By Kathryn G. Menu
The farm-to-table movement has flourished on the East End for decades, many restaurants boasting kitchen gardens to supply fresh, seasonal produce to diner’s plates. For Gerard Wawryk, an owner of Page at 63 Main, while a traditional kitchen garden is out of reach for the Main Street, Sag Harbor space, he has proposed a greenhouse that would employ aquaponic farming on the second and third floor of the restaurant building.
Aquaponics is farming that combines hydroponics — cultivating plants in water — with aquaculture — raising aquatic animals, in this case fish — in a symbiotic environment where the water from the aquaculture system is fed into the hydroponic system. Nitrates and nitrites created by fish by-products serve as a nutrient for the growing plants.
According to attorney Dennis Downes, representing Wawryk at a Sag Harbor Planning Board work session on Tuesday, November 26, this concept is something Wawryk has been exploring since 2006. It is only now, said Downes, that Wawryk finds himself in the financial position to move forward with the plan, which he has been developing with the help of the Town of Southampton’s Sustainability Committee.
As a result of the project, the footprint of the building will not change, but will remain at 3,860 square feet. The proposal aims to add 835 square feet of space to the existing second floor (which does not meet the full footprint of the building) for a seeding area and construct a 481 square foot greenhouse on the rear portion of the third floor. The second story of the building will also serve as a roof garden for the restaurant.
The number of seats in the restaurant is not increasing, nor is the existing apartment, noted Downes, meaning the project does not need additional parking or wastewater treatment to move forward.
“The vegetables that will be grown will be used on the site,” added Downes. “This is not where he is going to be growing vegetables and selling them on the open market.”
Because the project will push the building size over 4,000 square-feet it will have to be reviewed under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) as a type one action, meaning the planning board will have to assess whether or not the project carries the potential to cause a significant adverse environmental impact.
The Southampton Town Sustainability Committee, added Downes, is in favor of the project and has hopes other restaurants will be able to look at sustainable food systems like aquaponics to cultivate produce.
According to Terry Chappel, a consultant working on the project, the aquaponic system is closed loop, and is considered a low-density system or one that uses a minimal amount of fish to produce the nitrites and nitrates needed for the vegetables.
“We are essentially using the fish to start a biological cycle, a nitrification cycle, and it’s a very sustainable way of doing this because we are not having to import salt based chemicals from Morocco, which is normally the case,” he said.
“It’s very easy, low labor, simple and clean,” added Chappel.
The restaurant, he added, will be limited in what it can grow in the aquaponic system and will focus primarily on leafy greens. Seasonal beds are planned for the second floor and more conventional vegetables like tomatoes will also be grown in season.
“From a use perspective, nothing jumps out at me other than what if any are the implications of providing additional space of this size,” said planning board chairman Neil Slevin. “That is what we should probably think about.”
Board member Larry Perrine, the CEO and a partner at Channing Daughters Winery, asked how often the system would need to be flushed and what kind of additional wastewater would that produce.
Chappel said once the biology in the system working properly, it would maintain itself, but if something did occur the system would need to be flushed which would create wastewater.
Sag Harbor Village Environmental Planning Consultant Richard Warren suggested the board be furnished with pictures of an existing system to better understand how it works.