By Emily J. Weitz
On Wednesday afternoon, members of the agricultural community gathered together to discuss the opening of a new facility in Calverton that could change the way farms and vineyards on the East End do their business. With 30,000 square feet of storage and processing space, Grapes and Greens was designed to help growers of all stripes make the most of their products.
The Long Island Farm Bureau teamed up with other organizations like The Peconic Land Trust, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and J. Kings Food Service Professionals, the largest independent food distributor on Long Island. Together, they’ve come up with Grapes and Greens, a way to keep produce fresh and wine temperature controlled and a way to network and connect the many small operations that exist on Long Island.
Since January 1, Grapes and Greens has been offering subsidized leases to growers, in part made possible by a $500,000 grant from New York’s Empire State Development Corporation. Grant funds will be used to assist growers as they seek leases of the space.
“This is open to any and all farmers,” says Joe Gergela, Executive Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. “You don’t have to be part of the Farm Bureau. The deal is that no one farmer can have more than 5 percent of the space. At the end of the day, farmers and wineries will pay the farm bureau $250 a year so they have skin in the game, and so we get some of the money back that we laid out.”
Growers will also have a contract with J. Kings, who will facilitate the daily functioning of the space and work on increasing demand for local produce and food products through marketing campaigns and networking.
“John King will charge in and out fees,” explains Gergela. “Let’s say a farmer has a couple of palettes of cabbage. They have to pay him in and out charges for unloading the truck. It’s the market value, [compared to] if they did this at a warehouse.”
Grapes and Greens will serve as a centrally located storage and processing facility that the organizations hope will help to foster a stronger market for locally grown items like produce and wine, but also items that diversify a farm’s products, whether that be canned or preserved foods or other items.
“The business climate for agriculture has been weak for the last few years,” says Gergela. “We are not getting enough for the cost of production. We wanted to provide an opportunity for economic development by providing a service [farmers] don’t have.”
Gergela hopes East End schools and Stony Brook University get involved as well.
“Let’s say we have a surplus of corn,” says Gergela. “They could take it off the husk, freeze it, and have it available through the winter. It’s an opportunity to extend the season.”
The Peconic Land Trust believes this is something farmers can really use, so the organization has worked with the Farm Bureau and other organizations to get it off the ground.
“The Peconic Land Trust’s role in this exciting new endeavor,” says Dan Heston, North Fork Stewardship Manager at the Trust, “is to provide support to the Long Island Farm Bureau in outreach to local farmers and to provide a resource for questions about the facility and its leasing and licensing options.”
For local farmers who have been competing with giant companies, this facility will hopefully bring assistance.
“We believe that the Grapes and Greens facility will provide local farmers, particularly small scale operations, with the storage and processing resources necessary to increase overall crop value and product longevity, thereby making them more competitive in today’s specialized markets,” said Heston.
Wineries and flower growers are also interested in utilizing the temperature-controlled space.
“Flower growers are interested in cold storage for bulbs like tulips and daffodils,” says Gergela. “Wineries need temperature controlled space to guarantee the quality of their product.”
As small businesses pass through this new hub of the agricultural community, the hope is that new ideas will be generated and new relationships forged.
“We are in the hopes that this will lead to new small companies,” says Gergela. “The whole point is economic development and jobs, and retaining the agricultural industry on Long Island.”