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Ducks at Ty Llwyd Farm in Riverhead. (Credit: photos by Vera Chinese)

For the question of what makes the North Fork so special, the answer can be found on the North Fork Foodie Tour.

Now in its 10th year, the self-guided tour, which is the North Fork Reform Synagogue’s only fundraiser, offers a behind-the-scenes look at small-scale vegetable growing, winemaking and raising livestock on the East End.

It also gives participants a chance to get to know our local farmers and sample some of their scrumptious products.

“It’s good to know where your food is coming from,” said Mary Vahey of Mattituck, an art historian who was touring MarGene Farms in Mattituck during Sunday’s event.  “Looking at the farms, it makes a big difference.”

The event drew 600 visitors this year, according to organizers, besting the previous record of 500 participants in 2015.

And even though I have been covering the successful event for eight years, I always learn something new about producing food on Long Island. During yesterday’s tour, I visited Goodale Farms in Aquebogue, Ty Llwyd Farm in Riverhead and MarGene Farms in Mattituck (I’ve never made it to more than four stops out of the 20 participating locations).

Here are eight things I learned during my latest tour.

1. Vacations are hard to come by if you’re a farmer

Somebody has to stay home and milk the cows.
Somebody has to stay home and milk the cows.

Well, this one is kind of a no-brainer. A farm full of ducks, chickens and cows means someone has to go out and throw down the feed and milk those udders every single day.

Snow storm? The chickens still have to eat! It’s Sunday? Well, the cows don’t know you’re supposed to rest on the seventh day.

“It’s a lot of work. Seven days a week, almost 24 hours a day, but not quite,” said farmer Elizabeth Wines of Ty Llwyd Farm, the only place on Long Island to offer raw cows’ milk.

The last time Elizabeth and her husband, David, got away together was about a year ago, she said, when they spent one night at The Big E farm expo in West Springfield, Mass.

You know how it’s really hard to find a babysitter for your kids? It’s a thousand times harder if there are a couple dozen of them and they’re doing their business all over the front lawn.

Still, farm life certainly has its perks.

“You’re working outside and you’re your own boss,” Wines said.

2. Chickens love tomatoes

A chicken at Ty Llwyd Farm in Riverhead, perhaps running because it saw a tomato.
A chicken at Ty Llwyd Farm in Riverhead, presumingly running because it saw a tomato.

Farmer Gene Krupski of Mattituck’s MarGene Farms threw big old yellow strawberry heirloom tomatoes into his chicken pen and oh boy, you should have seen those hens go stark raving mad!

The Krupskis can feed their organic chickens produce grown on their farm because the entire operation is certified organic, he explained.

The chickens also love watermelon, but they seem to prefer the farm’s sweet sun gold tomatoes.

“Those are their favorites,” Krupski said.

3. This is what turmeric looks like

Turmeric grown at MarGene Farms in Mattituck.
Turmeric grown at MarGene Farms in Mattituck.

Not many Long Island farmers grow turmeric. Actually, we don’t know of any others besides Krupski. It’s difficult to grow, prefers tropical weather and can take up to six weeks to sprout. Krupski raises the crop in a hothouse, where temperatures can reach 25 degrees warmer than outside.

Turmeric is in high demand these days, as it is known to treat arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, inflammation and a host of other ailments. You should contact MarGene Farms directly if you plan on purchasing any.

4. And this is what ginger looks like

Ginger grown at MarGene Farms in Mattituck.
Ginger grown at MarGene Farms in Mattituck.

Who knew?

5. Artichokes sprout beautiful purple flowers

These artichokes are past ripeness.
These artichokes at MarGene Farms are past ripeness.

When an artichoke gets overripe, it grows a cluster of vibrant purple petals. You can’t eat them once this happens, but you can plop one a bowl of water and enjoy the pretty, unusual flower.

Gene Krupski’s wife, Maryann, is collecting photos of the sprouted artichokes customers send her. She plans on decorating her home office with them.

6. Older chickens lay larger eggs

These young chickens aren't going to lay big eggs.
These young chickens at Goodale Farms aren’t going to lay big eggs.

OK. Got it.

7. A bright red comb can signal a healthier chicken

A MarGene Farms chicken.
A MarGene Farms chicken.

Chicken combs are kind of funny-looking — like a crimson mohawk with a matching punk rock beard.

But Gene Krupski said a healthy chicken is more likely to have a bright red comb.

A dark red or purple comb can indicate a lack of oxygen, while a pale pink comb can mean anemia, according to the chicken-keeping blog A scraggly-looking comb might mean a rooster has been on the losing end of one too many barnyard battles and is thus an undesirable mate. And black spots can mean fowl pox (sounds gross.)

But if that’s the case, then all the chickens I saw on the North Fork on Sunday were excellent physical specimens. Nothing to worry about here.

8. The little goats at Goodale Farms are ridiculously adorable

The kids at Goodale Farms in Aquebogue.
The kids at Goodale Farms in Aquebogue.

Just kidding. Already knew that one!

Vera Chinese