Last year, when the Southold-based food consulting firm Karp Resources convened a group of Long Island food influencers—grocers, farmers, politicians—it presented some daunting data for Nassau and Suffolk Counties: fast food joints per 1,000 people, diabetes rates per town, the relative dearth of farms and farm stands especially up-island. The results say, as much in rich as poor communities across America, many people lack access to fresh produce and therefore eat cheap fast food, spend too much on packaged food at corner stores and then suffer the health consequences.
So Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit focused on community development, which commissioned the research from Karp Resources, cut through the despair, and found some hope in a solution that has come to the rescue of many communities lacking in healthy food options: farmers markets.
In mid-July, youth-run farmers markets opened in North Bellport (in western Suffolk County) and Roosevelt (in Nassau County), two areas well-known for being on the short end of the food equity stick. On the first day they sold out of beets and cabbage.
“Some of the kids were having beets for the first time,” says Sara Lansdale, executive director of Sustainable Long Island.”They were starting to share recipes.”
Created in conjunction with the Long Island Farm Bureau and public and private funds, the markets will run on Sundays through October. This twist on traditional farmers markets—with youth paid to run the stands—relieves the farmers from having to be being present so they can focus instead on growing the food.
“This is a prime example of local people and businesses working together to make their community a better place to live,” says Joseph Gergela, Long Island Farm Bureau executive director, “providing opportunities for job growth, improving healthy lifestyles, adding to the viability of the agricultural industry, and reducing the carbon trail.”
The produce comes from local farms; that cabbage was grown in Brookhaven at Deer Run Farms, and the beets came from Schmitt & Sons in Riverhead. Homeless veterans are driving the delivery trucks to the markets.
Lansdale believes the project itself will be sustainable and hopes to open more markets next year. Creating jobs for teens, helping farmers bring their goods to market and providing healthy food for the community allows Lansdale to use an oft-cited description with twist—it’s a win-win-win.