Tag Archive | "Amagansett Food Institute"

Food Institute Receives Grant

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The nonprofit Amagansett Food Institute, which promotes local farmers and food production, has announced that it has received $25,000 through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program. The program was authorized by the 2014 farm bill and will invest millions of dollars in development, marketing, and promotion activities directed at local and regional food systems. The program is one several USDA programs that have recently awarded grants to support local food systems around the nation.

AFI will use the grant money to conduct a feasibility study for a food hub on the East End. A food hub manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of local food in order to sell to institutional and wholesale buyers such as hospitals and schools. AFI will enlist a consultant to carry out the study, which will gauge whether a food hub could successfully expand markets for its members and, if so, describe the elements of an effective model. It will release a request for proposals in the near future.

For more information, visit the AFI’s website at www.amagansettfoodinstitute.org

Small Batch Food Producers Get a Kitchen of Their Own

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Carissa Waechter at work baking bread in new South Fork Kitchens at Stony Brook Southampton. Stephen J. Kotz

By Stephen J. Kotz

Imagine a farmer searching for ways to get the most out of a bumper crop of strawberries this June. Besides selling them by the quart, along with every other farmer whose crop has just come in, he might want to try his hand at making jam to sell at the farmers market later in the season. The same might be true of a cook who wants to use local tomatoes to sell the sauce her friends have been raving about for years.

Typically, one of the biggest logistical roadblocks for such entrepreneurs is a place where they can produce their small batch food products and not run afoul of state agriculture and markets law or county health department regulations.

That changed this week when Stony Brook Southampton and Amagansett Food Institute announced that the college had reached an agreement to rent the sprawling commercial kitchen in its Student Center to the institute. The institute, in turn, will rent it to entrepreneurs as well as provide them with other assistance to help them bring their foodstuff dreams to the table, as a business incubator known as South Fork Kitchens.

“Many producers told us there was no commercial kitchen on the East End where they could go and produce their product in a professional way,” said Kathleen Masters, executive director of the food institute, part of whose mission is to provide economic development support to farmers and other small scale local producers. “Many have been renting restaurant kitchens at night, or using church kitchens.  It might be a nice kitchen, but there is no storage space” for both their raw ingredients or finished products.

Carissa Waechter, the owner of Carissa’s Breads, who has baked for Amber Waves Farm and Garden of Eve, and is a founding board member of the food institute, will be the kitchen coordinator.

Part of her job will be to help provide schedules for the different entrepreneurs who are expected to start using the kitchen in the coming weeks.

“The people who plan to be working out here are such a cool mix of professionals,” she said. “I’m really excited to be working with them.”

Ms. Waechter said the kitchen, which once served the college cafeteria, is so spacious and well equipped, with a six-burner Garland stove, Blodgett pizza oven, industrial-sized Hobart mixers, and refrigeration galore, that as many as four different people could be using it at any one time, provided they don’t need to use the same mixer or other equipment at the same time.

“This space was the perfect find,” she added.

Ms. Masters said the facility will provide ample storage space and afford those who use it a place to accept deliveries. The size of the kitchen will allow them to work more efficiently and in larger batches than they could elsewhere.

Another selling point. “The law prohibits you from doing it in your home, with very limited exceptions,” Ms. Masters said. To that end, those using the kitchen must be licensed by the state. Ms. Waechter said a class would be held for the dozen or so producers who have expressed interest in using the facility.

The institute will also be available to do “co-packing,” according to Ms. Masters. So, if a farmer does not have the time or staff to take on the cooking, “we are available to production for you,” she said. “It’s a process. You have to have your recipe approved by the Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

As part of its rental agreement, the food institute will also reopen the student cafeteria on a small-scale basis as a “farm to table” café serving students, staff, and campus visitors.

“There is an audience out here for everything” South Fork Kitchens will produce, said Ms. Waechter. “Something the AFI says is everyone should have access to good food.”

Amagansett Food Institute Partners with LI Cares to Make Fresh Produce Accessible

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Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow of the Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett help Kathleen Masters and Jess Engle of the Amagansett Food Institute load squash into boxes at the farm on Tuesday.

By Emily Weitz; Photography by Michael Heller

The Amagansett Food Institute (AFI) is a not-for-profit that supports farmers and food producers on the East End. With more than twenty members from local farms, beverage producers, bakeries and salt mongers, AFI is constantly looking for new ways to contribute to a thriving local food economy. They have helped in creating farm apprenticeships, education initiatives, and are currently working on establishing a commercial kitchen incubator locally. But one recent triumph came when AFI partnered up with Long Island Cares to close a gap in the food system, bringing fresh local produce to people who really need it.

