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Farmer Fred Lee leads a tour of Sang Lee Farms in Peconic last summer. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

When farmer Fred Lee of Sang Lee Farms became a father, he wanted to avoid sitting down at the dinner table doused in pesticide residue at the end of the day.

The second generation grower began changing the way his family tended to its crop and in 2006, the Peconic farm received its organic certification.

“I just thought there had to be a better way,” Lee told a group gathered at his Peconic farm on Sunday. “The last thing I let go of was chemical fertilizer. That was what they taught us made a crop turn green. Now it’s OK to have a blemish on your apple, a spot on your tomato.”

Lee and 19 other farms, vineyards and artisanal food producers took part in the eight annual North Fork Foodie Tour, a self-guided tour benefitting The North Fork Reform Synagogue in Cutchogue.

Food lovers came from near and far Sunday to meet local farmers, tour their fields and taste their products, like Sang Lee’s heirloom tomatoes and Catapano Dairy Farm‘s fresh goat cheese.

“First, I’m a foodie,” said Heather Frayne, a Southampton resident and a member of the Peconic Land Trust. “I think it makes a big difference for people to put a face with the name of their farmers. People throw around terms like GMO, but [Fred Lee] went into depth about it.”

The event, which is the largest annual fundraiser for the synagogue, drew about 500 people this year, according to event chairperson Kay Freeman.

“In some ways, the North Fork is one of the best kept secrets in the world,” Freeman said. “This was a terrific idea eight years ago and it’s been a success from the beginning.”

In their travels, participants listened to anecdotes of agricultural history and tales of farm life.

Livestock at 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Livestock at 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Farmer Tom Geppel of 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue explained to visitors how he shears his farm’s Icelandic sheep — by bringing in expert Andy Rice from Vermont, who charges $6 a shave.

“He’s 70 years old and he’s the best around,” Mr. Geppel told the crowd. “He’s gotten kicked in the mouth. Gotten a bloody lip. And he hasn’t raised his prices yet.”

His wife Carol Festa said the family was happy to show off their chicken coop, barn and gardens to people who are curious about where their food comes from.

“One of the reasons we do what we are doing is to educate people about food,” she said. “The tour really fits into our philosophy.”

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