Over the past three years, The Peconic Land Trust has given out capital grants to 57 farmers in both Suffolk and Nassau counties to help them invest in infrastructure that has helped them both grow their businesses and sustainably farm their lands.
Investments ranged from tractors to deer fencing, refrigerated containers, irrigation equipment, green-energy upgrades, generators, motors, high tunnels, oyster cages, seeders and spreaders, road upgrades and wash facilities.
The $1 million matching grant program, which provided 20 percent of the cost of the infrastructure improvements, was administered by the Land Trust after it was awarded by the Empire State Development Corporation through the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.
“I’m pleased to see that people across the spectrum were able to take part in the program,” said the Land Trust’s president, John v.H. Halsey. “We love it when we have a grant program like this, where they’re paying the lion’s share and it’s tailored to the needs of the grower. It really fits very well into our Farms for the Future Initiative, to help existing and new farmers to get the equipment they need.”
In all, the farmers invested more than $5 million in their businesses, with the aid of grants ranging from a few hundred dollars to $50,000 each.
The grant recipients included 16 new farm operations, 22 operations in transition, and 18 expanding operations.
Mark Zaweski’s great-grandfather settle in Jamesport in 1895 and the Zaweski Family has been farming here ever since. At MKZ Farms, he’s currently farming 100 acres of vegetables, nursery and greenhouse crops.
Mr. Zaweski used the grant funding to purchase a disc harrow, an innovative type of plow that tills the soil with a series of discs instead of one moldboard.
“Farming now is changing rapidly and you need to adjust to stay viable,” he said. “For me that means trying new methods of production to become more efficient in what we do. With all the high inputs of farming here on Long Island you must constantly find ways to cut overhead and still produce a quality product. By switching from moldboard plowing to chisel plowing I am able to constantly increase organic matter and this is where the new disc comes into play. This type of equipment is expensive for a small farm like mine so the grant was a big help and made the purchase workable.”
“By doing this, I am seeing better drainage in my fields and also increases in organic matter,” he said. “Chisel plowing leaves a tremendous amount of residue on the surface and this disc does a great job at incorporating the rye residue into the upper layer of soil, versus plowing it down deep.”
Peter Stein of Peeko Oysters also received a grant to buy new growing equipment for his oysters.
“The Ag Capital Grant has been a catalyst for Peeko Oysters,” he said. “It has greatly accelerated our timeline for scaling our business. Growing oysters at scale requires significant infrastructure and equipment…. We are now well on our way to having an efficient and sustainable business.”
Winemaker Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue used the grant funding to install solar panels on a farm building.
“In any business, there are desirable projects which do not always have a good financial justification,” he said. “One such example is solar power. Even though prices of solar technology have come down, it will still take many years for such an installation to break even. Yet it is very desirable, as it reduces the use of fossil fuel as well as our dependency on the power utility. A grant will usually help improve the financial cost justification, making it a more attractive investment. The payback benefits the business for sure, but it is also a gift to the community as the carbon emissions are reduced for everyone.”
“Receiving this grant has been vital to our growing business,” said Matt Schmitt of Schmitt Farms in Riverhead. “After working for years to increase our output and expand our ability to distribute, we found ourselves at a standstill, without the capital to take the next step. Since receiving the grant, we have been able to purchase the equipment necessary to facilitate more efficient production and make upgrades to our facility which allow for greater distribution.”
Next up for the Farms for the Future Initiative, said Mr. Halsey, is another grant program to help farmers meet New York food safety regulations, in addition to the Land Trust’s work providing incubator programs where aspiring farmers can test the waters on both the North and South forks, and an enhanced easement for food production on the South Fork, which puts the cost of farmland within reach of farmers who agree to farm food crops.
“Trying to think outside the box is critical to the future of agriculture,” said Mr. Halsey.