It’s my first day at Amber Waves Farm, getting to know the lay of the land and the two impressive young women who envisioned this unique farm on the far East End of Long Island: Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow.
In the spring of 2008, Katie and Amanda met in the fields of Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, New York – about 16 miles west of Montauk Point (the tip of Long Island) – as new apprentices to one of the oldest community supported agricultural farms in the US.
How These Two Young Women Became Farmers
Both found themselves coming to Quail Hill Farm from different places – recent college graduates with some work experience behind them, Katie and Amanda were each looking for a more satisfying way of life. And both were directed toward not only Quail Hill Farm, but to the farm’s farmer (and poet) Scott Chaskey.
Meet Scott Chaskey: A Year in the Life of a Farm
Under Scott’s mentorship, Katie and Amanda felt empowered to start their own farm — right away! By the spring of 2009, they had created a business plan, started the paperwork for non-profit filing, and responded to an RFP from the land trust to lease 7.7 acres of land in Amagansett — a stone's throw away from Quail Hill Farm.
"As apprentices, Scott made each of us feel we could farm on our own," said Katie. "Having him around the corner and helping with all our tractor work in the first year, and the time we were able to get from him, was invaluable."
Watching them today, both Katie and Amanda have found a sure footing around the farm in every aspect, including the tractor work.
The Three Pillars of the Farm
Modeling itself on the work that’s been done by the Trust at Quail Hill Farm – which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer – Amber Waves Farm is based on three pillars:
- Community supported agriculture (CSA)
- Food education
- The Amagansett Wheat Project (more on these in later installments).
Why Amber Waves Is a Not-for-Profit Farm
Katie and Amanda purposely established Amber Waves as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit farm, with education at its core. “Our on-farm food education program for children is what distinguishes us from other farms on the East End," said Amanda. "This program grew out of our experience working with local schools while we were apprentices at Quail Hill, and since 2009 we have hosted thousands of children at the farm on tasting tours, group work projects and lessons in land stewardship."
2014 will be the sixth full farm season for Katie and Amanda at Amber Waves — today, they have grown from cultivating just a few acres in 2009 to 20 acres. These acres will produce over 250 varieties of vegetables, fruit and flowers.
The CSA Shareholders of Amber Waves Farm
Katie and Amanda’s farm is supported by 115 families and individuals, who will be taking the journey this season with them: CSA shareholders provide critical investment to the farmers, providing capital upfront in return for a “share” in the farm’s bounty. This mutual contract between farmer and shareholder cultivates a bond and interest on the part of both, which is a symbiotic relationship that benefits the whole.
Amber Waves in the Early Summer
Amber Waves Farm has a beautiful simplicity to it – from the swings, to the signs, to the fields – its feel is inviting and playful. But make no mistake, this farm is all business and hard work – for most of the year, it is up and out with the sun, long into the evening. In the off-season they are busy planning for the coming season — hiring apprentices, reviewing soil tests, making field maps and ordering millions of seeds.
The farm is always in movement. New seeds germinating in the hoop houses, seedlings moving from the greenhouse to the fields, crops moving from the fields to the shareboxes, equipment traveling between plots, as the pasture-raised chickens move between fallow fields providing fertility for next year’s crops.
And keeping a watchful eye over it all are Jim and Tim, the farm cats.
A New Generation on the Farm is a season-long exploration of the work at Amber Waves Farm, and it is a partnership between The Kitchn, photographer Mallory Samson, and the Peconic Land Trust. Founded in 1983, the Peconic Land Trust conserves Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage. This is the first in a series about first generation farmers the Trust is working with to ensure that protected farmland is used for farming on Long Island’s East End.
(Image credits: Mallory Samson)