For the past five years, the Brennans have run Friendly Farms in East Meadow. Now, their landlord, Nassau County, says the Brennans must vacate the property by year's end.
"We received a phone call from Carl Schroeter on Oct. 18," Danielle Brennan, a lifelong East Meadow resident, said. "We were very surprised and obviously upset."
Once the property was sold, the Brennans began working under a use-and-occupancy permit with the county, which is good for 30 days. This forced the family to operate the business on a month-to-month basis. The Brennans claim that both former owner Phillip Marks and former County Executive Tom Suozzi assured them that they would not be negatively affected.
Calls to Suozzi and Marks were not immediately returned.
The bid for the property was awarded to Cornell Cooperative Extension, which, will use the land for "growing and raising crops, as well as flower gardens," according to the website of Leg. Norma Gonsalves, R-East Meadow.
The property was purchased from Marks in December 2008 by Nassau County for $2.1 million as part of the Environmental Bond Act, which "calls for the preservation of 400 acres of open space." That same month, Gonsalves took a photo on the property with Marks, and posted an announcement on her website that Cornell would be operating in the space.
"This is about a year before the bid went out to us," Brennan said of the photo. "It kind of states that she had intention of kicking us off the land even before making the bid public."
Gonsalves refutes she did not single out Friendly Farms, but she was fulfilling her obligation as a legislator.
"I owed it to the community to let them know that we purchased this property with this Environmental Bond money," Gonsalves said. "And this is what they wanted to see."
Gonsalves says that she tried very hard with the first bond money to get Marks to sell to the county, but he was hesitant because he thought he could get more money.
"His idea was to build anywhere from 30 to 40 one-family homes," Gonsalves said. "I knew the East Meadow community would not be happy with that."
According to Gonsalves, the county had a legal obligation to start the bidding process.
"Once you purchase land and you want to utilize it for farming purposes, you need to go out to bid," Gonsalves said. "Legally, if we didn't go out to bid, we could have been sued."
Nassau County then took the next steps to make sure the property was properly maintained.
"We took a look at this and fairly said we have to put out an RFP (Request for Proposal)," Director of the Department of Real Estate Carl Schroeter said. "Two parties supplied proposals, and it was an unanimous decision to give Cornell Cooperative Extension the property."
Friendly Farms has been a place where people can pick their own organically-grown fruits and vegetables since its inception, and it has also been a place where school field trips were held for educational purposes.
"People are wondering where they are going to go," Brennan said. "We also give over $10,000 every summer to local farms, some of which have specific lots donated to growing crops just for us."
Gonsalves says that there will be plenty of opportunities for those businesses to work with the new tenants of the property.
"There is still the opportunity for small farms to sell produce to Cornell Cooperative Extension," Gonsalves said. "They also intend to work with the schools to educate the kids. Education is one of the main purposes of this property."
Customers reacted upon hearing the news of the Brennans departure.
"It's an outrage," said Carla Wilcox of East Meadow. "I have been shopping at this farm for as long as I can remember, and this is just terrible news."
Other people visit Friendly Farms with kids to enjoy the experience.
"It's a place I can bring my son and pick fresh organic vegetables, walk in the field and pick flowers and just enjoy the fresh air," Sunshine Weddeke of East Meadow said. " I love being able to buy locally grown or grown on site products and help support Long Island's few remaining farmers."
During the process, Brennan said there was a time where a possible joint partnership with Cornell was being discussed.
"Cornell reached out to us during the bidding process and asked if we wanted to partner with them," Brennan said. "We were completely open to that and had a meeting with them, but a couple of days later they called and said they weren't interested."
Cornell did not confirm or deny any possible communications between the two parties.
"As of right now, we have not heard anything official regarding this property," Cornell's Finance Manager Doloris Gelish said. "At this point, we are not able to comment."
Going forward, Cornell must follow the county's explicit instructions for the property. The organization strives to enhance New York communities through partnerships and university-based research in agriculture and food systems, youth and family programs and more.
"We're going to have a farm that looks like a farm and grows like an organic farm," Schroeter said. "We need to look out for the best interests of Nassau County."
The Brennans have started a petition that has more than 1,000 signatures, and are now planning a rally.