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Wednesday
Jul192017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP -No Farms No Food

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

“America has been losing over 40 acres of farmland every hour to development,” said the letter I just received from the American Farmland Trust. “This land—the most fertile soil in the world—is irreplaceable and urgently needed to grow food. It’s a national disgrace on a catastrophic scale.”

With the letter was an American Farmland Trust bumper sticker: “No Farms No Food.”

The threat to farmland in the United States has been mirrored in the threat to farmland in Suffolk County. But the county’s visionary Farmland Preservation Program has met the threat and been central in keeping Suffolk a top agricultural county in New York State and so much of it green. Not only do the farms of Suffolk, on some of the best soils on the planet, produce food and other agricultural products, but they are integral to the thriving tourism industry in Suffolk.

However, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society brought a lawsuit that claimed allowing “structures” on preserved farmland permitted by amendments to the program approved by the Suffolk Legislature was not legal. And a state Supreme Court justice last year ruled in favor of the society’s lawsuit.

Justice Thomas Whelan “basically misconstrued what the county’s original intent was—to prevent the development of farmland but still allow typical and acceptable farm practices to be utilized,” says State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, an attorney. The Farmland Preservation Program “didn’t freeze in a moment of time” structures that could be on a farm. Farmers who have put their land into preservation under the program, said Mr. Thiele, have been
“entitled” to build sheds, barns and other structures “as long as they complied with the definition of agricultural practices. The idea was that farming is dynamic and that there would have to be changes in the future.”

It’s unfortunate that the judge didn’t understand this.

His ruling is on appeal with the county having retained a law firm that has long fought for the environment, Riverhead-based Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley and Quartararo. Handling the appeal is a partner in the firm, Lisa Clare Kombrink, who has a specialty in farmland preservation as former Southampton Town attorney and in other public legal positions. 

John v.H. Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust, itself long involved in conservation including of farmland, commented last week: “If we want farmland to be farmed we have to allow farmers to do what we told them they could do when they sold their development rights. They retained the right to build structures. They never sold that right to the county and the county didn’t buy it. Suffolk’s Farmland Preservation Program, the first of its kind in the country, was created to protect not only farmland but farming. Farm operations by definition are the land, the structures, the improvements and the practices necessary to perform agricultural production.”

Suffolk County is with vigor challenging the lawsuit and ruling which threaten Suffolk’s Farmland Preservation Program.

Conceived by County Executive John V. N. Klein, a Smithtown resident and former Smithtown Town supervisor, the program, begun in 1974, is based on the brilliant and then novel idea of purchase of development rights. Farmers are paid the difference between the value of their land in agriculture and what they could get for it if they sold it off for development. In return, the land is kept in agriculture in perpetuity. The Suffolk program has been emulated across the nation.

Suffolk’s current county executive, Steve Bellone, says: “We believe the findings in this lawsuit strike at the very heart of agricultural success in Suffolk County. Support structures on agricultural land have always been an essential and inherent component of agricultural production.”

The Suffolk Legislature has been standing strong in the challenge.

Rob Carpenter, administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, explains that “in this day and age, farmers can’t just go out and put a seed in the ground and watch it grow. Farming today is very sophisticated and complicated.” Greenhouses are used. Crops need to be stored in a building—“they can’t be left out in the field in the hot sun.” Farmers utilize large pieces of equipment and they “need to be sheltered.” In some instances, deer fencing is necessary.” He said last week: “No farmer is going to preserve their land if they can’t continue as a farm operation and that means with modern agriculture having the necessary infrastructure in order to farm.”

Legislator Al Krupski of Cutchogue, who is a fourth-generation Suffolk farmer, said last week that the hope is that what has happened is a “temporary setback” of the county’s Farmland Preservation Program. He said: “We want to restore confidence in this historic program.”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.

 

Monday
Jul172017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Suffolk County Legislators Recognize Karl Grossman's 50 Years Of Journalism

Editor’s note - Congratulations Karl Grossman! Suffolk County residents are enriched by your ability and willingness to tell our story. Kudos to Legislators Krupski and Flemming for pointing out the obvious, Karl Grossman is a Suffolk County treasure. Pat Biancaniello

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Suffolk Legislators Al Krupski and Bridget Fleming, Karl Grossman and Dennis Fabiszak, director of the East Hampton LibraryMemories sprung into my head as I walked into the meeting room of the Suffolk County Legislature last week to receive a proclamation from the legislature honoring me for more than 50 years as a Suffolk-based journalist and spotlighting an archive of my work that has been established.

