For nearly 50 years, the Hallockville Museum Farm has dedicated itself to preserving and shining a light on the historic farming traditions of Long Island. A not-for-profit organization, they’re focused on bringing the practice of local family farming back to its roots, as they like to say. It’s a mission that doesn’t just provide insight on how things were done in the past, but how many of these important farming and conservation practices factor into the modern age of farming across the North Fork, too.
The Hallockville Museum Farm kicked off 2024 by introducing a new executive director to the historic property: Heather Johnson of Smithtown. We got the chance to chat with Johnson to ask her questions about this new role and her hopes for the farming museum’s future.
Northforker: How long have you been working in preservation?
Heather Johnson: I have about 11 years of nonprofit leadership experience. My most recent job was at Friends of the Bay, an environmental conservation advocacy organization based in Oyster Bay. There we worked to protect Oyster Bay, the Cold Spring Harbor Estuary and the surrounding watershed. Prior to that, and more importantly for this particular position, I was the director of the Northport Historical Society, which promoted the history of Northport. Before that I worked at Hofstra University for about 17 years — so I have a little higher education administration experience but also museum and conservation experience. I’m a Jill of all trades.
NF: Have you always had an interest in history in a professional sense?
HJ: The Northport Historical Society was certainly my introduction to it professionally. But I have been personally interested in history since I was a little kid. It was also part of my undergraduate and graduate work as I have a degree in humanities: cultural anthropology, literature, art, history and philosophy — so I’m most comfortable in the historical world although I’ve been working in the environmental sphere for the past few years.
NF: What will you be focusing on in this new position with Hallockville?
HJ: While I’ve only been here a few days, I’ve discovered that no day is exactly the same. I’m managing the daily operations of the museum, creating cultural and social programming, fundraising and promoting the visibility of the organization. Like at Northport, I will also be in charge of exhibits and recruiting new volunteers and members.
At Northport, we didn’t have a big staff, I was the chief, cook and bottle washer. I’m grateful to come [to Hallockville] where there’s already a great staff in place.
NF: Did you have any experience coming to Hallockville before getting this position?
HJ: Not as much as I’d like. I knew about Hallockville but I hadn’t really explored it. When we did come out [to the North Fork] we came out here for other activities. But certainly, I wish I had known more there are so many neat things that Hallockville does as far as events and programs are concerned.
NF: What have you learned about the job so far?
HJ: First and foremost, I’m learning the lay of the land. I started by walking around a lot listening to people who have been here for a long time. Right now my job is to listen. I do have a lot of ideas but I want to spend time and be patient with myself and learn as much as I can. There are so many different programs and I’m learning something new every day and then I can build upon the great things that have already happened here.
NF: Can you give an example of something that you’ve recently learned within your first week?
HJ: We just had a meeting about the beekeeping program and so I got to learn a lot about bees. I’d already been interested in bees because they’re so important. I learned a little bit more about the practical life of bees and just about the beekeeping program.
All the kinds of things that I’m learning are already things that I’m interested in. I’m interested in history. I’m interested in farming, I’m interested in gardening. I’m interested in creating education and entertainment programs. It’s a whole new world.
I’m genuinely besotted with this place and I love the North Fork. It’s such an important area to Long Island and it’s also so beautiful. This place gives you hope — it’s very heartening to still see a lot of working farms and I hope that continues. It’s just so darn beautiful. I love my drive here.
NF: What would you say is the thing you are most excited to do here?
HJ: That’s almost an impossible question to answer because there are so many things here. To be completely genuine, I don’t know what I’m most excited to do because it’s everything I think. I’m looking forward to seeing how the events run and participating in them. I want to continue building upon the great work that’s already happened here and make things as enjoyable for everybody. I want to bring in people from all walks of life and all ages and to broaden our audience a bit. That’s a goal.
I’m practically giddy when I’m driving here and I just have this huge smile on my face. History has always been something that I’ve been interested [in] and so it’s so cool to go back into.
NF: What else are you looking forward to?
HJ: I’m just looking forward to meeting new people and making connections. The buildings are [currently] closed but the grounds are open. Everyone is welcome to walk around and see the animals — we just ask that no one feeds them because they’re on strict diets. It’s a good time to be here and I’m hopeful for good times ahead.
The Hallockville Museum Farm is located at 6038 Sound Ave, Riverhead, and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, give them a call at (631) 298-5292 or find them online here.