It makes sense that one of the East End’s leading supporters of farmers, fishermen and other local food producers would develop a public kitchen accessible to culinary entrepreneurs.
At the center of the Stony Brook University Southampton campus is South Fork Kitchens, the brainchild of the Amagansett Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for local food sustainability and equitability.
Seasonality can strain businesses across the East End, especially when it comes to those in the food industry. Since it was founded in 2010, the Amagansett Food Institute has been searching for new ways to contribute to the local food economy, all while bringing fresh products to consumers that are grown right in the community, and it seems that South Fork Kitchens is one successful solution.
Featuring a fully-equipped kitchen and café, South Fork Kitchens gives local food producers the opportunity to grow a business that can thrive all year, even during the dreaded off-season. The concept supports the two main goals of the food institute: to support local food producers and the economy, and to put food products to use that would otherwise go to waste.
“There’s this bounty to the area and a really great retail system here with the farmers markets and farm stands, but then there are people who are here year-round who can’t necessarily afford that. On the other side of things, there’s a lot of food being wasted,” Amagansett Food Institute Executive Director Kate Fullam said. “We’re working on a way where we can open up or advance the retail market by taking in excess farm produce here at the South Fork Kitchens and creating value-added products like salad dressings, dips and tomato sauces, and making those for sale at the farmers markets to extend the season.”
There are multiple ways food producers can take advantage of South Fork Kitchens. A dual license with the Suffolk County Health Department and New York State Department of Agriculture allows the organization to support farmers in the production of value-added products from their surplus and odd-sized produce, which reduces food waste and creates new markets for farm products. Food entrepreneurs who wish to rent time and space in the commercial kitchen to produce their own goods for resale can do so with the proper licenses, certifications and insurance.
“It’s helping us to create a system where we can be taking in more farm produce and helping people either get into the wholesale market or get into extending their retail market,” Ms. Fullam said. “This creates a better food system that’s more sustainable and also more equitable so that everybody has a chance to access that.”
The commercial kitchen is equipped with more than 3,000 square feet of cooking space, as well as advanced appliances, machines and a large amount of storage. South Fork Kitchens also features a café where customers can indulge in fresh, seasonal foods on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The food institute has always prioritized giving back to the community through its farm-to-pantry program, and South Fork Kitchens allows the organization to work even more closely with the local food pantries it supports.
“Our farm-to-pantry program has grown from just the seasonal fresh vegetable aggregation and distribution to now working on creating products that have more of a shelf life, which can then extend into the off-season so that people out here who aren’t working as much because of the seasonality of our tourist economy are still able to access the fresh produce,” Ms. Fullam explained.
The food institute has newly partnered with Share the Harvest Farm in East Hampton, a nonprofit organization that grows and donates food to those in need on the East End, by taking in its excess produce at South Fork Kitchens and turning it into food items that can be redistributed at the food pantry. The organization runs a grant-funded program in partnership with the Springs Food Pantry in East Hampton and Heart of the Hamptons food pantry in Southampton, according to Ms. Fullam. Earlier this month, the food institute accepted two pallets of beef donated by Acabonac Farms in Amagansett, which will later be distributed to food pantries.
This summer the food institute will launch its Chefs for Good initiative, in which chefs can partner with South Fork Kitchens and put their creativity to use by working with local food producers to create recipes for value-added goods, as well as advise budding food entrepreneurs on various aspects of the business. Chefs are also welcomed to produce their own products and conduct cooking demonstrations.
Many small businesses have blossomed thanks to the resources provided by the organization. Laura O’Brien of Josephine’s Feast, which specializes in seasonal and artisanally made confectionery products, is one chef who has reaped the benefits of South Fork Kitchens.
“The kitchen is where I was able to take a recipe for 18 jars of beach plum preserves and hone it to produce several hundred jars without losing the exceptional taste or quality,” Ms. O’Brien said. “As a small but growing producer, it is important to have a space where you can practice your craft and grow.”
Chefs and business owners looking to partner with the Amagansett Food Institute at South Fork Kitchens can fill out an application at amagansettfoodinstitute.org.
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