Spring has sprung and so has the free family fun at the farm
By Amy Nicole Tangel
When Kaylyn Reynolds began her career, she was following her passion in nursing, but after a layoff in the dermatology industry in 2008 she decided to search for what she really wanted to do in life. In a grand twist-of-fate she was led to a sheep farm in Ireland.
The rest was history. The first time she ever worked on a farm, she said, was when she knew she wanted to do this for the rest of her life. It just so happened, her first time, was during lambing season, where she was thrown in to help birth hundreds and hundreds of baby lambs. But that was the way farm life was in Ireland, she said explaining that she had to figure it all out on her own.
Through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Kaylyn worked on various farms beginning in Ireland and eventually traveling to England, Greece and Croatia. Bringing everything she learned about farming in Europe back to her roots on Long Island, Kaylyn found a new home in 2013 at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center, a Cornell Cooperative Extension in Yaphank.
Ten years later, she continues her mission as Operations Coordinator working to bring more visitors to the free farm to educate the community about animals, crops, and how we are all connected in the circle of life.
“It sounds so simple, but there’s so many other farms that are so commercialized and we are free,” Kaylyn said.
The Lindenhurst native said it still astonishes her after 10 years working at the farm how there are still so many people in Suffolk County that do not even know about the farm, let alone what it has to offer. Knowing this, she has been diligently working to build onsite and off-site programing. Still to this day, Kaylyn said approximately 90 percent of the staff who come in and interview did not previously know the farm existed.
The Suffolk County Farm has 200 acres of farmland filled with barn animals and crops. The center is a vibrant and thriving sustainable environment open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. free of charge. Visitors can tour the facility exploring the sheep, goats, pigs, llamas, chickens, cows, ducks, rabbits, horses, ponies and so much more. Most of the animals onsite are educational animals Kaylyn said, and their main purpose is for field-trips and outings.
“Our mission is education and providing our community with a place,” she said.
At any given time, Kaylyn said the farm is home to anywhere between 100-150 animals. Currently, in the spring season the farm hands are birthing goats and sheep so the number does fluctuate. Goats, sheep, chickens and piglets are the only animals they breed for education.
Part of the education is a chicken embryology program to provide eggs to schools so children can learn and hatch the chicken in their classroom. Chickens called “Layers” come to the farm every year to lay eggs which are sent directly to the schools. This program is overseen by the farm’s Animal Science Educator Katharine Perz, and every year as an organization they run a “Raising Backyard Chickens” program to get information out to the community and provide resources to people before they go out and buy chickens for their own backyard.
With the current egg shortage as a result of the influenza outbreak amongst chickens, Kaylyn said they are working to do their part on the farm to educate the public and be as safe as possible with practices such as washing eggs at a certain temperature and not allowing children on school visits or at the farm to pet the chickens anymore.
“We are trying to be super cautious about our flock and telling people to keep their flocks to themselves,” she said.
The crops division is overseen by Environmental Science Coordinator Sarah Titmus and in addition to growing crops, Kaylyn said the program includes an IGHL house on property where the residents participate in activities such as maintaining a greenhouse, planting onsite and grow poinsettias to give to Suffolk County Offices for the holiday season.
The farm also offers a Master Gardener Program through Cornell Cooperative Extension which maintains a children’s garden and herb garden onsite. A variety of crops grow in the field on site including, pumpkins for the fall, hay for the animals and corn for the cattle.
“Anything we grow here is for something to be used onsite,” Kaylyn said.
While anyone can come walk around the farm for free, for a fee the education center offers programs for kids such as a nature-based preschool and a farm summer camp. Other nature-fun features include, a nature classroom, play areas, play animals, and Kaylyn said it’s quite simple to get the children involved: “You just have to sign up!”
Medford resident and mom, Eileen Higgins has been bringing her son and daughter to the farm for years. Eileen said not only does Suffolk County Farm have a lot of programs for a variety of ages, but appreciates the importance of how farms teach us so much.
“I have attended a field trip with my son’s class, and it was so much fun. My daughter attends their summer camp, and she gets to learn a lot about animals and farm life while making friends and having fun. Without farms we would not be able to sustain life,” she said of her family’s love for the local farm.
One of the obstacles in getting the word out about the farm and having it stick is all the different names people associate with it, which becomes confusing, Kaylyn said. In addition to the seeming confusion with the name is the misconception of some local people that the Suffolk County Farm is where inmates work.
While the farm is a county facility with a long history of collaborating with many county organizations including the Sheriff’s Office, there has not been any inmates working on the farm since 2020 due to Covid, but the bad wrap is unwarranted because the public is not educated on what they do on site.
Previous to the pandemic, Kaylyn said, inmates would come to the site and participate in several programs such as woodworking, landscaping and butcher programs to name a few that would let them leave their incarceration with a certificate. The inmates from the Yaphank facility who did participate in programs were there for short periods of time and “nonviolent criminals,” Kaylyn assured. Within the decade Kaylyn has been at the farm, and in over 30 years for other coworkers, she said there was not a single incident.
“It is a great collaboration that has helped the farm’s very short staff and limited budget throughout the years while it also helped the inmates get some skills to procure new jobs once they are done serving their time,” she said.
As for the farm’s most popular annual event, “Baby Animal Day” is coming up on Saturday, May 13. According to Kaylyn, people love it because it’s the one day at the farm you are allowed to go in the pen with the animals. They are also host to a widely attended pumpkin festival every fall. They also try to do four major events a year as well as monthly events with growing community involvement.
Patchogue resident and local business owner of Tashana’s Kitchen, Tashana Small has attended multiple events at the farm with her gourmet Mac-n-Cheese cupcakes and she will be returning this May for “Baby Animal Day.” Tashana attends local events regularly throughout the year with her food, and she said every time she has worked an event at the farm the turnout has been very good for business.
“I have had a great experience with Kaylyn, her staff and the Suffolk County Farm. I would do an event there anytime they ask me,” Tashana said.
The summer Food Truck & Wine Festival has also grown in popularity. Two years ago, the county granted the organization four alcohol events a year working with local breweries, wineries and distilleries.
At the end of the day, people simply visiting the farm is Kaylyn’s goal. Information on upcoming events, programs, and resources can be found on the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center website at: Cornell Cooperative Extension | Suffolk County Farm (ccesuffolk.org)
For Vendor opportunity inquiries, contact Kaylyn Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Kaylyn Reynolds