Tag Archive | "Quail Hill Farm"

Carrot Tasting Goes to the Root of the Vegetable

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Ric Kallaher photograhy

Ric Kallaher photograhy

By Kathryn G. Menu

Colin Ambrose

Colin Ambrose

It all started with a bland carrot.

Standing in his restaurant kitchen garden on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike in September of 2013, restaurateur and chef Colin Ambrose crunched down a newly harvested carrot fresh from the soil. It looked great—bright orange, long and tapered—but the flavor wasn’t there. Mr. Ambrose, who has been at the forefront of the local, fresh food movement on the East End since his days at the helm of the original Estia in Amagansett in the 1990s, hatched a plan then and there to gather together local farmers, gardeners and chefs in a growing experiment aimed at identifying keys to successfully cultivating different carrot varieties.

And the results were delicious.

Earlier this month, on a cool Wednesday before the first frost, a group of chefs, farmers and journalists gathered at Mr. Ambrose’s Estia’s Little Kitchen for a tasting of raw and blanched carrots produced as a part of this experiment, as well as a variety of composed dishes inspired by the multi-hued root vegetable. Mr. Ambrose had the event filmed, and hopes to make this an annual tradition—exploring various root vegetables with the experts that grow them, but also the East End chefs that serve them, specifically those that support local farms or have their own kitchen gardens.

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The concept was simple. Mr. Ambrose ordered a control seed, the Scarlet Nantes Carrot, and distributed it to a select group of farmers. These included growers from poet/farmer Scott Chaskey, the director of the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, Marilee Foster, a farmer and author who runs Foster Farm on Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack to Jeff Negron, a restaurant kitchen gardener who worked with Mr. Ambrose on his own garden, and who currently works the kitchen gardens at Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton and The Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton. Sag Harbor’s own Dale Haubrich, who owns Under the Willow Organics with Bette Lacina just yards away from the Little Kitchen, was also invited to participate. Each farmer also planted their own choice crop of carrots for the tasting and paired up with a local chef who presented a complete dish with carrots as inspiration.

Bay Burger manager and sous chef Andrew Mahoney presented a bright, light carrot panna cotta. Todd Jacobs, of Fresh Hamptons, also located on the Turnpike, offered zesty carrot fritters with a yogurt dipping sauce. Joe Realmuto and Bryan Futterman of Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton offered Harissa carrots, spicy and blanched perfectly, leaving just a slight crunch. Chris Polidoro, a private chef, offered steamed and lightly fried gyoza, and Topping Rose House pastry chef Cassandra Schupp presented mini carrot cake squares, moist and a nice sweet treat at the end of a row of savory dishes.

Mr. Ambrose, having the most fun with the subject, crafted McGregor’s Fall Garden Pie, filled with braised rabbit, leeks, kale, and of course, carrots, topped with luscious mashed potatoes.

And while the room, filled with friends, quieted as the food was served to satisfying groans of approval, it was when discussing the carrots, and the growing process, that it was most alive.

While Mr. Ambrose is a chef, and a restaurateur with a second Estia—Estia’s American—in Darien, Connecticut, it was on his grandmother’s garden in Whitewater, Wisconsin, that he truly developed a passion for food. Serving fresh, seasonal produce is something Mr. Ambrose has made a priority in his kitchens for over two decades. Five years ago he set out to create a kitchen garden like nothing the Little Kitchen had ever had before, working with Mr. Negron for three years before setting out on his own to tend to vegetables and fruits that make their way onto the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

Mr. Negron, who noted that Mr. Ambrose was the chef that gave him his first real chance at developing a formal kitchen garden for a commercial business, said for this exercise he grew Purple Haze carrots for Nick & Toni’s and a White Satin variety as well as a mixed bag of carrot varieties for The Topping Rose House.

Both Mr. Negron and Mr. Chaskey (“my guidance counselor in all things,” said Mr. Ambrose) noted that the Purple Haze variety of carrot has a hue that mimics the original carrot in vibrant bright purple with red and orange undertones. Carrots were then bred to the traditional orange hue, said Mr. Chaskey. Interestingly enough, he added, now at markets and on farms, requests for multi-colored, and purple carrots are on the rise, returning to the roots of that vegetable, so to speak. “Orange is not how they started, but we are going back to that,” he said.

Soil nutrients and composition, as well as seed variety and soil temperature, all play a role in the development of each carrot and the characteristics it will have in terms of its flavor profile.