Long Island Cares is the Long Island food bank that distributes food to pantries across Long Island. They receive both state and private funding, and they just agreed to spend up to $100,000 over the next year purchasing food from local farms and delivering it to food pantries.

“The genesis of this project began about three years ago,” says Kathleen Masters, who is the executive director of the Amagansett Food Institute. “A number of local farms, including AFI member Amber Waves, had been collecting surplus food produce and donating it.”

Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow, of Amber Waves in Amagansett, always saw it as a priority to make sure healthy food was available to all. But most local farms don’t have the kind of margins to give away so much fresh food. So AFI began to ask how they might be able to purchase that produce instead of asking the farm to take the hit.

“Part of our farm’s mission is to make sure everyone has access to locally grown organic food,” says Baldwin, “so this program creates a new access point for us to serve more food pantries on Long Island.”

That’s where Long Island Cares came in.

“They receive funding from the state,” says Masters, “and they buy food in bulk and bring it to the food pantries. The state requires them to buy a certain amount of fresh produce with that money. Long Island Cares has a produce buyer who likes to source truly local.”

Peter Braglia is the director of facilities and procurement at Long Island Cares, and he’s the guy who likes to buy hyper-local whenever possible.

“Long Island Cares exists not only to help feed the hungry,” he says, “but to help find the root cause. If economics is a key factor, why purchase product elsewhere when it is available here?”

Braglia appreciates that a large part of his spending capital comes from a grant from New York State.

“So, I like putting the money right back into our local economy,” he says.? In addition, Braglia believes that Long Island farms do the job right, from the large to the very small.

“I want to do all I can to help this particular industry,” he says. “Therefore, whenever possible, I will make available to my food pantries locally grown produce.”

While AFI members couldn’t provide the kind of bulk that Long Island Cares requires on their own, when bundled together, these farms have enough.

“The idea is that our members pool their surplus,” says Masters. “We had our first pickup last week, and we have 700 to 800 pounds of eggplant from just two of our farms.”

Long Island Cares pays AFI, and AFI pays the farmers. People at food pantries get fresh local produce, and small farmers get paid the wholesale rate.

Of course, there are certain items that don’t make sense for Long Island Cares. One of the local farms grows very high-end baby eggplant, and what they would ask for the bulk rate would be too much for Long Island Cares to pay. So that farmer chose not to participate in the eggplant pickup, and saved the delectable baby eggplants for the farmers’ markets.

What this arrangement strives to do is resolve the conflict between more food and better food.

“There’s a big struggle when feeding poor people,” explains Masters, “a tension between more food and better food. Some food pantries felt that their mission was to buy more food. So instead of buying fresh produce, they were buying canned.”

That’s when the state stepped in and said that with the money they were providing through organizations like Long Island Cares, a certain percentage needed to be spent on fresh produce from New York State.

“It keeps the money in the state,” says Masters, “it helps local farmers, and it puts good food in the hands of New Yorkers who need it.”

This initiative is meant to serve farmers in more ways than just economic.

“The farmers we work with,” says Masters, “very much believe that the beautiful produce they grow should be available to everybody. They recognize that people on the margins are not coming and joining their CSAs. They aren’t shopping the farmers’ markets, because it’s pricy. That’s why this project is appealing to the farmers. They don’t want to feel like all of their food is targeted at an elite few. They believe that everybody should have good food.”

Baldwin, of Amber Waves, echoes that sentiment:

“Everyone deserves to have good, clean, fresh, local, organic food,” she says, “so we are thrilled to be contributing to this program that is working towards that goal.”

 

 

Where’s the Beef? At Mecox Bay Dairy

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Mecox Bay Dairy owner Art Ludlow casually chatted with customers Friday morning at the East Hampton Farmers Market as he cut hunks of his celebrated Mecox Sunrise, Sigit, Atlantic Mist and Shawondasee cheeses from large wheels. For many, this moment was not out of the ordinary — the fourth generation farmer is a staple at literally every farmers’ market on the South Fork, hawking his prized cheeses produced from the Jersey cows raised on his Bridgehampton farm.

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But for those in know, a Styrofoam freezer sat discreetly behind Ludlow representing a new era for followers of the Slow Food movement on the East End. The cooler held various cuts of grass fed, Bridgehampton beef, which has been unavailable for legal commercial sale since the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) began regulating meat production over 100 years ago.