I was in this room regularly in the mid-1960s covering the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors. I looked last week at the horseshoe table in front, where the 10 members of the board sat—the supervisors of the 10 towns of Suffolk. It’s been widened since the days of the board to 18 places for the 18 members of the legislature.

 I thought of some of the remarkable members of the Board of Supervisors—Evans K. Griffing, supervisor of Shelter Island, Harry Kangeiser from Islip, Bob Flynn from Huntington, and John V. N. Klein, the Smithtown supervisor and the board’s last chairman. The board after two centuries was dissolved due to a lawsuit citing the one-person-one-vote court rulings of the 1960s. A panel of 18 districts of equal population, a Suffolk Legislature, was established in 1970 to replace it.

Mr. Klein, so very committed to this county, gave up being Smithtown supervisor to run to be a legislator on the new panel and he became its first presiding officer. He guided it in its early years, forging a continuum between the board and legislature. Thereafter he became Suffolk County executive with his biggest achievement the first-of-its-kind Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program which has allowed so much of Suffolk to remain agriculturally productive and green.

On the walls of the meeting room were the portraits the 18 past presiding officers of the legislature. Down the row of photos from Mr. Klein’s was that of John Wehrenberg of Holbrook. My mind went back to 1971 and the tarmac at the Sydney, Nova Scotia airport. A year before, as an investigative reporter then for the daily Long Island Press, I broke the story about the oil industry seeking to drill in the Atlantic. Strong opposition developed on Long Island to drilling off our shores.  The following year, Shell Canada invited a delegation of Suffolk legislators to visit the first drilling rig set up in the Atlantic, off Nova Scotia. No press was allowed. But the legislators going listed my name as part of the delegation.

“You don’t think you’re going to get on this helicopter, Mr. Grossman,” a Shell Canada executive told me on the tarmac. Mr. Wehrenberg and the other legislators intervened, he telling the Shell Canada executive: “If Karl isn’t going, we’re not going.” The men from Shell Canada huddled, and soon I was on the chopper out to the rig. The visit was instructive—it was clear on the rig, with its equipment in preparation for a blow-out and spills, that off-shore drilling is a dicey proposition. I recall heading back to Long Island with the legislators, us talking about the impacts on Long Island of oil hitting our beaches.

I looked at the photo of another presiding officer, Lou Howard of Amityville. Now Lou and I were at odds over nuclear power. He was an ardent supporter of the Shoreham nuclear power plant. It was to be the first of 7 to 11 nuclear power plants in Suffolk. Grassroots opposition to Suffolk turning into what nuclear promoters at the time called a “nuclear park” led to election defeats for pro-nuclear officials. But Lou held on and stuck to his pro-nuclear positon. 

He was a highly affable fellow, however, and an aviation instructor. And one day we were talking about flying and he invited me to go fly with him. Over Long Island, he gave me the wheel and after a while the plane began bucking from turbulence. It was scary. But Lou advised, “Just go with it.” And I let the plane be bumped around, and finally the turbulence ended and it was again flying straight and steady. Lou had things wrong about nuclear power, but his philosophy on how to deal with turbulence was right-on.

I was called up to the rostrum with Dennis Fabiszak, director of the East Hampton Library where the archive has been established. Legislators Al Krupski of Cutchogue and Bridget Fleming of Noyac presented me with the proclamation which, incidentally, cited “my extensive reporting and writing on the dangers of nuclear power.” If it weren’t for the Suffolk Legislature under the leadership in the 1980s of Presiding Officer Gregory Blass of Jamesport, we’d have nuclear plants in Suffolk today. 

Mr. Fabiszak, explaining what’s been named the Karl Grossman Research Archive, said: “We are digitizing all of Karl’s articles and also all of the primary research which he used to write the articles. When it is done it will be the largest data base of historic documents in Suffolk County.…Already we have about 7,000 documents online, available and fully searchable. And we’re continuing to add to it every day…We can’t wait to continue the work.”

