A New Food Institute for Amagansett

The latest buzz on the Hamptons foodie scene is a budding community project that is slowly taking shape out in Amagansett, to possibly find a home on the site of the former Pacific East Restaurant. Known as the Amagansett Food Institute, the idea was hatched by a group of East End residents just a couple of years ago. Early plans for the Institute indicate that it will be an extremely multifunctional location, hosting free community cooking lessons, with a commercial kitchen available for local farmers and bakers, conference and office spaces, and even a café.

The Institute aims “to fill a void that the community has,” explains Executive Director of the Amagansett Food Institute, Jennifer Desmond. Many of the offerings from the Institute will be free, to allow everyone in the community to benefit from the Institute, “regardless of socioeconomic status.”

“I can’t stop pinching myself,” she excitedly shares, as we sit on the open tailgate of her bright red pick-up truck. Her evident love for the project comes across in her smiling countenance. She has confidence in her own ability, as she intends “to take a seedling and make it grow.” She hopes that sometime in the future, proceeds from the Institute will contribute to a fund supporting health insurance for local growers, something that many cannot currently afford. [expand]

These next few months are all about fundraising. The initial goal for the project is $5 million.

One critical part of this starting phase will be obtaining a building for the Institute, and the Board of Directors already has a particular site in mind. The former Pacific East, in front of the Amber Waves Farm right next to the Amagansett Farmers Market on Montauk Highway, is now a vacant building. Desmond optimistically hopes that they will be able to purchase the building by the end of this year, adding that with at least two years of obtaining permits ahead of them, the earliest date that the Institute could function would be sometime in 2013. But that doesn’t stop everyone involved from expressing their excitement about the project.

The two young women who founded Amber Waves Farm back in 2009 are key members of the Institute’s Board of Directors. Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow met while participating in apprenticeships at Quail Hill Farm. After learning about farming techniques during their 10 months there, these two friends were hooked and ready to start out on their own.

Thus began the nonprofit Amber Waves Farm. Located just over the hill from the Quail Hill Farm where they met, this 7.7 acre farm already hosts programs similar to the ones proposed for the Institute; the women welcome community members for educational programs, they also have a variety of crops, including everything from kale to wheat to garlic, stretching out as a beautiful tapestry of crops. Some local residents participate in a program known as Community-Supported Agriculture, in which they agree to pay the farm $700 in exchange for a basketful of vegetables for 18 weeks. This year there are 60 families participating—not too bad for this farm’s third season.

As I walk through the farm with Baldwin, a young entrepreneur who attended the University of Southern California, I find myself easily drawn into the alluring world of small farms and local agriculture. She points out the different crops as we walk along, explaining the ins and outs of maintaining a small farm here on the East End, and why she is so invested in the idea of the Institute. She looks forward to a time when she and Merrow will have even more support for their goal of increasing food education amongst local residents. Just as everyone would know their lawyer or doctor, she explains, everyone should know the people who produce their food; the Institute will help close the gap between field and table. In this same community spirit, the Institute will also help fill local food pantries by encouraging farmers to plant crops specifically for the pantries.

With such a bright outlook for this innovative Amagansett project, many locals are sure to be keeping an eye on this project over the next few years. As Desmond explains, “You know how they say it takes a village? Well, we’re trying to get back to that village idea of food production.” Let’s all join them, shall we?

To learn more about the Amagansett Food Institute, visit www.amagansettfood.org, or for more on Amber Waves Farm, head to www.amberwavesfarm.org. [/expand]

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