It’s been a little over a year since the first season properly began for the new owners of Catapano Dairy Farm.
Connor Burke and his wife, Erin Argo Burke, have a North Fork origin story that may sound familiar. They originally split their time between Long Island and Brooklyn to accommodate their varied and busy lives — Connor owns Eastern Bay Oyster Company, while Erin is a lawyer. Once the pandemic hit, the Burkes decided to move to the North Fork full-time — and that’s where the goats come in.
“We really wanted to invest more in the North Fork,” Erin said.
“This was the place we felt was our home.”
She grew up on a 60-acre farm in Alabama surrounded by horses and so the East End felt familiar to her.
“Having spent quite a bit of time in the city, it was nice to be back in the country again,” she said. “I didn’t have any idea how amazing it was. The North Fork is much more my speed than the Hamptons. People are truly out here living and farming and it felt like the right spot for us.”
For Connor, who was raised in Northport, the North Fork was a surprise.
“I grew up mid-island and never even knew this was out here,” he said.
He dug clams commercially during the summers growing up and then attended SUNY/Maritime College.
“Most of my life has been water-oriented,” he said. “I never thought I’d be land farming.”
The Burkes, who already had one child, Liam, and were expecting a daughter, Everett, just as the pandemic struck, learned that Catapano was for sale and jumped at the chance to own the farm.
“We met Karen and Michael Catapano, who are lovely and gracious people, and realized this would be an amazing opportunity that would never come along again,” Erin said.
The Catapanos helped the Burkes from the start, letting them keep all the goats and cheesemaking equipment. But despite growing up surrounded by farmland, Erin admits she didn’t know much about goats before the purchase. They sought assistance from the late Dr. John Andresen and his wife, Maribeth, who also raised goats her entire life and the two helped the Burkes learn about goat health and raising.
“We tried to learn as much as we can about goat medicine so we could treat things as holistically as possible,” Erin said. “It’s a steep learning curve.”
The Burkes had a highly successful first year at Catapano Dairy in 2021.
Products — especially the very popular cheeses made on-site — were just as popular as ever.
So what is life like on a goat farm?
“As much as I’d like to say most of my time is spent outside, it’s a lot of [inside work],” Connor said. “I thought I’d have a nice tractor.”
“Lots of cleaning,” added Erin.
Though the work is different than they might have expected, the couple acknowledges how fulfilling it all is.
“That’s the trade-off,” Erin said. “You get to have this great experience and live on the land, but there’s a lot of regulations.”
In addition to the products, Catapano continued to offer farm tours where guests could meet the goats. They also started baby goat yoga, which is just as cute as it sounds.
“They have these really cute personalities,” Erin said. “Goats are curious. They’ll come trotting up on your yoga mat to see what’s going on. They’re hilarious.”
Catapano has also come up with a way to keep the male goats active outside of breeding time, which is rare on a dairy farm. “Goatscaping” allows them to graze invasive species and weeds off people’s property.
“We’re going to have a special landscaping herd with the boys,” Erin said.
Looking ahead, the Burkes intend to maintain the health of the animals, upgrade some of the infrastructure on the property and con- tinue to make quality products.
“I think our goal is just to continue making good cheese in a safe and healthy environment for the goats,” Connor said.
“We want to continue to make this farm a place where people feel like they can come and really experience what agriculture is about here on the North Fork,” Erin said.
They also want to grow more native plants on the property and intend to put up signs to teach people about the new plants they grow. “We really want to continue to try and educate people about the importance of embracing native species of plants and how important that is,” Erin said.
The Burkes are clearly fitting right into the North Fork farming community and were even able to answer the toughest question we could ask them: What’s their favorite Catapano cheese?
“I love our Summer Cloud,” Erin said.
After a slight pause, Connor gave his answer. “I love the feta,” he said.