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Locally grown lettuce safe to eat, farmers say

11/21/2018 4:12 PM |

In the midst of another national E. coli outbreak, North Fork farms are recommending consumers buy vegetables from local businesses to evade the outbreak.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 people in the United States have been infected with E. coli from eating contaminated romaine lettuce between Oct. 8–31. The CDC has advised consumers to toss all romaine lettuce as no specific grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of the product has been identified to be contaminated.

But Lucy Senesac, manger of Sang Lee Farms, said their organic lettuce is safe for consumption because it goes directly to the consumer.

She said Wednesday that multiple people called the farm to ask if their romaine lettuce was safe to consume. So she posted a video to the Sang Lee Farm’s social media accounts of farmers biting into heads of lettuce. The post’s text encouraged people shop at local farms.

“We wanted to educate people so they know that what they bought from us is safe,” she said.

“These days, you constantly hear about these recalls,” she said. “It keeps happening more and more because we’re part of a big food system that has huge farms growing and shipping to supermarkets all over the country.” The food system she’s referring to are corporate markets that sell produce from various parts of the country, Ms. Senesac said. She believes small businesses, like Sang Lee, have more freedom when they’re not giving their produce to company distributors.

“They don’t always label what state the vegetables are from,” she said. “If we sold to supermarkets, if we sold to big distributors, we would have to provide tracking information, but since we’re selling to the consumers, it’s more of a direct relationship.”

Schmitt’s Family Farm in Riverhead distributes to local markets like Country View Farm Stand in Southold, Bay View Farm Market in Aquabogue, Dayton Farms in East Hampton, and Vicki’s Veggies in Amagansett, among others. Despite the recall, Schmitt’s is still harvesting romaine lettuce.

Owner Matt Schmitt agrees: local farms simply don’t have this problem.

“If you know where your food is coming from, you’re not really going to find anyone with a similar problem,” he said. “It’s a fresher vegetable and safer vegetable.”

Due to the romaine lettuce recall, Mr. Schmitt said local supermarkets like King Kullen and Giunta’s Meat Farms refuse to sell his lettuce. Although the season for harvesting lettuce is nearly over, he said their rejection has negatively affected his business.

“It hurts you,” Mr. Schmitt said. “You grow to sell it but then you can’t, and all your expenses went into it — fertilizer, seeds and care.”

Ms. Senesac said she believes that the outbreak is a good opportunity for people to avoid corporate markets.

“People toss the word ‘local’ around a lot, and don’t really know what it is or why it’s important,” Ms. Senesac said. “It means the connection, it means knowing where your food comes from, and this is a perfect example for people to realize that local is important.”

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Photo caption: Organic, locally grown lettuce is on sale at Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. (Kate Nalepinski photo)

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