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Hamptons Life

Sep 21, 2016 2:39 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Bhumi Farms Is Finding Its Niche

Farmer Frank Trentacoste, right, speaking with longtime customer Brent Riyales. ALEXANDRA TALTY
Sep 25, 2016 11:36 AM

Wearing a gray baseball cap and with tight denim jeans tucked into his work boots, Frank Trentacoste bikes up to Bhumi Farms in East Hampton, ringing his bell hello. It is a hectic Friday morning for the farmer, but Mr. Trentacoste isn’t concerned with that. He is worried about a few deer that he thinks are trapped inside his field opposite the stand.

We cross Pantigo Road and Mr. Trentacoste, or “Farmer Frank” as some call him, begins walking the length of his modest plot, pulling out weeds as he goes. He began leasing this land last fall and let the field lay fallow, in order to build up soil nutrients. Although he hasn’t planted anything yet, he has disced—or broken up the overturned soil—six times in an effort to deplete the seed bank of invasive weeds.

A big believer in the importance of soil health, Mr. Trentacoste tests his fields for 17 types of minerals. Although it is standard to test for three macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—he believes the additional information results in a better tasting and more nutritious vegetable.

And it seems his customers agree. “People say, ‘Oh, that’s what food is supposed to take like,’” says Mr. Trentacoste.

Named for the Hindu goddess of the earth, Bhumi Farms operates on 18 acres, all of which are leased, which means there is no long-term guarantee that Mr. Trentacoste, who is 43, will be farming these same fields in 20 years, despite his stewardship.

“I think it’s almost impossible to own land out here, based on the economics of farming,” he says. Given his interest in soil rejuvenation, the lack of reasonably priced land for new farmers is “hard to reconcile,” he says.

But Mr. Trentacoste, a former financier, did not decide to become a farmer because it was easy. When he founded Bhumi Farms in 2013, his mission was to make fresh, organic vegetables more accessible, something that he is doubling down on this winter.

In the upcoming off-season, Mr.Trentacoste plans to launch a nonprofit that would make his organic vegetables more affordable to those who are currently priced out of quality produce. Integral to this plan is an educational component that will teach vegetable preparation and cooking techniques. “I wanted to make sure we were an efficient farm, first,” he said to explain why he didn’t launch with a nonprofit component initially. “Now, I’m pretty confident that we are getting the most out of every dollar.”

His idealistic mission carries over to daily practices as well. Mr. Trentacoste, who has one of the few certified organic farms on the East End, holds himself to a higher standard than the United States Department of Agriculture regulations, which allows even organic farmers to use plastic as a mulch.

Instead of using plastic, which can be damaging to the environment, he covers his plants with certified organic paper mulch, which he estimates is 10 times more expensive.

“It costs me thousands to cover this field in paper versus hundreds,” he says. But the proof is in the produce.

“People say our greens taste awesome,” says Mr. Trentacoste. “They each have their own distinctive taste,”

As a new small farm, it was difficult for Bhumi to find its place in East Hampton’s agricultural market.

“I couldn’t compete with Amber Waves and Quail Hill on price because they were nonprofits. I couldn’t compete with Balsam on wholesale because they are big,” Mr. Trentacoste says. “That’s the landscape I entered into as a new farmer.”

Luckily, Mr. Trentacoste brought his business acumen to agriculture, launching a model that is different from other small farms in the East Hampton area.

Pushed to find his niche, Mr. Trentacoste looked at East End farms and quickly realized that most of their customers leave after Labor Day. He decided to follow the clients, launching a home-delivery, customizable, community supported agriculture program, or CSA, that brings fresh produce to clients’ doors in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

This “white glove” service gives each member 10 shares, which they can then allocate to different vegetables depending on what is available that week and what they plan to cook. This can be especially helpful for families, who might need at least five portions of spinach, for example, to prepare a meal. Members can also choose to add extras like fruit or eggs, for an additional cost.

This customization is only possible thanks to a high level of organization. On Sunday or Monday night, the farm sends out an email to members about the week’s vegetables. Then, on Tuesday, Mr. Trentacoste’s team picks and packs the boxes, to be home delivered on Wednesday by Farmer Frank himself. Although the work can be difficult, it means that the customers’ produce is less than 24 hours old when it arrives.

This year, Bhumi Farms tried to cap its CSA at 50 shares in order to ensure quality, but ended up opening it up three more times, as customers kept asking to be added.

“I don’t want to deny anyone,” Mr. Trentacoste explains. Just then, a regular customer walks up to the yellow farm stand and he excuses himself to say hello and catch up.

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