Please go to the library’s website—http://easthamptonlibrary.org/—to access the information. It’s wonderful that my stories and columns, and an array of documents, are available now and into the future.

Karl’s column is carried by Smithtown Matters and appears weekly on Thursday. Past columns carried by Smithtown Matters may also be found in the archives. Pat

Thursday
Jul132017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - 60 Vineyards And World Class Wine 

 

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Long Island with a very long history of agriculture has undergone an agricultural revolution in just several decades. It was brought forth in 1973 by a pair of pioneers in planting grapes for fine wine, Louisa and Alex Hargrave.

Driving on the North Fork the other day, I was amazed to see now vineyard after vineyard along Sound Avenue, and then returning, vineyard following vineyard on Route 25, too.  There are vineyards now as well on the South Fork and in central and western Suffolk County. 

In the Town of Smithtown, there are Whisper Vineyards in St. James and Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor. “Why drive all the way to the Forks,” proclaims Harmony Vineyards on its website. 

On Long Island, “the number of vineyards today—60, ranging from two-and-a-half acres planted to over 500 acres,” notes The Long Island Wine Council on its website. 

Eastern Long Island has become a major wine region, an East Coast equivalent to Napa Valley in California. A substantial wine industry has—in the context of the rich farming heritage on Long Island beginning with the arrival of its Native Americans thousands of years ago— come relatively suddenly.

So importantly, most of the land where now there are vineyards had been used to grow potatoes and, with the once mighty Long Island potato having faded in the face of stiff competition, would have gone to development.  Growing grapes on Long Island for wine is, financially, a far better use of expensive Long Island land than potatoes. 

The Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program, begun in 1974 the year after the Hargraves planted their first wine grapes, the Community Preservation Fund in the five East End towns, other town, county and state and private initiatives to save farms—and the proliferation of vineyards—have been instrumental in keeping much of Long Island green and its avoiding the development fate of farmland in western Long Island. 

I’ve seen the march of development eastward starting in the far west of geographical Long Island. I’m old enough to remember a farm near where I began elementary school, P.S. 159—in Brooklyn!  Growing up in eastern Queens in the 1950s, riding my bicycle into neighboring Nassau County, I witnessed farm field after farm field swallowed up in suburban development. My family used to take us to Lollipop Farm in Syosset. Lollipop Farm is gone, literally and figuratively.

Furthermore, the wine produced on Long Island has become—as suddenly as it arrived—world-class. This story has been told, with some amazement, by many wine experts. As the magazine Food and Wine declared with a 2015 article headlined, “Can Long Island Make World-Class Wines?”, its reporter “Lettie Teague finds great wines—including some of the best American wines she’s ever tried” on Long Island.

And the Long Island wine industry has been a huge boon to Long Island tourism. There are “approximately 1.3 million visitors…annually” to the wineries of eastern Long Island, says the Long Island Wine Council. There are tours of wineries, and tastings, classes and musical events.

Louisa Hargrave in her wonderful book, The Vineyard, relates: “I was 25 and Alex was 27. With no farm experience and little life experience, we really didn’t think the vines would need much attention. Before we bought the farm in Cutchogue, neither one of us had grown so much as a vegetable garden … The idea of the vineyard at that point was still a fantasy whose only tangible basis in reality lay in the 10,000 rooted, grafted vines we had bought.”

She and Alex—they met as students at Harvard and shared a love of fine wine and a dream of producing it in America—had been told by John Tomkins, a pomologist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ithaca,  that “There’s this guy on Long Island who has been growing table grapes.’”

That was John Wickham, who worked some of the oldest continually cultivated land in the U.S. on a 287-acre farm in Cutchogue that goes back to 1661. “It was the day before Thanksgiving, 1972,” writes Ms. Hargrave. Mr. Wickham told the couple how “I was called crazy” for moving away from potatoes to grow peaches and cherries and other fruit on Long Island. “He took us to bodies of water and explained how they moderated the climate” — and made this possible.

Thus, the Hargraves figured they could grow cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir and merlot and chardonnay here, the grapes from which the great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy were made from. They were right.

