Planning is underway to transform the current East End Food Market into a year-round “East End Food Hub” at the former Homeside Florist property in Riverhead.
The popular winter market opened at the site in November 2021 and has continued operating on Friday evenings through the spring and summer. Earlier this year, the nonprofit began fundraising to support construction of a community kitchen at the site and now, they’re gearing up to unveil a first look at design plans for the four-acre property.
Though the farmers market is held in Riverhead, the food institute’s current kitchen and headquarters are located at the Stony Brook campus in Southampton.
“We’re bursting at the seams in Southampton,” said Kate Fullam, noting that while it was a great location to get started, the infrastructure is aging and space is too small for their plans to scale up. The new facility, she said, will help expand their services.
The institute is currently working with a team of architects, engineers and traffic consultants on finalizing designs for a new campus in Riverhead, which will likely be completed in phases. The first phase involves renovation of the existing 5,000-square-foot building into a community kitchen, similar to the setup in Southampton, where the institute’s team helps farms and small-scale food entrepreneurs process their products. A small, semi-permanent market with stalls is also envisioned for the existing building, with windows allowing a look into the kitchen space. “Rather than having production separated from retail, you’re getting the full picture of hyper-local ingredients coming in for small-scale producers,” Fullam explained.
The second project phase would include constructing a new 7,500-square-foot, multi-use building that would host the typical farmers market, with space for vendors to set up, but could also be used for cooking demonstrations and events. That building would also be dedicated to a higher-volume processing kitchen that could handle larger amounts of produce from local farms.
“There’s obviously a major agricultural industry here on the East End but oftentimes, it’s just the higher-end consumer that can buy,” Fullam said. A primary goal of the institute is to help create new revenue streams for local farmers and producers while also increasing access to locally grown products beyond farm stands and markets. “It’s good for farms to be able to sell higher volumes of produce at a wholesale price but also great for people in the community to access local food who maybe wouldn’t be able to afford to visit a farm stand,” she said.
One way to achieve that is by connecting with major local institutions — including area hospitals, food pantries, senior centers and schools — to get local products on the menu. The institute already helps provide local products to school districts in Riverhead, Westhampton, Southampton, Bridghampton and Tuckahoe and is aiming to expand, Fullam said.
The final piece of the plan calls for housing at the rear of the property, where it abuts an existing residential neighborhood, which is permitted under Riverhead Town’s Commercial/Residential Campus zoning district. Fullam said the housing could help address some seasonal needs for people who work directly with the operation and could also house people in town for training and conferences hosted by the institute.
The food institute is currently leasing the property from owners Paul Pawlowski and Kenneth Ballato, who purchased it in 2020.
Homeside Florist & Greenhouses closed in 2018 after 64 years in business. It was founded in the 1950s by Ernest Olsen and run by his children Andrea and Kris after he died in 2018. The property was listed on the market in February 2019 for $3.5 million.
In an interview Friday, Pawlowski described Fullam as a great partner on the project with an “awesome” vision.
“First and foremost, it works well with what was there. [The Olsens] were a hardworking family and there forever and a transition to an agricultural use again is great,” he said.
Pawlowski said the goal is to achieve a new site plan for the property that will improve the layout, flow and traffic. “Eventually, the entire site will be properly laid out with new buildings,” he said. “If we can improve traffic flow, we will.”
The organization is working with a traffic consultant on a study and would ideally like to see a right-turn-only exit directly onto Route 105 to alleviate congestion in the area.
“It will service both forks. It’s a really good use,” Pawlowski said.
Plans for the food hub project will be unveiled during a fundraising cocktail party at Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton on Thursday, Sept. 15. The event will feature some of the institute’s current producers including Balsam Farms in Amagansett, Mecox Bay Dairy in Water Mill and Treiber Farms in Peconic.
Fullam will also be available at the farmer’s market Friday, Sept. 16, and Friday, Sept. 30, to share plans with the community, get feedback and answer questions. “We’ve been working behind the scenes really hard and looking forward to getting some feedback from the food producers, farmers and community to make sure we’re heading in the right direction now that we’re finalizing designs and trying to go in for our building permit,” she said, adding that she hopes to have applications submitted to the town by the end of the year.
Fullam, who has served as executive director at the institute since 2018, is passionate about food, community health and the environment. “We’re impacting the environment, the economy and equitable access to food, which leads to a healthier community. It’s an essential piece to make sure agriculture survives, people stay healthy and resilient,” she said, especially in the face of the pandemic, which showed how fragile the food system can break down. “We’re trying to localize and strengthen the resilience behind the scenes if we do have a crisis like a pandemic — or, more likely, a hurricane,” Fullam said.
The East End Food Market is located at 139 Main Road in Riverhead. It is currently open Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. through the end of October. The winter market will reopen Saturday, Nov. 26. For more information on the market and plans for the food hub, visit eastendfood.org.