Long Island Food Summit Identifies Challenges

State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele at the Long Island Food Summit.

State Senator Ken LaValle, right, and Assemblyman Fred Thiele at the Long Island Food Summit.

It’s a perennial problem. How is it that so many people living in New York City not know Long Island is a major agricultural region with world-class wines and farms producing some of the best vegetables, fruit and livestock? A source of frustration starts to Albany, where, many in the Long Island food community say our region is often second in line when receiving state attention, promotion and, importantly, money.

So Ken LaValle, who represents the East End and part of Brookhaven Town in the state Senate, called a summit of elected officials, private businesses, representatives from Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Stony Brook Business Incubator at Calverton, the Long Island Wine Council and the Long Island Farm Bureau to hash out how to get more attention for the farmers and food and beverage artisans from Suffolk and Nassau counties.

LaValle started with a quote from a press release from Gov. Cuomo’s office promoting his Pride of New York program. It stated: “Whether you’re looking for a bakery on Long Island or a winery in the North Country, the ‘Pride of New York’ website offers an extensive collection of New York’s finest local producers to help complete your holiday season.”

“Really,” asked LaValle, “a bakery?” He then identified four areas in need of examination: infrastructure; education in the schools; necessary legislation and promotion.

Much of the discussion centered on farming and how to make it a year-round business, which would require greenhouses and expensive fuel. Greenhouses meet resistance in towns, which often have maximum lot coverage laws. Year-round farming would also make it easier to keep shelf space in supermarkets, said food distributor John King. Fuel economy suggestions included geo-thermal, which can also bypass local resistance to wind turbines and banks of solar panels.

Curricula in public schools could also help keep residents on Long Island by stirring an interest in farming. Much of the money going for infrastructure and development comes from grants secured by organizations like the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, whose president, Kevin Law, said was able to fund projects for trawling equipment for L&G Fisheries, an ice machine for Cor-J Seafood, expansion and establishment of a museum on the History of Long Island Potato Farming for Martin Sidor Farms and a mobile processing unit for Browder’s Birds.

Other opportunities for new businesses, relocating businesses and existing businesses wishing to expand include START-UP NY, a state program promising extensive tax breaks and use of land on SUNY campuses that was introduced in October.

As far as legislation, Joseph M. Gergela III, executive director of the farm bureau, said small farmers will be overburdened by the Food Safety Modernization Act, a new federal law requiring food producers to invest in new processes and equipment to achieve compliance.

And, finally to get the word out attendees lauded the recent TasteNorthFork project during which 1,000 people took advantage of a free shuttle bus funded by a grant secured by the East End Tourism Alliance. King also suggested sending out a request for proposals to Long Island advertising agencies to develop promotional programs that would build on the Grown on Long Island program directed by the farm bureau.

A committee is forming to expand on all the ideas discussed.

Read more about food policy here.

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