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FoodLab Nurtures Culinary Innovation and Community

Food lab students working
Food lab students working
Students and recent graduates spent the summer working to create the FoodLab farm while learning horticultural, construction, agricultural and employability skills.

Nestled within the Stony Brook Southampton campus, FoodLab serves as a hub for culinary exploration, innovation, and education, fostering a dynamic environment where gastronomy meets science and sustainability.

FoodLab was founded in 2015 to take advantage of the geographic location of the Southampton campus, at the center of an important, thriving food and wine region; an ideal position to take advantage of all things related to food.

Working on arborSupported by the Lichtenstein Fund, Robert Reeves — former associate provost of the Southampton Graduate Arts campus and Lichtenstein Center founder — appointed Geoffrey Drummond, an award-winning producer/director of culinary programs, as the inaugural executive director of the FoodLab.

Using Drummond’s connections in the food world, FoodLab began hosting the annual FoodLab Conference, convening thought-leaders and practitioners who presented their insights into all aspects of the world of food,  including Eric Ripert, Lydia Bastianich, Bobby Flay, Melissa Clark, Adam Gopnik, Pati Jinich, and Florence Fabricant. Conference topics ranged from eating and cooking local to diversity, to food as medicine and culinary entrepreneurship, and often saw over 200 attendees.

Now, as part of the new Lichtenstein Center, FoodLab has begun to expand and amplify its educational mission.

The FoodLab Education Fund, sustained by generous East End donors as well as the new Lichtenstein Reeves Endowment Fund, supported the hiring of Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz in 2022 as program director. Carmack-Fayyaz, a notable East End food educator, came aboard to design, launch, and administer a range of innovative food education initiatives.

“What Judiann has accomplished in a matter of months is extraordinary,” said Reeves. “Reaching audiences within the community and with the university, convening a Sea to Soil Summit, partnering with Marine Sciences to support the kelp initiative, putting the greenhouse back into service, fencing and developing a large, versatile-use garden, [and] partnering with New York State to provide agricultural training for middle and high school students.”

Judiann cf
Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz

Carmack-Fayyaz has ambitious goals for the future of the FoodLab. “I hope to use the crops from the farm for use in the on-campus café, and to also donate the crops to charities,” she said. “I would also like to offer credit-bearing courses for students, with a dream of creating a semester at Southampton in which students learn about farming.”

For now, programs are aimed at the local community, with recent workshops offered in hands-on horticulture and medicinal uses of berries, among others.

Carmack-Fayyaz partnered with the Suffolk County Department of Labor and the Bridgehampton Child Care Center to participate in the Earn and Learn program for students, in which high school students and recent graduates earn a salary from the Department of Labor while learning a trade. Twelve students spent the summer working to create the FoodLab farm while learning horticultural, construction, agricultural and employability skills.

The students completed professional landscape installation, seeded and installed a pollinator garden, built a 30-foot grape arbor, built two greenhouses for winter production, sowed fall crops, and created a planting design for a 60-x-60-foot herb garden. Carmack-Fayyaz hopes to open the farm for community and local school visits as early as September.

Students greenhouseMeshye Hollman, a recent high school graduate, spent the summer working on the farm as part of the program, and found a passion for working with plants. “I didn’t know what propagation was at all. And I found that I love to propagate — when you take a little snip of the plant and then work to help it regenerate a new plant. I learned how to bury a plant correctly, and how to place plants.”

Marques Thomas is entering his junior year at Bridgehampton High School, and discovered that he enjoys landscaping and building after participating in the program. “I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned how to plant, I learned how to weed whack, I learned how to build and use a drill.” Thomas is considering future careers in construction or landscaping after participating in the Earn and Learn program.

Student participants also noted that they learned to work independently as well as part of a team when working on the herb garden, in which they created themed beds and selected plants based on distinct qualities and values.

“Going forward, the next opportunity for FoodLab and Stony Brook is to put part of Southampton campus in service as agricultural space, just as other elite educational institutions are doing, to support academic programs in sustainability and food literacy and to support a wide range of environmental research,” said Reeves. “But what others can’t do, is offer Southampton’s Shinnecock Bay location, sea and farm together, adjacent to a research facility, in the middle of New York State’s fourth largest agricultural district.”

For more information on the FoodLab’s events and workshops, visit the FoodLab website.

— Beth Squire

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