Despite widespread budget tightening across the nation, decisionmakers in New York are banking that there’s money in matters related to food. Both the Suffolk County Legislature and officials up in Albany are joining Long Island farmers and local nonprofits to make major infrastructure investments to extend the local growing season and expand the sales of all things grown on Long Island.
State Senator Ken LaValle supported a $3.5 million grant, and the town of Riverhead donated 50 acres, to build the 8,300-squarefoot Agriculture Consumer Science Center at the Enterprise Park in Calverton (known as EPCAL). The space, which could be finished as early as next summer, will have the equipment to help farmers—as well as aspiring food artisans—develop and process products made from local ingredients with the help of researchers and scientists from Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the NYS Small Business Development Center. (Finally, a place to deal with the surfeit of tomatoes in September and October.)
On the heels of this groundbreaking, a coalition that includes both Nassau and Suffolk counties, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Long Island Farm Bureau, Peconic Land Trust, Sustainable Long Island, Long Island Wine Council, North Shore Land Alliance and Stony Brook Incubator for Agriculture and Consumer Science has developed a proposal they’ve sent to Empire State Development asking for an initial $5 million for their Comprehensive Program for Sustainable Agriculture on Long Island. The brainchild of farmer Paulette Satur, the proposal includes 1,000 acres of land at EPCAL to rent for small-scale agriculture, a mobile slaughterhouse for the region’s growing number of farmers keeping poultry and livestock, a mobile farmers market to reach underserved communities, a 100,000-square-foot refrigerated food-distribution hub, and training programs for aspiring farmers—part of a program they’re calling “Farms for the Future.” All told, the goal is to turn “Grown on Long Island” into a brand people will reach for like cheese from Roquefort or tomatoes from San Marzano.
In a related effort, Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher has started a Food Policy Council for the county, for which public hearings started this fall. The goals of the council include ensuring school and county institutions give preference to buying local, increasing access to healthy food, reducing pesticide use, and boosting use of locally grown ingredients at existing food-processing facilities in the county.
Like similar food policy councils that have sprouted in cities and states around the country, the body will bring together farmers, food companies and the public to guide long-term food-related planning.