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Officials celebrate new agricultural science center groundbreaking at EPCAL

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This one was for the cameras.

Construction on the new agriculture consumer science center at the Stony Brook Incubator in Calverton actually got underway Sept. 19, so by the time officials gathered at the site this morning, cement had already been poured for the foundation walls of the new 8,300-square-foot facility.  Workers with a backhoe stayed busy even as the tip of the ceremonial shovel was pressed into the earth by State Senator Ken LaValle and Stony Brook University president Samuel Stanley, as Supervisor Sean Walter and members of the Riverhead Town Board looked on.

The project is scheduled to be completed by summer of next year.

With laboratories, kitchens and storage space, the center will provide resources for agricultural producers and small-scale food processors for research and development of new products.

“We’re very excited at the prospect of fostering entrepreneurship in agriculture, because entrepreneurship is the spirit of business in America,” L.I. Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said.

The idea for the center grew out of a field trip Gergela took to upstate Poughkeepsie, where he visited a place called FoodWorks.

“For local farmers to be able to pursue value-added products, to take raw products and manufacture other products right here, is a huge step forward,” Gergela said. “It will mean a lot to local agriculture.”

With 33,000 acres of land in agricultural use, the industry represents 5 percent of Long Island’s economy, Stony Brook University president Samuel Stanley said. Agriculture employs more than 8,000 people, he noted. The center will help the industry create new jobs.

Stanley thanked Riverhead Town for donating 50 acres at the Calverton Enterprise Park to the university for the small business incubator, which is run by former Riverhead Deputy Supervisor Monique Gablenz.

All involved had high praise for LaValle, who secured a $3.5 million grant to fund the construction of the center and was instrumental in developing the Calverton small business incubator in the first place.

LaValle said there was a lot of luck involved along the way, including the luck of having the Town of Riverhead donate 50 acres of land for the incubator site.

That was one of the smartest things the town did at the enterprise park, according to the Riverhead supervisor.

“This is an example of what works,” Walter said, using the opportunity to talk about his plan to establish a multi-jurisdictional commission mandated to approve permits for new development at the enterprise park within 75 days. He likened it to the state dormitory authority which funded the incubator construction.

Walter said Calverton is the logical home for new industry that grows out of the technology triangle trumpeted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the place to which incubated businesses should logically graduate.