Thirty years ago, the Fosters’ biggest business was exporting potatoes to Puerto Rico, and they sent out five 50,000-pound trailers a day, five days a week. This year, the Fosters have shipped only three trailer loads since the start of the harvest in mid-September.

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NEW YORK — “The earth is gold to farm,” said Dean Foster, who learned before he was in kindergarten how to drive a tractor on his family’s potato farm in Sagaponack, N.Y. As a child, he never questioned going into the family business, which has been growing potatoes on the East End of Long Island for generations. “But now we have an influx of people who realize this earth is gold to build on.”

In 2015, Sagaponack, a village in the Hamptons, was listed by Forbes as the second most expensive ZIP code in the country. Not great news for the humble potato farmer.

If they had been looking to sell, the Fosters would have been set for life; local brokers estimated the value of their 150 acres at more than $100 million this past summer. That may seem like a gold strike, but it would have required the Fosters to give up the family’s legacy.

“Our land values have gone through the roof,” Dean Foster’s sister, Marilee Foster, said. “And most of our adult lives, we’ve worried.”

The answer to their problems, unexpectedly, has turned out to be vodka.

“The New York Craft Act really kicked me in the pants,” Dean Foster said, referring to the law signed in late 2014 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that eased regulations on small-batch craft-beverage producers. It was a call to the hipsters who had been making bathtub gin, but it was also a call to farmers who had been searching for a way to survive.

“It opened the doors to one of the best value-added products you could bring forward,” Dean Foster said, “and allowed us to step up the game.” He is betting the farm on Sagaponacka, the vodka produced in his new Sagaponack Farm Distillery.

Thirty years ago, the Fosters’ biggest business was exporting potatoes to Puerto Rico, and they sent out five 50,000-pound trailers a day, five days a week. This year, the Fosters have shipped only three trailer loads since the start of the harvest in mid-September.

“That market really disappeared with NAFTA,” Dean Foster said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1994. “That was the beginning of the end for exports.”

The local market has been no kinder. Last year, the Fosters were getting 11 cents, at most, for a pound of potatoes, down from an average 22 cents a pound in 2009.

Add to that the rising minimum wage, the cost of machinery and an impending inheritance tax, and the farmers felt doomed.

“The inheritance tax reflects on our net worth regarding this very expensive land we reside on,” Dean Foster said. “After all is said and done, we’ll have given away 60 percent of our net worth to the government.”

Even though the New York Agricultural Districts Law, enacted in 1971, eased the strain of the property tax on the farmer, the Fosters won’t have the cash to pay the inheritance tax when the farm changes hands. A potato farmer’s income doesn’t line up with Sagaponack prices; if they don’t find a way to make their land more profitable, they will have to sell it.

So Dean Foster decided to shift his focus from the plate to the martini glass by developing a small-batch premium vodka made with Foster potatoes. He collaborated with Matt Beamer, who has stood at the forefront of the craft-beer movement in Utah, brewing at companies such as Uinta Brewing and Wasatch Brewery. In 1997, Beamer began Park City Brewery, which was subsequently purchased by Moab Brewery and has continued to grow.

“Craft brewers changed the beer world in the last 30 years,” Beamer said. “And a lot of people like me are getting into spirits now.”

For Beamer, the appeal of the project is the story behind the vodka, which is usually made from grain and doesn’t often have ingredients that distinguish one batch from another. “The ingredients are unique to here, and have their own terroir,” he said. “We’re trying to capture Sagaponack.”

To be a farm distillery in New York, 75 percent of the ingredients used must be sourced within the state. Brooklyn has become a frontier for budding distillers, where nine of New York City’s 13 farm distilleries have appeared since 2010.

Kings County Distillery, established in 2010, has the distinction of being the first distillery in the city since prohibition. Now the movement is booming.

The Fosters and their Sagaponack potatoes are a little bit late to the party. “There’s a new-brand fatigue,” said Colin Spoelman, co-founder of Kings County Distillery and a master distiller. “It’s harder to get on the shelf unless there’s something really compelling, something very different than what everyone else is doing.”

Sagaponack Farm Distillery has something that others do not.

Unlike the vast majority of distilleries in New York, which source ingredients from farms all over the state, Dean Foster and Beamer are trying to gather all of their ingredients from Foster Farm, where their distillery is located. There they have total control over the process — growing, harvesting, washing, peeling and then grinding the potatoes for distillation — on the property.

They opened their research-and-development distillery in May 2015. The large still, a tower of gleaming copper, was completed this summer. The distillery recently received federal approval to make vodka from this year’s potato harvest, which is under way. Soon, it will start producing up to 70,000 gallons of spirits for market a year. Dean Foster and Beamer hope to have the tasting room open by next summer.

In the meantime, several restaurants and liquor stores in the city and across the East End are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the vodka with the Sagaponack terroir.

David Loewenberg, who owns three high-end Hamptons restaurants, is brainstorming what cocktails will best suit the newest vodka on the block. “I’m sure it will make an outrageous Bloody Mary,” he said.

Last year the Fosters grew 180 acres of potatoes; this year they grew 75. In 2017, that number will dwindle to 20 as they focus production on the distillery and a handful of restaurants. The rest of their land will be turned to grain, which will be used to produce more strains of premium alcohol at Sagaponack Farm Distillery. Wheat, rye, barley, oats and corn will all find a place in their soil. The hope is to eventually produce enough grains to sell to other New York farm distilleries.

“This is an effort to continue in something we see value and purpose in,” Marilee Foster said. “We don’t imagine stopping farming.”