Ira Haspel receives first-ever Slow Food East End ‘Snail Blazer’ award

KK’s The Farm’s Ira Haspel holds his Snail Blazer award. (Credit: KK’s The Farm)

Pioneering biodynamic farmer Ira Haspel has been named the first ever recipient of Slow Food East End’s “Snail Blazer” award.

The honor recognizes Ira, who founded KK’s The Farm in 1999 with his late wife, for which the farm is named, for his 20 years of leadership in fostering sustainable agriculture on the East End.

Slow Food East End board members presented Haspel with the Snail Blazer award at the non-profit’s annual potluck on Shelter Island Sunday, calling his and KK’s efforts “the heart and soul” of good, clean and fair food.

“KK’s The Farm tipped the scales in favor of the farm-to-table movement on the East End,” said Slow Food East End chair Pennie Schwartz. “The great work Ira continues to do supports the growth of slow food practices.”

Ira and KK originally came to their five-acre Southold homestead as an escape from their busy architect/construction practice. Ira said KK’s vision was first planting wildflowers, later adding sunflowers and zinnias, before turning her interests to biodynamic produce farming in an effort to grow healthy food for their grandchildren.

Biodynamic farming is a practice that supports soil health to yield organic produce. Spreading the message about eliminating the use of toxic chemicals to grow food has always been at the heart of the farm. KK was Slow Food East End’s first Master Farmer, helping to establish school gardens in Southold, Greenport, Orient, Cutchogue and Shelter Island.

After she died in 2014, Ira took over running the farm, growing its famed heirloom tomatoes, in addition to pepper plants, greens, garlic, green beans, leeks, herbs, blueberries, blackberries, apples, peaches, plums and Asian pears, to name a bunch. KK’s produce is now served on several local restaurant menus — Ira even has a dish named after him at the Halyard at Sound View in Greenport.

Education remains at the forefront. Ira keeps the tradition of learning alive and well with the farm’s annual Dandelion Festival, which encourages the public to put down the Round Up and reconsider the notion the yellow flower is a nuisance weed. Instead it is celebrated with an afternoon of educational talks, a flower-crown-making station as well as dandelion salads, wine, coffee and teas.

Ira Haspel after receiving the award on Shelter Island last Sunday. (Credit: Slow Food East End)

“The [Snail Blazer] award recognizes we’re doing the right thing in the right place,” Ira said. “The main point is always to educate people about using not using toxic chemicals. My wife just wanted to provide the healthiest food at first for our family and then our friends. It feels great to share it with everyone else.”

Slow Food East End got the idea for a local Snail Blazer award in July. Its parent organization, Slow Food USA, gives out its national Snail Blazer awards at its annual convention.

“When we first came up with the idea, there was no doubt it should go to Ira,” Schwartz said. “We might continue to do it annually, but we’ll only give it out when someone really is deserving of it. We are so happy to honor him.”

The new local designation comes after Slow Food East End board member and Orient farmer Mimi Edelman won the 2019 national Snail Blazer Award for biodiversity. Edelman, who ran I & Me Farms in the lower Hudson Valley before relocating the operation to the North Fork, was recognized for co-chairing the Northeast/New England Ark of Taste project as well as for being one of the founding leaders of Slow Food New York State, developing the Biodiversity Council.

“It was so well deserved,” Schwartz said. “We wanted to recognize the trail blazers and leaders closer to home.”

Last month, Slow Food East End also honored Deep Roots Farm in Southold with its Snail of Approval award, which recognizes restaurants and farms that make a commitment to sustainable agricultural practices. Deep Roots Farm is the second North Fork farm stand to receive the honor — Sang Lee Farms in Peconic was the first, receiving the award last year after Slow Food East End expanded the Snail of Approval program to include farms. It was previously limited to restaurants.

KK’s The Farm is located at 59945 Main Road in Southold.