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Round Swamp Farm is on the Map

Originally Posted: May 10, 2007

Nancy Hyden Woodward

The family behind the farm - Carolyn Snyder, Shelly Schaffer (with her son Nick), Lisa Niggle, and Claire Olszewski.

It is Wednesday morning, just after 11. The CLOSED sign strung across the double doors of the Round Swamp Farm market is bearable only because a posted green sign at the foot of the pebbled driveway heralds opening day is May 4, two days hence.

Today is the 5th, a little after three in the afternoon. The driveway is lined with parked cars. Left and right of the market, a large wagon and a large anchor symbolize the National Bicentennial Farm's heritage, nine generations and counting of farmers and fishermen.

When Carolyn Lester Snyder inherited the farm from her father Albert Lester in 1968, she vowed to put it on the map. Little did she know at the time, how large a task that would be.

Where to start? The portals to the market (an amalgam of joined farm structures including chicken coop and single car garage) give way to a welcoming ambiance that embraces you, new and returning customer alike, the moment you step inside. There is winter news to share, family news to exchange, new dishes to consider along with last year's favorites (from whole wheat linguine with mushroom meat sauce to chicken with mango salsa).

Baskets of all sizes hang from the beams above but none of them are for sale. Carolyn Lester Snyder has collected them for years. Two steps to the right is your choice of fresh fish and catch of the day. Straight ahead, tempting cakes, cookies, breads, and muffins and a counter banked with tiers of farm-labeled pickles, relishes, rings, and apple sauce.

Around the corner on the left, racks of fresh made pies; just beyond, fresh meat and vegetable dishes straight from the kitchen. Near by, the air-conditioned "cooler" keeps vegetables and fruits sparkling fresh and is known to have offered shoppers a brief respite on a very, very hot day.

The Lester/Snyder family's innate generosity of spirit was a very strong pull for a surprising number of Manhattan customers who made Round Swamp Farm their first stop when they fled the trauma of 9/11 for their second home. In addition to offering food, the 10-acre farm on Three Miler Harbor Road became a momentary sanctuary for them, a reminder that, good times and bad, it shelters the roots of the town and this country.

And is there any doubt why Carolyn and her family made new friends and customers across the country after Martha Stewart featured Round Swamp Farm on her TV program? Not by long distance call, email or overnight delivery. They arrived in person, drawn as much by their American heritage as by the inspiring force and vitality of the Lester/Snyder family.

How far back did tall, red-haired Carolyn's dream begin? It began on a summer Sunday when she was a child. Other Sunday afternoons after church and lunch, her father would take Carolyn and her brother Albie on car rides through Springs. There wasn't a lot of traffic in those days and her father had to look at everything.

"Well, his eyes were going and so was the car going, back and forth, and Albie and I were getting car sick," said Carolyn. "When summer came and there were vegetables in the back like oversized cucumbers that we could sell, we wanted to stay home." And they did, selling home grown vegetables, strawberries that she picked at Skip Lester's Amagansett farm. "My father would drop me off in the morning and I would pick all day. I think I met Harold there one summer."

The kitchen table from her grandmother's Round Swamp Farm house next door doubled as Carolyn's farm stand. After Mrs. Lester died, Carolyn and her fisherman husband Harold Snyder moved into the farm house and her father built a stand that she could roll out in the morning and retrieve from under the horse chestnut tree at closing.

"That seemed to be a success and the day that my father died of cancer in 1968, I said, 'I'm going to put Round Swamp on the map'.' I was just determined to make Round Swamp what it is today."

In the autumn, Carolyn and Harold scalloped until December when she would take a job with the Town until mid-February before going to work in the Halseys' Water Mill greenhouse.

Harold the fisherman was more comfortable on the water than he was on a tractor, but every spring he became a farmer long enough to ready the fields for early planting that could tolerate cold weather. When the frost was gone, Carolyn, her sister Claire, and daughter Lisa planted every tomato and lettuce plant and every seed by hand until David Talmage brought over the old Talmage seed planter.

"I loved planting, getting up in the morning with the mist over the field," Carolyn said. "And to see something sprout that you planted days or weeks earlier. How can you not be excited?"

There were moments when Carolyn's enthusiasm strained teenager Lisa's good humor. She remembers being out the night before and awaken to her mother calling, "Rise and shine. It's string bean picking time."

When Claire turned 16, Carolyn and Harold bought her a used blue Volkswagen Beetle that came in handy when Harold was the beach with his truck and they needed to pick corn to sell. One of them slowly drove the Beetle and after the corn was picked and bagged and loaded on the roof and fenders, they inched their way up the hill.

Like mother, like daughter: As a teenager, Lisa helped at the farm stand but she began fussing the kitchen when she was a child, making a mess as she and friends baked chocolate chip cookies. Does Lisa follow tried and true recipes, her own or, those of others? Never.

"I don't write anything down," Lisa said, laughing. "I think I will remember but I forget."

Claire said Lisa inherited her love of cooking from her paternal grandmother. It is evident in the varied main course and side dishes that she creates and, in the pies and her signature cookies that disappear soon after they are put out. Lisa's Whole White Chunk Pistachio Cookies debuted this year.

Another bakery favorite is Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread by Carolyn's sister, Dianna Catozzi while Carolyn's young daughter Shelly's specialties are lemonade and iced tea and the new roasted tomato soup. "And don't forget Charlie's arugula," Carolyn added.

On major summer weekends, Lisa opens the kitchen door at 3 a.m. and does not leave until late at night. After all, there are vegetables and fruit to be picked for tomorrow. In full-blown summer, Carolyn Lisa, and Claire put in 90-hour weeks.

Lest anyone doubt the breadth of love and affection exhibited for Carolyn and her family after Harold died, five large scrapbooks of condolence letters do not hold all of them.

And what of the farm's future?

"Just as I swore I would put Round Swamp Farm on the map," Carolyn answered, "I am determined to see it continue for the next generation."

Photos by Kim Covell

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