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Honoring The Farms’ Homegrown KK Haspel

KK Haspel, at The Farm
It was last week while reading Lindsay Morris’s Instagram notice that I first learned the surprising and sad
news that KK Haspel had died.
KK was the quintessential Mother Nature archetype and her
legion of devoted fans included chefs, bakers, the sustainable, organic and
biodynamic growers, edible schoolyard growers and students, farm-to-table
enthusiasts, parents, backyard gardeners, cooks.  And me. 
KK is a featured grower in my book: The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown
.  And Lindsay is the over the top
photographer who contributed those luscious, food narrative images to the book.
As fans of the Homegrown Cookbook know, I asked each
locavore chef, “Who inspires you most?” and then wrote a profile of the chef
and the grower or maker who’s delicious ingredients ignited a culinary
creation.  From oyster growers to
vintners to honey makers to tomato growers, the bounty of Long Island fostered
a growing culinary renaissance.
Truth was, KK was selected by more than one chef as
It’s no wonder.
Just interviewing her was kinetic.  Her passion and energy nearly sparked the
handset.  Words, descriptions, organic
practices, and successes that transformed her life came tumbling out like
molten lava bent on changing the landscape. 
I almost couldn’t take notes fast enough.
At one point while explaining how she douses with her
plants, she paused, saying, “You must think I’m a little nuts, talking to my
As a gardener and confirmed plant person, I thought she was
joking. Silence. When I could sense a reply was needed on the table, I
recovered and reassured her, “You are preaching to the choir!  I am in complete simpatico: I understand and
We continued.
But here’s the thing – KK did so much more than “just talk”
to her plants.  She had a full-on frontal
relationship with them. 

While on the Homegrown
photo shoot at The Farm with Lindsay, KK, chef Robby Beaver from
the Frisky Oyster, and KK’s husband, Ira, we were all enthralled by KK and her exuberance
and garden power – and elegance. She was in her element. She was fairly
waltzing with the plants: barefoot!

Lindsay Morris in boots, captures KK barefoot! 
KK not only walked her raised beds magic garden with us she
also showed us her labyrinth-like maze where we watched her walk her
fascinating and somewhat mystical creation. 
Lindsay & KK walk the maze
KK bookended by me (L) and Lindsay 
I love this image of the three of us in Shadow Art
I wanted the Homegrown
images to suggest the special and enduring relationship a chef
has with his or her grower and in addition, the grower’s relationship to the
land or the sea from where they harvest. 
Of course Lindsay captured all that horticultural, culinary
respect – and more. 

This photo is just about my favorite one showing that mutual respect – I’ve used it often in news stories: 

Separate from the work for the book, on more than one
occasion that afternoon, I watched Ira as he basked in his wife’s beauty,
spirit, and ability to almost cast a spell on all of us. 
Ira & KK Haspel with their homegrown edible

I couldn’t but say, “You are so lucky. She’s so incredible
and beautiful” Without taking his eyes from KK, he said, “I know.”
So I had to ask, “How’d you meet?” 
He went on to describe how he was bewitched by her beauty
and charm the first time he laid eyes on her.
But he said she was a bit too young for him at that time, so
with patience and devotion, he waited for her to grow up…
She may have clicked off pages on a calendar but clearly
she’d kept that child-like curiosity and unbridled enthusiasm.
It too was an enduring love affair all those married years
later as one could easily see just watching Ira watching KK.
All that magic and mystery was only enhanced as she later
demonstrated her dousing prowess with what looked like two sorcerer’s wands.
Then, some real hocus-pocus was evident when she showed us a
photo of her using the ancient art of dowsing her plants.  It was abundantly clear to see a rainbow of color effect that was readily visible in the image. It revealed the plant’s communication energies, telling her where and when to plant. “This is not altered or retouched,” KK exclaimed. 

Now we could see her “Technicolor vision,” too.

After we concluded the photo shoot on that warm, late June
afternoon – we all sat under the big tree in she and Ira’s backyard, drinking
her homemade Kombucha.
Heaven on earth. 

The only way I could think to pay some tribute to this
extraordinary woman is to tell her story. 
Below is the draft of KK’s profile before it was edited down
to fit into the Homegrown Long Island
I hope you enjoy reading it. 
And I hope you can carry on the good gardening and farming practices KK
espoused and demonstrated. 
KK Haspel
KK’s “The Farm” draft
from The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook
KK or Kathy Keller was destined to be a biodynamic
She gushes giddy enthusiam recalling when she and her
architect husband advanced the long driveway to what is now The Farm.  

