos with the Easter Bunny, visit with the farm’s animals and check out merchandise from local vendors.

Festival tickets are on sale now at www.fiddleandfolk.com

By Tara Mae

A celebration of music, community, and nature, the 9th annual Fiddle and Folk Festival at Benner’s Farm will be held on September 12, from noon to 8 p.m. 

Participating musicians will include headliner Chris Smither, Travis McKeveny & The Famous Dr. Scanlon Band, Quarter Horse, Mick Hargreaves with Pete Mancini and Brian Moritz, CB Jacobs & Russ Seeger: Songs from the Black Book, Maria Fairchild and Bill Ayasse, and Jonathan Preddice and Brian Chabza. 

Most of the musicians are locals and have played at previous Fiddle and Folk festivals, according to Benner’s Farm’s co-owner, Bob Benner. The event will also feature artist workshops, and activities for children in the Kids’ Corner, including music, crafts, and more. 

“This is a low-key day with high quality talent,” said Amy Tuttle, program director for the Greater Port Jefferson-Brookhaven Arts Council and a member of the festival committee.

Four festival stages

This year there will be four venues at which to hear the music with each stage offering its own audience experience and ambience. 

The event barn’s Back Porch will serve as the main stage of the festival, offering sets of 45 to 60 minutes long, and align with a traditional festival concert experience while Jam Hollow will be a designated space for musicians to bring their instruments and play together. The Shady Grove stage will offer a more intimate opportunity for artists and audiences to interact, with conversations as well as Q&A sessions. Performances at the Shady Grove stage will be hosted by a to-be-announced radio personality from radio station WUSB.  

This year, the fourth stage is making its Fiddle and Folk debut. The stake bed of a 1924 model-T truck owned by Benner’s Farm co-founder Bob Benner, it will serve as an informal stage for anyone interested in participating in an open-mic. Guests can sign up on site. 

Musical acts

Chris Smither

Making his Fiddle and Folk debut is Chris Smither, a folks/blues singer based out of Massachusetts. Smither is a favorite of both Benner and Claudia Jacobs, a musician and friend of the Benners who helped book the acts. “Bob and I are massive fans,” said Jacobs.

Smither is happy for the opportunity to play at the festival and reconnect with audiences in person, having missed that connection during online, live-stream performances. “You try to build an entity between you, that exists among you. It’s electric; it’s a life-affirming, ephemeral sort of substance,” he said.  

Blue Point resident Travis McKeveny, of Travis McKeveny and The Famous Dr. Scanlon Band, considers his favorite part of playing live to be the “chance to experience the interchange of energy between myself and the audience.” The singer/guitarist is excited to be “…sharing the bill with peers, but especially sharing it with Chris Smither, the headliner, who is one of my songwriting heroes.” 

One of the returning favorites is Quarter Horse, a group that blends elements of rock, folk rock, Americana, and jam band. Quarter Horse, which five years ago had its album release party on Benner’s Farm, feels a connection not only to the people but to the place. 

“We know Ben Benner [Bob’s son] heard us and liked us, and asked us to play at another concert series he did on the farm. We eventually decided to have our album release party there. We’ve all gone to Benner’s Farm, even as kids on school field trips,” drummer John Reizi, of Centereach, said. “There has always been a connection to Benner’s Farm, it’s a really pleasant place. I take my daughter there sometimes; you don’t feel like you’re in suburban Long Island — you’re in a sort of portal.”

Jonathan Preddice, of Port Jefferson Station, echoes the sentiment. “I love spending time at Benner’s Farm. It has a great “down home” feel and sets a great atmosphere for relaxing and listening to good music.” A member of the band Miles to Dayton, the singer/songwriter will be focusing on his solo folk/America work with fiddler Brian Chabza. 

The farm’s environment is part of what appeals to Hicksville resident Maria Fairchild too. A singer and banjo-player, she is drawn back to the farm by “the setting; it is one of the few places to see traditional and roots-based music on Long Island.”

Benner’s Farm

In addition to hosting the Fiddle & Folk Festival, the 15-acre organic farm hosts everything from school field trips to weddings and offers seasonal festivals, summer camp, workshops, and other programs. Bob Benner believes this versatility is part of its appeal. 

“This farm, partly planned, and partly because of the way it is set up, changes its personality depending on what you’re doing. There is a friendliness to this space and we tried to keep the aesthetic beauty,” he said. 

Bob and his wife Jean, purchased the farm in 1977 and over the years have transformed it into a prominent local educational non-profit and one of the last true working farms in the area.

“There are very few farms around here now; we are trying to keep the farm as an agricultural place,” Benner said. “Also because we have educational backgrounds, we opened it up so people can take courses and have festivals and do things on the farm. People can see what the farm is like.”

The Benners were drawn to the farm’s educational potential: first for themselves, and then for the public. “We have absolutely no background in farming, but we could read…we’re learners and teachers,” he added. 

Community outreach began with local pre-school children visiting the farm to learn where their vegetables came from and expanded into educational opportunities for people of all ages. 

Continuing a tradition

Part of Benner’s Farm’s ethos is to support the people of the area and preserve cultural customs for current and future generations. So when Bob Benner learned that the original Fiddle and Folk Festival at the Long Island Museum was being discontinued, he reached out to the people who ran it, volunteered to revive it at the farm, and then assembled his own team to help put it together. 

“I always thought the farm was the perfect place to have a big event, like the ones the Benners and I went to. The timing was right. We pretty much created it together,” said Jacobs. 

Following so many months of isolation, this year’s festival holds particular meaning for everyone involved in it, said Jacobs. “This one is really special. Bob’s great desire for this year was to keep it local. He felt that it should be a big community event. A ‘return to the farm’ in a gathering, communal way,” she added. 

