Who owns Sylvester Manor?
Eben Fiske Ostby, Andrew Fiske’s nephew, is the 14th Lord of the Manor, according to tradition. With the help of his nephew, Bennett Konesni, and with strong community support, Mr. Ostby’s intent is to transfer nearly all of the property to Sylvester Manor Educational Farm. The first transfer will coincide with the purchase of development rights on 25 acres of land, the big field along Manhansett Road. Mr. Ostby’s goal is to preserve both the land and the remarkable history of Sylvester Manor, launching a new era of organic farming on a site that demonstrates over 360 years of the evolution of food and culture in America.
What is Sylvester Manor’s not-for-profit status?
Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, Inc., earned 501(c)(3) public charity status from the IRS on December 27, 2010. We are ready to accept donations big and small. Click here to donate!
Who runs Sylvester Manor?
A Board of Directors was established for Sylvester Manor in 2009. The current board is led by Mr. Ostby and includes his wife, Susan Brady, Shelter Islander Al Kilb Jr., organic farmer Scott Chaskey and land preservationist Sara Gordon (both of Sag Harbor). Since then, the original board has expanded to reflect our recent growth and larger scale of operations.
Now that Sylvester Manor is a non-profit organization, management of operations is shifting from Mr. Konesni to new Executive Director Cara Loriz. As founder and creative director, Bennett will remain actively involved at the Manor, stewarding the long-term vision and directing arts and innovation on the property.
What is Sylvester Manor’s mission and vision?
Displaying more than 400 years of the evolution of food and culture in America, our Mission is to connect diverse communities to Sylvester Manor through the preservation and cultivation of its land, buildings, and stories.
We envision a farm and a world where communities celebrate food, arts, and inventiveness in the everyday with a spirit of fairness and joy.
How much Sylvester Manor land is being preserved?
In 2010, Mr. Ostby preserved 22-acres along Gardiner’s Creek through a conservation easement administered by the Peconic Land Trust. We are in the process of preserving over 80 additional acres of farm and woodlands, through the Town of Shelter Island and Suffolk County’s purchase of development rights program. Together this permanently protects almost half of Manor property, and we are exploring further preservation options.
Where will the money from development rights sales go?
We expect to close on our first development rights purchase this fall and we plan to invest the money to form the core of an endowment that supports the on-going operations of the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm. Our finance committee is currently developing our investment strategy. With the PDR-sales and strong community engagement, Sylvester Manor’s agricultural and preservation programs will be sustainable. As we move forward, we will be seeking new sources of funding to enhance our historical preservation, expand our agricultural activities and develop a variety of cultural programs.
Is Sylvester Manor an organic farm?
Each year our farm signs the Northeast Organic Farmers Association’s “Farmer’s Pledge,” which is a commitment to a broad set of principles that go far beyond the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program by addressing labor issues, community values and marketing. It is a commitment that either certified organic farmers or uncertified organic farmers can make to their customers and neighbors.
We are an uncertified organic farm in that we have not yet become certified but we do not use synthetic chemical sprays. We base our system on building healthy soil, which encourages healthy plants that are disease resistant. We believe that the heart of sustainable agriculture is in the integrity of the farmer and we seek to maintain our integrity by offering an open gate policy, where people are invited to visit us, witness our methods, and ask at any time about our systems and techniques.
To learn more about the NOFA-NY Farmers Pledge and to read our commitment, click here.
Is it true that the Sylvesters owned slaves?
Yes. The Sylvesters were slaveholders from 1653 until the end of slavery in New York in 1827. The first three enslaved people probably arrived with Grizzell Sylvester from Newport upon her marriage to Nathaniel sometime in July of 1653. Others probably came from West Africa through Barbados, where the Sylvesters had two sugar plantations. Highly skilled workers, Africans and African-Americans were indispensable on the farm working as blacksmiths, coopers, horse and livestock trainers, dairymaids and domestics.
Slavery in New England operated differently from that in the South or in the West Indies, where four-season crops, such as sugar, required hundreds of enslaved people. Numbers in New England were fewer — 24 people, including 13 children, comprised Nathaniel and Grizzell’s African work force — and tasks and workload varied from season to season. They worked with Manhansetts and members of other Native tribes, who, as their traditional way of life began to vanish, turned to laboring for rum and trade goods. Nathaniel and Grizzell were the largest slaveholders in New England in their day. Sylvester Manor records documenting Manor History are archived at NYU’s Fales Library.
For more on this topic, look for Kat Hayes new book on manor history, which will be released in the spring of 2013.