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Farm Stands Want Food Trucks

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 20:23

But restaurant owners cry foul, complaining they’ll be put out of business

A proposal to allow food trucks to operate at farm stands in Southampton Town was embraced by farmers and denounced by restaurant owners at a public hearing at the town board meeting on Tuesday.

The proposed law would permit “vending vehicles,” including those operated by a third party, as an accessory use to any farm stand with a pre-existing certificate of occupancy as long as items sold from the food trucks would be predominantly made from ingredients that had been grown or produced locally. The law defines “predominantly” as 80 percent of ingredients.

Katie Garvin, a town attorney, said she had initially drafted the law to include farms stands with temporary operating permits as well, but the town’s agricultural advisory committee thought that would allow too many food trucks in residential areas. As the law is written, she said, between five and eight farm stands would be permitted the use.

The Milk Pail in Water Mill would be one. Amy Halsey, who runs the farm stand with her sister, told the board that in order to survive financially, the agricultural community has had to adapt over the years. Food trucks that sold prepared goods made with local produce, she said, would be a new way to showcase her family farm’s output. They are “what the consumer is looking for,” she said, and they provide a gathering place for the community.

The Milk Pail, she said, had recently held Wednesday night musical events that featured a food truck. “Neighbors could come and shop late at our store, enjoy dinner from a food truck . . . and enjoy music by local musicians,” she said.

When Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman asked Ms. Halsey why she couldn’t just sell more prepared foods at her existing stand, she said she didn’t have the staff. Having a separate entity operate the food truck, she said, would provide more manpower, while helping support another local business.

J. Andreassi, the owner of Sabrosa Mexican Grill in Water Mill, opposed the proposal, he said, because it would increase competition for restaurants. “It’s tough running a restaurant. It’s tough finding staff, we pay a lot of taxes, and we have to abide by strict conditions,” he said. “We don’t need to compete with a taco truck.”

He predicted, if the law were enacted, the food trucks would not observe the requirement to use predominantly local produce, and the rule would be hard to enforce. He also said he wouldn’t object to the proposal if the farmers operated the trucks themselves and sold products that they had prepared.

Mike Mannino, the owner of World Pie in Bridgehampton, who is also against the proposal, had a representative read a letter at the meeting. “It is hard enough to try and maintain a year-round business in this resort area [without] having to compete with food trucks, which are not held to the same standards,” he wrote. “Most year-round businesses are barely getting by as it is, and this proposal may be enough to drive them out of business.”

David Falkowski, the founder of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton, which has a farm stand on Butter Lane, said he was in favor of the proposed law, but he thought it should be inclusive of all farm stands.

“You’re telling me as a day-to-day struggling farmer I’m going to be precluded from this?” he asked. He said farmers need to offer value-added products to make a living. He has a kitchen approved by the Suffolk County Health Department, he said, in which he makes foods such as guacamole, pesto, and pulled-pork sandwiches. “This is not a fly-by-night barbecue truck from Rockaway Beach that comes in and parks here,” he said. “This is an integral part of a farm that allows me to exist.”

David Corwith, the owner of Corwith Vineyards in Water Mill, told the board members they needed to help save farms by providing more avenues, such as the food trucks, for farmers to sell value-added products at retail prices rather than wholesale produce.

Dennis Schmidt, the owner of Schmidt’s Market and Produce in Southampton, however, said that local brick-and-mortar stores are in equal need of support. “We’ve all been hit by online purchasing,” he said. Markets like his, he said, now face competition from service stations with convenience stores, which, 20 years ago, he said, had not been allowed to even serve coffee. “It has a cumulative effect,” he said.

The hearing was adjourned to allow for more comments from the public, and Mr. Schneiderman said he was leaning against the proposal, unless the farmers were more involved with creating the products and operating the trucks.

“I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this idea,” he said. “I see the farm field and it’s beautiful, and I see the farm stand and it’s part of what we love about the East End, and then you put the taco truck there, and it doesn’t feel the same to me. It feels like it doesn’t belong. Somehow it has to relate back to that farm stand more.”

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