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Farming

25-Year-Old Looks to Continue Legacy of Family Farming on North Shore

Marianne and Justin Bakewicz on one of their tractors. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Justin Bakewicz’ eyes, the world is sepia toned. Autumn has reddened the leaves and browned the plants on his farm in Wading River. The cornstalks of the corn maze he built have gone dry and stark as gravestones, while the last few pumpkins of his you-pick patch squat among rows of now bare plants. All the farm’s last vegetables are being packed up for the remaining few farmers markets and festivals before winter truly sets in. The farm is closed until spring of next year, and he and his family have started to get ready for what could be a snowy, cold winter.

Justin scratches Boss Hog’s belly while their dog Remington sniffs about. Photo by Kyle Barr

To Bakewicz, his small 11-acre farm along Route 25A in Wading River is a vintage photograph of a barn and fields, a lingering ideal he has worked for three years to make a reality. 

He calls that ideal a legacy from his grandfather, Henry Kraszewski Sr. Justin, a Rocky Point resident, remembers working with his uncle on his grandfather’s farm in Southampton as a kid. 

He too found solace from the drudgery of a desk job working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Riverhead by working on his farm, where they farmed eggs and potatoes. 

“He hated that job to all hell, but when he came home at night his favorite thing to do was to take off the suit and put on his boots and jeans and farm his own potatoes out there,” the farm owner said. That farm lasted until his grandfather passed away and went out of the family’s hands.

While other kids in Danielle Donadoni’s sixth-grade English class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School wrote about wanting to be sports stars, young Justin wrote about how when he grew up, he wanted to be a farmer.

Donadoni said she often visits the Bakewicz farm, saying she loves what the young farmer has brought to the community and how he has even left an imprint on her own children with a love for gardening and raising chickens.

“I remember asking him specifically, ‘What do you like about being a farmer?’” the teacher said. “I remember him telling me an uncle had a farm and it was right about this time of year. I may have given him a ‘Get out of here’ comment and ‘No way you’re working on a farm every weekend.’ Sure enough, that next Monday morning Justin exited the school bus with a pumpkin almost the size of him.”

Getting to where the farm is now was difficult. Already running a landscaping business and selling flowers out of their landscape yard, the Bakewicz family learned about the small patch of land for rent off Route 25A owned by Joe Manzi, of Rocky Point-based Manzi Homes East. 

Justin pets his two rescue calves Woody and Buzz. Photo by Kyle Barr

Justin’s mother Marianne has worked with her son on both the landscaping business as well as the farm. She called the whole project a family affair, with brothers, nieces, sons-in-law and others.

To say the farm has been a passion project for the young farmer would be an understatement. Justin’s mother said very few farms now can operate because even fewer people have the energy to put the work into them. 

“He’s worked really, really hard on this,” she said. “There’s not many young people willing to get up at 5, 5:30 in the morning and work 12-14 hours a day seven days a week. That’s why there’s not a lot of farms left.”

The farm started with barely enough tools to get the job done, even on such a relatively small property. Much of the land was “six-foot-tall weeds,” and borrowing a tractor from a friend, he planted corn for a corn maze and pumpkins. He would drive out to Southampton after working all day to return that equipment. 

Using a New York State grant they got for young farmers, he bought a new tractor to use on the farm. Other equipment came from as far away as Pennsylvania second hand. The plow is a two-bottom, one-way, meaning when he’s digging troughs, he makes one row before going all the way around the field to plow the next. 

Other equipment now sits near the playground as part of what the family calls an educational component to the farm, explaining what it is and how it’s used. 

Compared to the miles and miles of farmland just down the road in Riverhead, Bakewicz Farms is relatively small. The frontage is dedicated to a playground of sorts, all hand-painted cutouts of mythical figures and characters from popular fiction. Some were painted by one of the farmhands, some by Marianne, and others by a friend of Justin’s from Rocky Point, Jen Chiodo. It’s a small wonderland, a mix of down-home sensibility with modern pop culture, like a straw chewing cowboy putting his feet up on the soap box to watch the latest Marvel movie. 

