Food grown on the East End of Long Island will fill many tables here this week. Traditional Thanksgiving dinners include many of the staples long grown here, and increasingly, a dazzling variety of meat, vegetables, and beer and wine from these parts will be served as well. Though it may be less than a passing thought as we tuck into the first courses, there is a remarkable struggle behind each of the local foodstuffs.
Farmland preservation seems obvious now, but there was a time when it seemed unnecessary. East End vacation home construction generally was on waterfront or close to it. Fields were for potatoes, not houses, swimming pools, and tennis courts. There were state and county parks, but these were mostly woodlands and key watersheds. In the 1970s, things changed, and, as the pace of development soared, public pressure grew to begin setting aside some places to be free of houses in perpetuity.
Early efforts involved paying the owners of agricultural land for a binding agreement never to subdivide and build. The then-named Group for the South Fork was instrumental in this. Soon, the pioneering Peconic Land Trust arrived; among its first major showpieces was the preservation in partnership with Deborah Light of more than 200 acres in Amagansett. Today, that land is best known for Quail Hill Farm, which occupies part of it, and also encompasses Balsam Farms, land used by Amber Waves Farm, as well as plots leased to around 20 other smaller operations. For anyone in need of visuals, a gallery show of lush aerial photographs made by Michael Light, a friend of The Star who grew up at Quail Hill, is on view at the Drawing Room in East Hampton.
Keeping farmland as farmland took another step forward in 1998 after residents of the five East End towns voted to establish the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund. Known as the C.P.F., it has raised over $1.4 billion through a 2-percent tax on most private real estate purchases. More recently, the land trust and local officials have worked to assure that agricultural production continues on preserved land and that it continues to be used for crops and not made into extensions of neighbors’ lawns, as has happened in some instances, or private horse stables. Today, pretty much any open land you see on the South Fork has had one kind of deal, public or private, or another to keep it that way. If there is one thing that East Enders can universally be thankful for this week, it is the nearly 50-year effort to keep local food on all of our tables. Let us lift our glasses to the farmers and winemakers and to all of those who have worked behind the scenes to keep the good things growing.