Note: Meet Your Farmers is a weekly series where we profile the farmers that mean so much to serious eaters everywhere. This week we introduce you to DeLea Sod Farms, a family-owned business based on the North Fork of Long Island. These folks may be in the sod business, but they also grow amazing produce at rock-bottom prices for the community. They have been my exclusive source for vegetables all summer long. I've never eaten sweeter corn and tomatoes, or more flavorful squash and zucchini. --Chichi
Names: Vincent Sasso, Rick DeLea, Frank Beyrodt
Farm: DeLea Sod Farms
How many acres? 40 acres devoted to vegetables and 3,500 to 4,000 acres on Long island and south New Jersey devoted to sod.
Your crew: At the peak of season, about 130 to 150 employees
Hours: We work around the clock to maintain our sod and produce.
What you grow: Corn, lettuce, fresh herbs, yellow creamer potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini, eggplant, sweet bell peppers, watermelon, broccoli, etc. We maintain two farm stands: one in Northport and one in Miller's Place (both on Long Island). In terms of sod, we grow a lot of Kentucky Bluegrass and Bentgrass.
Your customers: Mostly local residents. We also own a restaurant, Stonewalls in Riverhead, that uses the produce we grow.
How you got into farming: We're a family-owned sod business that started in 1928. Back then, we'd go to cow pastures and maintain the grass in exchange for harvesting it. Since the advent of more advanced machinery, we've been growing our own sod. We also maintain patches of sod from Yankee Stadium, and we've provided the sod for the Long Island Ducks Stadium and Shea stadium.
We started growing vegetables to deal with the behavior of Bentgrass, which is one of the types of grasses used on putting ranges. Once a patch of land has been sown with Bentgrass, it can't be used for any other type of grass because the Bentgrass seed has a way of taking over. To keep the soil diverse, we decided to plant vegetables in former Bentgrass plots.
Where did you learn to farm? This is our second year of farming vegetables. We're constantly learning how to properly stagger our crops, and deal with the various changes in the seasons.
Your farming philosophy: To reduce the carbon footprint. To keep prices low so that everyone in the community can have access to fresh and honest produce.
Why do you farm? To give back to the community. We're not making lots of money from growing our vegetables, but we do it anyway to provide affordable, accessible vegetables.
The best thing about farming? At the end of the day, our greatest reward is the satisfaction of hearing our customers rave about our sod and produce.
The worst thing? This year, the worse aspect has been animal control. A lot of our bi-colored corn got eaten up by deer, and we've had ongoing problems with gophers, woodchucks, raccoons, and birds.
Most important lesson you've ever learned? To learn from past mistakes and to stay innovative. As farmers, we're stewards of our land and providers for our community.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? While the operation of the farm is important, it's crucial to look at where the market will be in the future.
The future for good food? On the Long Island Farm Bureau, where I [Frank Beyrodt] sit as vice president, we pride ourselves on the motto, "Grown on Long Island." Our goal is to reduce the carbon footprint, but to be flexible in the ways we do so. Towards that end, we work with retail chains, such as King Kullen and Stop and Shop, so that local produce ends up in their stores.
Speaking for the majority of farmers on the North Fork of Long Island—nobody's getting rich farming, but we're committed to growing exceptional produce that stays local and gives back to the community.