Green Thumb Organic Market in Water Mill has been a staple in the local community since 1961. The family-run farmstand displays a vibrant variety of organic fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs and plants. What customers may not know on first glance is that this land has been farmed by the Halsey family since 1664.
Green Thumb sits on 100 acres of land and is certified USDA Organic by NOFA-NY. The fields are harvested by the 30-person crew that works from the first week of May through Thanksgiving. The Raymond Halsey family farm, now in its 12th generation, is a family managed, owned and operated farm. It’s run by parents Peachie and Ray, children Jo, Bill, Larry and Patti, and their families. “We all do different things,” explains Larry, who cuts herbs, but primarily works in the greenhouse—which he is currently teaching his nephew to run. “Billy cuts the lettuce and plants the beans and row crops.” Jo and Patti work at the farmstand and in the greenhouse during the spring.
Pointing to a family photograph from 1968, Jo says, “That’s me, my sister Patti, Larry and Billy, and our mother and father. The farmstand was tiny back then. It was open when we wanted to be open and closed when the surf was up or the beach was great.” Today, the farmstand is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,offering some of the East End’s finest and freshest organic fruits and vegetables.
On Thursdays and Fridays they stay open until 6:30 p.m. When they first started, the Halsey family sold their own hand-picked produce and expanded over the years to include a variety of high quality meat, milk, pies, cookies, homemade jams, honey harvested on site, and other local and artisan products. “You have to keep re-inventing the wheel,” says Larry. “You have to know your market before you plant your seeds.” Green Thumb increased their reach over 15 years ago by adding a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA), which delivers a weekly share of their harvest to members in Water Mill, Brooklyn, Huntington and Queens during the growing season.
Post-war America moved into “conventional” chemical-use agriculture. The younger generation of Green Thumb decided to farm organically in the 1970s. “We wanted to go organic,” comments Jo, “and fortunately dad was open to it, one crop at a time.” They ordered 100,000 earthworms from Texas to enrich and aerate the soil, which had become compacted by conventional practices over time. “We started with the smaller fields; lettuce, tomatoes, some herbs,” explains Larry. “Eventually we added more crops to the list and went from the one-acre patch to the 20-acre fields and eventually to all 100 acres. We wanted to make the earth better, and with organics you do,” he says. Instead of spraying crops with chemicals to kill bugs and weeds, the Halseys either tend to each plant by hand or lose a crop to maintain the integrity of their practices. They also partner with other local farms to supplement what they don’t grow themselves. In keeping with organic farming practices, they have stayed committed to sustainable agriculture through the years despite the challenges of “wages, weeds and weather; the three Ws,” says Jo.
Among other traditional approaches, the Halsey family does not farm with plastic, a technique often used by farmers to get a jump on the first crop and prevent weeds from growing. “We do a lot of succession planting,” says Larry. “We plant lettuce four times, tomatoes three times, cilantro every two weeks, radishes every 10 days.” In keeping with organic practices, they will only grow what will do well during a particular season rather than force a crop on the area. The farm is currently growing four types of peppers, five varieties of eggplant, six kinds of beans, 10 varieties of lettuce, 15 herbs and 16 varieties of tomatoes. Watermelon and cantaloupe will be available soon.
Reinventing the wheel, while keeping with family tradition, is deeply rooted in the Green Thumb philosophy. “Now as we’re getting older, we’re teaching the next generation to work,” says Jo. “We’re going to help them get started the best we can.” The fruits of the Raymond Halsey family’s labor clearly have a long shelf life.
The Green Thumb is located at 829 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Call 631-726-1900 or visit greenthumborganicfarm.com.