Farming the Future: Farm Life on Long Island celebrates the more than three-century old family farmer way of life, examining the challenges of farming in suburbia and exploring solutions that can help farmers remain on the land. The one-hour documentary weaves interviews, historical photographs and contemporary footage to sew a vibrant tapestry of Long Island’s farming legacy from a historical, cultural and economic perspective. Farming the Future: Farm Life on Long Island features Farm Aid President and music legend Willie Nelson, Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, Congressman Tim Bishop, Assemblyman Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper, Long Island Farm Bureau Executive Director Joseph M. Gergela III, local bluegrass band Buddy Merriam & Back Roads, and a cross-section of Suffolk and Nassau counties farm families, including the Halseys, Tuthills, Grossmanns, Schmitts, Fosters, Kennedys, Talmages, and many more. Massapequa native, actor William Baldwin (Backdraft, The Squid and the Whale) narrates.
Although best known as the oldest suburban community in the country, Long Island housed nearly 3,000 farms in 1950. In 2005, only 700 farms remained, but Long Island farms continue to be the most productive in New York State, adding $150 million annually to the economy in the shadows of strip malls, as the region faces looming financial and environmental challenges. According to a 1997 study by American Farmland Trust, “Long Island is one of the top 20 most threatened agricultural regions,” reports Northeast Regional Director Jerry Cosgrove.
The program begins by exploring the history of farming on Long Island, highlighting the various ethnic groups that settled here and forever left their marks, including English, Irish, and Polish families. Viewers gain a sense of life growing up on a farm as the families share their emotional stories - the value system, work ethic and appreciation of nature, as well as the challenges of fighting natural and man-made factors beyond their control, such as weather conditions and real estate development pressures. The program also explores the ways that farmers have adapted to changing times, highlighting niche markets like the wine industry; flower production; direct marketing of produce to New York City restaurants;c including pumpkin picking, corn mazes and music festivals held in the fields; and suburbanite support of local family farms. Farming the Future: Farm Life on Long Island stands not only as a reminder of both the physical and emotional landscapes of our American family farm heritage, but as an educational tool for residents and public officials faced with public policy and land use decisions that will mold the future of Long Island farming, development, and the region’s economic and environmental health.