Farm-fresh food and booze at ‘Grown on Long Island Day’

08/06/2011 4:28 AM |

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Bob Weiss of Medford picks tomatoes from a farmer's market stand.

Sarah Osborn poked a finger at a plump heirloom tomato, testing its ripeness before placing it in her bag.

The Riverhead resident, who grew up on a potato farm in Wainscott, N.Y., said she came out to Grown on Long Island Day at Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank to support her fellow farmers.

“If we don’t have local food, everything will be trucked into the Island. I’m a little scared of that,” she said. “Gas prices are so high, and I don’t want to pay the price for food plus the gas to bring it here.”

Ms. Osborn was one of hundreds who strolled around the farm on Friday tasting cheese from local farms, wines from local vineyards and — of course — fresh produce grown and picked by the hands of Suffolk’s farmers.

The first annual Grown on Long Island Day, designated so by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, is meant to promote area farmers.

The event, sponsored in part by the Long Island Farm Bureau, was the brainchild of the bureau’s executive director, Joe Gergela.

At the start of the summer season, Mr. Gergela spoke with many discouraged farmers who lamented over the slow market, the unforgiving heat wilting their produce and the looming threat of out-of-state competition.

“The usual summer doldrums when you’re a Long Island farmer,” Mr. Gergela explained.

He decided to launch Grown on Long Island Day “to build up excitement and energy” for locally grown food.

“If you want these farmers to exist, you have to support us and buy local,” he said. “We all live here, so let’s spend our money here.”

Mr. Levy noted during a press conference held at the event that Suffolk County is the leading agricultural county in the state, bringing in more revenue from agricultural products than any other county.

“It’s so important for our residents here in Suffolk County to support our local farmers,” he said.

“Agriculture and farming is important to our local economy and our local history,” he added, noting that an ox is emblazoned on the county’s seal.

Residents basked in the sunshine Friday, sipping organic iced coffee, picking out Montauk daises and hardy mums — plants local to Long Island — and listening to a man in a straw hat strum his banjo and sing the folk song “This Land is your Land.”

Many donated to Island Harvest, a Mineola-based hunger relief organization that distributes food to about 600 hunger relief agencies across Long Island. Island Harvest gave a t-shirt to those who donated either $10 worth of produce or cash.

Migdalia Otero, Island Harvest’s vice president of program operations, said Long Island farmers are huge supporters of her organization, collectively donating more than 1 million pounds of food last year.

She said the obesity problem among the poor on Long Island is due to the fact that the cheapest foods are the least nutritious.

“I’m sure they would buy fresh produce if they could, but it’s expensive,” she said. “We’re helping get fresh produce to the community to alleviate high blood pressure, diabetes and other problems due to the way we eat.”

Gene Krupski, owner and manager of Mar-Gene Farm in Mattituck, said he set up shop at the event to support Island Harvest and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, another sponsor.

A third-generation farmer, Mr. Krupsi began growing all organic food two years ago and he sells food to local restaurants. He proudly gestured to his artichokes, zucchini and cucumber bundled in baskets that were for sale.

“There’s nothing like fresh,” he said. “It’s the healthiest.”

samantha@northshoresun.com