Farm land as far as the eye can see. That was once the beauty and bounty of Long Island’s East End. Despite supermarket takeovers, farming is still a prominent profession for many families today. Drive down Sound Avenue or Route 25 on the North Fork and the wide-open spaces of plentiful soil still exist. In addition to freshness, farmstands provide personal contact with consumers, from seeing the land itself to meeting the personnel running them. It’s not only B2C (business to consumer) but F2C (farm to consumer).
Wickham’s Fruit Farm is a 13th generation family operation in Cutchogue run by Thomas Wickham, his wife, and son Jon. They began farming full time in 1987. The farm is located on Wickham Creek, which drains into Peconic Bay. The family has owned and operated farmland in Cutchogue since the 1600s.
A day at the farm begins at 7 AM, when most of us are just opening our eyes, and ends at 5 PM with a lunch break in between. Thomas maintains contact with top buyers at his farm, such as Fresh Direct, in addition to spraying during the day. In the evening, he’s in the office catching up on paperwork, while Jon, who has expanded his own operations to Texas, does all of the social media and purchasing of necessary farm equipment. On Sundays, everything shuts down and these tireless efforts reset.
All fruit is picked by hand. “We typically pick a given block of trees four or five times over a 10-day period. Fully ripe peaches have a yellow-red background color, are slightly soft to the touch, and come off the tree easily when they are rotated. If they resist coming off the tree, they’re not ripe,” Thomas Wickham explained. He and his son are both NY DEC-licensed pesticide applicators, spraying fruit that has no effect on those eating it, he said. “The only way to provide a measure of protection against fruit rot after harvest is to spray the fruit with fungicides while it is still on the tree. Some of the materials are analogs of medicines such as streptomycin,” Wickham added.
Wickham’s Farm is comprised of 300 acres, equally divided into natural landscape (woodland, salt marsh, pond, and beach on Peconic Bay) and farm area; 60 acres dedicated to fruit; 25 acres are vegetables; and the rest “in rotating fallow to keep the fertility high,” he said. In April, the season opens with tomatoes, asparagus, and rhubarb. May is prime for strawberries and cherries in late June. July is ideal for peaches, blueberries, blackberries and nectarines, along with sweet corn and melons from the field. Concluding the season, which is where we are now, are the sweet sensations of summer’s end and fall with apples, pears, and pumpkins.
Farmstand manager Laurie McBride says her favorite thing to make in fall season is a turnover. “The flavor base is our fresh apples but we like to keep customers coming back, so we are constantly making new combinations. Right now, we are adding in late summer berries for a great flavor combo.” In addition to delicious fruit, Wickham holds claim to the oldest cider press on Long Island, built in 1902, to go along with its apple cider donuts, made fresh on site.
Fighting modernization and the corporate conglomerate of today, Wickham acknowledges the financial uncertainties he faces year after year but remains optimistic regarding family-run farms on Long Island. “We have an excellent producing environment with sunshine, soil, and water, and a market of over seven million people less than 100 miles away — conditions farmers elsewhere would die for. Farming is still generally respected by the community, and there are a number of government programs supporting agriculture. I see all these positives continuing, and even increasing, as long as we farmers don’t leave the businesses of farming.”
Take a field trip or tour of Wickham’s Farm. Enjoy a talk, U-Pick opportunities, and a wagon ride around the entire farm, now available through October. Wickham’s Fruit Farm is open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM until roughly 3:30 PM, at 28700 Route 25 in Cutchogue. Call 631-734-6441 or visit online at www.wickhamsfruitfarm.com.