Mr. Wickham, who died in 1994 at 85, was a Long Island original, long a farmer and long vice chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and chairman of the Southold Town Planning Board, and deeply involved in seeking to preserve Suffolk County as a top agricultural area in New York State. Thankfully, it remains so.

 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.

Thursday
Jul062017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - What's Going On At Stony Brook University?

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

What’s going on at Stony Brook University? The university has just suspended student admissions into its theatre arts, comparative literature and cinema arts departments, part of a series of cuts in liberal arts.  In May, hundreds of students joined in a demonstration on campus—a “March for the Humanities”—that culminated with a sit-in.

Stony Brook University is the largest single-site employer on Long Island. It has more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students and an operating budget for 2016-2017 of $2.7 billion. All Long Islanders have a stake in what happens at Stony Brook University.

What is going on now at Stony Brook is the kind of thing that has gone on at it for years: a de-emphasis in liberal arts and the humanities.

In its obituary in 2011 for Stony Brook’s long-time president, John S. Toll, The New York Times quoted another long-time Stony Brook president, John H. Marburger III, as saying that Governor Nelson Rockefeller “wanted Johnny Toll to make Stony Brook the Berkeley of the East.”

Indeed, that was the vision not only of Governor Rockefeller in the 1960s but of the State University of New York. Stony Brook, established in 1962 (morphing out of the State University College on Long Island set up in Oyster Bay in 1957) was to be a well-rounded “university center.” It was to be New York State’s equivalent of the University of California, Berkeley and other great American universities, such the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

But under the presidencies of Dr. Toll, a nuclear physicist, and his successor, Acting President T. Alexander Pond, also a nuclear physicist, and his successor, Dr. Marburger, a theoretical physicist, the overwhelming emphasis was on science and research.

Stony Brook ended looking in many respects more like Caltech—the private California Institute of Technology—than a well-rounded institution like Berkeley, Wisconsin, Michigan and so on. 

The one humanities-focused time came when Shirley Strum Kenny was Stony Brook’s president. She started out as an English professor, went on to become chair of the Department of English and provost of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland, and then president of Queens College. She led Stony Brook from 1994 to 2009 and tried to change its culture, to humanize it and get the school focused far more on its students and teaching.

She had no choice. She told me that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education threatened to lift Stony Brook’s accreditation unless it paid greater attention to teaching.

Dr. Kenny was succeeded by Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. who had been vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis. An M.D. long involved in research, he turned Stony Brook again to focusing on science and research. One of his first acts at Stony Brook president was ordering the virtual closing of the Stony Brook Southampton campus. founded as a teaching institution emphasizing the environment and sustainability. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor complained that Dr. Stanley “is all about science and research” and didn’t appreciate what Stony Brook Southampton, formerly Southampton College, was about. 

Under Dr. Stanley, Stony Brook has made great advances in its medical component. I’ve been treated by Stony Brook doctors and will attest personally to Stony Brook Medicine being world-class. Its hospital and its medical, nursing and dentistry schools and other programs in health sciences, and its satellite clinics, are all fine.  

A pared down Stony Brook Southampton awaits newly Stony Brook-affiliated Southampton Hospital moving to the campus with linked health sciences programs for more use.

A major university should offer a broad education. Learning in literature, theatre, cultural studies—all of the liberal arts that the Stony Brook administration would cut into—are important to a student’s education, her or his understanding of the world. Meanwhile, another fine Stony Brook asset—integral to comprehending the environmental history of our area—Stony Brook’s Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences has also been eliminated.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Stony Brook University was the scene of many anti-Vietnam War protests which I covered. I recall being with Dr. Toll late one night in his office as students demonstrated against Stony Brook participating in Project THEMIS, a Pentagon research program. “Don’t they understand,” Dr. Toll said to me, “that the academy has always done research for the military?” After World War II Navy service, he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, set up to build atomic bombs, with the University of California its manager (and still today its lead manager). I explained that the Vietnam War was seen far, far differently than World War II and collaboration by universities in it was strongly opposed. Dr. Toll didn’t understand. In the wake of the protests, despite Dr. Toll’s advocacy of Project THEMIS it didn’t come to Stony Brook.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.

