The Tipping Point - 27 East


Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1779841

The Tipping Point

Traffic in front of my home in Hampton Bays marks late spring, as diesel engines, squeaking brakes and a blaring car radio mingle in with backyard birdsong as I sip my morning coffee on the patio. A glance at the lineup reveals mostly landscaping vehicles and food delivery trucks, dotted with personal cars.

Commuter traffic is common, but it also signals the region’s cry for help in a time when pressure for development, critical infrastructure and basic human needs is at an all-time high. A slithering trade parade seems to softly hiss what we are all wondering: How much more can the East End handle?

The birds continue singing, as we do, as if nothing is looming.

Due to its geographic isolation, seasonal economy and high cost of living, eastern Long Island has always struggled with balancing the needs of part-time and year-round residents. Issues such as housing, transportation, environmental protection, food supply, workforce and wages were punctuated by a pandemic that forced the most vulnerable to pivot for their livelihoods, while those with means supported themselves on farm stand fare.

A hanging bird feeder reminds me: Everyone has to eat.

Some East End food businesses benefited from the early season pandemic boom and continued demand for local nourishment throughout 2020. Food pantries also saw a spike in donations for emergency feeding. These contributions were critical when children could not rely on free school meals, and others were struggling or scared to find work that would enable them to purchase basic necessities.

But are we going to address the issues that got us here in the first place?

The morning traffic migration onto residential streets is a reminder that we are pushing the limits of sustainability on the East End. When it comes to food, we must advocate for investments locally that incentivize farmers to grow food, subsidize farm-to-institution purchasing, streamline food processing and distribution, and ensure equitable access to the local bounty.

How do we maximize food production and ensure environmental protection? Can local farms and restaurants find the employees they need, and at what cost? What is a living wage for the local food workforce when housing is limited and expensive? Is it possible to incentivize local food production and share the bounty with people in need?

And, yes, what can be done about the traffic?

For over a year, East End Food Institute and CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute have considered these questions, and gathered feedback from a diverse set of food systems stakeholders to present a shared vision to elected leaders alongside partners in New York City and the Hudson Valley.

We welcome your perspective. Please join the conversation at

Kate Fullam

Executive Director

East End Food Institute