“Today is November 12,” noted Mr. Ambrose at his event. “And it is kind of interesting to note that we have not had a hard frost yet. That was not part of the plan, but that is what happens with growing.”

Carrots, said Mr. Chaskey, become sweeter after the first hard frost—a seasonal moment that sets a natural timeline for when farmers want to harvest their carrot crop. An unseasonably warm fall, and the absence of a hard frost before Mr. Ambrose’s carrot tasting, led to more mild carrot varieties.

“I know one thing in planting,” said Mr. Ambrose, “If I plan on one thing, another is going to happen.”

“It’s kind of the year before that matters,” said Ms. Foster, talking about prepping soil for planting. “Is your pH where you want it?”

Ms. Foster plants her carrots in a raised bed, tilling the soil with a rototiller to allow for depth, but also greater germination. Keeping the soil damp throughout the growing process, she added, is key.

Once the seeds are set, said Mr. Chaskey, keeping an eye on weed growth is critical.

“Well, we don’t have weeds,” said Mr. Chaskey. “They are not allowed.”

“That is what you have to worry about because carrots take a long time to germinate—sometimes in the spring up to three weeks, so there are going to be some weed seeds that germinate before them, so the most important thing you can do is get ahead of the weeds.”

Thinning out the carrot crop, for size and shape, said Mr. Chaskey, is another choice each farmer must make.

“Then you just stand back, watch them grow, and then harvest.”

Mr. Chaskey said after this experiment he intends to plant the Bolero variety of carrot at Quail Hill next year–a hybrid carrot, although the farm traditionally does try and plant open pollinators as much as possible.

“It grew twice the size and it tastes better and has great storability,” said Mr. Chaskey of the Bolero.

As a chef, Mr. Jacobs, who works with Mr. Haubrich and Ms. Lacina for much of Fresh’s produce, said each season brings different challenges.

“One season, carrots might be great,” he said. “Another they might not be great. No two years are ever alike. We plant and we hope.”

“We all had different approaches, but the same goal, which was to put sustainably raised food on the table,” said Mr. Ambrose in an interview after the carrot tasting.

Next up? Beets, said Mr. Ambrose, who wants to spend the next 18 months working on a series of tastings revolving around root vegetables, ending likely with garlic.

“I would like to put together a series of informational videos for potential farmers and home cooks with enough collective knowledge to be able to set a bed, make choices in terms of seeds, learn about the growing cycle.”

“We need to start thinking more about the food we are producing and putting on the table,” said Mr. Ambrose. “Vegetables need to be given greater priority, and grains as well.”

While examining the big picture of sustainable food production, Mr. Ambrose said it just made sense to start at the root.

 

 

Myron Levine

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DSC_0012 By Stephen J. Kotz

How did the idea of holding a memorial dinner for your son first take shape?

After the accident, we were contacted by the East End chapter of Slow Food. They wanted to know if we would agree to do a benefit with the money going to his children. We said if they wanted to have a dinner in his honor, we’d be willing o do that as long as it would fund something related to organic farming.

Ted Conklin of The American Hotel agreed to donate The American Hotel for the dinner. Everything was donated. The first year, it was sold out.

We raised $12,000 to $15,000 and we used the money fund two interns for Sylvester Manor.

This year the fourth annual Joshua Levine Memorial Dinner will take place on Sunday, April 6. What have you got planned differently this year?

The dinner itself will again be at The American Hotel, but this year Dodds and Eder said they would like to host the pre-dinner party. Their space is gigantic, so we can get 250 people in that space and it wouldn’t seem crowded.

We were never able to have a silent auction before because we never had the space, so we have been going out in the community to get items for that. The generosity is unbelievable. We’ve gotten donations for foursomes from The Atlantic, The Bridge, East Hampton, Noyac, Hampton Hills, South Fork, and Sebonac [golf clubs] a two-night stay at The Huntting Inn and a gift certificate to The Palm; Topping Rose, Sen, the Cuddy, the Living Room, Marders, you name it.

Who will be the beneficiary of this year’s event?

The second year, they told us about the edible schoolyard project. That really appealed to me. If anything, that would really memorialize Josh and what he was all about. It was really about helping kids to understand. It has evolved now so what they learn in the garden is integrated into the classroom. These kids are passionate about it.

They felt they needed to bring some stability to the program by having master farmers who would work with the schools. We decided that first year we needed three master farmers. Slow Food East End actually had an application that went out to the farming community with a stipend of $4,000 each.

We did the same thing last year, but with 18 to 20 schools now involved, we needed an extra master farmer.