The farm’s frontage has been a playground not just for kids, but for the farmer himself. Bakewicz built his own barrel train and hay wagon. The family created a life-sized cow out of a milk jug and tank, and a small scaled silo out of an old propane tank. Instead of just a run of the mill corn maze, the Wading River farm makes it a scavenger hunt based around a movie, from “Pirates of the Caribbean” to “Harry Potter” to this year’s theme of “Toy Story.” When kids walk through the corn maze, they are looking to find trivia about that movie and make a rubbing to show it off when they come out.

Marianne Bakewicz and their dog Remington at Bakewicz Farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Even the oft-seen farm animals seem to have come out of a storybook version of a farm. Many of them are rescues, such as Woody and Buzz, two calves that were saved from New Jersey by Port Jefferson Station-based animal rescue Strong Island Rescue. When the Bakewicz got the two young animals, they were both sickly. The mother and son raised them in their own house, taking them for walks and feeding them from a bottle as long as a grown man’s arm. Less than a year later, Woody and Buzz are as big as a small tractor and act more like dogs than cattle.

The story is the same for the other animals at the farm, from the chickens originally raised by a local school, the one duck rescued from students at the University of Rhode Island, the goats to the pig they named Boss Hog. All act more like pets than farm animals, and more and more animals keep ending up behind Bakewicz’ fences.

“They all act like that because they were human-raised,” the mother said. “That’s why people love them, so they come right up to you.”

The farm has increased in popularity over the years, the mother and son said, mostly due to word of mouth and posts online. As they’ve grown, they have made a larger impact in the community, having put up the fall decorations for the Shoreham hamlet signs and having a big presence at the Town of Brookhaven Farmers Market at Town Hall in Farmingville. Their advertising can even be found in such innocuous places like the People’s United bank in Shoreham.

Despite the popularity, Justin has lingering fears of losing the small plot of land. In February, Brookhaven and the property owner announced talks with the developer Tradewind Energy about building solar batteries on the property. Those batteries would only take up a small amount of farm space that Bakewicz had not used, mostly from previous owners using the space to dump branches and trees the farm had used for composting. 

The bigger fear is if that development does not go through. The other idea for the property would be to build homes in that location, pushing the small farm out the door. 

Bakewicz has not heard anything about the issue since earlier this year, but no matter what, he does not plan to stop farming and hopes to continue it on the North Shore.

“It’s the community is what made my farm possible — it’s because of the love and support from them,” he said. “We started family traditions for people.”

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

To address the critical shortfall of skilled young and beginning farmers and ranchers, congressional leaders, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), introduced June 13 the Young Farmer Success Act. If adopted, the bill would encourage careers in agriculture, by adding farmers and ranchers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes teachers, nurses, first responders and other public service professions. Under the program, eligible public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments can have the balance of their loans forgiven.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Our country’s farmers are part of the backbone of our nation, and while they are critical to ensuring American families have food to put on the table, all too often the next generation of farmers is finding that a career in agriculture makes it difficult to put food on their own table,” Zeldin said. “After graduating college, aspiring farmers are saddled with crippling student loan debt and the daunting costs of agricultural businesses, oftentimes driving them from a career feeding our country.” 

The new legislation will allow the next generation of farmers to pursue a career serving the American people, eliminating the disincentive to study agriculture in school and getting them on the farm when they graduate.

Farming is an expensive business to enter, in part because of skyrocketing land prices. Young and beginning farmers often see small profits or even losses in their first years of business. With the majority of existing farmers nearing retirement age, and very few young people entering the farming or ranching profession, America is beginning to face an agricultural crisis. Since the Dust Bowl, the federal government has taken steps to support farmers, and the Young Farmer Success Act supports farmers through a different approach — finding a tangible pathway to pay off student loans that will offer incentives to a new generation of career farmers.

“Eighty-one percent of the young farmers who responded to our 2017 national survey hold a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree,” Martin Lemos, National Young Farmers Coalition interim executive director, said. “This means there is a very small population of beginning farmers without student loan debt. With the average age of farmers now nearing 60 years, and farmers over 65 outnumbering those under 35 by 6:1, we need to do more for the next generation of farmers to succeed. We are grateful for the bill’s bipartisan champions, Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-PA), Josh Harder (D-CA) and Lee Zeldin. With the support of Congress, we will encourage those who wish to pursue a career in farming to serve their country by building a brighter future for U.S. agriculture.”

