Monday, September 1, 2008

What? Country of Origin Labeling at the Amagansett Farmers’ Market!

I grew up in Amagansett and sold my house there just four years ago so I decided to get up early before the hordes of beach traffic and take a drive out that way to visit some of my old favorite places to get delicious, fresh and local food. I was especially excited to visit the Amagansett Farmers Market given that it’s has a new operator, Eli Zabar -- he owns several innovative, upscale markets in NYC.

According to an interview in the The New York Times, Zabar was selected by the Peconic Land Trust to run the market because of his dedication to local foods and sustainable agriculture. “The whole purpose is to focus on growing and selling regional foods,” said John v. H. Halsey, the (Peconic Land) trust’s executive director. Zabar won the contract and outbid a consortium of local retailers to run the operation.

This Lighthearted Locavore was excited! A-M-A-G-A-N-S-E-T-T has so many wonderful memories and especially the farmers market of the early 1970s which was a tiny roadside stand surrounded by gorgeous fields of flowers and vegetables. Back then the Hamptons had more potato farms than people.

After a few minutes of walking around and admiring the beautifully merchandised food, something came over me -- where was the local food? The more time I spent in the store the more upset I became. Expecting to find foods made by the dozens of small farms and food processors on Long Island and the greater New York Region, instead I found the same international assortment of goodies that Mr. Zabar sells at his Vinegar Factory, Eli's and E.A.T. on the upper east side and a paltry few local and regional food items.

Not only is the food at the Amagansett Farmers Market foods not from Long Island or New York, but hundreds of items are not even from the United States!!!

Dried pasta from Italy.

Jams from Denmark. I repeat Denmark! Danish Jam and other jellies from far away lands in the Peconic Land Trust’s new market alongside a mere two local brands.

The cheese refrigerator displayed approximately 175-200 cheeses -- cow, sheep, goat – with country of origin labeling – FRANCE, ITALY, SWITZERLAND, DENMARK, HOLLAND!

I found ONE lonely Long Island cheese from Mecox Dairy. Where were the New York, Vermont and Wisconsin cheeses? Where were the cheeses from the north fork of Long Island?

The refrigerators and freezers stocked with Eli Zabar branded prepared food: pastas, sauces, breads, salads. I suspect few of the raw ingredients that were used to make these ready made items were grown on Long Island or even in New York State. Of the hundreds of items, a handful were locally grown produce and many of those gave no credit to the grower. Eli’s Apple Juice was labeled “made from local apples”. No credit. Where was the name of the farmer whose workers labor hard to was grow, pick and process those apples into apple juice -- into Eli’s “Local” apple juice. I know Eli didn’t grow those apples.

On a more positive note, locally-grown produce was credited to local farmers and a handful of the hundreds of processed foods had the processor’s label (Pike Farm, Briarmere, et al).

Where are the farmers market jams, Amagansett-made clam chowders, packages of smoked Long Island duck?

I may be the “Light-Hearted Locavore” but there are some things I take pretty seriously and the Amagansett Farmers Market is one of them. I was so annoyed that I left without buying anything, not even the delicious looking hot Italian sausages that I carried around the store for 20 minutes!

I’ll give Mr. Zabar some time -- the benefit of the doubt if you will. He did open the market in record time and he has a lot of eyes watching him, especially those of the Peconic Land Trust. Next year’s growing season starts in March. There’s a lot of time between now and then to deplete the inventory of European and Asian imported goods and restock the shelves and the refrigerators with regional and local food.

WHAT'S IN SEASON
For a look at what's in season check out the “Pride of New York” Harvest schedule (note - lemons and avocados don't grow in NY State)

ABOUT THE LAND
For more information on the
Peconic Land Trust and to make a donation.

IN THE NEWS
The Amagansett Farmers Market after 55 years was sold in a complex and creative deal with the land now preserved for farm use by the help of the Peconic Land Trust and the Town of East Hampton. Read more about the market at:

New York Times:
The Zabar Touch Now In Amagansett

A Farm and Its Market Preserved

New Yorker

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