This year we are hoping to raise $40,000. Now there are 25 or more schools, so we’ll need one or two more master farmers. We are also trying to raise money for projects some of the schools need.

How did your son find his way from the city to farming?

Josh was doing real estate in the city. He was successful. He just didn’t like it.

We had been out here since 1979. I do a lot of gardening, so l guess it was in his blood. His wife, Anne, was born on a farm in Virginia and he just wanted to learn about it. He applied for an internship at Quail Hill with Scott Chaskey. Scott hired him and the next year promoted him to be the market manager.

He was looking to get an education and then looking to use it to do something else. He wanted to start a business helping families make organic gardens and then he’d come and help them care for them.

What does the future hold for the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation?

The principal purpose of the foundation will be to continue to support the edible schoolyard program and other things Josh might have been passionate about.

It’s gotten a life of its own now. These gardens are really important. It’s not just about growing food, it’s about learning about life…. There are just so many lessons you learn in this program.

It’s also important for my grandchildren. There’s a selfish part to this. I want my grandchildren to know who their father was.

The Fourth Annual Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation Dinner will be held on April 6 at The American Hotel with a pre-dinner party and auction at Dodds & Eder in Sag Harbor. For more information or to buy tickets, visit joshualevinefoundation.org.

 

 

In Levine’s Memory: Slow Food, Education & Organic Farming Celebrated

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By Amy Patton

An upcoming celebration of locally cultivated food, sustainable farming and micro-agriculture will mingle next month with the memory of a North Haven man who held a passion for all these things.

The American Hotel, in partnership with the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation, will host a dinner and pre-dinner cocktail party Sunday, March 24 to raise funds in part for the Edible School Garden Group and the three “master” gardeners chosen to help local school districts cultivate and expand their school gardens.

The foundation is guided by Myron and Susan Levine, of Sag Harbor, who lost their son Josh in 2010 when he was fatally injured in an accident while working at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.

Josh, who was 35 years old when he died, left behind two small children and his wife, Ann.

Myron Levine said the overwhelming support for his family from the community after the tragic accident spurred him to find a way to raise funds to better the community. Since Josh was so passionate about organic farming and its benefits, said Myron, the family chose to promote what would most significantly preserve his son’s memory.

Although Josh began his career as a real estate developer in Manhattan, his father said after spending many summers on the East End, his son found a calling in farming and in 2008 he became a volunteer at the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm where he served as a summer apprentice on the Amagansett acreage.

“He was such a gentle man,” said Myron. “He was so drawn by what he saw out here, the simplicity, the purity. He saw the value of keeping local agriculture alive.”

Also to benefit from March’s event is Slow Food East End (SFEE), an organization that, as one of its charitable projects, works with local schools to teach children about the value of homegrown produce. Last year, the group helped several school districts like Greenport and the Hayground School install greenhouses and small gardens so that kids could learn hands-on the benefits of small-scale organic farming.

“Slow food is obviously the opposite of fast food,” said Mary Morgan, the former director of SFEE, who recently stepped down from the organization to head another related charity. “Our goal is for local children to understand that not all they eat must come out of packages at the supermarket.”

The schools that currently benefit from the Edible School Garden program, said Morgan, which this year number 20 throughout the North and South Forks, “are in various stages of working with the students on building and maintaining food gardens.” Morgan noted some of the kids’ homegrown efforts have even led to some of the produce being sold at area farmer’s markets or used in cafeterias. The master gardeners, who are hired with funds garnered from the now-yearly Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation event, work in conjunction with teachers, administrators and students towards the SFEE’s goal.

“For children to understand where their food comes from is so important,” said Peconic Land Trust president John v H. Halsey, whose organization works, in part, to promote the use of local land for farming and allocates funding to make that land more affordable for farmers. “The Slow Food East End movement and the Edible Garden School program both help to instill a conservation ethic in these kids. We’re very supportive of fundraisers like this that help to promote the use of food production farmland and assure that such a valuable legacy stays with us out here.”

The American Hotel’s Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation dinner/fundraiser is currently sold out; However, there are still tickets available for the pre-dinner cocktail party which will be held at Bay Street Theater from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 24, featuring wine, hors d’oeuvres and music. A donation of $75 will secure a place at the event and reservations can be made at www.joshualevinefoundation.org.

 

Finding the Lost Ladybugs

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By Amanda Wyatt

From the most avid nature lovers to the biggest city slickers and couch potatoes, nearly everyone likes ladybugs. But recently, a group of researchers, preservationists and local citizen-scientists have taken their appreciation for the “ladies in red” to a new level.

