Push is on to preserve and farm historic property

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A group of historic preservationists and local food advocates hope to preserve the 19th century Sherrill farmhouse near the intersection of North Main Street and Springs-Fireplace Road and use it as a hub for teaching about the past and the future of farming in East Hampton.

The rambling Greek revival farmhouse at 2 Springs-Fireplace Road was built in 1803 using materials from an older house that had been built on the site in 1760. The three acres that the house stands on, and 17 acres of preserved farmland behind it—sold off and now a horse farm—are the remains of a former dairy long known as the Sherrill Farm.

Jon Foster, an architect whose mother was a Sherrill, put the property on the market last year. Now he’s seriously considering a proposal from East Hampton Historical Society director Richard Barons and restaurateur Bryan Futerman, who owns the Water Mill restaurant Foody’s, that the house be turned into a historical exhibit and center for teaching children how to farm.

The trick is coming up with the $1.3 million Mr. Foster wants for the property. Mr. Futerman, who lives in Springs and is one of the people behind the Seedlings Project, a greenhouse and working garden at the Springs School, planned to pitch the use of the Sherrill Farm to the Seedlings Project’s directors this week.

“It’s really quite a lofty goal for us in Springs right now, but it’s good to have goals,” said Mr. Futerman, as he met with Mr. Foster this week at the farm. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s centrally located.”

“This would be a spot to have a learning center. The idea would be to have resident farmers and a culinary camp–these are dreams,” he said. “We’re looking to hire a farm manager at the Springs School. We need places for people to live, too. It would be an amazing thing, but the money is a big issue.”

“The house could be used for interns,” said Mr. Foster. “The parlor rooms could be used as an East Hampton farming exhibit … It’s an expanding set of concepts,” he said. “This would be ideal. It’s within walking distance from the high school, the middle school. This could be an educational laboratory. It hasn’t been farmed since 1960, so you could go direct to organic farming.”

Though Mr. Foster said that several people have shown interest in the house, he’s excited enough about the project that he’s contacted East Hampton Town and the Peconic Land Trust in the hopes of working out an arrangement to allow the community to become the steward of his land.

He said that, for the idea to fly, town officials had urged him to build community support for the project.

“The family has contacted us. What we do from here is uncertain,” said East Hampton Town Land Acquisition Director Scott Wilson. “The property certainly has historical significance, but we can’t buy them all. There is pressure on the town right now not to buy historical structures.”

Mr. Wilson said that, while the property isn’t high on the town’s priority list, he expects that there will be more discussions as Mr. Foster plans to present the preservation project to the Town Board.

Mr. Futerman said that he’d first heard of the property from Richard Barons, who is one of his regular customers. The house is in a historic district and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“These are dreams, really,” he said. “I’m getting more and more involved with the East End food system. This was a healthy agrarian community. Small farmers took care of the land … They’re preserving a lot of land, but there are very few people who know how to farm the land.”

Mr. Futerman said that he believed both the East End and the entire country have reached a tipping point in increased support for local food initiatives. He pointed to First Lady Michelle Obama’s plan for vegetable gardens at the Department of Agriculture and at the White House, and cited “edible schoolyard” garden projects—in Springs, Bridgehampton and at the Hayground School—as indications that the local food movement’s time has come. In addition, he said, food could be grown at the school both for local food pantries and for children who are otherwise going hungry because their parents can’t find work.

“There are a lot of resources in this area. This could be a focal point,” he said. “There are people in this community who care about these issues. This is a food savvy and food centric community.”

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