Widgets Magazine

Meet Jennifer Murray, Renaissance Woman: Fencing Master, Farmer, Falconer

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.