In 2011, National Young Farmers Coalition conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found 78 percent of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 follow-up survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000. The same study also found 53 percent of respondents are currently farming, but have a hard time making their student loan payments and another 30 percent are interested in farming, but haven’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.

Rose Andrews gives children a tour of her family’s farm. Photo by Doreen O’Connor

By Erin Dueñas

Nineteen-year-old Rose Andrews has no idea what it means to be bored. Part of the sixth generation of Andrews who work the land at Andrews Family Farm in Wading River, there is work to be done from sunrise till sunset.

Up by 6 a.m., Andrews’ days begin by collecting eggs from the farm’s hens. Throughout the day, she might cut sunflowers to sell at the stand, deliver fresh-picked corn, zucchini or tomatoes to a neighboring farm, help customers or tend to the animals, including goats and rabbits.

“Being bored just doesn’t exist when you farm,” said Andrews. “There’s not much you can do after sundown, but even then you are planning for the next day.”

Working alongside her three older brothers and her parents, the constant work that goes into farm life doesn’t faze the Wading River resident in the least. She currently attends the University of Connecticut, where she studies agriculture and natural resources and agribusiness. Before graduating from Shoreham-Wading River High School in 2015, she said she recalls hearing classmates make weekend plans to hit the mall or the beach. But being in the family business, Andrews knew she would be at the farm instead.

“It’s just always been what my life is — the constant responsibility of the farm,” she said. “Being a farmer, it never stops.”

Rose Andrews works the Andrews Family Farm stand in Wading River. Photo by Erin Dueñas;
Rose Andrews works the Andrews Family Farm stand in Wading River. Photo by Erin Dueñas

According to Andrews, she’s never resented the farm life and constant workflow to maintain it, even while others her age might be out at a party or with friends.

“I’ve always been pretty different and I feel fortunate to be brought up this way,” she said. “I never cared what other people do. This place doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing anything. It’s my favorite place in the world.”

Andrews credits her parents with instilling a strong work ethic in her, calling them the hardest working people she ever met.

“They brought us up that family matters and the farm matters,” Andrews said. “It’s hard work, but at the end of the day, you love what you do.”

Her mother Denise Andrews concedes that there was little downtime for her kids growing up farmers. “There was no such thing as sleeping in past 7 a.m.,” she said. “The kids never had time for video games or television.”

Her children joined her at work on the farm as soon as they were old enough — a playpen was a common sight at the stand when the kids were still babies, and as young children, they pitched in.

Those early days working the land helped inspire Rose Andrews to begin Farm Days with Rose, a tour offered monthly to children interested in seeing how the farm operates.

“I want kids to see the farm as I did — as the best place in the world,” she said. 

But there’s a larger lesson she is trying to spread through the tours. She wants people to know where food comes from and why others should care, especially, she said, because when she talks to children about farming, most don’t know where their food comes from, or even what certain vegetables are.

Andrews added that the kids are fascinated to see that an onion is pulled right from the ground.

“They always love that and it’s something people should know,” she said.

Her mother also tries to educate people any chance she gets about food origins and why buying local is better.

“The food we sell here at the farm traveled 20 feet,” she said. “That should make you feel safe. The stuff from the grocery store could have traveled halfway around the world before you get it. That has such a big environmental impact.”

“Family matters and the farm matters. It’s hard work, but at the end of the day, you love what you do.”

— Rose Andrews

According to the Rose Andrews, sustainability is one of the most important issues facing farmers and consumers alike.

“How can we sustain the environment and still feed a massive population around the world?” she asked. She thinks purchasing local food is one way to do that.

She also noted the benefits of keeping dollars in the local economy, as well as the higher nutrient content of preservative-free produce that is fresh picked. Then there’s the flavor.

“There’s a big difference in taste,” Andrews said. “Farm fresh is just better taste-wise.”

Longtime customer Claudia Schappert of Wading River is a big fan of that taste difference. She said the tomatoes she gets from Andrews Farm are her favorite.

“They are so sweet and delicious — I make fresh sauce from them,” she said. “[The Andrews] are just the best people with incredible produce and flowers.”