Led by a team from Cornell University’s Lost Ladybug Project and the Peconic Land Trust, these enthusiasts gathered at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett on July 10 to document and collect various species of ladybugs.

The project, which is based out of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, researches and examines the changes in the ladybug population across the United States.

In particular, researchers and participants were eager to find the rare nine-spotted ladybug (coccinella novemnotata), which they collected in glass vials to take back to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York.

Although it’s currently difficult to find, the nine-spotted ladybug is actually the official insect of New York State.

“It was named our state insect because it was once so common and considered so important for agriculture,” said Dr. John Losey, a Cornell professor and the director of the Lost Ladybug Project. “The problem is, by the time it was named, it had already started to decline.”

In fact, New York State went 29 years without seeing a nine-spotted ladybug, and researchers believed it to be locally extinct. But while organizing a search for native ladybugs at Quail Hill in 2011, Peter Priolo struck gold — or red.

“I wasn’t looking for the nine-spotted,” Priolo said. “I was, of course, hoping we’d find one, but I just wanted to find native ladybugs. I knew [Quail Hill] would be a hotspot for biodiversity because it’s an organic farm and their planting methods are very diverse.”

Priolo, who had previously interned with the Peconic Land Trust, was already familiar with the Lost Ladybug Project. He took a photo of a ladybug he found in 2011 and sent it to Dr. Losey, who confirmed that it was a nine-spotted. Soon, he learned that his discovery marked not only the first sighting in decades of the nine-spotted ladybug in New York, but one of the first in the entire Eastern U.S.

A science enthusiast since childhood, Priolo was excited to be involved in the project.

“I just do this for fun, and to fulfill that young science boy inside of me,” he said.

There are over 5,000 species of ladybugs across the globe, roughly 500 of which are indigenous to North America. However, the diversity within the ladybug population has greatly decreased over recent decades, and a number of species have become endangered.

“What we’re going from is a really diverse group of native ladybugs to a much less diverse group of foreign ladybugs, dominated by the seven-spot and the Asian, multicolored one,” said Dr. Losey. “We want to know what happened to the nine-spot and if we can turn that around. We fear that if we get totally dominated by just a few kinds, the ladybugs might not be able to do their job as well for us as they have in the past.”

Priolo, who has his bachelor’s degree in ecology, agreed that maintaining a wide variety of ladybugs was crucial. “The more biodiversity there is, the healthier it is,” he explained.

According to Dr. Leslie Allee, an entomologist at Cornell, ladybugs are one of nature’s best pesticides. Ladybugs prey on soft-bodied pests like aphids, who otherwise suck the sap out of leaves—essentially destroying farm plants and orchard trees. They also eat the eggs of scales, including mealy-bugs, and various other pests.

“The bottom line is that ladybugs help us grow food with fewer pesticides,” Dr. Allee said. “So ladybugs directly impact the amount of pesticides that are needed on many crops that we eat.”

She continued, saying that anyone “who’s concerned about getting wholesome, clean food with as few pesticides as possible should also be concerned about the fate of ladybugs. If we didn’t have ladybugs, we’d have to use many more pesticides and organic agriculture would really be in danger.”

“Every ladybug does its job a little bit differently in terms of eating pests,” Dr. Losey added. “So what works best for pest suppression is to have lots of different kinds all doing their thing in different ways.”

The Lost Ladybug Project, which was founded by Dr. Losey in the early 2000s, was originally intended to be a small-scale, local initiative. But after receiving funding from the National Science Foundation, they were able to expand their efforts. This led to media coverage, and the project quickly took off from there.

“We had thought we were just going to work in New York, as well as with some collaborators in South Dakota, and build it slowly,” Dr. Allee recalls. “But we got so much press that people from all over the country became interested, so we had to really scurry and grow the project quickly.”

In fact, citizen-scientists from all 50 states, as well as several Canadian provinces and Mexican states, have submitted their own photos and other research to the project.

According to Kathleen Kennedy, outreach manager for the Peconic Land Trust, researchers from the Lost Ladybug Project will be back at Quail Hill in a few weeks. Their next visit is scheduled for July 31, 2012.

Kennedy hopes that that the project will keep gaining momentum. “I think it would be great to do this as an annual event,” she said, adding: “Hopefully, we’ll have more and more people aware, and more and more ladybug colonies.”

