A Farm-Picture: The Sylvester Manor Farm on Shelter Island, NY
It’s 8 A.M., and while I would be awake, pushing my way onto the 6 train if I were in the city right now at this very same hour, I instead found myself driving down the long dirt road leading to the 243 acre Sylvester Manor Farm. I pulled up to the Manor House, a pale-yellow mansion that was part of a slave-operated plantation set up in 1652, and was honestly a bit uneasy. After a few solid months in Manhattan with no breaks, my hometown of Shelter Island was feeling overwhelmingly “country” let alone an actual farm. Flashing back to an old Sex and the City episode, I assured myself; this would be a good thing.
I was greeted immediately by Connie, one of the staff members, and while I hadn’t really known who to expect as workers, I was immediately put at ease when introduced to a group of individuals around my age who looked very similar to my University of Vermont classmates, in work clothes and head scarves.
After a quick tour of the house, we jumped in the back of the farm’s Nissan pickup truck and headed over to the compost pile, which Jeremiah bravely climbed to throw a new load on the top, despite warnings of the pig carcass from the slaughter earlier in the spring from one of the other kids.
Once we headed to the Long Barn—Andrew, the farm’s manager was all business. A huge dry erase board held the schedule for the week, where different tasks are rotated, and he clearly communicated everyone’s job for the day and what tools and supplies they would need.
Out on the Windmill Field, Connie, Jane, and I began weeding a row of beets. Despite the 80 plus degree weather, it seemed to go fairly quickly—mostly because of the stimulating conversation with Connie and Jane. As we moved onto a row of carrots, Connie, who will be attending grad school at Harvard in the fall, answered every question I had about the farm, and went above and beyond with her knowledge of Bennett Konesni (the fifteenth generation of the original Sylvester family who owned the property and founder of the farm)’s mission, and what was currently going on in the fields.
She filled me in on the crops that were being harvested (kale, Swiss chard, lettuces, peas), and the crops that would be ready soon (tomatoes, fennel, carrots, corn, beets). She also talked about the farm-stand that would be set up in the next few weeks, and some of the local restaurants that would be using their produce (including Planet Bliss, and Sunset Beach). I was particularly interested to hear that Andre Balaz (owner of Sunset Beach, along with The Standard Hotel, and beau of Courtney Love) had made a trip to the farm the week before, and toured the fields and was anxious to utilize it’s harvests.
After a snack break, Connie went off to lay down t-tape for irragation, and Jane and I worked on a row of fennel and talked about everything from Vermont (where she grew up in Warren), to the importance of seizing certain life experiences while we’re young, to the imperative for school systems to adopt healthier foods into their cafeteria programs, to Walt Whitman and Hemingway. At just 18, I was thoroughly impressed with her obvious smarts, but also her open perspectives, and overall energy.
The day was over before I knew it, and I left tired, dirty, and with a few patches of poison ivy, but more than that, incredibly inspired. Not only by how well the farm was being run, or what exactly they were doing, but of the group of smart, interesting, and talented individuals behind it. While the New York Times article labeled them “City-Slickers” I found them to be diverse, and much more authentic. Each one of them seemed to be passionate about the organic farming movement for their own reasons, and seemed to be enriched from their experiences so far.
I hope anyone who makes it out to Shelter Island can volunteer at the farm, purchase some of their incredible produce, or dine at one of the restaurants that use it. To volunteer during the week, contact Samara at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit the farm at 80 North Ferry Road, Shelter Island, NY 11965. I will definitely be volunteering again, and look forward to speaking with Bennett (and learning more about his worksongs), and wish the whole team amazing success in this and all their endeavors.