The mission of the East End Food Institute (EEFI) “is to support, promote, and advocate for the farmers, vintners, fishermen, and other food producers and providers on the East End of Long Island. EEFI envisions the East End as a place where all farms and food businesses are thriving and supported by an engaged community whose members understand the benefits and uniqueness of local food.”
Given the horrors faced by many this past year regarding food shortages, and striving to create more local resilience to handle any future crisis, EEFI and the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute have combined their efforts “to develop an overview of the East End food system from many perspectives,” and have scheduled a virtual event to be held on Zoom on Tuesday, March 23, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The event is free, so anyone involved in food or who enjoys food can learn more about the research findings, as well as “engage in productive conversations across sector” with the goals of “taking the first steps toward creating a sustainable and equitable food plan for the East End.”
Pre-registration is required, and a link is available on the home page at eastendfood.org. Participants can expect to fully participate in the meeting on Tuesday. According to EEFI Executive Director Kate Fullam, “We have scheduled 45 minutes of breakout groups to really understand the different experiences and perspectives of those people and industries involved in the local food system, and this is just the beginning. I hope everyone will speak up at this and future sessions.”
Reflecting back on a year of COVID-19, Fullam comments, “During the early stages of the pandemic when we saw empty grocery store shelves, long lines at the food pantry, and schools struggling to keep up with emergency meals, our team was poised to help. We prepared over 15,000 meals and distributed over 6,000 pounds of local seafood to food pantries to feed community members in need.”
Fullam’s goal is to work with many partners to create resiliency within the local food system to limit these types of emergencies in the future. “We should be leveraging the bounty of our region to feed everyone in the community, and not just during the height of the growing season,” she said. “It felt good to help in a time of crisis, but now it is time to talk about how to avoid crisis.”
EEFI has big plans for an East End Food Hub to aggregate, process, and distribute surplus local produce and products. The organization is actively seeking partners in this effort and has already secured a reimbursement grant of $300,000 through Empire State Development, a New York State program that spurs economic development.
“The biggest challenge for us is explaining our role as a processor within the local food system,” says Fullam. “Everyone wants fresh local fruits and vegetables, of course, but the growing season is limited. That’s where we step in to preserve the harvest to be enjoyed year-round.”
Freezing local produce, which EEFI began to do in 2018, allows farms to sell their surplus and have it preserved at peak freshness. Frozen produce can be used for later production of shelf stable goods, or distributed to local food pantries in the winter months when donations from farms have stopped. Fullam recalls that as part of the Farm to Community pilot project in 2018 EEFI partnered with Share the Harvest Farm to process and freeze their surplus produce. Over 5,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables were processed and frozen, and later distributed to patrons at the Heart of the Hamptons and Springs Food Pantries.
“We need to figure out how to create sustainable funding streams for programs like Farm to Community,” says Fullam. “It is encouraging to be part of conversations with community partners to that end, including All for the East End and the Long Island Community Foundation.”
Concluding, Fullam felt it important to relay that East End Food Institute is a non-profit organization and relies on funding from grants and donations in addition to its program income.
For further information, visit eastendfood.org or call 631-632-5129.