Lucy Senesac is The Suffolk Times’ Business Person of the Year

Riverhead Farmers Market

Lucy Senesac at the Riverhead Farmers Market in 2015. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

It’s hard to sum up exactly what role Lucy Senesac plays at Sang Lee Farms in Peconic.

Customers of the certified organic operation might find her selling Romanesco cauliflower and ginger scallion dip at a weekly farmers market. Maybe she’s the one handing out a recipe for potato leek soup to winter CSA members. She certainly can be seen in the fields pulling rows of Korean radishes from the ground before the first frost.

But Senesac also works with North Fork school gardens, consulting with administrators about what to plant and how to build beds. She has revamped and operated Sang Lee’s Young Farmers Camp, a summer program for 7- to 12-year-olds interested in organic farming, since 2014. She has organized gleaning projects with schools and coordinated donations to the food bank at Island Harvest.

The list goes on.

For inspiring a new generation to value sustainable food production and healthy eating, Senesac is The Suffolk Times’ 2016 Businessperson of the Year.

Senesac joined Sang Lee in 2010 after graduating from Skidmore College and volunteering at an organic farm in New Zealand. She found positions overseas through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms network, a practice known as WWOOFing that allows aspiring farmers to trade their labor for room and board.

Senesac’s degree was in psychology and art, and at the time, her path wasn’t exactly clear.

“People said, ‘You are educated. There are really other things you could be doing.’ I told her to stick with it until you know. She really was torn,” said Karen Lee, co-owner of the Peconic farm. “Now she will tell you she can’t live without [farming]. That it is her soul.”

Senesac’s first role at Sang Lee was in retail, according to Lee, but she soon rotated into the field, doing things like baiting an electric fence so deer would learn to avoid it.

“She doesn’t mind doing the menial parts of the task to achieve the goal,” Lee said. “And that is so critical in this particular industry.”

Looking for ways to grow her position at the farm, Senesac developed a young farmers’ camp for children in 2014. Campers learn the ins and outs of operating an organic farm, from planting seeds to harvesting vegetables.

Young Farmer's Camp

Lucy Senesac plants seeds with participants of Sang Lee Farm’s Young Farmer’s Camp. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file photo)

Senesac took on the role of Slow Food East End’s master farmer for North Fork schools in October 2014 after KK Haspel, a local educator and owner of The Farm in Southold, died. She will play a key part in executing a $68,000 state grant that six local school districts received in November. The money will help the schools collaborate with local farms to increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables provided to students, since the amount currently grown in school gardens isn’t enough to sustain a meal plan for the entire year.

Working with the schools allows Senesac, a 2005 Mattituck High School graduate, to give back to her alma mater and hometown.

“She was that kid who stood out. Who always had a look in her eye,” recalled Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent Anne Smith.

She also inspired Dr. Smith’s daughter, Rebecca, to become a WWOOFer in New Zealand.

Other projects Senesac has worked on include consulting on the expanded Greenport School District garden, which finished construction in November. She suggested building garden beds. Fourteen wooden containers were constructed by students in technology teacher Mike Davies’ class, allowing for easier maintenance of crops while providing wheelchair accessibility.

David Gamberg, superintendent of Greenport and Southold school districts and someone who previously worked in the Mattituck district and can remember Senesac as an eager fifth-grader, said her work will have a lasting effect.

“You’re looking at an entire generation of young people who will have had the opportunity to eat in the school cafeteria, freshly grown vegetables that they themselves have planted,” he said. “They will have a greater appreciation of how to eat nutritious meals even when they leave school.”

Senesac also helped 11-year-old Victoria Witczak of Cutchogue secure a $300 grant to create a 1,000-square-foot garden to benefit local food pantries.

“Lucy is a fantastic role model for my children and for anybody’s children,” said Tonya Witczak, Victoria’s mother and Senesac’s neighbor. “The kids have learned so much from her.”

If there’s one thing those who know her can agree on, it’s that Senesac’s upbeat personality and energy allow her to connect with young people.

“This is a way for me to help people — by feeding them healthy food and teaching them about nutrition,” Senesac told us in 2015. “That’s a great feeling at the end of the day — even more so now, with kids.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

The Suffolk Times 2015 Business Person of the Year — Wendy Zuhoski