A return to living off the earth has become ever more common in the Hamptons—now by women looking to change their lifestyles.
“It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle!” says Carissa Waechter, “a hobby, a work of art, a passion.” She could be speaking about drawing or writing; however, after 10 years spent in the pastry departments of chefs David Burke and Daniel Boulud, Waechter is embracing the full life of a baker. Now available at farmstands throughout the East End, Carissa’s Breads taste like no other: chewy but tender, sour but not acidic, and madly addictive.
Waechter, 35, joins the ranks of many young women who are turning down other opportunities elsewhere to dedicate themselves to the sublime land of the East End. “I moved to the area the year Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett started growing wheat for the first time in many years,” she says. “Now we mill it ourselves.” Later on, when she dreamed up a new honey-oat bread, she brainstormed with farmer Pete Ludlow from Mecox Bay Dairy about which oat to use, and then he agreed to cultivate it. “I needed a farmer’s viewpoint,” Waechter says. For the honey, she turned to local beekeeper Mary Woltz.
There is no typical day for Waechter, who bakes at the South Fork Kitchens, a locale provided to food entrepreneurs by the Amagansett Food Institute. “I mix the dough. I scale, I weigh, I roll,” she says, “then I work on the computer, and then from my bed.”
A few miles away in Bridgehampton, Meredith Ludlow, 30, came home to her family’s Fairview Farm after majoring in psychology in college. “I love the variety of the work; I love being outside,” she says.
Ludlow takes care of the chickens, which roam quasi-freely a few steps from Mecox Bay, and also the ducks and pigs. While her forebears, like many others in the area, grew potatoes on a large scale, her family now focuses on the farmstand business. “My parents, my brother, and I all work together, and there are no strictly defined boundaries,” Ludlow says. On any given day, she might be planting seeds, frying potato chips, or baking her famously delicious pies. “The best part of my job,” she says, “is eating what we grow.”
Sylvia Channing, 22, a master farmer for Slow Food East End, believes growing edible gardens in schools can also serve other purposes. “There are so many ways to meld what happens in a garden into the school curriculum,” Channing says. “Learning what grows best where and why, learning to be patient, what resources are needed, and even how to get them [can all be taught].”
Before she took on this educational challenge, Channing, a graduate of Oberlin College, considered a career in acting, but, she says, “I realized it was a full-time commitment, and I couldn’t leave the farm to run to an audition!”
Obviously, she doesn’t mind being completely committed to teaching children about gardening and farming. Her goal is to help them apply lessons learned in the classroom to a patch of earth. “A garden is a learning lab,” she says. “Ideally, each school should have a state-funded garden.” She also wishes every school could have a gardener on site, but even without that luxury, a school garden is “a won derful entry point to farming.”
In their own way, all three of these women work the land they call home. “But we are a rarefied bunch. Fewer than 5 percent of principal farm operators in the United States are under the age of 35,” says Channing, adding, “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.”