By Emily J. Weitz
When Frank Trentacoste started Bhumi Farms three seasons ago, he was an empty canvas. He left his Wall Street background behind and fixed his attention to the soil, the seasons, and the earth. From the beginning, every choice he made was with an interest in the wellbeing of the environment and the healthfulness of the food he grew. When given a choice between an organic product and a traditional product, he always chose organic. He used paper mulch instead of plastic, essential oils instead of pesticides, and organic fertilizers instead of chemicals. So receiving the certified organic designation this year, in his fourth season, was more about getting his paperwork in order than anything else. But that is no small feat.
“It’s something I always knew I wanted to do,” said Mr. Trenatacoste. “I didn’t know how long it would take or if it would come to pass, but every choice I made was with that in mind.”
Becoming certified organic is a big deal: the governing body does its due diligence to make sure that anyone touting that label is really practicing what they preach. When Mr. Trentacoste applied to be certified organic, an inspector came to look around at the farm. He checked in the sheds, looked at the fields, examined every product Mr. Trentacoste was using, and asked questions.
“He made sure I was doing what I said I was doing,” said Mr. Trentacoste, “and also that I would be able to do what I said I was going to do.”
Mr. Trentacoste has to keep a log of everything he puts on his land, and he has to be able to explain why. Even organic interventions, like applying rosemary and spearmint oils to a lettuce crop to stave off a beetle infestation, needed to be okayed by the board before he could go ahead and do it.
When he tested his soil for 17 things that plants need to thrive, he discovered the field was low in zinc. This could be due to erosion, or to decades of farming the land, or something else. But Mr. Trentacoste wanted to replenish the zinc in the soil. He found a product that could be applied to the crops, and took pictures of the packaging, sent it in to the governing body that gave him his certification, and wanted for approval.
There are certain actions Mr. Trentacoste needs to take to retain his certification, even if the jury is out on whether they’re the best tactic. One of the voices that resonates with Mr. Trentacoste is Dan Kitteridge, who comes from the Albrecht school of farming.
“Kitteridge is a polarizing figure in the farming world,” said Mr. Trentacoste. “And he says that you don’t have to rotate your crops. But to be certified organic, you have to rotate them, so I do.”
Every year is a learning experience on the farm, and one lesson that Mr. Trentacoste is learning these days is about forgiveness.
“I love that each year the farm gives me another chance to make it better,” said Mr. Trentacoste. “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to exist off the field? To be forgiven and then work to make it better?”
And while becoming certified organic may not have changed the fact that Mr. Trentacoste is still making the earth-friendly, “better” choices every chance he gets, it has made him better in that it’s made him accountable. He has to know what he’s doing so he can justify it to a governing body.
Now that he’s done it, Bhumi Farms is the only place east of Green Thumb in Water Mill to be certified organic. Mr. Trentacoste hopes that fact will encourage people to brave Route 27, even in the summer, to get to his farm stand and to explore his field. He makes his CSA as easy as possible, with offering delivery, convenient pickups, and opportunities to pick you own vegetables. And he believes that families have a place on the farm.
To that end, Bhumi Farms is taking its philosophy beyond organic towards the biodynamic principles of Rudolf Steiner, which take into account the stars, the phases of the moon, and the planets in planting and harvesting. Rudolf Steiner’s teachings also extend to children through Waldorf-style education. That’s why Bhumi Farms will host Our Sons and Daughters summer camp this year, a Waldorf-inspired education program that keeps children outside in the elements in rain and sun.
“Our Sons and Daughters teaches children from an early age that they’re a part of something bigger,” said Mr. Trentacoste. “When you’re on a farm, if you don’t feel you’re a part of something bigger, you have some work to do.”
It’s that connection that makes being certified organic so important. Now the public, and Mr. Trentacoste himself, have assurance that Bhumi Farms isn’t leaching anything unhealthy into our surrounding waters or damaging the soil for future generations. The word Bhumi means earth or soil in Sanskrit. That’s what you now know you’re getting from Bhumi Farms: everything of the earth.
Bhumi Farms is located at 131 Pantigo Road in Amagansett. For more information, visit bhumifarms.com.