My Way to the East End
As a farmer’s granddaughter childhood was a magical time. Weekend visits to the farm were filled with sensory delights. The sights, sounds and fresh smells of the farm were forever imprinted on my mind. In the springtime tractors tilled the moist earth filling the air with sweet anticipation of summertime crops to come. Warm days of summer had busy early mornings as mid-day work would have to slow simply because of intense heat at times. The fall harvest was amazing with its bounty of crops, yet it held the reminder that the long winter was just around the corner with its share of beauty and hardships of its own.
Our family farm was located on Jericho Turnpike in Commack Long Island, simply known as “Prianti Farm”. My grandfather and uncles grew the most beautiful vegetables which were then sold by Grandma and Aunt Millie at the stand in front. The farm stand just happened to be on Jericho Turnpike which was a perfect location to sell just about anything let alone the most picture perfect, delicious vegetables ever. They also sold homemade cheese made from the fresh cows milk and any eggs that happened to be left after feeding their large family of ten. If the wonder of the vegetables weren’t enough there were always the cows, chickens, horses, cats and kittens, goats, pigs, beagle pups and my beloved pony to keep busy with. Saturday mornings could never come quickly enough.
Life on the farm seemed like it would go on forever, but that was not to be. After my grandparents passed away the farm had to be sold. Our now very large extended family was to be witness to seeing our beloved farm with its warm country farmhouse, barns and out buildings sold and dismantled. The day the buildings and house began to be torn down, my brother called with a heart so broken I could barely stand to hear the tears in his voice. Unable to bring myself to see the destruction I stayed at home in Wading River with my two girls. It was then I became thankful for the distance that had once seemed so far from my beloved farm.
Who would have known that years later, on a lovely September day, looking through my camera lens was to bring healing to my heart. It was a beautiful day for a drive out east on Sound Avenue so off I went making sure to bring my new camera to try out. Blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds and lovely vistas filled my day. Rottkamp’s “Fox Hollow Farm” would be my last stop on the way back. The stand was filled with beautiful fruits and vegetables carefully stacked. Corn and pumpkins overflowed their bins. I was in heaven! I asked to take pictures of their produce and happily my request was granted. It was the last photo seen through my view finder that sealed my fate. It read FARM STAND PART-TIME HELP WANTED MUST BE ABLE TO ADD AND LIFT INQUIRE WITHIN. After speaking with Lolly and Judy Rottkamp telling them about myself being a Prianti granddaughter and extra added experience in banking…I got the job!
Monday came, my first day at the farm. I met everyone and felt somehow as though I stepped back in time. People there all had the same strong, honest, hardworking way that I had lived with all my earlier life. It felt like home which was unexpected and wonderful.
My jobs were simple yet I was expected to do them well and as quickly as possible. First thing each morning was sweeping the stand, then cleaning and filling the produce bins. Of course, helping the customers was always the top priority. It was ok to use the register to ring up larger orders or when it got really busy, but it was preferred to use the note pad to add up the items by hand. In short the same procedures I had seen my grandmother and Aunt Millie practice long ago.
The sounds of the huge tractors in the yard pulling their heavy loads were music to my ears. The smell of the earth sometimes dry, sometimes damp with dew could not have smelled sweeter. There were even ponies, ducks and the family dogs to greet me each day. Beans, lettuce, arugula, cucumbers, beets, eggplant were always plentiful and delicious. Judy’s huge sunflowers were carefully bunched; their sunny faces greeted the customers each day. Then there were the tomatoes, delicious farm raised tomatoes. The task of carefully stacking those beautiful tomatoes like tiny round pyramids on the bushel covers had to be done many times a day as they were purchased. The king of their crop? Amazing corn, sweet and delicious needing nothing more than a pot of boiling water or a grill to roast it on.
Just as I remembered, when the weather got colder portable heaters were dragged out of storage. That warmth changed the smells in the air. Scents of apples, crisp and sweet, pears and plums added their fragrance to the mix. Over the fruit was a sign kindly reminding everyone to PLEASE DO NOT PUT YOUR NOSE ON THE FRUIT!! Pumpkins and squash of many varieties filled their bins. Gourds of various shapes and sizes filled the baskets.
Pumpkin picking season is when things got really busy! The pumpkin patch was a perfect place for families out on their annual hunt for the perfect pumpkins to have a fun time. Everyone enjoyed the roasted corn, candy apples and fresh baked pies. It was sweet to see the little children learning about farming and enjoying the outdoors with their families, certainly becoming a tradition for many even though having to contend with the traffic sometimes long and slow. As Halloween approached things would start to slow down as life got back to its normal pace. The fall season winding down, the fields would be picked of their last summer crops, with only the late fall to winter crops of kale, broccoli, and such to be harvested.
Work at Rottkamp’s farm was always good, tiring but good. I felt stronger and more energetic than I had in a long while. Friendly customers sometimes took time to chat about their trip “out east” or plans for the weekend ahead. There were also visits from other farmers from both the north and south forks. Some of them I would remember and recognize from my grandparents farm and others were new to me. Farmers are a tight knit bunch and it was wonderful to have Lolly introduce me to them while adding “You know, her grandparents were Prianti Farm”. Her words of acknowledgment always touched my heart, as it made me realize I was also a small part of this amazing farming community.
I worked part time for the Rottkamps for several seasons. During those few short years there, that little part time job had done something amazing and unexpected, for not only did it strengthen me physically, it had also healed my heart. The hole in my heart from the loss of my grandparents and their farm was so enormous, yet that little job, and the kindness of the Rottkamp family mended and softened its torn edges. I hadn’t realized how much I needed healing but I was finally at peace and at a place where my heart could sing again.
Our east end farms are such a treasure. Cherish them for their beauty, patronize them for their bounty. Respect and thank the good men and women who till the earth with hard labor and love; we are so blessed because of them. I have traveled to many parts of our great country and I can say with certainty that our east end farms are some of the finest. Enjoy them and support them as they are truly a gift for us all.