Getting to know those who grow on the North Fork Foodie Tour

Shittake mushrooms grown at East End Mushroom Co. in Cutchogue. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Ask a group of fourth-graders who spend several hours each week in an organic vegetable garden what they like to snack on and the answer may surprise you.

“I always eat all the kale,” said Southold Elementary School student Amelia Harmon, 9. 

Access to fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as exposure to how it is grown, has surely changed the youngsters’ eating habits.

Southold students work in the on-campus Southold Schools Garden during science classes and are allowed to eat much of what is grown there.

“Most of the food goes to the school cafeteria,” Amelia said. “Even if you’re not buying lunch and you have no money you can go up and grab a salad.”

The four-year-old school garden was just one of the stops on Sunday’s ninth annual North Fork Foodie Tour. With a mission similar to that of the school garden, the event lets participants get to know the people who grow their vegetables, brew their beer and make the award-winning goat cheese they eat.

The foodie tour is the year’s biggest fundraiser for North Fork Reform Synagogue, but organizers say the spirit behind the event goes beyond just trying to balance the books.

Southold Elementary School garden volunteer Sonomi Obinata gives students (from left) Amelia Harmon, 9, Grace Zehil, 8, Olivia Zehil, 7, and Emma DeTour, 11, a refresher in what's growing in the garden.

Southold Elementary School garden volunteer Sonomi Obinata gives students (from left) Amelia Harmon, 9, Grace Zehil, 8, Olivia Zehil, 7, and Emma DeTour, 11, a refresher in what’s growing in the garden.

The foodie tour stems from the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the earth and community through individual acts, said event chairperson and synagogue member Ellen Zimmerman.

“It means try to make things better and try to give back,” Zimmerman said. “The North Fork is still a working agricultural community and we want to support that.”

In its first year, she noted, the event drew about 300 participants, a number that has swelled to an annual average of 500.

“We’ve raised more money every year,” Zimmerman said.

With about 20 participating food producers, the tour attracts many repeat visitors who stop at the farms, breweries and vineyards they might have missed the previous year.

“You can’t ever go to all the places,” Zimmerman said.

New to the tour this year were Macari Vineyards in Mattituck, North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold and the Southold Schools Garden.

Mathew Garms and Miles Eisenberg, both 11 and of Southold, prepare a salad for North Fork Foodie Tour visitors.

Mathew Garms and Miles Eisenberg, both 11 and of Southold, prepare a salad for North Fork Foodie Tour visitors.

At East End Mushroom Co. in Cutchogue, formerly known as Long Island Mushroom and participating in the tour for the second time, guests were able to break off a shiitake mushroom stem and eat it on the spot. They also got a close look at the company’s 1,800-square-foot, 20-foot-tall Cox Road warehouse, which has the capacity to produce 3,200 pounds of fungi per week.

“This is probably the freshest mushroom you’ve ever tasted,” co-owner John Quigley told a crowd wearing disposable masks to avoid inhaling mushroom spores.

In addition to tours of the facility, visitors were invited to sample mushroom carbonara made by chefs Kyle and Jessica Koenig.

“It’s a nice way to open our doors and have people see what we’re doing,” said Jane Maguire, Quigley’s business partner. “A lot of the people are from up the island so it gives us a greater audience.”

Ultimately, the tour allows participants to feel a greater connection to the people producing their food and a better understanding of how things go from seed to market.

“We’ve been on the foodie tour since it started and they always add something new,” said part-time Jamesport resident Liz Yenetchi. “I’ve seen them in the forest, but I’ve never seen mushrooms grown like this.”

Top photo: Shittake mushrooms grown at East End Mushroom Co. in Cutchogue. (Credit: Vera Chinese)