Lyle Wells, an 11th generation Riverhead farmer, grew 70 acres of asparagus on his family farm. Courtesy photo.

The LCW Passion for Agriculture Fund and Long Island Farm Bureau have announced the award of the fund’s first grant to Early Girl Farm in East Moriches.

The $5,000 grant provides the opportunity to install much-needed equipment, Early Girl Farm owner Patty Gentry said. Gentry, a former chef, grows vegetables and serves restaurants across the region.

“It has helped me install a reusable, above-ground irrigation system that has improved my yield considerably. I was also able to purchase a 30-foot by 96-foot cold frame that has allowed me to harvest into the New Year,” Gentry said.

Lyle Wells children, Logan, Jessica and Matthew Wells, present the $5,000 grant check to Early Girl Farm owner Patty Gentry, with L.I. Farm Bureau president Bill Zalakar. Courtesy photo

The LCW Passion for Agriculture Fund was established in 2018 in memory of 11th generation Riverhead farmer Lyle Wells, who died in an accident on his farm on Jan. 25, 2018.

The fund was established by Wells’ children, Jessica, Matthew and Logan to promote innovation in agriculture and to support new and evolving farmers.

“When we lost our dad, we knew memories of him would not be lost easily but the support this fund has received is a very concrete reminder of the value of his work in championing farmers on Long Island and we are so grateful for that,” his children said in a statement. “When we were thinking of what to call the fund, someone said, ‘it was just his passion’ and that was it — Passion for Agriculture.”

The fund solicited applications for the grant last winter.

“Always one to get ahead of the curve, [Wells] was constantly searching for ways to push the envelope with new crops to the area, farming techniques, or innovative distribution networks,” the fund said in a statement announcing the availability of the grant last February.

“We are excited to see Early Girl Farm making innovative changes to their production methods with these grant funds,” the Wells family said. “There were many exciting applications submitted and we are so pleased that this fund is making a difference.”

Gentry said Wells was a friend.

“I loved visiting him at his farm,” she said. “We would talk about all the new things he was trying…iris, 8 ball squash, more asparagus! We would commiserate and share a laugh about the challenges of being a farmer,” Gentry recalled.

“I was deeply moved that I was chosen for this grant.”

Long Island Farm Bureau president Bill Zalakar recalled Wells’ passion for agriculture.

“Lyle was always looking for a new crop to grow or a new technique to implement on the farm,” Zalakar said.

“He also understood that farmers needed the ability to change and grow and not be overly restricted from regulations,” he said. “His involvement in Long Island Farm Bureau, the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, New York Farm Bureau, and so many other organizations and committees showed his passion for supporting agriculture and farmers alike.”

Wells had a long record of service to the agricultural community and the Town of Riverhead. He had served on the Riverhead Town Planning Board, was chairman of the town’s Agricultural Advisory Committee and a member of the town’s Farmland Select Committee. He was a member of the board of directors of Farm Credit, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and Long Island Farm Bureau, which he served as president 1990-1992. He also served on the board of the New York Farm Bureau.

The LCW Passion for Agriculture Fund is planning a June 2020 fundraiser, the group said.

“In association with the Long Island Farm Bureau, we look forward to honoring his legacy and continuing these causes,” the Wells family said.

Applications for the 2020 award are currently being accepted, deadline for applications is March 31. For more information and to receive an application email Lyle C. Wells Passion for Agriculture.

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Denise Civiletti
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