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Real Estate Center

Sep 8, 2009 3:09 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The most valuable corn in the world?

Sep 8, 2009 3:09 PM

A couple of weeks ago, the Waldbaum’s grocery store in Southampton Village had corn from Riverhead on sale for 12 cents an ear. That’s a pretty good price, even at the height of the season.

Most farm stands get something like 60 cents an ear. The price seems absurdly low considering the high demand for the sweet, white and yellowish kernels by some of the nation’s most well-heeled and spendthrift vacationers.

But what if someone reported that there are ears of corn out there worth $170 apiece? Would it be worth the high price tag, and would the average consumer even be able to tell the difference? Well, what might be the most expensive ears of corn on the planet are grown right here in the Hamptons.

It’s not that some East End farmer has figured out how to grow an ear of corn so delicious, so sweet, so perfectly crunchy and at the same time perfectly soft, every kernel perfect, that he could charge $170 an ear for it and have Hamptonites lined up at his farm stand. No, actually this uber-valuable corn is just about the opposite. It’s big and dirty, the kernels are dark yellow, rubbery and probably no more sweet than the dirt it grows from. The only East End residents deemed fit to eat this corn, in fact, are a bunch of ducks on death row at a farm on the North Fork.

But this corn grows out of what is probably the most valuable working farm field in the world. Imagine this real estate advertisement: For sale, a 3-acre estate, plus a 12,000-square-foot mansion in the heart of Southampton estate section, walk to ocean, pool, tennis, etc. Imagine the asking price of such a property. Now imagine there were six, seven or even eight such types of properties bundled together on the same big plot of land.

Well, if its owners were so inclined, that is a possibility in the farm field that farmer Hank Kraszewski currently uses to grow about 18 acres of feed corn on a just over 24-acre property right here in Southampton.

Most of the property, about 18.5 acres of it, is owned by financier Damon Mezzacappa, according to town real estate records. The rest is owned by Melinda Hackett, whose relatives owned it for decades before parceling some off for development and selling all but 6 acres to Mr. Mezzacappa in 1997 for $14.5 million.

All told, the property contains a 6.5-acre lot off Halsey Neck Lane connected to a 12-acre lot and two 3-acre lots that front on Coopers Neck Lane. Mr. Mezzacappa owns the two larger lots, Ms. Hackett the two small ones.

These pieces of land are a quarter-mile walk to the ocean. And the roll call of neighbors reads like the first page on the Forbes 400 list.

“It’s in the heart of the estate section, you can walk to the ocean, you’re surrounded by very prestigious addresses—I think a 4-acre lot would bring $10 million to $14 million,” said Jay Flagg, head of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Southampton Village office. Mr. Flagg has the listing on the 4-acre estate lots that just came on the market as part of the Olde Towne subdivision on Wickapogue—the construction of which left Mr. Kraszewski’s corn the last active harvest in Southampton Village.

“There are maybe 15 or so lots in Southampton that are 8 acres or more,” Mr. Flagg said during an interview last week. “I think if they were to do 4-acre lots there, there would definitely be a market for them.”

Mr. Flagg estimated that the 3-acre lots—as undeveloped, raw land—on the property would probably draw $9 million to $10 million each.

According to Southampton Village building inspector Chris Talbot, village zoning would allow the property to essentially be divided into eight 3-acre lots, including the two lots of that size that have already been parceled out. The village’s Planning Board could potentially force a future development to be clustered onto a portion of the property, preserving some of the land as open space, but village zoning codes do not require any such set-asides.

Mr. Kraszewski plants the field with about 26,000 corn plants per acre. That’s 468,000 corn plants, with one ear of corn each, on the 18 tillable acres. If eight building lots fetched the high-end of estimates, the property could be worth $80 million, or the equivalent of $170 an ear of corn.

But Mr. Kraszewski plants just his feed corn, which he sells for a few cents a bushel. He said he used to grow real profit crops on the property, the soil of which is Bridgehampton slit loam—some of the finest growing soil in the Northeast—but traveling to the field from his barns in Water Mill with farm equipment got to be too difficult.

“We used to rotate corn and potatoes up there,” Mr. Kraszewski said. “That field would put out 70, 80 truckloads of potatoes. It got to be such a challenge to get the equipment up there that we stopped. Now we just plant field corn. We plant it one day, cultivate it a few weeks later and then we don’t go back until December or January.”

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