After a year working with the Southold Town Planning Board, Ed Harbes said he’s ready for a busy 2012 fall harvest with a better parking / traffic flow plan at all three of his agritainment sites on the North Fork.
Harbes, founder of the Harbes farm stand complexes in Mattituck and Jamesport and a 12th generation of Harbes to farm on the North Fork, has implemented measures such as placement of fencing, directional signage, the creation of new grass parking areas, and staff to direct drivers to those parking lots in order to alleviate roadside parking and minimize haphazard pedestrian road crossing — a situation that caused traffic jams and potentially dangerous public safety issues during last year’s harvest.
Traffic control is a concern especially at the Sound Avenue complex in Mattituck, where Harbes agritainment activities take place on both sides of the narrow road — one of two main corridors into and out of the North Fork. Harbes has several “no parking” and directional signs to interior parking lots in place and has moved a wooden fence at Patty’s Berries on the south side of the road closer to the roadside, which has created a more organized section for parking.
A pedestrian crossing corridor is also well-marked and will have a Harbes staffer in place for the next four weekends to direct pedestrian traffic during pumpkin-picking and harvest mania of late September and the duration of October.
“We’re trying to do everything within our power as business owners to make it better — we can’t change traffic regulations such as speed limits and such, but we have a lot of signage in place and are funneling people where we feel it’s safest,” Harbes told Patch during a tour of all three agritainment sites Tuesday afternoon. “And we will work hard this season to make people aware that alternative parking area exists away from the street.”
Early on, the Harbes family tried to make a go at potato and cabbage farming to little financial yield. Throughout the 1980s, the Harbes transitioned into retail farming, adding sweet corn, tomatoes and other types of produce to their repertoire.
In 2003, they planted five acres of chardonnay and merlot grapes. Today, the Mattituck family farm stand and wine tasting room crowds during the warmer months, with people seeking fresh fruits and vegetables, outdoor games, hay rides and other farm-related activities for their children, and samples of Harbes' wines.
Two years ago, Harbes converted a production patch of sweet corn into an apple orchard further west on Sound Avenue in Jamesport. That site boomed with business earlier this month during its first-annual Apple Festival, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Boy Scouts of Suffolk County Council. The orchard is a high trellis orchard — the apples hang from tree branches like grapes on a vine, making it easy pickings for children and adults.
“As far as I know, we are the only North Fork farmers using the trellis orchard system,” Harbes said. “There is an inordinate amount of consumer interest in apples, and if people can find a closer alternative than traveling upstate and save some gas money, that’s what they will do these days.”
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Just this year, Harbes has opened yet another U-pick pumpkin patch just to the west of the Mattituck site — again, with plenty of parking — making a total of four Harbes pumpkin locations for this season.
Harbes said that for years, he’s been well aware of the mass appeal his business has and the problems — such as traffic flow — that can come with great success.
“I saw attention build for this type of thing 20 years ago, and that’s why we opened in Jamesport, and now we have the orchard and another U-pick — this is not only to ease the pressure off of the Mattituck site but to keep things exciting for people,” he said. “The busy season is really only four weekends in the fall, and you want to provide as many different activities for people as possible.”
The Jamesport Harbes location on Route 25 also has a completely different feel this year — it’s now branded as the “Harbes Western Farm,” with a definite Wild West theme and a new wine tasting room. Harbes converted an old ice cream shack that used to belong to J&R Steakhouse in Calverton for the tasting room.
“We are trying hard this year to differentiate each location this year, trying to give each a different appeal,” said Barbara Sheryll, marketing manager for Harbes. “Because it can get confusing for people coming out here.”
Sheryll said that the Mattituck location sees a lot of people from New York City and Nassau County, and Harbes Western Farm seems more appealing to those traveling from the South Fork — “We’re right around the corner from 105,” she said.
Harbes employs 40-plus people during the busy season he’s about to enter into and continues to be one of the most recongnisable names in business on the North Fork.
“I’ve seem tourism and traffic increase on the North Fork, little by little, over the past 30 years, and people might become aggravated over the next four weekends, but the fact is — everyone wants what we have, especially during the fall,” Harbes said. “And the fact that we haven’t had major development here, that we are able to keep our farm and maintain this quality of life on the North Fork — that’s wonderful too.
"I just want people to know that we’re really trying for a solution to accommodate the fall traffic," he continued. "It might not be the complete solution, but if you’re the one out there mowing those grass parking lots every week, you’ll know we’re serious about it.”
Harbes added that the pedestrian crossing on Sound Avenue is similar to the crossing at Soundview Restaurant in Greenport, and that with the addition of another U-pick pumpkin patch on the north side of Sound Avenue in Mattituck, he hopes to keep most traffic —vehicular and pedestrian — on one side of the street this fall.
Be sure to check out our photo tour of Harbes locations, and let us know in the boxes below what you think of the plans to improve traffic flow during harvest this year.