Randy and Cori Kopke, owners of Backyard Brine, check inventory...

Randy and Cori Kopke, owners of Backyard Brine, check inventory at their booth inside the East End Food Market in Riverhead on Friday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A new food market in Riverhead is the latest effort by agricultural groups and others to promote the bounty of the East End and interest in local food, which they say has increased in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The East End Food Market on Main Road in Riverhead — a project of the Southampton-based local agricultural advocacy group East End Food Institute, a nonprofit — marked its opening on Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by the institute and Riverhead business and town leaders. The market — whose vendors sell items including baked goods, oysters, milk, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs — drew more than 1,000 people when it unofficially opened its doors on Nov. 27, said Kate Fullam, the food institute’s executive director.

Noting that local food has grown in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic, Fullam told Newsday the turnout was a strong sign that interest in purchasing local food is still strong among people.

"I think people saw [during the pandemic] that the centralized way of providing food throughout the nation is fragile, and on the East End, especially, we have farmers, fishermen and [craftsmen] that can provide for our community," Fullam said. The pandemic, she added, caused people to "slow down and take stock of what’s important" regarding food choices.

Dr. Pennie Schwartz, the chairperson of Slow Food East End, part of a grassroots movement that advocates preserving local food cultures and traditions, said local food "has really become very important in so many ways," highlighting the impact that buying local food has on the environment, the local economy and individual health.

"On the East End, we are so agricultural that people do choose to support local farmers," Schwartz said. "It’s also become important to get our kids to know where their food comes from, whether it’s from local farm fields or the sea, and we’re in such a rich community for that."

Sandy Menasha, vegetable specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said while sales numbers at local farms "skyrocketed" in 2020, sales had dropped this summer. However, Menasha said, there was still opportunity for the local food movement to continue flourishing.

"You’re seeing more and more chefs also highlight local food on their menus," Menasha said, "and if we continue to have folks in fields passionate about food…as long as we have those community members try and foster those beliefs, I’m hoping the local food movement is going to continue to keep increasing."

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