Charlie Lee and his wife, Mirella Vasconcelos, only eat raw vegan food.
Now, the Sea Cliff couple wants to grow vegetables after trying homemade dishes prepared with local ingredients at a recent Locavore Potluck Dinner at a Glenwood Landing church.
“I never knew you could make kale taste so good,” said Lee, in between bites of a salad made from locally grown, organic vegetables.
The Sustainable Sea Cliff Cooperative and Glenwood Arts, two nonprofits, teamed up to share local food and art with the community at the Glenwood Church. The Locavore Potluck Dinner was an effort to participate in the Locavore Challenge — a campaign by the Northeast Organic Food Association to encourage more people to eat local organic foods and to be conscientious consumers.
“I think we’d like to begin participating in growing and knowing where our fresh food comes from,” Vasconcelos said.
Founded in 2010, the Sustainable Sea Cliff Cooperative acts as a food-buying club that uses membership dues to purchase organic food from upstate New York and eastern Long Island. Members work three hours per month to help the cooperative manage food orders, advertise through social media or other projects.
The cooperative orders food at wholesale prices. Members pay for their products in full along with an additional 20 percent that is put back into the cooperative for more food orders or other needs.
The products include fruit, dried fruit, rice, juices, vegetables, beans, nuts, pasture-raised meat and household products like soap. Membership is $150 per family, $100 per individual and $75 for students and seniors. There are seven members on the board and 65 members in total.
Plans are also in the works for a 1 ½-acre community garden at Prospect Avenue and Shore Road. Children attending schools in the Northshore School District will be encouraged to garden and learn about environmentally safe food production.
“We're so divorced from food production that people do not realize they’re not eating real food,” cooperative board member Sophie Hawkins said.
Over 50 people attended the recent potluck dinner where they enjoyed locally brewed beer, wine and homemade dishes like couscous with homegrown basil and New York apple crisp made with organic apples. By the end of the night, serving platters and bowls were bare and a few people even left email addresses for the organizations to contact them.
When Sea Cliff resident Sean Gibbons was growing up, his family had over 200 hens and an endless supply of fresh eggs. His father’s chicken coop in Lake Ronkonkoma provided eggs of a higher quality than what could be found in supermarkets, he said.
“It’s like night and day to have a locally grown egg,” said Gibbons, 45, a board member of the cooperative. “They’re good for, like, five weeks.”
Gibbon’s standards for fresh food are not his only reason for being a member. He and several other members of the cooperative see it as an opportunity to “cast a wide net to the community,” by involving the school districts and, in the future, local charities.
"It builds a stronger community," Gibbons said.