A great "Hamptons Traditions" story.
Photo by T.J. Clemente
A few years back I went and spent a day with "Tate King" of North Sea Farms, one of the legends of the East End. His story is so American I am sharing it again for this Father's Day weekend.
For well over 60 years, Richard “Tate” King has tended to his , on 1060 Noyac Road in North Sea. The story of North Sea Farm with its farm stand is a story of a post-Depression family starting with nothing but grit, determination and an opportunity. Richard “Tate” King’s father, Stanley King, was given the opportunity to work the 27 acres of a farm owned by the Swank family of Southampton in 1941. With one cow and some pigs, Tate King’s father was paid $10 a week to work the farm. His workforce was his four boys and wife.
Tate remembers, “At first we were just one step up from being a share cropper. But in 1943 we rented the place for $60.00 a month, growing lima beans, cucumbers, pickles and so forth ... We had a few cows, chicken and some eggs. We had no equipment, everything was done by hand.”
The fact is that even before then Tate milked cows for Mr. Kiah when his was 17, milking, bottling and delivering the milk all by hand.
In 1943, Tate and two other of his Southampton buddies were drafted off to war in the Army. He served in the Pacific and was one of the first U.S. troops to enter Tokyo. While winding up his 21 months of active duty he received a letter from his dad requesting first advice, then a commitment should the family buy the 27 acres for $12,500. In the reply to that letter Tate King made a commitment that has shaped his life. He instructed his dad in a letter from the Philippines to, “Go for it.”
With a $1,000 up front loan from the Swanks, Stanley King became eligible for a Farm Credit Loan. When still short of the money needed, Mr. Swank himself floated a note to make up the difference. When he got back home from the service, Tate used the Army money he had saved up to build a barn. Then in 1948 the Kings bought some dairy cows from the Kiahs to go into the dairy business using the Swank Dairy for distribution. That started a 27-year roller coaster ride of being in the dairy business.
Around 1952, Richard “Tate” King met Millicent, the woman who was to be his wife, or as he recalls so fondly, “The greatest thing ever to happen to me.” He credits Southampton minister John Felmeth, who also was a former U.S. Marine captain, for putting him on the right path for the rest of his life including encouraging him to marry “Millie.”
The 59-year marriage has blessed the Kings with four children, Richard, Kathleen (), Karen and Kevin.
Many times Tate King stressed that the income that Millie brought in as a registered nurse was vital to the farm and his families success. At the time of his wedding, Tate’s dad split the farm into three shares. Tate, his brother Stanley Jr. and his dad.
In 1957, after his dad’s untimely death at 57 years old, a young lawyer named Emil DePetris stepped in and sorted things out. Tate King credits Mr. DePetris for organizing and laying down the foundation of what was to be the long-term success of working the farm, saying in fact, “He is the reason why I am still here today.”
The final piece to the story is when due to market conditions Mr. King ended his dairy business in 1975 and took the advice of good friend Ray Halsey to create an official “farm stand.” Up to then there was a sort of unofficial business going on selling some eggs, chickens, milk and other farm products.
Listening to Ray, “was the best business thing I ever did,” beamed Tate.
The secret of the success of the North Sea Farm food stand might be the fact that Tate decided not to have it right on but just off Noyac Road in a sort of spacious parking circle with chicken barns, store and farmhouse surrounding you. When you go inside the farm stand store you are greeted by the warmth and friendliness of genuine farm folks. It was in that very room that an 11-year-old Kathleen King first sold her first chocolate chip cookie as proud parents looked on. But now the farm stand that has fresh vegetables, eggs, fresh chicken, turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or as Tate said, “a little bit of everything,” is visited by so many.
The tradition of stopping at the North Sea Farm seems to be ritual for those in the know. Recently, Tate, now in his 80s, has arranged for his son Richard, a local farmer also, to keep the farm running into the future when he no longer can. “The land is worth millions of dollars,” he said proudly gazing out the kitchen window, “but its true worth is much more to me as my home.”
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