Thursday, August 22, 2013

Quail Hill Farm

Elizabeth Zelvin

On a sunny day last week, a friend took me to visit a place I’ve passed by thousands of times in the past twenty years and always wanted to see: Quail Hill, a farm cooperative in Amagansett on eastern Long Island, a stone’s throw from the ocean between East Hampton and Montauk.
The Orchard at Quail Hill
It’s part of the Peconic Land Trust, whose mission is to “conserve Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage for our communities now and in the future.” Quail Hill Farm is one of the Trust’s stewardship projects, “producing over 400 varieties of organically grown vegetables, flowers, fruit and herbs.”

I know a little about farm coops, because I knew a guy who ran one for many years. Coop members could donate work or money or both, and in return, they got a share of the veggies. That guy’s farm was just a few acres with a limited number of shareholders. In effect, he sold his whole crop in advance. It took some of the perennial anxiety out of farming for a living, and unlike a lot of backyard gardeners I know, he didn’t have to go around begging people to accept his excess zucchini.

The Valley
Quail Hill is an impressive spread of more than two hundred acres, and membership is always available. Its full name is the Quail Hill Farm Community Supported Agriculture program, and you can find out more about it at According to my friend, it really is a community, from dedicated oldtimers to a yearly flock of one interns who, as my friend put it, get out of college with a business or arts degree and decide they really want to farm.

We happened to visit on a special day, that of the annual “At the Common Table” dinner. This is the Hamptons, after all, heartland of the celebrity fundraiser. As the brochure states, “Guests come together in the apple orchard for cocktails and a sumptuous, four-course feast prepared by East Hampton and Amagansett chefs, using the farm's own produce, as well as regional meat, fish, and shellfish.”
An elegant dinner for 170
The wine, too, comes from a local South Fork vineyard. All the food and drink is donated. There’s live music and a silent auction. The brochure quotes the mission behind the first dinner nine years ago: “to reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” We arrived around noon, as they were just setting up the long table for 170 and hanging paper lanterns in the apple trees.

Cock of the walk
I was given the grand tour, from the Valley, where long rows of Swiss chard, basil, and flowers were available for members to pick, to the domain of some handsome chickens. I bought honey from the farm’s own bees and would have bought fresh eggs, but none were available. I was told the hens can get lazy about laying on hot August days. At the farm stand where members can get additional produce, I got to taste green cantaloupe and yellow watermelon as well as delicious home baked cookies. Everyone I met was very friendly and seemed to be having a wonderful time in this paradise of intertwined work and play, nature and food.

Getting lettuces started
A whole lotta garlic

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