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Island Harvest Food Bank hopes to again reap fresh produce on its farm

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank, speaks about the importance of providing fresh fruit and vegetables to food-insecure Long Islanders at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the charity's Healthy Harvest Farm on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood on Wednesday. Credit: David Conn

Sidelined by the pandemic, Island Harvest Food Bank announced the return of its Healthy Harvest Farm on Wednesday at the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood.

The food bank, the largest hunger-relief organization on Long Island, was forced to suspend farming operations last year in order to divert its resources to address the more urgent needs of Long Islanders "suddenly faced with food insecurity," charity officials said in announcing the resumption of farm operations.

The Healthy Harvest Farm will operate on a two-acre parcel at the Sisters of St. Joseph. Island Harvest said it expects a yield of about 20,000 pounds of produce this growing season from the parcel, a portion of the 212-acre property that the Sisters of St. Joseph will allow the food bank to use for a nominal fee. Crops grown at the site will include beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, eggplant, herbs, honeydew melon, kale, lettuce, peppers, squash, tomatoes and more, officials said.

"Solutions to help people who are food-insecure have typically been short-term in nature and often devoid of fresh, healthy food," Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank, said in a statement. "We at Island Harvest Food Bank are driving a shift toward promoting better eating habits by offering healthier food choices that will eventually lead to more favorable health outcomes for people identified as food-insecure."

Also in a statement, Sister Helen Kearney, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph, said: "This project is in perfect alignment with our ongoing commitment to both environmental sustainability and social justice so that the needs of all will be met."

A 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture study found food insecurity is "associated with higher probability" of a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.

In fact, the USDA said although income was "only significantly associated" with three of the 10 chronic diseases — hepatitis, arthritis and COPD — food insecurity was "significantly associated" with all 10.

Island Harvest was founded in Rockville Centre in 1992 by Linda Breitstone, who, as told on the organization website, "was infuriated that food from a local convenience store was being thrown away at the end of the day — with a safe house for women and children down the street."

Started with a cooler, a station wagon and a ton of heartfelt desire, Island Harvest now delivers millions of pounds of surplus food — "much of which," Island Harvest officials note, "might otherwise go to waste" — to a network of 450 Long Island-based food pantries, soup kitchens and other nonprofit organizations that offer feeding services for those in need. To date, Island Harvest said it had delivered more than 130 million pounds of food, supplementing 108 million meals.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, meanwhile, operate a pesticide-free organic growing farm and garden at its property in Brentwood, which includes a 1-megawatt solar energy system, sustainable landscaping and wastewater management filtration system, woodland preservation and a setup for free-range chickens.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony to rededicate the farm Wednesday was attended by Island Harvest Food Bank’s leadership, representatives from the Sisters of St. Joseph, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, locally elected officials, anti-hunger activists and Island Harvest Food Bank’s corporate partners, including Long Island Compost, which donated 200 yards of rich compost material to the Healthy Harvest Farm, Costello’s Ace Hardware, the Long Island Food Council and New York & Atlantic Railway.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County is not involved with the Healthy Harvest Farm. The Sisters of St. Joseph will allow the Island Harvest Food Bank to use the farm land for a nominal fee. And Island Harvest provides food to a network of 450 Long Island-based food pantries, soup kitchens and other nonprofit organizations. This information was incorrect in a previous version of this article due to inaccurate information provided.

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