New York 2020 Sang Lee Farms Peconic, NY Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

Sang Lee Farms is one of Suffolk County’s last large vegetable farms. Located in the heart of Long Island’s wine country, it’s a landmark for its beauty, uniqueness and diversity.

More than 100 varieties of specialty vegetables, including Chinese cabbages, greens and radishes, are organically grown with a hybrid approach that mixes age-old mechanical cultivation with forward-thinking technology.

The farm’s management is transitioning from Fred Lee to his son William and his partner Lucy. The farm’s story began when Fred’s father and uncles began raising produce to supply New York City’s Chinatown in the 1940s. They first farmed elsewhere on Long Island. After the passing of some family members, Fred moved his operations to Peconic in 1987. He found eastern Long Island offered a moderate climate with an extended growing season, and fertile, well-drained sandy loam soils.

Some say the definition of organic farming is trial and error, success and failure. For more than 70 years, the Lees have strived to improve their farming and conservation practices with each growing season.

As early adopters of New York’s Agricultural Environmental Management program, their creative use of cover crops has aided their quest for a better form of regenerative agriculture. It increases soil fertility, builds organic matter, suppresses weeds and eliminates erosion. While some growers question if cover crops are worth the cost of their seed, the Lees have planted cover crops on narrow wheel tracks and between rows of vegetables and flowers.

Each field at Sang Lee Farms is surrounded by a buffer zone of untilled cover crops. Half to 75 percent of every field is left uncultivated after each growing season. Longer rest periods can break the repopulation of certain weeds while restoring soil health.

Strips of cover crops also provided habitat for wildlife. Instead of using insecticide, the Lee family releases beneficial insects onto fields. Likewise, they encourage habitat for helpful predators by hanging bat houses, barn owl boxes and blue bird houses.

Most of their irrigation has been upgraded to a micro-drip system that conserves hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each growing season.

The Lees sell their produce and cut flowers via local farmers markets, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, direct consumer marketing, a farm website and a fully stocked farm stand. In their on-site, certified organic kitchen, they produce a Sang Lee Farms line of dressings, dips, pestos, jellies, pickles, cooking sauces, prepared salads, vegan soups and fermented vegetables.

Sang Lee Farms donates to local food banks and hosts field days to demonstrate the benefits of reduced tillage and composting. The Lees offer mentorship assistance and advice to new and small farms on the successes and failures of organic practices and weed control.

The hard-working people who make up Sang Lee Farms respect the land, nature, their employees, their neighbors, and their community. What’s most notable is how the Lee family’s values are reflected in their land stewardship.

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