Three Minutes Across the Counter With Bob and Jean Benner

A chat with the owners of East Setauket's legendary Benner's Farm.

"Three Minutes Across the Counter" is a new feature on Patch in which we chat with local business owners. If you would like to be featured, email ryan@patch.com with the name of your business. 

We start today with Bob and Jean Benner, the owners of Benner's Farm in East Setauket.

Benner's Farm is a private 15-acre family homestead, first farmed in the 1700s. Each year the farm provides thousands of people a sense of what it was like to live on a small farm in years past.

The Benners are the seventh family to farm the land. They have been farming organically since the late 1970s in their family garden and fields of strawberries, and also raise a variety of farm animals for self-sufficient living. Thousands of people come to visit and participate in the many workshops, festivals and special events during the year.

Patch: How did you get your first start in business?

Bob and Jean: In 1977 we bought a small, historic, and completely overgrown farm in East Setauket. We needed to make enough money through the farm to offset our expenses. We cleared the brush and trees, turned over the new fields and planted strawberries. We made enough to pay the taxes and were in business.

Patch: How did your parents influence you as a business owner?

Bob and Jean: Jean’s dad retired as the president of a metallurgical company having started in the mail room. We learned persistence from his experience. Bob’s dad was treasurer for a railroad & was instrumental in computerizing that company and six others in the 50s. We learned innovation from him.

Patch: How long have you lived here?

Bob and Jean: We have lived on our farm for 37 years. Bob has been on the Island since 1968. Jean was born in Brooklyn and lived here ever since. 

Patch: What's a business mistake you've made that later you were glad you did?

Bob and Jean: One Easter we offered each visitor the chance to dye an egg. After the first 300 folks showed up we were trying to turn visitors away. By the end of the day 1,000 people came and dyed eggs. There were no eggs left in our local supermarkets. We learned to be prepared for the unexpected!

Patch: Tell us something about yourself that most of your neighbors don't know.

Bob and Jean: When we started out on the farm we were a family of six and were dirt poor. We had dirt but no money, (we lived on less than $4,000 for the year, after taxes, insurance and mortgage for the first three years!) We learned much from that experience.

Patch: What's the best business advice you've ever received?

Bob and Jean: Don’t overextend.

Patch: What advice would you give to a small business owner just starting out?

Bob and Jean: To make a goal and then to think through many ways to achieve that goal. Take the time to chose your path, then follow it. If unexpected choices arise think through the positives and negatives and alter the path.

Patch: What do you look for when you hire?

Bob and Jean: We look for a person that is friendly, great with people and animals, energetic, good character, integrity, and have patience. 

Pamela Fowler February 21, 2014 at 08:06 AM
The phrase; "salt-of-the-earth" springs to mind. Exemplars of the American Dream through hard, probably back-breaking work. Thank you for your uplifting story!
Vilhelm February 21, 2014 at 09:07 AM
They truly are terrific people and the farm is a wonderful part of three village. I hope it always stays as is and never becomes condos or retail space or some other detriment to the neighborhood. Keep up the great work Benners!
Theodore Paul Penske February 21, 2014 at 09:38 AM
Thank you for this article. I spent several years taking my children to programs and learned so mic from the Benner's. I was even lucky enough to have worked for a summer with them. Great family! Best of luck for the Spring!
Susan February 21, 2014 at 09:53 AM
I remember fondly the birthday parties I had for my kids at the farm when they were little, and wonderful summer programs for little ones.


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