For Bob Benner, hosting and supporting the musicians is a way to honor both his own musical interests and his dedication to the community. 

“I am not a musician, but I like a variety of music…I thought I would have local people because local musicians have been royally impacted by COVID. We’re having local bands and local people singing (open mic) and an incredible visiting headliner who will be playing with a whole bunch of locals…I have never been let down by the bands we have chosen, ” he said.

The 9th annual Fiddle and Folk is supported by Benner’s Farm, Homestead Arts, WUSB, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, and TBR News Media and sponsored by the Folk Music Society of Huntington, Long Island Blues Society, and Jack and Karen Finkenberg. 

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Advance ticket sales are now open: adults are $22 per person, seniors are $17 per person, and children are $10 per person. Tickets on the day of the event are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $12 for kids. To order, visit www.fiddleandfolk.com. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating. A full schedule of performances and events will be available online. For more information visit the website or call 631-689-8172. 

Photos courtesy of Bob Benner

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For two days in a row, Benner’s Farm in East Setauket was filled with holiday joy.

On April 3 and 4, the farm was filled with socially-distanced egg hunts spread out throughout the two days. Children were able to take photos with the Easter Bunny, who sat in a wagon while children sat a few feet in front of him to keep everyone safe.

Benner’s also had vendors on hand at the annual event, and families were able to visit with the farm’s animals.

 

Benner's Farm in East Setauket is open this weekend for spooky hayrides and pumpkin picking. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, East Setauket is open on Oct. 24 and 25 from noon to 4 p.m. for spooky hayrides and pumpkin picking. Take a tractor ride through the woods and see the fun Halloween decorations for $5 per person. Then head to the pumpkin patch and pick out your favorite pumpkin (60 cents per pound). For more information, call 689-8172.

The seed starter kit, above, is a wonderful educational tool (plants in photo not included). Photo by Sam Benner

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like spring in full bloom — the weather’s finally breaking, flowers are popping up everywhere, and it’s easy to get the kids outside for some fresh air and sunshine, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of the area’s most beloved spring locales are closed, their events canceled indefinitely until cases of COVID-19 have declined to safer levels. Without their usual income, many small businesses are struggling to pay the bills and must find creative new ways to keep the lights on.

Among them are Benner’s Farm in Setauket, well known in the community for its seasonal festivals and educational opportunities for both children and adults. With in-person field trips and large gatherings impossible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Normally this time of year would have class after class coming in to see the farm and our new animals,” said owner Bob Benner. “We’ve had births of lambs, goat kids, chicks and bunnies, but no one can visit them — there are no workshops or Mommy and Me events, no birthday parties …. there’s literally nothing. So we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

At Easter time, with 20,000 candy-filled eggs ready to go, Bob awoke in the middle of the night with an idea: What if they sold 50-egg boxes for families to have their own hunts at home? By the time the holiday arrived, they’d sold 100 boxes. Encouraged, the Benners sought to continue the momentum.

Next came an online store, with t-shirts and maple products for sale at www.bennersfarm.com, and a GoFundMe campaign which raised more than $6,000 to keep staff paid and animals fed.

Now they’ve created a “My First Garden Learning Kit” geared toward children containing everything you need to grow a dozen different flowers and plants. The kits include planters, potting soil, a template to sort and examine seeds, plant markers, and an instruction booklet with pictures and information about each plant at various stages of growth.

Both Bob and his wife Jean have spent decades working as teachers in addition to running the farm. Jean said that they work hard to approach every project with an educational focus, trying to see each aspect as a child would.

“We purposely chose seeds that are all different sizes and shapes, mature at different times, and are not too tiny so that kids can handle them,” she explained. “The seeds we’ve chosen are all meant to be interesting and recognizable. Marigold seeds look like tiny paintbrushes; calendula seeds resemble tiny worms.” 

The seed starter kits went on sale at the end of April. Within two days, they’d sold 70 kits and were ordering more boxes to fill. So far, so good. 

“It’s been successful especially because people are telling their friends and family. We’ve had orders come in from other places around the country, too,” said Jean.

The Benner family moved to Setauket from Northport in the late 1970s. Their eldest son, Ben, said that his earliest memories involved being dressed in overalls and driven to see the badly overgrown property. The area was first farmed in the 1750s, and the Benners revitalized it using books on homesteading as a guide. What was originally meant to be a hobby for Bob and Jean slowly evolved into something much more.

“This is our life here, and it’s so strange to see the farm empty,” Ben said. “We miss the energy of the kids, getting to see people every day, hosting our programs. This is all we want to do.”

While the Benners have no idea what the future holds or what events they’ll be able to host next, they know that the success of the farm rests in continuing local support and encouraging a love for nature in children.

“As a society, we’ve lost a certain amount of knowledge and appreciation for nature. Kids that grew up in previous generations would be out working in farms and gardens, and that doesn’t happen much around here anymore,” Ben said. “I think it’s such an important thing to learn about the process of how plants grow, and it’s a lot of fun to go out and pick your food, knowing where it comes from and knowing you did it yourself. We want to spark that interest in as many kids as possible.

Seeds included in the garden kit:

Calendulas

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Marigolds

Green squash (zucchini)

Purple bush beans

Peas

Corn

Beets

Swiss chard

Radishes

Tomatoes

Each kit costs $25. They can be picked up from Benner’s Farm at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket. Call ahead to arrange an in-person, contactless pickup. Prepayments using a credit or debit card are preferred, but arrangements can be made for cash payment. Online orders placed at www.bennersfarm.com are $35 each and will be sent out within 24 hours. For the latest information about the farm, to make purchases or donations, call 631-689-8172 or visit their website.