By Mara Certic
Kathleen Masters is the executive director of the Amagansett Food Institute. She spoke about its new market and some of its other projects.
So you just opened the new Amagansett Farmers Market on August 1. How’s it going so far?
It’s going fine. It’s hard to open in August because people have already gotten used to their routines, and what’s available. We’ve had a very positive response, it’s a very different model than what you’d find at say, a grocery store, and even from the old market that used to be here.
So what is that model?
Well, as you know, the Amagansett Food Institute is a 501 c3 nonprofit that supports local farmers and food producers. So what we’ve done is create a true farmers market that really focuses on local products. We’ve gone beyond the East End for things that we don’t have locally. For example we’ve sourced some grains and other things from the Southern Tier, we get amazing pasta from Brooklyn and we’re looking into trying to source some meat from the Hudson Valley. We’ve also sourced cheeses from all over the state. It’s an opportunity for us to highlight local food and to encourage people to people to get back in touch with the season, and to eat the beautiful produce we have when it’s in season. We’re also planning on doing educational programming and workshops out of the space too.
What sorts of educational programs do you have planned?
Well we’re working on the schedule right now. We’re focusing this year on the problem of food waste. Forty percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted—that statistic comes from the National Resources Defense Council. It’s wasted on farms, it’s wasted in grocery stores and we all waste a lot in our homes. So we’ve decided to do an educational program about food waste. During the fall, we’re going to get volunteers to go to farms and glean produce—sometimes if you have too much of something, or you don’t have the staff things get left behind. So the idea is that we would take that produce back to our commercial kitchen and make things out of it, that the farms could use for their CSAs, or they could get some of the proceeds from the sales. This is a prototype program that we hope to start small and then grow.
What other things does the food institute do?
Our mission is to support farmers and food producers and the way in which we do that is to support them in a way that allows their businesses to thrive. If we want to have preserved land that’s farmed, we need to have farmers. They need to be able to make a living, and to have a life. We try to do projects that have concrete benefits. When we started we did a lot of focus groups, and one of the things we learned was that there was a need for a commercial kitchen. Ideally, it wouldn’t have been as far west as Southampton, but we found out the commissary kitchen at Stony Brook’s Southampton campus wasn’t being used, and we were able to persuade Stony Brook University to rent us the space to create a small batch food incubator. Right now there are 10 companies working regularly in the kitchen, which they have access to during the blocks of time they rent. They also have access to a refrigerator, drying space and a freezer, and we’re in a position to accept deliveries for them. It provides them with a place to grow their business. A lot of them had been working in restaurant kitchens in the middle of the night, which some people like—but not everyone does. We have a variety of folks working in our kitchen and we hope to be doing more of that.
The new farmers market is located at 367 Main Street in Amagansett and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except for Wednesday. Hours will likely be reduced after Labor Day, but the food institute plans on keeping it open until just before Christmas, and hope to put on a holiday food fair at some point in December. For more information visit amagasettfoodinstitute.org .