East End farmers and winemakers will soon have a central spot to store and process their products, as well as a base station for greatly expanding their sales in the region.
J. Kings, the Long Island–based food supply company, has bought the former Blackman’s building on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, and will use the 108,000-square-foot building not only to help local farmers move, say, corn west, but it will also house space rented by the Long Island Farm Bureau and, potentially, the Long Island Wine Council for its members to use for their own storage, processing and distribution.
The project—which is being called “Grapes and Greens”—is part of an initiative, says John King, the company’s founder and chief customer officer, that started eight years ago to embrace local products and get them to market. J. Kings, already the largest distributor of Long Island–grown produce to restaurants, hotels and food service in the region, had outgrown its existing food processing plant in Bay Shore. The new Riverhead facility will include machines that can shuck corn or peel and cube spaghetti squash available to all, so farmers do not have to invest in them themselves.
According to King, famers will now be able to deliver just-picked corn to Riverhead, where it can be shucked, cleaned and packaged in sets of five, adding value to the product. King’s fleet of 80 trucks, of which a few make delivery trips to Montauk and Orient every day, are also able to pick up the produce on the way home. This means it will now be easier to get strawberries from Latham’s Farm in Orient, let’s say, to Round Swamp farm stand in East Hampton.
The timing of the building purchase was particularly good, since the Long Island Farm Bureau recently received a three-year, $500,000 grant to help build processing and marketing in the region as part of funding Governor Cuomo earmarked for food-related projects across the Empire State. These regional economic development grants require private-public partnerships. And since J. Kings had unused space at the Riverhead building and deep roots with local agriculture, a match was made.
Steven Bate, executive director of the wine council, is waiting to hear the results of an additional grant application to help wineries buy barrels, bottles, corks and other supplies in bulk in order to save wineries money. In addition to services for wineries, the farm bureau says it is talking to local fishers and farmers about adding seafood and even meat processing and storage operations.
“It’s a good value for everyone,” says King, including the consumer. “So many people want to eat local, and many people are choosing to eat at home rather than go out.”