Schappert also added that she feels like she has watched Rose Andrews grow up over the years.

“I would describe her as a gentle soul,” she said, noting that her granddaughter has been on one of Rose’s farm tours. “She has become so knowledgeable in her profession and her dedication to eating good food.”

Activists demonstrate across the state in a 2013 rally for farmworkers’ rights. Photo from U. Roberto Romano

The road to fairness for farmworkers starts in Suffolk County.

Supporters of the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act, as it has been known for the majority of its existence, which has spanned years and decades, will begin a 200-mile march to Albany on May 15, starting from Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office in Smithtown. A group called the Rural Migrant Ministry organized the March for Farmworker’s Justice. The group has been lobbying for better working and living conditions and benefits like overtime pay and health insurance for farmworkers, who Linda Obernauer, a volunteer with the ministry, said “live in fear” under “strongholds” from many farmers.

“The owners of the farm are the landlords — the owners of the housing,” Boris Martinez, a farmworker from a nursery in Patchogue, said through translator Katia Chapman in a phone interview Tuesday. Martinez is from El Salvador and has worked at the nursery for about two years, he said. “The owners only care that the housing is okay when inspection is going to come. They don’t care what state the housing is in, what condition the housing is in. It’s most likely that there will be at least 10 people living there.”

Nathan Berger is the main organizer of the march, which is a yearly occurrence. Participants march between 10 and 15 miles per day, stopping overnight to sleep at churches or at homes provided by volunteer host families. Obernauer said anyone is welcome to march, and they can join during any leg and participate for as many or as few miles as desired. Berger could not be reached for comment.

“We should all be involved in this,” Obernauer said in a phone interview Friday. “They are who we are but we don’t give them justice.”

Martinez said during a snowstorm last year many of the rooms in the housing provided by the owner of the farm where he works had leaks. Snow and water got inside of virtually all of the rooms. About 10 tenants share the home at a given time.

“The difficulty is that if we were to say to the owner that it’s not adequate housing he would send us out of the house to rent elsewhere because here when you work at his farm we don’t pay rent and it would be difficult to afford rent elsewhere,” Martinez said. “None of the workers are paid overtime pay. None of us have health insurance and if we get sick we don’t have the resources to pay for basic medical care. I know a lot of other workers in the area and none of them are paid overtime pay. Many of us don’t have a day of rest either. I’m right now working about 60 hours a week but when the weather warms up I’ll probably be working 67 or 68 hours.”

“The owners only care that the housing is okay when inspection is going to come.”
­— Boris Martinez

Martinez added he has friends who work upward of 80 hours a week.

“Those in power, they don’t care how we’re doing as workers, what they care about is the money that we’re producing for them,” he said.

An anonymous website, located at www.nyfarmworkerprotectionbill.com, provides the farmers’ perspective on the seemingly never-ending battle. An attempt to contact the purveyor of the website was unsuccessful. The email associated is no longer active.

“[The Rural Migrant Ministry] and others have recruited various celebrities and ‘foodies’ to support the bill, as well as downstate/New York City legislators, most of whom have never even been to a farm,” the site says. “We believe these individuals have been misled and have not done the proper research to find out the truth about farms, growers, farmworkers, and the challenges we face to bring fresh food to as many tables as possible.”

State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens) is the sponsor of the bill in its current form. The site suggests increased rights and benefits for farmworkers would take a financial toll on farmers’ businesses.

“What we are talking about are five or six exemptions to state labor law,” the site states. “These exemptions, like the one for overtime pay exist because of the production and marketing realities associated with farming. Farming does not take place in an enclosed building with a regulated environment. We have a limited time to plant and harvest. If overtime is enacted, farmers will have to cut hours during the growing season so as to afford the extra hours needed at planting and harvest times which can’t be avoided.”

Flanagan was a sponsor of the bill during his time in the State Assembly in the early 2000s. Since being elected to the State Senate in 2002 he has publicly supported the bill. However, despite becoming the GOP majority leader in 2015, the bill remains before the Labor Committee and has yet to pass the Senate. Flanagan did not respond to multiple requests for comment through his public relations personnel.

Jose Ventura, another farmworker from Guatemala who lives on Long Island, said his living and working conditions are not bad, but he also does not receive overtime or health benefits. He will be participating in the march.

