This fall, there are two new signs up at Pikes Farmstand in Sagaponack, but they aren’t heralding the just harvested beets or cauliflower. One sign, put up by a local realtor, is trying sell this parcel of land on Sagg Main Road, just south of Montauk Highway, that draws rivers of devoted customers, and is often planted full of flowers. Another sign, put up by the Peconic Land Trust, is trying to save it.
The funny irony of farming on the East End is that even well-respected, talented farmers with a bustling roadside clientele and dependent restaurant and catering customers, can struggle to hold onto their land. But the Pikes, who grow vegetables on about 60 acres in and around Sagaponack, own only 6 acres and rent the balance.
So when the landlord decided to sell, and the Pikes risked losing their flagship depot, an outcry erupted. (From May to September, many people set their table with Jim Pike’s produce.)
The Peconic Land Trust ultimately got involved and has a contract to buy the land for some $8.23 million, an investment few farmers could afford. But in the complicated dance that allows land to be preserved in the Hamptons, there is a hitch. The Town of Southampton is interested in covering about half the cost, and Suffolk County would also like to help, but neither can act until next year. That leaves the Trust in need of about four million dollars in private donations.
In particular, the trust hopes to inspire a handful of “leadership gifts,” in the form of donations of $500,000 or more. But they will take anything they can get. (Visit www.peconiclandtrust.org/pike.html to donate.) A similar grassroots strategy worked just a few miles away, when a group of Wainscott residents contributed more than $2 million to help the town of East Hampton and the Trust buy the development rights to the 20-acre Babinski piece on Beach Lane.
If the plan works on Sagg Main Street, the Pikes will have a chance to buy the farming rights to that land and actually “own” the ground they already invest in every year. And this marvelous parcel—which backs right up against Sagg Swamp, houses more birds and wild flowers than a big house with a driveway and tennis court, which helps knit together a frail agrarian community, and which feeds its neighbors—might actually remain a farm.
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