Amagansett Food Institute's Operations Manager Bob Hatton and Executive Director Kate Fullam set out AFI-made appetizers for a recent event in East Hampton.
One balmy summer evening in 2010 on Stony Hill Road in Amagansett, a group of local agriculture enthusiasts gathered for a dinner party. The gathering took place at the home of John de Cuevas, the longtime conservationist and son of Rockefeller heiress, Margaret Strong de Larrain.
Guests included Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow, proprietors of Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett. The pair met two years earlier after completing an agricultural apprenticeship at the nearby Quail Hill Farm. Carissa Waechter, another guest, was a baker for Eli Zabar, who at the time was in charge of the local farmers market. She was also the only baker to mill her own flour from locally grown wheat on Long Island.
“At dinner that night we came up with this idea of starting a food organization that would represent farmers and food producers, an organization that could speak in the interest of the people who provide food for our community,” says John de Cuevas. “And that's what we did. We decided to call it the Amagansett Food Institute.”
“I was a new farmer at the time,” recalls Katie Baldwin. “My business partner, Amanda Merrow, and I were trying to figure out a way we could continue farming. We felt like there were some key issues that needed to be addressed. So, when John proposed that we create this organization I thought it was a brilliant idea.”
Today, Amagansett Food Institute is a thriving 501(c) non-profit membership organization comprised of farmers, food producers and food consumers on the East End of Long Island. The group's mission is to support, promote and advocate for the farmers, vintners, fishermen and other food producers and providers on the East End of Long Island. The institute envisions the East End as a place where all farms and food businesses thrive, supported by an engaged community whose members understand the benefits and uniqueness of local foods
AFI's Executive Director Kate Fullam packs up jars of tomato sauce made in the kitchen.
“There are a lot of farms on the East End, and Long Island has some of the most productive agricultural soils in the country,” explains Kate Fullam, Executive Director of Amagansett Food Institute. “However, the high cost of land and cost of living in our area presents a huge challenge for beginning farmers and their workers. We are striving to create a more sustainable and equitable food system, one that addresses these and other obstacles.”
“There are ways to get around the cost of land on the East End,” adds Katie Baldwin. “People are getting really creative working with land trusts so that farmers who are just starting out can have access to land.” Amagansett Food Institute recently hosted Slow Money Institute founder and author Woody Tasch to generate additional creative solutions to financing. The organization prides itself on this type of community building, bridging the gap between its members and the general public.
Stony Brook University welcomed Amagansett Food Institute to its campus in 2014 and allowed the organization to better serve Long Island's agriculture community. The institute rents a commercial kitchen and runs a café on campus, known as the South Fork Kitchens. The café serves the campus community and general public with a locally sourced menu that flexes with the seasons. A shared kitchen processes local farm produce and also serves as an incubator for “foodpreneurs” who want to start their own food businesses.
“By allowing us to use the commercial kitchen, Stony Brook University is helping us build a stronger food economy in the local community,” says Kate Fullam. “Surplus farm produce is simply processed and frozen here, or cooked into a delicious meal or side dish. This type of food production reduces food waste, offers farmers a better chance of maximizing their crops, and helps more people access local food.”
The Institute serves three groups; farmers, food producers and the general public, as well as a growing group of chef members. But, the farmers are the beginning of the food cycle.
“One of our programs matches apprentices with local farmers that need additional assistance during the season,” states Kate Fullam. “People from around the country can apply to become a farm apprentice and work on any number of operations, from vegetable farms to cattle farms to poultry. We have had many successful matches and many have stayed in the area.”
This year Amagansett Food Institute received grant funding to expand its Farm to Food Pantry program in partnership with the East Hampton-based Share the Harvest Farm, which grows specifically for local people in need. At South Fork Kitchens, the Institute has already processed and frozen several thousand pounds of produce that will be distributed to local food pantries this fall and winter.
“This year’s frozen food project is a pilot for scaling up to get more produce from local farmers in the hands (and bellies) of consumers. We can also sell minimally-processed produce to institutions such as schools and hospitals as a revenue stream to support the program,” says Kate Fullam. “Our goal is to create a more sustainable and local food system where farmers, food producers, and the public can all benefit.”
Learn more about AFI and their programs at www.amagansettfoodinstitute.com
Christy Smith-Sloman is a journalist and playwright living in New York City. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Marie Claire, Essence and The New York Post among others.
Produce growing at Share the Harvest Farm in East Hampton.