They had been looking for more than a year for a getaway, second home on
the North Fork.  All they wanted was a
barn, a hammock, and no phone.  But
nothing they’d seen until then met the expectations of the couple.
Like an impassioned lover, she couldn’t see the optics as
they were: sagging, abandoned barns leaning back towards their 1700’s heyday
and abandoned fallow fields. 
KK had what she refers to as her “Technicolor Vision.” She
“saw” zinnias and sunflowers and wildflowers. 
Before she could hatch a plan to convince her husband about the Wizard
of Oz-like color transformation magic of this place, she heard Ira telling the
real estate agent, “We’ll take it.” 
It wouldn’t be the last time KK heard unexpected
There was no mistaking the immediate, kinetic connection to
the land: like a mother to a child, KK couldn’t wait to plant on their 5-acre
The flowers were indeed inspired. Following local tradition
for the bounty of the harvest, she put out the “extras” on a stand at the end
of the driveway.  

People loved her flowers and extra vegetables. “They’d tell
me –those were great vegetables — how about some more. “  At the same time, she was getting more
seduced by the need for organics and soon enrolled in a two-day intensive
organic course in West Hampton at  “The
Nature Lyceum.  “The class changed my life.”
She learned about organics and biodynamics – the first step on the way to the Zen
of farming.
KK’s plants paid her back in spades.  The cosmic soil responded.  

According to KK, biodynamics can transform
and restore the planet. “Every day, people used to eat some of their own soil –
it was the natural probiotic.” KK points out.” 
The unspoken implication is it should be the healthiest soil available.
She says biodynamics can grow inches of topsoil in a few years, helps the
produce last longer by two to three weeks and imbues the food with more
nutrition. The microbiotics in the soil make for a unique and powerful food
source. Everything at the Farm is grown in 50 -70 tons of biodynamic
compost–all in raised beds.  KK is very
intense with her planting.  

KK also does a lot of dowsing. She talks to her plants.  They talk back. 
“The plants tell me what they need.  They know what their purpose is – they want
to give you the best food and seeds,” explains KK.  “Biodynamics helps mediate that
The Homegrown photo shoot stars

KK has a devoted chef following.
Chef Gerry Hayden, James Beard nominee, co-owner and
executive chef of nearby The North Fork Table
& Inn
restaurant, was the first to put KK’s name on the menu, which in
turn, further attracted a loyal food-worshiping cohort.
Emblamatic of KK’s Relationship to chefs is that of Robby
Beaver, The Frisky Oyster. Robby first
visited KK because it was near his father in law.   “The chefs are true artists,” says KK
explaining their sensual connection to food and farm.  “They see color and texture; experience
taste. Chef Robby frequents the farm tasting this and that, drawing his
inspiration walking the field together with KK. 
She says she learns what creative chefs like Robby and Gerry like and
what they can use and then plants it.
KK likes to grow what’s easy; standards like garlic and
tomatoes. She also likes growing “new” things. Like okra and collard
greens.  But to KK, the new things are a
little like going home. In fact, she took to growing them, as she wanted to
grow some things from her mother’s native area: New Orleans.  Her parents met when her father was quartered
at her mother’s boarding house during WW II. After the war, the couple moved north
where she grew up with her two brothers in Oak Beach in Rockville Center. 
KK recalled she started working with the area’s homegrown
chefs when the North Fork Table’s Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming were opening
up.  KK fondly remembers a food moment
when chef Claudia presented she and Ira with one of her James Beard
award-winning desserts, saying, “Let me show you what we can do with your stuff.” A memorable blackberry tart was forthcoming. “They waited on us on hand and foot!”
The Farm grows everything from seeds. KK saves her seeds,
almost admonishing, “They become your own seeds.” She lovingly described her garlic. It’s been
nourished by KK, taking in nature’s energy, acclimating and accommodating its own special
KK, along with Ira were soon managing half a dozen interns
at various times in a season.  They gave
workshops and talked about the importance of biodynamic farming and eating

KK was a force of nature and will be truly missed in this
world.  She was only 63 and cancer was
the kidnapper. KK died October 4, 2014.
I can’t help shake the feeling that like the true garden
sprite as was revealed to us, she is really Mother Nature herself – a
beautiful, nourishing soul who visited with us awhile in order to teach us and help
renew our commitment to sustainability, respect for the environment, and taste. 
As noted at The Farms: Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants =
Healthy People.
Bless you, KK. It was an honor to know you.  I’m forever grateful that The
Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook
can pay homage to your
indomitable spirit.


Link over to Lindsay’s “musical maze” tribute to KK at Edible
East End


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