Suffolk County officials are launching a new social media and web campaign to encourage more residents to shop local for their food needs in an effort to give farms and food producers a boost, .
Flanked by local farmers, and wine and farming advocates in Riverhead, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday unveiled "ChooseLI.org," a website and initiative to encourage residents to spend 10 percent of their weekly food budget on local and seasonal food and beverages across the county.
"On Long Island, our agriculture and marine heritage serves as the backbone of our way of life," Bellone said. "Buying locally grown and harvested food is better for our health and it is better for our region."
According to a county analysis, if every Suffolk household spends 10 percent of its weekly food budget — or an average of $17.60 weekly — on local food, it would generate an estimated $19 million for the county's economy.
The new website includes a complete map and inventory of all farmstands, farmers’ and fish markets, vineyards, breweries, and cideries countywide. Participating businesses will be able to use Instagram and other social media to create promotional specials using the "#1760" and "#ChooseLI" hashtags to encourage residents to buy local.
Fourth-generation farmer Dominick Bruno, 36, owner of Lenny Bruno Farms in Manorville, said small operations such as his face challenges ranging from changing weather to competing with out-of-state produce sellers. The ability to promote their farms through the campaign would "encourage people to understand the importance of buying local so we can stay around," Bruno said.
Eleven local businesses are enrolled in the campaign and the county is seeking to attract more businesses to partner with them, said August Ruckdeschel, economic development specialist in agriculture and marine for the county's Department of Economic Development & Planning.
If the first phase of the campaign goes well, Ruckdeschel said, the county will seek state and federal funding to expand it, part of which could include website improvements, radio promotion and possibly shooting local farmer video profiles to feature online.
The more than 600 farms in Suffolk County produce $240 million in agricultural goods sales annually, according to county estimates. Marine and ocean-related businesses generate about $1 billion annually in goods and services countywide.