By Gianna Volpe
Some may think Ernest Hemingway when they hear the phrase “A Moveable Feast,” but on the East End it’s not just a title of a master author’s memoirs, but the name of a fundraiser that will take place this year on Sunday, April 17 at Dodds & Eder in Sag Harbor in memory of a North Haven resident dedicated to farming and education who lost his life too soon.
Sunday’s event is sponsored by Slow Food East End and the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation, the non-profit founded in the wake of Mr. Levine’s tragic death at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett six years ago. That non-profit has dedicated itself to educating area youth about forming closer connections with food through farming and has tirelessly championed issues important to the 35-year-old by providing infrastructure, programming and personnel grants to the locavore organizations and local schools.
“The East End has one of the most successful school garden programs in the United States and I would say the funds we’ve been able to generate through the Josh Levine Memorial Foundation with these fundraisers is one of the key reasons for that,” said Anne Howard, president of Slow Food USA’s local chapter with a region sporting more than 25 gardens established at public, private and charter schools. “Thousands of children have benefitted from knowing where their food comes from…and too I’m sure a lot of parents who have become involved.”
That’s certainly been true for Sag Harbor parent Megan Schmidt, who said she’s been amazed watching her eight-year-old daughter, Ella, grow up with gardening as part of her educational fabric in the four years since Ms. Schmidt co-founded the Child Development Center of the Hamptons’ edible garden with help from one of the East End’s three master gardeners. The foundation pays a group of master gardens an annual stipend to help establish and maintain the dozens of school gardens across the East End.
“I never would have been able to start that garden without the expertise of the master farmer the memorial foundation raised money to provide,” said Ms. Schmidt, a Slow Food East End board member and co-founding board member of the Edible School Garden Group. “They helped me map it out as far as where we were growing and what we were growing and how we were growing it.”
Ms. Schmidt said the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation — which annually donates thousands of dollars to help fund school garden projects — recently awarded grants to Sag Harbor Elementary for a greenhouse heater and an 18-foot dedicated bed for growing the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin.
“We’re trying to bring back the heritage breed because the seed is in danger of being lost forever,” said Ms. Schmidt. “It’s a big community movement. The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is the best for making pumpkin pie, but it fell out of favor because it’s not a big, round and Jack-O-Lantern orange.”
An exciting cheese pumpkin pie opportunity could easily be garnered through SFEE’s “Chef To Schools” initiative, which program head Pierre Friedrichs said is bringing full circle Joshua Levine’s dream for youth to get better acquainted with food they’ve grown.
“The kids grow the vegetables and things in the garden and the chefs come teach them how they can utilize it,” said the private chef who credits a Southern Louisiana farm upbringing for his culinary passions. “I think it’s important kids know that spinach comes from a plant; It doesn’t come from a can…I grew up on a farm outside of New Orleans and people laugh at me when I say this, but we always knew ‘who’ we were eating.”
Chef Friedrichs has taught students to make salads and smoothies from kale, as well as how to sauté greens and use herbs to make dressing, but he said what’s more interesting is how some school gardens are now producing enough to give back to the community.
Joan Moran of The Good Ground School-Community Garden in Hampton Bays said the garden she helps to run there annually produces upwards of 2,000 pounds of produce, some of which is donated to the local food pantry. She said this wouldn’t have been possible without the JLMF as the five-year New York State grant through Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead that helped to establish the Good Ground garden has since run out and would have left her without a master gardener to continue the program if not for the foundation.
The Bridgehampton School has a garden that’s beginning to produce enough to feed the school population, according to parent volunteer Kathleen McClelland, who said the master gardener has been integral in helping establish a production schedule for the small school district to have a self-sustaining cafeteria.
“In the winter we focus a lot on lettuce in the greenhouse because that’s an easy thing to grow and get into the café with salads and we’ve also tried to increase our production of root vegetables and squash things that you can store longer,” said Ms. McClelland. “We try to stagger those growing periods into the fall to get them into the café, so working with the master farmer is important for us because we don’t have that knowledge of things like when we can put crops into the ground and the length of the growing cycles.”
She said Bridgehampton students are even growing edible flowers like Nasturtium alongside broccoli, tomatoes and numerous varieties of peppers.
“It shows [kids] it’s not difficult to grow your own food and the nutritional value of eating something that is going into your cafeteria five hours later, rather than being in transit, where it’s losing nutritional value,” she said. “It makes me proud of our district and grateful that we live in an area making this a priority for our children, which comes from contributions made by organizations like Slow Food East End and the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation.”
Joshua Levine’s father, Myron, said the “Moveable Feast” name was borne from overwhelming participation by area chefs and restaurateurs from the fundraiser’s very first year, which made the once-called “cocktail party” an event where attendees know they’ll be sure to leave stuffed.
“We didn’t want to call it a cocktail party because that implies you’re going to be getting little mini frankfurters and stuff like that,” Mr. Levine said of what can be better described as a ‘Who’s Who’ of the East End culinary scene. “We also have this incredible silent auction that we’re also letting people who can’t come to the event bid on if we have their email.”
To reserve tickets and learn more, visit www.joshualevinefoundation.org.