By Carrie Doyle Karasyov | August 1, 2014 | Lifestyle
As the owners of the Serene Green farmstand in Sag Harbor, John and Laura Smith are keeping community and family roots alive.
The Smith family: Skye, Aven, John, Laura, and Serene.
“This is about so much more than just us,” explains John Smith on a sun-soaked day outside his buzzing farmstand Serene Green, located on a busy corner of Noyac Road in Sag Harbor. “We’re just a piece of it. It’s about farmers. It’s about filling a void in the community. We need this. We’re trying to restore the past.”
There was something preordained in John Smith’s journey to opening Serene Green with his wife, Laura, in 2009. His family traces their East End roots back to the late 1600s, and there were generations of farmers on his mother’s side of the family. John has warm recollections of his maternal grandfather picking potatoes by hand from their fields when he was growing up in East Hampton and Sag Harbor.
The Serene Green farmstand has brought life back to a little corner of Sag Harbor.
“As a child, I ate like a king in the middle of winter because my family would freeze everything,” John says. “I’d have frozen peaches over ice cream, fresh eggs, and meat. We always ate well.” In high school, he worked every summer at the well-known Sag Harbor farmstand called The Other Stand, whose ultimate sale to developers was heartbreaking for the local community. When John was 24, he leased a field in Bridgehampton for two summers, borrowed a tractor, and sold everything from flowers to strawberries. Decades later, in 2007, as he worked building houses with his uncle, John became involved in the eco-farm in East Hampton, which reignited his love of agriculture and his desire to work the land full-time.
Fresh blueberries are among the produce sold at Serene Green.
“When we bought this place, it was overrun and neglected. It had been a vibrant farmstand in the ’70s, but it was overgrown,” describes Laura Smith, a petite brunette from Wading River, whose background is in graphic design. “John saw what it could be and we brought it back; we are restoring it to what it was.”
“Restoration” is a popular theme with the Smiths, who have made a true commitment to give back to the community they love. “I got into this for one reason,” says John. “I believe in supporting local agriculture. I remember what it was like when there were more farms than houses. It’s very hard to have success out here; it’s beyond challenging with labor costs, property taxes, fertilizer costs.” Laura adds, “It’s back-breaking work.”
Fresh asparagus at the farmstand.
They named the farmstand after their oldest daughter, Serene (the couple also has a son, Aven, and another daughter, Skye). The stand, which was a former cottage, offers a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers from local generational farmers. In addition, regional dairies such as Mecox provide cheeses, Peter Ambrose Catering offers a wide array of dips, and local fisherman are the source of the mussels, clams, fluke, and tilefish, among other seafood, that fill the stand’s coolers. Serene Green is open from Memorial Day through Christmas (it sells Christmas trees during the holiday season), and the couple is in contract to buy land Upstate for a bison farm to provide fresh meat.
When asked what drives them, John tells the story of a customer named Ken, one of the first people to shop at the stand, who eventually was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. “One day I was in the field and I was told someone wanted to say hello to me. I went over and it was Ken in the car. His wife and best friend had taken him out for one of his last drives. At this point, he could hardly move—only his thumb—but he could talk. I could barely hear him. And he said, ‘I just want to thank you for bringing life back to this corner,’” says John, who is now planting a tree in Ken’s honor. “I don’t know why it’s so profound to me, but it validated everything we are working for. We’re workers here. This is about community, the land, and the sea. It’s about a family trying to make it in the Hamptons.” 3980 Noyac Road, Sag Harbor, 334-6311
photography by eric striffler