Patty Gentry is a woman of many talents—professional chef and organic farmer chief among them. After two decades of cooking for a living, Gentry decided to start her own produce farm, continuing her mission of bringing delicious food to the residents of Long Island. She pulls her weeds by hand, uses sustainable growing methods and boasts a wide range of produce—everything from kale to green onions, and so much more in between.
Gentry’s brainchild, Early Girl Farm, is located in East Moriches and maintains a farmstand in Center Moriches—and one Long Island native has found it to be an unparalleled artistic inspiration. Andrea Parker has been photographing Early Girl’s produce for the past three years, covering many types of vegetables in every stage of their growth. Though these photos sometimes include Gentry or others, they most often star the vegetables themselves, somehow capturing the simple beauty of the natural world within one unassuming picture. Parker herself has been a part of Early Girl since 2010, farming during the week (including seeding, planting, cultivating, harvesting and maintenance) and working the farmstand on the weekends for three consecutive seasons. Parker also assisted with the farm’s deliveries to five Brooklyn-based restaurants. Since moving into the city, she says, she still drives down to the farm to volunteer on her days off.
Asked about the inspiration she draws from the vegetables, Parker says, “Beauty inspires me. Whenever I see something on the farm that catches my eye in the right way, I photograph it!”
A self-styled street photographer, Parker always keeps a camera with her, often using her iPhone to capture the natural glory of the produce. “At the farm it comes easily,” says Parker, “because there’s a sort of energy there. You feel so good when you’re out there walking in the field. Patti keeps it so well—so organized and pristine—for a farm, anyway. She spends so much time cultivating; you won’t see any weeds. The natural beauty of the place lends me my inspiration.”
Parker finds a particular magnificence in just-harvested vegetables. “On weekends, I would work at the farmstand and help with the harvest, just walking through and picking out vegetables to photograph. Sometimes I’d set backdrops, like a burlap sack or our red painted bench, but for the most part it all happens naturally. Right after sunrise, around 5:30 a.m., really puts them in the perfect light.”
Though all of her photos carry meaning, one that is particularly dear to Parker’s heart is a shot of Gentry hilling potatoes (the process of bringing up the soil around vines in large mounds, in order to cultivate the soil) taken one 2011 evening. Parker, on a water break at the end of the row, snapped a photo of Gentry against a backdrop of reeds, creating a “gorgeous contrast between green potato plants and newly cultivated dark soil.” She especially likes it because Gentry is in the shot, unlike many of her standalone vegetable pieces.
While her work was recently featured at an exhibition in the Quogue Library, Parker says “nothing is set in stone” for the future as of yet. In the city, she sells and displays her work on SoHo sidewalks, and is compiling a “portfolio for the road” in order to visit wineries and well-known restaurants out here. But never fear, photography fans—Parker’s work was featured at the Remsenburg Academy recently, and it was such a success that the Academy has asked her to show her work again next year.
Andrea Parker’s photographs can be viewed and purchased on her website (andreaparkerphotography.com), from the new farmstand location at Nettie’s Market in Center Moriches or from the Moriches Bay Historical Society’s Havens Estate.
Early Girl Farm’s farmstand is located at 177 Montauk Highway in Center Moriches. Call 631-831-1623, or visit earlygirlfarm.com.