Q: When did you start fencing? A: At age 12. I'd walk up to the high school from middle school. I picked up the sport quickly, and within a couple of years the high school coach told me she couldn’t teach me anything else, so I had to go to NYC to train.
I trained with the Hungarian fencing master Miklos Bartha, who coached Olympians. I won a national championship in foil and was ranked fourth in the country with points. I trained for the Olympics and got a full scholarship to college.
Q: Did you compete in the Olympics?
A: No, I got distracted and stopped training for the Olympics. I later returned to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to get certified as a national level coach. I went back to coach my high school team. We won a championship title.
Students at East End Fencing Academy
I got my masters in education and became a teacher, but eventually left teaching to open my own fencing school—Island Fencing Academy. My coach then was Yury Gelman, who coaches the U.S. Men’s sabre team, and I started going up in the rankings in saber. The business became too big, as were my own coaching demands, so I had to stop competing.
Q: But your Southold fencing school is East End Fencing Academy, not Island Fencing Academy—did you just rename it?
A: No, I sold Island Fencing Academy, and became a farmer. That’s what got me out to the North Fork.
Q: Wait, what? You became a farmer? Why?
A: Well, I couldn’t coach, because as part of the sales deal I had to sign a non-compete agreement.
Also, I think as a new mom, I was suddenly very concerned about food—about feeding my son. But to be honest, if you asked me my answer would probably be different next week.
I’ll tell you what I really liked about it—it was grounding, rewarding. I’m nature girl, I like being outside. I was a naturalist, an environmental educator, a wildlife rehabilitator. I had already been growing vegetables at home, and raising chickens. I also felt a social responsibility to do it—we need people to go back to small scale, sustainable farming. Farming for nature, how to live in cohesion with the land, take of it.
Land had nurtured me, I wanted to nurture it back.
So I became a poultry, sheep, pig, and vegetable farmer. It’s amazing what livestock does to the land, they really heal the land and bring it back.
Photo credit: Niko Krommydas
Q: Still, even with that outdoor/eco background, it’s quite a switch from fencer to farmer.
A: Funny thing, I was a suburban girl all the way growing up in Huntington, but in high school I took an aptitude test for career guidance, and it told me to be a poultry farmer or ceramics artist. At the time I thought it was ridiculous, what, couldn’t I be a scientist? But sure enough I became a farmer. I was the first pastured poultry producer in Long Island—I adapted what I learned in Vermont.
Q: When did you get to the North Fork? Are you still farming here?
A: I moved out three years ago Thanksgiving. The move itself was a big enough deal that I scaled back my farm to just poultry--Jen’s Hens. That is, my farm is Turtleback Farm, and Jen’s Hens is part of it. I plan to expand the farm again.
I’ve also opened a new fencing school—the non-compete’s over—East End Fencing Academy.
Q: A fencing school, a poultry farm, being a mom—you must not have any time for hobbies.
A: Actually I have two. I have this bird thing; my passion is birds. I just got my falconry license.
My other hobby, which I’m passionate about, is oyster farming. I fell in love with the bay. But that’s not commercial at all. Yet. Someday I’ll add oysters to Turtleback Farm.
Q: Wow. Falconry and oysters too. So, about that fencing academy—who can take classes?
A: Everyone. I offer classes for all ages on both forks, equipment provided, private lessons also. I’ll do birthday parties too.
My fencing school is open—it’s been a rolling start--but we’re having a Grand Opening on December 10th, Saturday. From 2-4 pm is for children, and 6-8 is for adults. There will be demonstrations, food, Q& A.
Q: Fencing isn’t just one thing, right? You mentioned foil and sabre before. What do you teach?
A: I teach all three weapons—Sabre, foil and epee. The weapons are different, the target areas are different, the rules are different. The simplistic differences: Foil and epee are point weapons, and foil and saber are right-of-way weapons.
France made fencing a sport to stop the murderous dueling, and the original weapon was epee, and foil was the practice weapon for epee. Sabre derived from cavalry and horseback, so it is a cutting weapon, not a point weapon.
Q: Do you have a favorite weapon?
A: Sabre is my personal favorite because it is so fast paced, you really have to think quickly on your feet.