For Love of the Land -Fall 2013

by: Kimberly Nolan

photography by: Mark Ranney & Nicole Harnishfeger

Baseball hat pulled down. Ray-Bans on. Collar up. STEVE SLOSEK shields himself from the sun, and the public. He is often found in the fields of MOORS END FARM, cultivating the 17 acres with his Kubota tractor. Steve is one of the four family pillars that run the farm in addition to a five-person crew.

“It would’ve killed me to see this place developed.” Steve Slosek
“Look at what people do when they retire. They poke around their little garden,” Slosek said. “Well, I’ve got a big garden. It’s not the cost of a man’s toys. It’s the size of his sandbox.”

In a place where real estate is at a premium, the Sloseks opted against development when selling the farm to the Nantucket Islands Land Bank in 2001. The Land Bank purchased 13 acres outright and protected an additional 2.5 acres through a farm easement, Land Bank executive director Eric Savetsky said. The purchase price was $3,625,000, of which the Land Bank paid $3,025,000 and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation $600,000 for an agricultural preservation restriction.

“We leased it back to the family for $1 per year,” Savetsky said. “Steve and Sue have life rights to farm the property, as do their children. We’re happy to maintain a scenic place that yields a sustainable production of food.”

Maintaining an agricultural tradition has long been a thread in the Slosek family. Steve’s father was a dairy farmer in Attleboro, Mass. and moved the family to continue farming on Nantucket when Steve was 10 years old.

“Once it’s sold, the value of that land is gone. It would’ve killed me to see this place developed,” Slosek said.

Nantucket farmers know the relentless wind of a long spring followed by eight fleeting weeks of summer. Despite the adversity of island farming, a passion for agriculture has infected the next generation of Sloseks. Sam Slosek manages the fields alongside his father, while his sister Abby runs the farm stand and the nursery with the help of their mother Sue.

“Sue is the spine – the liaison between the nursery, the public and the rest of the business,” said employee Kristin Powers. “She is queen of the lilies.”

Abby decided to return to the farm after graduating from Tufts University. Sam worked a stint at a desk job after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before returning to the farm. Their decisions were made independently without any pressure from their parents, they said.

“I really do love it,” Sam said. “Well, most of the time I love it,” he added with a chuckle. "It’s a good way to bring up a family and the work is gratifying. Nantucket is a small community, and we are a fixture in the community. That’s part of what drives me to provide the best produce possible.”

The Sloseks' sense of community begins with their family. They live and work closely together.

“Even our kids help out in the farm stand,” Abby said. “They help sell things, they pick with us and feed the pigs and chickens. They are fixtures here. Our family all works together. We all know what we need to do and we do it. No one is really the boss.”

According to Sue, the business has seen an upswing in the past five years as customers expressed more interest in local, fresh food. What once began as a roadside wheelbarrow, offering extra tomatoes for sale, has evolved into a busy farm stand. Three years ago they
began a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in response to the growing interest in locallygrown food.

The CSA model of farming allows farmers to receive up-front payment in exchange for a weekly share – an assortment of in-season vegetables. Typically, CSA members pay in the winter, allowing the farmer to cover the cost of seeds and other needed supplies come springtime. Moors End currently has 26 CSA members. The farm business is mostly comprised of the nursery, which sells to landscapers and home-gardeners, the farm stand and the CSA program.

As cars pull in off Polpis Road, customers seem to know exactly where to get the perfect complement to dinner: a bouquet of lilies, sorrel for a new codfish recipe and the perennial favorite: sweet September corn.

The farm stand generates a sense of timelessness, where days are marked by the harvest. The Slosek family and farm staff know the toil and ardor that are required for a successful season. Aside from three generations of Sloseks, Kenny Ogletree works in the nursery, Powers is in the farm stand for her second season and Zoe Reich-Aviles is the farm's 2013 Sustainable Nantucket intern.

“They are tireless, cheerful workers,” Sam said, speaking of field workers Lloyd Gunzell and Evan Lawrence. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Most of the staff live on-site, alternating days off. As is the case with any farm, there is work to be done seven days a week. Long workdays are not new to Steve, whose father was a dairy farmer.

“You’ll never get rich but never go hungry on a farm,” he said, echoing the words of his father.

Farming is a combination of science dancing with nature. Crop-rotation and soil amendments help increase a healthy yield. While Moors End Farm is not certified organic, Steve and Sam control the pest and disease load using integrated pestmanagement methods.

“(Integrated pest-management) is knowing the pest, knowing the economic threshold and using the least-toxic method as a solution,” Steve said.

As any farmer will attest, there is always something to be weeded, something to be harvested or something broken that needs to be fixed. They don’t have days off until long after the Hunter’s Moon has risen over soon-to-be-fallow fields.

But at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings, the to-do list comes to a halt. Steve sounds his bugle from the steps of his house. Family and staff lay down their hoes and hand-tools, leave their posts, pile into the Slosek kitchen and all sit down together for their traditional pancake breakfast.

Moors End Farm
40 Polpis Road

Kimberly Nolan is a freelance writer living on Nantucket.

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