When events started to get canceled and people isolated in their homes on the North Fork and beyond, many businesses took a hit.
One weekly North Fork event that was shut down was the Riverhead Indoor Farmers Market, which is normally held every Saturday.
But the East End Food Institute, the organization that runs the market, created a solution to help the vendors get through tough times — an online store and home delivery service.
“For a lot of our [vendors], the Riverhead Farmers Market is one of few that goes over the winter, so that was their main outlet for sales,” said program coordinator Heather Meehan. “I wanted to give a platform for those that were not able to do their own home deliveries and be able to still sell their locally produced food to the community.”
The addition to the East End Food Institute website was one that the organization was hoping to launch at some point, but saw this as an opportune time.
“This centralized system of getting food out to community members is something that we have wanted to do as an organization,” she said. “This crisis kind of forced our hand, but our mission at East End Food Institute is to support a strong local food economy. Part of that is making sure local producers and growers have places to sell their products year round and also that local community members can access local food.”
Currently, the East End Food Institute acts as a command center, collecting the products as vendors drop them off at their Southampton location. From there, they pack up orders and set them up for pick up or delivery. North Fork deliveries are also available, including all of Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island.
Some market vendors are not only selling through the website but also their own and doing their own deliveries in person or through the mail. The EEFI website allows you to search for some of your favorite vendors in the same place online.
“This is phase one, but what we are hoping to do is give a platform to some of the local oyster growers and produce farmers that are impacted by the closure of so many restaurants,” she said.
The Coronavirus has only revealed the drawbacks of the food system and the ways local farmers are able to step in and help, Meehan said.
“With this current crisis, we are seeing that there are certain vulnerabilities in our food system as it exists,” she said. “The grocery stores are running out of certain things because everything has to be shipped in on trucks or barges.”
As this has continued, Meehan has seen many people turn to their local providers more than ever.
“I think people started to realize, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to the grocery for safety reasons, but I have a farm down the road’ and farms are responding by offering their produce when normally they may be closed,” she continued. “I think we are going to see some of these shifts stick, and our virtual farmers market is no exception.”To order from local East End vendors, head to their website.