The Wesnofske family has been farming potatoes in Suffolk County for generations, and John Wesnofske and his brothers Rick and Michael grow around 200 acres of potatoes that they sell mostly to regional supermarkets and, occasionally, schools. In addition to the parcels of conserved farmland they own, the Wesnofskes lease other parcels to support their growing business. But given the development pressure on Long Island and high cost of land, there are fewer acres available to farm every day; John reports planting half as many acres today as the family did in the 1990s. This land limitation on Long Island has prompted both farmers and land trusts to think creatively and develop unique strategies so farms can remain viable. For John, who looks to strike a balance between stewardship of the land and economic opportunities, this means coming up with a unique approach to crop rotation which is an important part of protecting soil health and growing good potatoes. To maximize the amount of farmland the Wesnofskes have for growing potatoes, and to justify the cost of leasing additional acres while also incorporating crop rotation, John has developed a collaborative strategy with another farmer, Hank Kraszewski, in which they rotate fields between their operations—one year, the Wesnofskes grow potatoes, and the next year the Kraszewskis grows vegetables. This collaboration means that both farmers can rotate their crops to support continued soil health while still maximizing the use of their land.
One parcel that the Wesnofskes and Kraszewskis utilize for their collaboration is leased from Peconic Land Trust, a Farmland for a New Generation New York Regional Navigator that purchases land and uses agricultural conservation easements to protect Long Island farmland from development while making it more affordable to farmers. In early 2020 Peconic Land Trust put out a request for proposals to find a farmer to lease a parcel of land in Bridgehampton. John Wesnofske and Hank Kraszewski both submitted proposals with the intention of sharing the lease on the land and rotating who plants on the field each year, just like they do on other parcels. Peconic Land Trust was impressed by their creativity and adjusted the lease timeline from 5 to 6 years to ensure each farmer had an equal number of growing seasons on the land. John Wesnofske just completed his first season of growing potatoes on this property, and now the land is planted with cover crops and ready for Hank Kraszewski to take over in 2021!
Published in February 2021