“I’m participating in the march because even though, as I said, I like my job, I also see my friends, my companions that they are not always treated well,” Ventura said in a phone interview Tuesday through Chapman as a translator. “On their farms they’re not always paid fairly. There’s a lot of Guatemalan farmworkers and some of them are mistreated in the job and while I feel that this march is for the benefit of my people, therefore I feel motivated to be a part of the movement.”

Martinez, who also plans to participate in the march, said he knows his value and plans to fight for it.

“Farmworkers are the most important workers in every country because they’re the ones producing the food for the country.”

By Heidi Sutton & Ernestine Franco

Winter was a long time coming to Long Island this year. The first snow did not fall until the weekend of Jan. 23, and then it fell with a vengeance — some areas of the Island were covered with more than 2 feet of snow. Following this, we went into the deep freeze the weekend of Valentine’s Day, with temperatures plummeting to minus 20 with the wind chill. To really confuse people, animals and plants, the thermometer reached 56 degrees two days later and we had a rainstorm.

So this year, it is not just gardeners who can’t wait for spring. Everyone may be checking out All-America Selections’ recently announced National Winners for 2016 — new varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables that will do well in any climate throughout the United States and Canada. With fun names like Tomato Candyland Red, Strawberry Delizz and the exotic Mizuna Red Kingdom, these cultivars are the best of the best, beating out thousands for superior taste, disease tolerance, unique colors and flavors, higher yield, length of flowering and harvest, and overall performance.

Here’s what the judges had to say about these award winners:

None of these AAS winners are bred or produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For a complete list of 2016 new plants winners chosen by the AAS by region, visit their website at www.all-americaselections.org.

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It was a howling good time at the Port Jefferson Harvest Festival on Sunday, Oct. 25. Dogs came out in their best costumes to celebrate Halloween a little early and there were woodcarving demonstrations and activities for kids.

The author, second from right, hiking at Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, with fellow WWOOFers, from left, Matt Cook, Greg Mizar and Camille Horace. Photo by Melanie Glissman

By Stacy Santini

This is the last installment of a four-part series. Miss part three? Read it here.

Jack Kerouac did it, John Steinbeck did it; there is something to be said about being on the road. Not for everybody, there are countless moments when the vexation of it all can be overwhelming. Living out of suitcases and spending more time crouched over a steering wheel than being vertical most definitely takes a toll, but for me, those inconveniences were small in comparison to what I was feeling and the perspective I gained. 

“My life is my message.”
 Mahatma Gandhi

After so many years of ignoring the spirit that now guides me, I felt completely and utterly free, treasuring every mile of my journey. Revelation upon revelation unfolded itself and I got to know a person that had been a stranger for all too long — myself.

I unfolded my crumpled-up bucket list and placed check marks where there had been blank spaces, and WWOOFing it in New England served as a springboard to extraneous adventures I took advantage of while I was away.

During my time in the Northeast, I was able to reconnect with my family in Concord, New Hampshire, and stay with dear friends I don’t often get to see in Exeter. Sitting around dinner tables, breaking bread and talking to familiar faces was a comfort.

I felt empowered and strong as a result of farming and did not feel out of my comfort zone when I read poetry at an open mic in Portland, Maine or dined al fresco in Saratoga Springs. There were strange faces along the way that quickly became native as I was invited to join them to observe jam bands at local venues.

Friendships were made and alliances amongst my fellow WWOOFers were welcomed. I took my Southern California comrades from Owen Farm to Melanie and Matt’s organic farm in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, to hike and assist them in turning sap into maple syrup in the sugar shack.

Charlie, my morkie, and I traveled west to our beloved Catskills, walked part of the Appalachian Trail and held fort in New Paltz for several days, shopping at Groovy Blueberry and chowing down with a women’s motorcycle club at The Gilded Otter.

Returning home was not easy, as there was so much more I wanted to explore, but I have learned to trust timing, and without hesitation I know that Charles Crawford and I will one day again be road warriors embarking on the unknown. I am not sure whether or not I thought I would return to Long Island a farmer, but regardless, I knew I would come home different and better for this undertaking. Mission accomplished.

Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. If you would like to find out how to become a WWOOFer, visit www.wwoofusa.org.