“It’s not in my nature to display myself,” said Ludlow on Monday as to the lack of signage announcing this almost historic moment in local food. “I do want people to know though. I was reluctant to get too public with it at first — one issue being was it going to be fit to eat. But then we had some for dinner and that cleared that up right away. It was excellent.”

Sitting in a stall next to Ludlow, Amagansett Food Institute Director Jennifer Desmond said she and Amber Waves farmers’ Katie Baldwin and Amanda Morrow sampled some of Ludlow’s steaks at their farm the evening before.

“It was delicious,” she said.

“This is historic,” East Hampton Farmers’ Market Director Kate Plumb said while walking around the market later that morning.

Plumb noted that while the East End is known for local seafood, produce and even chickens, it has long lacked locally raised meats.

And now that has all changed.

For Ludlow, expanding the use of his dairy farm, where he produces a variety of artisanal cheeses, was a natural extension — not just as a businessman, but as a farmer and member of the East End community.

Nestled on the northeast border of Mecox Bay and the northern end of Swan Creek, Ludlow, his wife Stacy and their sons Peter and John began producing raw milk cheeses at Mecox Bay Dairy in 2003.

Mecox Bay Dairy was founded after Ludlow decided to focus his efforts on the dairy farm, which is the last Jersey cow dairy on Long Island.

Making the transition to include selling the grass fed beef used to produce his cheeses, said Ludlow, was an idea his family has talked about since they started the dairy farm.

“The difference now is since we have gotten involved with the farmers’ market we can see there is a real demand for it,” said Ludlow.

While he briefly considered setting up a shop on the farm to process the beef, Ludlow said he quickly realized the small-scale of his production didn’t lend itself towards building his own facility. Instead, he chose to take his cows to upstate New York where they are processed and packaged under the watchful eye of the USDA.

While the demand for a product like his grass-fed beef does exist, Ludlow said taking this leap also came from a desire to ensure his animals are treated in the best possible way for their entire lives.

“This way I do have control over my animals, who I want to make sure are treated in the best possible way, from birth to death,” he said. “So when a cow is no longer milking, I don’t have to ship them off to some miserable place.”

Ludlow added that as a fourth-generation farmer, this is also a part of the farming tradition, and therefore has been a part of his whole life.

“I grew up doing this,” said Ludlow. “We have had animals on this farm since I was a child. I grew up familiar with slaughtering, butchering and eating our own animals. I do understand the issue that some people have with it — eating a steak with a name — but it is something that is natural for me because I grew up with it. It is a fact of life. Death is a part of life.”

This summer, selling the beef is truly a pilot program, as Ludlow feels out the demand through farmers’ markets and weighs that against the numbers in his herd. He added he could run out of beef before the season is over, and is already coming up with formal plans for next year.

So far, just two weeks into selling the beef, Ludlow has heard that his efforts appear to have paid off.

He is selling a variety of cuts, in an attempt to waste as little of the animal as possible, including short ribs, ground beef, all cuts of steak, London broils, pot roasts, rump roasts, and shanks, the last of which he has yet to try, but expects will be delicious.

“We have a philosophy about how we want to produce food,” said Ludlow. “I only sell what I choose to sell, what I choose to grow. I am not compromising my standards by fattening my cows with grain. When I say grass-fed, I mean grass-fed.”

“I’m doing something for other people,” he said. “I have to sell to stay in business, but business is not how I look at this, it is providing nutrition. What is more important than what you put in your body? The more people recognize that and take it seriously, the more I feel small farms like mine will become important and profitable.”

In Wake of Local Food Renaissance, Group Hopes to Form Institute

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On Saturday morning at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, adults and children alike gathered to pick snow peas from netting that allows the climbing vegetables to flourish or pluck stalks of fragrant fennel from the warm earth.

In the valley below, other farm members took a moment to sample hearty loaves of bread crafted by Carissa Waechter. Waechter, an artisinal baker, uses whole wheat flour cultivated at nearby Amber Waves Farm. Her quiche of Quail Hill chicken eggs, scallions and chives is nestled in the very eggshells she collected to create the creamy delicacy.

The East End of Long Island has historically been a region rooted in the agriculture and fishing industries. Soil from Amagansett to Bridgehampton is celebrated for the fruits and vegetables it produces, while the surrounding waters team with fin fish and shellfish.

In the last five years, a celebratory resurgence has occurred honoring the bounty that East End farmers and fisherman bring to local tables. Farmer’s markets have sprouted up from Montauk to Southampton and have grown each year. They provide not only seafood and produce, but also local vendors selling wine, baked goods, honey, cheese and specialty food like jams.

