If you drive down Montauk Highway between the months of June and September, you can’t help but notice an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables sprinkled along the road at the local farmstands. They become more and more numerous as you head farther east. This colorful picture of crops is not limited to the South Fork either. The North Fork has its own plethora of fresh produce, mostly along Sound Avenue, the single-lane road leading to Orient Point.
My first experience at a farmstand was at Olish’s Market in Eastport. I walked in, feeling a bit awkward admittedly; it seemed everyone else shopping knew what they were doing, casually plucking through pears and tomatoes. I headed to the first group of produce, trying to covertly read all the labels. Who knew there were so many different types of apples? All the fruit was plump and fresh, not like the small faded fruit you find at corporate food stores. It looked like it had literally been picked minutes ago. I shopped the aisles, filling my bag with goodies and headed home. I carefully sliced up a beautiful red tomato for my sandwich and a pink lady apple to eat on the side. I now understood the term “eat locally.” The difference is absolutely breathtaking.
The farmers who kindly share their crops with us, of course, must follow certain rules and regulations for selling their products, just like any other business. Each town (Southold, Southampton, East Hampton, Brookhaven, and Riverhead) has its own zoning board and zoning codes, but most are fairly straightforward and simple. Farmers have the right to retail their own crop. Other products, such as baked goods, are allowed as long they do not exceed 20% of the products sold, and supporting farm products, such as fruit pies, must be processed locally from crops grown locally. Apparel or similar items that promote the specific farm stand may also be sold, but pre-packaged grocery items may not.
Joe Gergela at the Long Island Farm Bureau took a few minutes to discuss some of these regulations with me. He said, “we haven’t had too many complaints about compliance activity from our farmers,” referring to the fair practices of regulation on the Island. He informed me that this past year Southampton town, which is one of the stricter zoning boards and requires an annual fee, has changed their code, giving authority to the fire marshal to enforce compliance. He assured me that his local farmers aren’t having any problem with the change.
Location, location, location. Most farmstands are on part of the grower’s farming operation, or at least one part of it, since most farmers own several parcels of land. New York State does not require the farmstand to be located on the specific parcel where the crop is grown. There are some that are not located on a piece of farm property at all, but rather on commercial property, but these tend to be historic farmstands. All farmstand buildings are required to be set back no less than 30 feet from the edge of pavement and cannot encroach on the public right of way. Even better, according to the Town of Southampton, no permit shall be required for a person who intends to sell crops at a single roadside stand with a display area less than 40 square feet in area.
So how does one go about starting a new farmstand? Well, it’s a fairly simple process. The farmer goes to the local planning office, or in the case of Southampton, the fire marshal’s office, and fills out an application with information on the farm and products to be sold and pays any required fees. The application process requires a written statement describing and listing all crops grown, supporting products intended for sale, an informal site plan, sketch or survey map of the stand parcel, and a notarized statement signed by the applicant to abide by provisions. A temporary farmstand permit is provided for the retail sale of crops for a maximum period of nine consecutive months in any 12-month period.
For those of you who aren’t interested in growing and just want to eat the local goodies, get out there and support our farmers! [/expand]