Phil Schmitt’s family has farmed at locations across Long Island for the past 150 years—from Queens to Farmingdale to Riverhead. Today, Schmitt Family Farm produces leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, as well as beets, cabbage and even horseradish that are sold to grocery stores and restaurants, as well as direct to the public at their farm stand.
Making it all come together takes a family effort. As part of the farm’s 25-person staff, Phil works alongside his wife Debbie, their two sons, his father and brother-in-law.
For Phil and his family, the health of their soil is critical to the success of the farm. The conservation practices at Schmitt Family Farm are as diverse as the menu of food produced.
“We practice very intensive agriculture,” explains Phil. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.” To regenerate the farm’s soils, Phil utilizes cover crops such as rye, employs Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technique to reduce his use of pesticides, and spreads compost to lessen the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Several years ago, Phil began growing sweet corn, which he found as a good rotation crop to integrate into the farm’s planting cycle to improve the health of the soil. He invested in new planting equipment to reduce soil disturbance and leave more plant material in the ground. He uses this technique for both his sweet corn and his sunflower crops. The additional debris that remains due to reduced tillage decreases the runoff of water and of vital nutrients from the soil.
“You can really see the difference in the soil,” Phil explains. “It comes up nice and fluffy and lush.” Phil also uses controlled release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn to further reduce the likelihood of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound and other area waterways.
With each new conservation investment, Schmitt Family Farm is investing in the family, too. “It is a business and we have to make a living to be able to keep farming,” explains Debbie, whose son Matthew works full-time on the farm.
In this video, Phil Schmitt discusses some of the conservation practices that are used on the farm.
STEWARDSHIP IN ACTION
ACRES IN FARMING:
About 200, equivalent to 100 New York City blocks
Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach), beets, herbs, sweet corn, flowers
Cover Crops, Reduced Tillage, Soil Health Testing, Controlled Release Nitrogen Fertilizer, Integrated Pest Management, Crop Rotations, Composting
“I really think [reduce till] has helped a lot with soil quality. And in the long run, I think it will save some time and money, too.” – Phil Schmitt