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Sustainable Agriculture on the North Fork

8 Hands Farm is changing the local food system

What exactly is “sustainable agriculture”? The official definition: the ability of agriculture to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Well, that’s what 8 Hands Farm owners Tom Geppel and Carol Festa were seeking when they began farming in Peconic in 2009. After having viewed the documentary movie Food, Inc., which highlights the negative impact of industrialized food production in the United States, the married couple decided to try their hands – and with their 2 children they have “8 Hands” – to grow their own food with a focus on changing the local food system. With absolutely no farming experience but a strong desire to make a difference in their North Fork community, Tom and Carol leased a fallow field from Pindar in Peconic, bought some Icelandic sheep, and started their family farm. Later came the heritage chickens and then the Tamworth pigs – a heritage breed from the central region of England and imported to this country in the latter part of the 19th century. According to the Livestock Conservancy website, the Tamworth was bred for forage with strong legs, sound feet and ginger red coats that make the pigs adaptable to a variety of climates as well as protected from sunburn. Sounds like a perfect breed for 8 Hands, which is based on the premise that animals should exist as nature intended: in an environment that is natural to their species and eat what their bodies were developed to process. As the fundamental 8 Hand belief goes, happier animals result in healthier food.

The animals of 8 Hands Farm all serve multiple purposes. Icelandic sheep, which are hardy, docile, and intelligent, are considered a “triple-purpose” breed — renowned for meat production, milk production and fiber. The Tamworth was traditionally considered a “bacon” breed, meaning that they thrive on low-energy foods, producing meat and bacon that is lean and fine-grained. 

More than a decade later, 8 Hands Farm is now located on 28 acres on bucolic Cox Lane in Cutchogue, purchased in concert with the Peconic Land Trust. A renovated and converted 1940s potato barn now serves as a commercial kitchen, farm store and butcher shop. The farm store includes seasonal produce grown according to organic practices on the farm, prepared food, baked goods, dry goods, fleece yarn and knitted items and other products made from sheep. The butcher shop offers pastured eggs, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat, sausages and charcuterie prepared in-house and sourced from the farm. Chicken, pork and beef are available regularly; fresh lamb is seasonal, please call the farm for availability and details. 

The market area also boasts a cafe that serves up breakfast, lunch and coffee. The most recent specialty: homemade custard in flavors that change daily. Replacing the popular on-site food truck will be a series of sandwiches totally sourced from products made or grown on the farm. These sandwiches will highlight the pastured meat produced by the farm and are created by chef spouses Carly and Jonathan Copeland, who many NoFo regulars will recognize as the talent behind the food truck offerings. Sit inside the farm store or take a seat at one of the picnic tables under the umbrellas to enjoy your meal with a view of the 28 acre farm.

Farm tours are offered every weekend and by appointment; check the 8 Hands website for specialty culinary classes.