By Dave Seel, Long Island Food Correspondent
“We’ve always been organic and never use pesticides. My grandfather was talking about it back in the 50s even before it was popular,” said Michael Makinajian as he gestured towards an article written about his grandfather, Joseph, in 1964 for the Suffolk Farming Times. “We’ve just always been committed to doing things naturally.”
Situated just south of Huntington, NY, Makinajian Poultry Farm is the definition of family farming and is one of few farms remaining this far west on Long Island. “When I was younger my grandfather would drive around and point out different properties. He’d say, ‘This was a lettuce farm, that was a potato farm,’ now, it’s all houses,” Michael reminisced.
I’d heard about the small farm from friends and from seeing it listed on several Long Island menus as a source for their vegetables and eggs. I’m always on the lookout for organic local food, and Makinajian Poultry Farms seemed like the perfect place to get it.
On roughly four acres of land, the Makinajian family has been growing produce and raising chickens for almost 64 years. Joseph Makinajian, Michael’s grandfather, began farming the property in 1948 after emigrating from Armenia and living in Queens. “My grandfather just had farming in him. He had a victory garden and kept bees on his rooftop in Queens. My father still has his mail-order course on beekeeping from Cornell. It’s just what he liked to do,” Michael said.
To support the family farm, Joseph also worked as a projectionist in the city. “He’d feed the chickens and other animals, then hop on the train to work, then he’d come back and work on the farm again.”
Today, Michael and his sisters, Tina and Vicky, all have a hand in the farm. Michael and Tina are common faces on the farm and Vicky bakes all the farm’s certified organic breads, cookies and pies.
Just off Cuba Hill Road, their large white family house sits adjacent to the old garage, which has been converted into the farm’s store, a large parking lot, and a barn.
Chickens are found in nearly all the nooks and crannies of the property, but a large pen next to the parking lot holds most of them, along with several sheep and goats. Out behind the buildings, a large field, stretches to the back of the property, segregated into different plots for their vast harvest of produce..
The small store is stocked full of their own vegetables and herbs, as well as other organic goods and produce. “We fill in what we can’t provide for our customers. Some of our produce comes from far places like California, but we try to get as much as we can locally,” said Michael.
Along with their own produce, the store stocks local Jericho Apple Cider, local honey from Melville, and other goods from “upstate.” And then there are the chickens.
The Makinajians are known for their chickens and eggs, having sold poultry since the 1950s. Although they still harvest their eggs from the property, they’ve outsourced the raising of the actual chickens to free range farms in the Hudson Valley. But they still roast the chickens on premise and as the holiday season begins, they even bring in a goose or two. Need some chicken livers for a local homemade paté? Look no further than Makinajian Farms. Their fridge takes me back to the classic Julia Childs chicken episode, “Miss Broiler, Miss Fryer, Miss Roaster.” They have them all.
All kinds of produce are also seasonally harvested from the Makinajian’s farm. “Right now, we’re still harvesting beets, carrots, arugula, dandelion greens, peppers, collards, tomatillos, hot peppers, herbs…” and the list goes on — and that’s in November. All local and certified organic, if you ever eaten at any of Nino Antuzzi’s restaurants, such as Red or Sapsucker’s in Huntington, you’ve probably tasted the Makinajian’s produce. “We appreciate all of our customers, from local restaurants to the folks that we’ve grown up with. We’re really lucky to have such loyal customers.”
It’s clear that the local community appreciates them too. As I spoke with Michael in the store, many folks stopped by to pick up roasted chickens, produce, or the odd gallon of organic milk. Before I left, I too couldn’t help but grab a bunch of fresh dandelion greens, a jug of Jericho cider, and some frozen purple raspberries from the summer harvest.
Every year, Michael attends the annual New York Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Conference and connects with other organic farmers. “[Organic farming] is really growing out here, out east and in the city. There’s a bunch of people in the city creating rooftop farms and doing really cool things. These people are really smart, intelligent folks who really care about growing good food. They really inspire me.”
The Makinajians are just such people and their commitment to providing good organic food through three generations is inspiring to all of us. In a world dominated by large supermarkets and processed foods, it’s nice to know there are still small family run farms where you can say hi, talk about each other’s kids, and pick up a beautifully roasted chicken.