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Recognizing this renaissance, as well as a nationwide trend embracing the Slow Food and organic food movements, a group of East End residents gathered two years ago at an Amagansett home and conceived of The Amagansett Food Institute. The idea is for a not-for-profit food center aimed at promoting local food and its producers while providing culinary and agricultural education to the children of the East End.

Katie Baldwin and Amanda Morrow, the two young farmers who run Amber Waves Farm, as well as Waechter, who used to serve as the baker at the former Amagansett Farmers Market, and conservationist and bread baker John de Cuevas, founded AFI in 2009, although it was not incorporated until last year.

Gary Bradhering and Chris Harris, who own the Wainscott-based company MapEasy, have long been supporters of the local food movement and are also members of the AFI board. Resident and actor Alec Baldwin is also an advisory member of AFI’s board.

The organization spent its efforts last year partnering with farmers, schools and chefs to offer culinary demonstrations and farm tours for adults and children, many of the educational programs funneled through Baldwin and Morrow’s Amber Waves Farm.

It also began a food foraging program, collecting unsold or unharvested produce from local farms and delivering those goods to the Springs Food Pantry.

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According to AFI Director Jennifer Desmond, the program kicked off late last year, and delivered about 2,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to the food pantry. This year’s program, which started on Wednesday, is predicted to donate about 10,000 pounds of produce to the pantry.

However, as Desmond noted in an interview on Tuesday, AFI’s primary goal this season is fundraising towards the purchase of a home for the institute. She envisions it as a hub for the local food movement, and would like to make it accessible to everyone on the East End.

The institute is conceived to include a farmers’ market on site, as well as a café, a demonstration kitchen, office and conference spaces. The space would also house a commercial kitchen, which will be state-certified, said Desmond, so that those interested in crafting and selling products derived from local foods have a legal space to do just that.

“The goal is to create something that will help this community, and make local food accessible to everyone,” said Desmond.

Desmond added that AFI would create a center where the producers of local food can share ideas, not just with their consumers, but with each other as well.

“We want to fill a void on every level,” said Desmond. “With the farmers, we want to help them strategize on how to form food co-ops, and take on projects like producing a cookbook, where the proceeds go to helping provide farmers with health insurance. As we all know, health care costs are prohibitive and most of our farmers are not insured.”

While Desmond said she does have short list of potential properties for the institute in mind, the ideal space would back up to an organic farm. For that reason, the board has long had its sights set on the abandoned Pacific East restaurant, a two-acre property on Montauk Highway in Amagansett that backs up to the Amber Waves Farm and has ample parking on-site.

“We would very much like to purchase the Pacific East space and build the institute in the exact footprint of that building, although it would be a gut renovation,” said Desmond.

While Desmond said the institute would gratefully accept the aid of angel donors, she said AFI is focused on using the next 12 weeks to raise awareness and throw events to fundraise toward the $4 million the institute has set as its initial fundraising goal.

This Saturday, AFI is hosting a clambake fundraiser and talk about the institute at Atlantic Beach in Amagansett. Desmond said it is one of several events in the works for the next two months in an effort to promote the organization.

This fall, Desmond, added, she will begin to apply for grants to help fund the institute as well.

“I would like to see a property bought by the end of the year, although I may be naively ambitious,” said Desmond. “But myself and the board do feel like we need to move forward with this as quickly as possible.”

While Desmond’s focus is certainly on finding AFI a home, she is also engaged in the pursuits that make the organization so critical, including running the food foraging program, which she would like to see expanded in coming years.

Farms like Quail Hill, Balsam Farms, Steve Eaton’s Fireplace Farms in Springs and Sunset Beach Farm, which rents space from Quail Hill, already donate goods for the pantry, but Desmond would like to see it grow into an even larger initiative.

“As it progresses, and the level of partners increases, we will partner with other food pantries,” she said. “One of the things we would like to start as early as next year is providing grant monies for farmers, so they can plant crops specifically for the foraging program, including crops like beans and legumes. If we can make it so it doesn’t cost them anything, I think we would find a lot of partners.”

Desmond can be found at the Route 27 Farmers’ Market at the Amagansett American Legion on Wednesday mornings and the East Hampton Farmers’ Market on Friday mornings talking about projects like this. She has found the very industries the institute hopes to support are more than excited at the possibilities AFI could bring to the community at-large by way of educational initiatives, as well as their businesses.

“I don’t want a kid to ever balk at eating a tomato,” said Desmond. “I want it to be as natural as eating an orange, a part of life and living.”

For more information on The Amagansett Food Institute, visit www.amagansettfood.org.