Kate Fullam is the executive director of East End Food, a nonprofit organization based in eastern Long Island, New York, that supports farmers and producers and works to ensure an adequate food supply for all. She is also an appointed member of both the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council and the Southampton Town Planning Board. She previously worked for Group for the East End – a Long Island nonprofit that protects and restores the environment, Stony Brook Medicine, and Stony Brook University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in marine science from Long Island University and a master’s degree in nonprofit administration from North Park University.
Food Policy Center: Welcome! Thank you for joining us. Let’s start with some background information – how did you move from earning a marine science degree to working for East End Food? What drew you to your current position?
Kate Fullam: My early interest in marine science stems from a love of the ocean. Simply put, I studied what I love. That science degree has served me well. It taught me how to analyze systems and design experiments to move methodically through problem-solving. Professionally, my background ranges from environmental education and land use to community health and equity. Food is connected to everything, and it is also a great way to get people talking about other societal issues, so East End Food is a great fit.
FPC: Please tell me a little bit more about East End Food and its history. How did the organization start, and how has it evolved?
KF: Like many great efforts, East End Food started as an idea among friends. In this case, it was a philanthropist and Harvard writing professor named John de Cuevas who gathered farmers and food artisans together to build an organization that would strengthen the regional food system. Since 2010, we have grown to have an annual operating budget of over $1 million and a team of about 15 employees who operate a commercial kitchen and a year-round farmer’s market.
FPC: What type of impact does the organization have on farmers, producers, and the community? What are the most difficult obstacles for farmers and producers to overcome right now? How does East End Food help?
KF: East End Food has grown to fulfill a true need in the local food community, working with farms to create new distribution channels for surplus produce. When a farm becomes a Business Member with East End Food, the farm gains access to a comprehensive suite of services and support, including assistance in packaging and labeling requirements, connecting with new buyers, and expanding distribution networks, paving the way for long-term success within the local food industry and beyond. Through membership in our organization, farms can effectively scale their operations, increase their revenue streams and contribute to the sustainable growth of the local agriculture economy.
East End Food serves as a catalyst for small-scale food entrepreneurs who want to start and grow their businesses. Our shared community kitchen provides a licensed space for producers to make their goods, and our in-person and virtual farmer’s markets provide important platforms for bringing their products to the community.
FPC: How do you influence community members to support local farmers and producers? What are some of the challenges specific to the Long Island community that might not be a problem in NYC or elsewhere in New York state? What would make it easier for everyone in the East End community to access fresh, nutritious foods?
KF: East End Food believes good, local food is for everyone. Through our farm to community, farm to school, and farmer’s market programs, we strive to ensure that individuals of all backgrounds and income levels have the opportunity to enjoy fresh, nutritious, and locally-sourced food. There are many ways to get involved with our work, and our volunteers in the kitchen and at the market get a first-hand opportunity to learn more and become stakeholders. This year we are focused on relaunching a program to accept SNAP benefits and other public assistance dollars.
FPC: Since joining East End Food in 2018, what lessons have you learned about increasing access to healthy, locally-sourced foods that you would like to share with others? Based on what you have learned from other food-hub models, what are some best practices to consider?
KF: East End Food has secured funding over the last few years for a Farm to Community program that purchases surplus produce from local farms. The farms benefit from selling higher volumes of extra crops, and the community benefits from a lower cost per unit. The program has been supported by grants and public donations, but we hope for a public subsidy to both sustain funding over time and offer credits to food pantries who wish to purchase local produce and products for their clients. It’s all about creating systems that share resources.
FPC: In 2022, you served on a New York State advisory group that provided the governor with recommendations for increasing local, healthy food procurement. What is the one policy recommendation you believe should be implemented most immediately? Are there any other policies regarding food, farming, and/or agriculture that you would like to see put into practice in the near future? What would need to happen in order to actually implement these policies?
KF: Suffolk County was once the highest economic generator of agricultural production in New York State. On Long Island, we are losing farmland, and people are getting out of the business of farming because of the cost of land, labor, and housing. East End Food is in the beginning stages of building a food hub that will serve the region by aggregating, processing, and distributing regional produce and products. A food hub will create resiliency for Long Island’s food supply by opening up new sales channels to sustain farms and food businesses throughout the region. Investments in food system infrastructure are important, but I would also like to see a public funding stream that would offset the cost of regional foods so that small and mid-sized farms could be more competitive in the farm to institution market.
FPC: What are East End Food’s goals for 2024? What are you most hopeful about for the new year in terms of food and agriculture?
KF: With the nearly $1.5 million in donations, grants, and sponsorships we have raised, in June 2023 we began construction on an estimated $3 million renovation and site infrastructure project that is Phase 1 of what will become the East End Food Hub campus in Riverhead, which will serve the region and sustain local farming and food businesses. Right now, we are focused on installing a $120,000 water main that will allow us to obtain a certificate of occupancy for the building that will immediately house our year-round farmer’s market. Other plans for 2024 include installation of a shared commercial kitchen so that we can centralize all our programs at the site.
Grew up in: Ramsey, NJ
City or town you call home: Hampton Bays, NY
Job title: Executive Director
Background and education: BS in Marine Science and Masters in Nonprofit Administration
One word you would use to describe our food system: Collaborative
Food policy hero: Sylvia Earle, for her advocacy to protect ocean ecosystems
Your breakfast this morning: Yogurt and granola with local peaches from the freezer
Favorite food: Summer tomatoes, right off the vine
Favorite food hangout: Barrow Food House in Aquebogue, NY
Food policy social media must follow: @ronfinleyhq on Instagram has a very inspiring, creative, and fun way of using found resources to grow food and creating positive momentum toward food equity.