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The author chops wood on Owen Farm. Photo from Stacy Santini

By Stacy Santini

This is the second in a four-part series. Miss the first installment? Read it here.

Once my decision and logistics were finalized, the preparing began and believe me, this was no easy feat for a woman who had spent most of her life tucked into neatly landscaped neighborhoods and luxury vehicles that had never seen a dirt road. It is mandatory to have the right clothing, gear and provisions for this type of living. In retrospect, I know that it would have been impossible for me to have survived mud season in New England without my neoprene muck boots, North Face rain attire and Cabela’s thermals. With every item of clothing I packed, varying weather conditions were always a factor, and my Jeep Patriot became the keeper of six large suitcases and numerous plastic bins; my vehicle overflowing with my expectations and a little fear, well, maybe a whole lot of fear. I also had a little Morkie, Charles Crawford, to consider, and he had his own impedimenta.

I selected two farms to call home during my time as a WWOOFer, and they could not have been more different. My first agrarian family was the Owens. Ruth and Derek were an elderly couple running a well-established 180 acre farm, Owen Farm, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, for more than forty years. The property included 30 acres of cleared land primarily used for pasture, a small orchard and 1 acre for planting and gardening. When I pulled up to their large colonial farmhouse on April 1st at 4 p.m., there was still snow on the ground, chickens running amuck and the property was buzzing with activity. I was greeted by fellow WWOOFers, a young Southern California couple named Camille and Gregg, who had arrived two weeks earlier, and as Gregg swooshed past me carrying a pile of wood, I became acutely aware that I was indeed doing this; I was about to become a farmer.

Adjustment is an understatement to describe my first few days at Owen Farm. Dignity took a back seat as I slowly but surely acquired humility and a work ethic not often seen by the rest of society. At this time of year, while most of the ground was still frozen, our main duties involved caring for the animals, which included cows which are milked by hand, sheep, pigs, poultry and horses, three of which were Arabian.

The author at 5 a.m., on the first day of WWOOFing it in New Hampshire. Photo from Stacy Santini
The author at 5 a.m., on the first day of WWOOFing it in New Hampshire. Photo from Stacy Santini

My first introduction to animal farming was the very afternoon I arrived when I observed Camille feeding Hallelujah, the resident pig who was the size of a small freight train, a “sumptuous” bucket of composting leftover veggies. At 5 a.m. the next morning, I had the pleasure of meeting Karl, the alpha cow. As she entered the barn for the first of her two daily milkings, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of this mammal. Our daily chores began before sunrise and would include gathering eggs at the chicken coop several times a day, feeding the cows and sheep, wheelbarrowing hay out to pasture for the horses and mucking stalls. When these obligations were filled, we would have special projects, like building fences and uprooting the 4 feet of manure and bedding in the sheep shelter.

The ground was frozen solid in the awakening sunrise hours but would melt somewhat by afternoon. Our footing was constantly challenged during our chores and it was not uncommon to be walking and soon find out that one of our appendages was wearing just a sock as the last step had stolen our boot which was being suctioned into the mud.

Our work on the farm monopolized most of our waking moments. Our main relief from these enjoyable but arduous tasks was mealtime. We ate family style three times a day and everyone would gather in the farmhouse kitchen at the big oak table. Missing a meal was frowned upon, as Ruth, the revered matriarch of this homestead, would spend the majority of her time at her century-old black wood-burning stove cooking creations from what was available from the farm and cupboard or reinventing leftover dinner from the night before. We feasted on stews, farm-raised pork, fresh greens and topped it all off with homemade dressings and cheese.

The word “waste” was not part of our lives or vernacular at Owen Farm. Every scrap, every egg shell, every bone was utilized, whether turned into compost or recycled, and we were very aware of the ramifications of squandering. After lunch, we would take an hour or so before returning outdoors to learn about wet felting, knitting and how to make condiments such as butter.

Ruth and Derek Owen were two of the most beautiful, stoic individuals to cross my path. I learned much from them and was grateful for the rare moments Ruth would take on the role of nurturing Mother. I started to look forward to Derek’s dry, humorous one liners with relief, as much as I welcomed his worn overalls as they would approach me, knowing I was having difficulty with a task. But their lifestyle is in such stark comparison to what I am used to that adapting was one of my greatest challenges.

