During the summer and fall is when the North Fork is its busiest. But when the weather gets cold, it doesn’t mean it’s time to pack it up for businesses. We are getting a behind the scenes look at what different farms are doing during the off season to keep their businesses running.
The parking lot at Garden of Eve Farm in Riverhead is typically full in the warmer months. People come to pick up their fresh produce, get a hay ride, bounce in the bouncy house or visit the animals. But now, it’s winter. Mother nature has just dropped a layer of snow all over the North Fork and far beyond, and the only thing filling up the parking lot is mud. But the cold season doesn’t mean it’s time for a vacation.
On a recent visit, farmer Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht, who owns the farm with his wife Eve, gave me a look at all the work that goes into keeping the farm open in the off season. We started by trekking through the snow to the green houses. After a short walk on the road, mud stuck to the bottom of my boots from the road left tracks in the crispy white layer that covered the ground. Remnants of other staff members’ footsteps mirrored mine. He opened the doors to the first greenhouse, and I was immediately transported to summer. The smell of the slightly musty and damp environment reminded me of the humidity and heat I am so craving these days.
Then, Kaplan-Walbrecht lifted up the thick fabric protecting the plants and I saw something I hadn’t seen in months — greenery! Small, bright bunches of leafy life lined up in perfect rows.
“This was planted in late November,” he said. “So we have a bunch of these, and we try to stagger it so that they’re coming every week. We got spinach over there.”
After a few more greenhouse visits, we walked over to the warehouse, where staff members were packing the winter CSA shares. If it weren’t for the cold weather and workers bundled up in winter gear, I would think it was summer by the colorful produce they were transporting.
Crates of bright green brussel sprouts, shades of purple potatoes and white celery root, all of which have been grown on the farm either in greenhouses or a few months prior and kept in cold storage. “We just tried to get as many as we could out before it got really cold,” Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “There’s spinach, parsnips from the field, potatoes from field carrots from the field, celery root. And these daikon radish.”
What’s in each CSA order can be customized by the customer. Some choose to add on a fruit share (done in collaboration with Briermere Farms) or prepared foods like sauces and dressings. There’s even an egg share from the free roaming chickens on the property.
These get picked up on the farm or dropped at drop off locations all over Long Island and New York City. “It’s a lot of work, but allows us really to keep selling,” Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “The CSA gives us the ability to keep our customers engaged in the farm and then also keep our staff.”
During this time of year, Kaplan-Walbrecht tries to get away from the farm for a bit for some down time and rest, but as a farmer, he said that can be hard.
“Farmers are active, you want to keep doing something,” he said. “You always know there is work and if you try to relax you find yourself getting pulled back into the farm.”