Hug a farmer. On second thought, don't! But give the farmers hearty thanks and a hands-off high-five for what they do. Amid panic about the food supply and, of course, toilet paper, our homegrown growers, producers, and harvesters may suddenly be taking on a new level of importance.
Though it is early in the growing season here on the East End of Long Island, and there will probably be a frost or two ahead, those who grow are teasing crops from greenhouses and tapping into last fall's storehouses. Available now are potatoes, kale, collards, apples, dried beans and peppers, honey, and herbs. More is to come as the days get longer and the weather warmer.
From the sea, at a minimum, there are tilefish, porgies, cod, black sea bass, halibut, sea scallops, and lobster, as well as oysters from local waters. You can find clams, mussels, squid, and even imports from afar in the seafood shops, at least if the ice cases haven't been scoured clean by overeager gourmets. Now, the region can boast of a thriving oyster-aquaculture sector as well.
Local food production beyond potatoes was not always a sure thing. There was a time when development threatened to gobble up the remaining farmland on the two Forks. Starting in the 1970s, with pressure on officials from the Group for the South Fork and others, a preservation movement arose, first paying owners of agricultural land to give up their right to sell it for house lots. Then, the Peconic Land Trust began crafting private partnerships to keep even more fields under the plow. Wine helped, too, especially on the North Fork, with nascent vintners buying up property on which to plant their vines.
Today, thanks to the foresight of these early activists, the elected officials who saw the light, and a new generation of farmers and food producers, the East End enjoys a relatively high degree of food independence. If one wanted to dine only on what the land and seas here provide, one could -- in style.
As the owners of one egg and poultry farm reminded its customers this week, the hens are still laying, no matter what else is going on in the world. Just try taking no more than your fair share.