Q&A with Kerber’s Farm Nick Voulgaris III

Q&A with Kerber’s Farm Nick Voulgaris III
February 18, 2016 pwip

Located in Huntington, New York, Kerber’s Farm is bursting with fresh produce, homemade goods, and nostalgic charm. The farm, originally founded in 1941 by Paul Kerber, recently underwent a complete renovation thanks to new owner Nick Voulgaris III. Voulgaris often visited as a small child and wanted to embrace its history while updating it into a fully operating farm. Here, Nick talks about connecting to the earth, and bringing Kerber’s Farm into the future while honoring its past.

What are some of your favorite childhood memories of the farm?

I used to visit often as a child with my parents to buy fresh turkeys and chicken. It always had this nostalgic feel; like it was in a time capsule. Kerber’s one of the first places that my mom would let me drive to alone once I got my learner’s permit…so I was always eager to go up there for her. I always liked tractors, and cooking, so I could easily get lost in amazement at a place like Kerber’s Farm.

How did you manage to maintain the farm’s original practices, feel, and charm during the renovation? What was the process like?

The farm was long abandoned when I bought it, and in fact there were plans to develop it into condominiums. The first order of business was to restore the retail store, as well as the vegetable garden.

For the store and farm stand renovation, I wanted to maintain the historic charm of the property, so I used salvaged materials from NYC’s Chelsea Hotel and the White Horse Tavern. I also obtained 150 year old “old-stock” beams from designer Steven Gambrel’s West Village townhouse.

Out in the garden, I returned to organic practices for the vegetable garden, and also brought in organic chickens and several honey bee hives. We now have a mini eco-system where the bees pollinate the garden, the vegetables we grow are used in the kitchen and to feed the chickens, and the eggs the chickens produce are used in our kitchen for baking.

How has your connection to the earth and it’s food changed throughout your involvement with Kerber’s Farm?

I am super concerned about the quality of the world’s food supply and the threats that we are currently facing. Through the purchase and restoration of Kerber’s, I have become very interested in the honey bee, and have committed time and resources to not only becoming a bee farmer, but also studying the decline and threat to this insect. Its widely known that the demise of the bee population can be catastrophic to the food chain.

Can you tell us what a working farm looks like today? An average day on the farm?

My farm doesn’t have a lot of land (two acres), so I have to be very creative in maximizing its output to be profitable. We grow a multitude of items including vegetables, fruits, and flowers in the summer; as well as raise chickens and honey bees. We also manufacture jams and preserves and other items right in our own kitchen. Having a retail store is very helpful, because that is a natural draw for a customer base and they are able to see what we are doing with the farm. Fortunately the farm has eight buildings on the property so there is a lot of room to grow into other farming operations.

An average day for me starts in NYC’s West Village where I live and a short sixty minute commute on the L.I.R.R. out to Huntington where the farm is located. The excitement and anticipation builds quite a bit while on the train, as there are so many things I want to do each day at the farm. Once I arrive I usually do a quick tour of the property as I have a few barn restorations underway, and I like to check the progress. Next I check on the bees and chickens before heading into the store. I like to spend some time with the staff in the front of the store about the days plans, and then head into the commercial kitchen to see what is in production. Typically there are hundreds of pies, scones, cookies, and other treats being made daily.

Are there any exciting developments happening that benefit small, local farms? Or, conversely, specific challenges you face as a result of big farming and technology?

Today’s consumer is very concerned with who is growing their food and where it comes from. This movement is ever expanding and certainly here to stay. This of course benefits a small, local operation such as Kerber’s Farm. People want food that is local, natural and coming from reputable sources. The demand has been very strong, especially for unique proprietary products. An example of this is we can do a honey harvest and produce 100 8-ounce jars of our honey and put it out on the shelves on a Monday, and they are all gone two days later.