Having little running water, only a compost toilet and very little time for hygiene, I struggled to let go of routines that are so much a part of my daily existence. Blow dryers, make-up and freshly washed towels did not exist during my stay. The Owens consider those things frivolous, unnecessary, and I must admit, as much as I missed my creature comforts, there was a certain freedom in letting all that go.

Dwelling under these conditions is not for the faint of heart and as I did my damnedest to acclimate, Charles Crawford, who was now being referred to as Farmer Chuck, was fighting his own battles . . .

Like what you’ve read? Check out part three here.

Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Look for her adventures at Owen Farm in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, and Patch Farm in Denmark, Maine, in the next two issues of Arts & Lifestyles.

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Stacy Santini holds a newborn lamb in the sheep shelter at Owen Farm, Hopkinton, N.H. Photo by Camille Horace

By Stacy Santini

This is the first in a four-part series.

I started WWOOFing this past spring, and no, I do not mean I acquired a new pastime of barking like a dog. I joined a movement that is gaining worldwide momentum and, in some way, is a reminder of the days when joining the Peace Corps was all the rage. I walked through my fear; left my home, family and friends, and entered the world of farming in rural New England. Along with my little dog, Charles Crawford, I boarded the Port Jefferson ferry, kissed suburbia goodbye for several months and embraced a self-imposed challenge that would change me, my value system and perceptions about the world forever.

WWOOF-USA is an entity that gives people the opportunity to work and live on farms throughout the United States and is rapidly injecting awareness into our culture about sustainable living and helping our nation rid itself of an extremely self-entitled and wasteful mindset. One of their key goals is to integrate farming, food, culture and environment.

The WWOOF program began in the United Kingdom in 1971, by Sue Coppard ,under the name “Working Weekends on Organic Farms,” as an opportunity for London city dwellers to experience the growing organic farming evolution in the countryside. Her idea blew wind onto a smoldering brush fire, and today, WWOOF programs, currently known as “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” has expanded to more than 100 countries, each acting independently.

Becoming a WWOOFer is rather simple. One registers online and then arranges their stay with a host family. The website is extremely user friendly and feedback from other WWOOFer’s is inclusive. A prospective WWOOFer’s key task is to identify exactly what type of experience they wish to have, whether it is comprehensive organic farming, working with animals or beekeeping, and of course what part of the world they wish to have this experience in.

The riptide that was my final motivation to embark on this journey was sudden, but the ebb and flow of the currents encouraging me to have this experience were occurring for years.

As a music lover and journalist, I have the privilege of witnessing some of the most creative music being produced. As a result of being a part of the Grateful Dead community for as far back as I can remember, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to bluegrass and roots genres. In recent years, I can, without reservation, say that I have become a dedicated fan of bands like The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Carolina Chocolate Drops and my ultimate favorite, Railroad Earth.

This affinity has lend itself to meeting some of the most down-to-earth, creative and impassioned people in the country. Coming from all walks in life, I found that there was a common denominator, a thread that linked them all together — their love for the earth and their desire to experience nature in the here-and-now.

One such couple’s adventures, Melanie and Matt, whom I now count among my closest friends, became the template for my expedition.

I started to pay close attention to their travels, observed them via social media, living and WWOOFing off the grid in Kodiak, Alaska. I admired their tenacity as they boated amongst whales, built greenhouses and preserved fruit. They were standing in the middle of their dreams and living with freedom and purpose. Their return to New England to run Tracie’s Community Farm, a small, organic farm in Fitzwilliams, New Hampshire, provoked a visit, and it was here I witnessed firsthand the meaning of “the good life” and how it had been hubristic of me to keep walking down a road to “someday.” I quickly noted that my “someday” had arrived and it was time to step out of my comfort zone and follow in their footsteps.

And so my Thoreau-like journey commenced. I started to hike with the Adirondack Mountain Club in the Catskills and began my planning to become a WWOOFer.

Like what you see? Read part two here.

Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Look for her adventures at Owen Farm in Hopkinton, N.H., and Patch Farm in Denmark, Maine, in the next three issues of Arts & Lifestyles.

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.