Dust Bowl Blows Through Amagansett

Betsy Martin’s property was covered in dust from a neighboring farm field in Amagansett.
Clouds of dust blew up from fields north of Amagansett Main Street, creating dust bowl conditions. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

No, that wasn’t Tom Joad from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” you saw last week walking down Amagansett Main Street, but it would have been an easy mistake to make given the dust bowl conditions in the hamlet.

“The land in back of the Amagansett parking lot has caused a dust bowl for the school, library, and businesses in Amagansett,” Rona Klopman, a member of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, said in an email to The Independent January 13. “The land is fallow, and is causing lots of problems.”

Walking through the parking lot off of Main Street on January 11, a reporter found the blowing clouds of dirt and dust occasionally made it hard to see, and left a gritty sensation in the mouth.

The farmland is about 30 acres in all, and is divided among several owners, mostly corporations with the Bistrian name attached. According to the East Hampton Town Planning Department, the land is farmed every year. The farmers rent from the different owners. One strip of land in the field is owned by the town.

The problem, it appears, is the lack of a cover crop to protect the dirt from being blown away after the cash crop is harvested.

“I am very concerned about it,” East Hampton Town Board member Jeff Bragman said Monday. Bragman is the board’s liaison to the town’s agricultural committee.

Betsy and Neal Martin live at the end of Conklin Lane, where the field begins. Their residence was covered in gritty dust on Friday. “I’ve lived here 22 years,” Neal Martin said. “It is as bad this year as it ever has been. I don’t believe they got a cover crop down in time. Nothing has grown. It just blows like talcum powder.”

Everything is covered, Martin added. “The deck. Cars. My lawn is covered with dirt. Everything.”

Who’s to blame? Betsy Martin suggested renting the land to a different farmer next year might be the answer. Neal Martin said that the crops were harvested too late this year, so the cover crop was planted too late, leaving the geese feasting on the cover crop seeds happy, but everyone else, not so much.

Bragman has been in contact, through Suffolk County, with Liz Camps, the district manager for the county from the United States Department of Agriculture. She, in turn, is exploring possible solutions for the Amagansett dust bowl, including planting cover crops alongside the cash crop plantings, and leaving 75 percent of the harvested crops standing, as is often the case in cornfields.

Southampton Town has a law on the books requiring the planting of cover crops, according to Bragman. It is an idea whose time may have come for East Hampton, as well.

The current dust bowl conditions, Bragman said, “are not acceptable. We must do something about it.”

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