Photography by Michael Heller


Farmers and Foodies Talk with Senator

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A group of farmers and foodies gathered in a barn at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett on Sunday and listened as New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talked about the importance of small farms that supply Long Islanders with fresh food. The senator believes agriculture could be key in rebuilding the economy while also addressing issues like nutrition, obesity and keeping the nation’s food supply safe from contamination. So significant is agriculture and food production, she said, that the Senator believes it should be considered a national security issue.

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The event – organized by Edible Manhattan publisher and Edible East End editor Brian Halweil, Quail Hill Director and Farmer Scott Chaskey, Bonnie and Steve Munshin and Leigh Merinoff – was part of an effort by Senator Gillibrand to conduct “listening sessions” throughout the state with local farmers.

The senator’s tour comes as Congress prepares to debate the next Farm Bill renewal in 2012.

Gillibrand is the first New York Senator to sit on the Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. New York boasts over 35,000 farms on over 7.1 million acres, a fourth of the state’s land. The industry generates about $4.5 billion for New York’s economy.

In an interview following the event, Senator Gillibrand talked about why she believes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which takes place at Quail Hill and at neighboring farms like Balsam Farm in Amagansett and Sunset Beach Farm in North Haven, are an economic benefit for both the farmers and the communities they serve.

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Senator Gillibrand announced a bill this June within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that seeks to promote CSA, which are designed so members can pay for a weekly share of the farm’s produce, either picking up a box with their yield for the week, or actually harvesting vegetables from the ground, as is done at Quail Hill.

There are more than 12,000 CSA farms operating throughout the country, with 350 in New York State. Senator Gillibrand’s Community Supported Agriculture Promotion Act’s competitive grant program would award federal funds to non-profit organizations, extension services and local and state governments to provide support for growers. That would range from marketing and business assistance to crop development and the development of innovative delivery and distribution programs to encourage growth and save costs.

Preference will be given to projects working with family farms, farms operated by or employing veterans — a particular passion of the junior senator — and those that reach out into “food deserts,” which are low income communities without access to fresh foods.

A resident of upstate New York, near Albany, Senator Gillibrand said that while her grandmother was certainly a grower, raising corn, zucchini, raspberries and other crops, her passion for CSA came after she learned more about agricultural issues. She learned first hand the influence farming has on local economies, providing employment as the country continues to struggle with joblessness. She also sees agriculture as an educational tool to combat health care issues like childhood obesity.

Supporting stateside agriculture is not only crucial to the economy, the senator said, adding that it is also a national security issue, pointing to the tainted milk scandal in China in 2010, among others. The senator said one of her focuses on the agricultural committee is drafting and supporting legislation that will allow the industry to grow, and create more jobs, as well as healthy food for the dinner table.

“We don’t want to lose New York as a food producer,” said Senator Gillibrand, adding that supporting small farms and the ability for them to branch out and sell specialty food items, which is an economic driver in the agriculture industry, is critical. She would like to see a stronger Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help farmers branch out into the production of jams or cheese for market sale.

She noted New York can proudly call itself “the center of Greek yogurt in the country.” Chobani, a Greek yogurt crafted in Central, New York, has become a nationwide staple for many, as Greek yogurt gained in popularity over the last five years.

Senator Gillibrand said she would like to work on behalf of Long Island farmers and those in the Hudson River Valley to seek some of the $1 billion in economic aid up for grabs in a regional competition created by Governor Andrew Cuomo to promote job growth throughout the state.

“I have talked to as many farmers as will listen to me,” said Senator Gillibrand. “They are great stewards of our state.”

Senator Gillibrand said the small, family farms are not only economic drivers in New York, but also bring in tourism dollars, drawing visitors interested in wine or cheese trails as a new kind of culinary vacation.

“That is very valuable on Long Island,” she said. “And very valuable in the Finger Lakes.”

Agriculture also has the ability to teach our children where their food comes from, added Senator Gillibrand, an increasingly more critical kind of education as childhood obesity rates continue to skyrocket.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17 percent — or 12.5 million — children ages two to 19 are obese. In New York State, 10 to 15 percent of children are obese.

“Our children just don’t understand where their food comes from,” she said.

A member of the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives, Senator Gillibrand also sees the ability to create jobs in agriculture for veterans, who like many are facing high unemployment rates among their ranks. Working in agriculture would provide an opportunity to learn about nutrition, but also about small business, she said. Senator Gillibrand also added the act of farming can aid post -traumatic stress disorder.

Senator Gillibrand also enjoyed the sweeter side of agriculture on Sunday, tucking into two servings of local berry cobbler while talking to Chatsky, other farmers, chefs and writers.

“I like raspberry,” she said.

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.