Wednesday
Jun212017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - 1974 Eleanor Eckman Fights For Equality In Sports 

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Title IX, subsequently renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity Education Act, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon 45 years ago—on June 23, 1972. Among the areas of discrimination in the United States that it changed was the downplaying of women’s sports at educational institutions. 

Eleanor A. EckmanA pioneer in Suffolk County in getting Title IX applied to sports for girls in schools was Eleanor A. Eckman, a physical education teacher at Bay Shore High School. 

Now retired after 31 years of teaching, Ms. Eckman, speaking from her home in Patchogue, was recounting the other day how school sports for females were minimized while male sports were being highlighted. “Not only highlighted but given more financial support,” she said.

“There was inequity,” said Ms. Eckman. “We had pitiful uniforms and pitiful time in the gym or on the field.” Moreover, there was more time for play for boys. “There were four shorter seasons for girls. Way back then they didn’t think girls could last as long as boys. It was thought that females didn’t have the physical capabilities.”

Further, at her school there was only one coach each for most girls’ sports while there were both coaches and assistant coaches for many boys’ sports.

“I was the first person in Suffolk County to bring the situation to the New York State Division of Human Rights,” said Ms. Eckman. She brought the action in 1974 at the Suffolk office of the division in Hauppauge, headed by Vera Parisi, formerly assistant director of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission. The division “found that the school district was not in compliance” with Title IX. And the district began making changes. “They didn’t have a choice. Either that or their having to go to court,” she said.

Helpful on the issue, said Susan Barbash of Bay Shore, was a protest at a school board meeting. Girls in their athletic uniforms came to the meeting. Ms. Barbash, now a retired real estate developer, said “the story become legend. The girl athletes appeared in their uniforms to protest the inequitable funding” between boys’ and girls’ sports.  “There was theatre involved.”

Title IX, added Ms. Barbash, “was not just about playing sports, but access to college, as well. It has been so important.” Ms. Barbash went on from Bay Shore High School to Radcliffe College, which then merged into its parent institution, Harvard, with Harvard after centuries no longer having an all-male student body. 

Today as for sports in school for girls, “everything is much more equal,” said Ms. Eckman. However, there are still, she notes, areas of sports where a different situation exists for women. For example, “in major competitions in tennis, the men’s game is best of three-out-of-five while for women it’s two-out-of-three.” Apparently there’s still belief that women can’t last as long as men in sports contests.

I reached out to current women physical education teachers—Ms. Eckman retired in 1999—regarding their views on the state of girls and boys sports at schools now.

Jen Ackerman, a phys ed teacher in the Eastport-South Manor Central School District. Today, said that indeed, girls and boys sports are now treated as “equivalent.” A phys ed teacher for 19 years, Ms. Ackerman, of Manorville, said: “It’s come a long way.” 

There “absolutely is equity” now in boys and girls sports in schools, said Shannon Judge of Southold, going into her 12th year as a physical education teacher in the Sag Harbor School District.   Ms. Judge, who went to Centereach High School, noted she is 36 years old and thus in this post-Title IX time, fortunately “I didn’t experience anything” along the lines of girl sports being second-rated. Boys and girls school sports have become to be “balanced completely.”

The legislation creating Title IX was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Birch Bayh of Indiana while Patsy Mink of Hawaii was its sponsor in the House of Representatives. The law was renamed for Ms. Mink  in 2002 after her death that year. 

On the Senate floor, in advocating for Title IX, Mr. Bayh declared: “We are all familiar with the stereotype of women as pretty things who go to college to find a husband…and finally marry [and] have children….But the facts absolutely contradict these myths about the ‘weaker sex’ and it is time to change our operating assumptions.”

Title IX covers educational institutions receiving federal financial assistance. The U.S. Department of Education standards include “whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes; the provision of equipment and supplies; scheduling of games and practice times; provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities.”

For schools that do not receive federal aid, a third of states—including New York—have enacted parallel statutes similar to Title IX covering them. But that’s only a third.

As to more that should be done now regarding women and sports, Ms. Eckman, who retired in 1999, said that “in professional sports, women are still not paid at the same level as men.” Also, “I don’t think coverage by TV, newspapers and the rest of media is at the same level. It’s getting there.” And, “in most sports they always have the finals of the men as the last event. The finals for women are the day before. The highlight is the men’s finals.”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.