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New Agriculture Consumer Science Center Heralded

A ribbon cutting was held at the Calverton facility on Tuesday.

Riverhead resident Janet Jensen had a dream.

For years, friends and neighbors had been savoring Jensen's cakes and other sweet temptations. Later, after she started creating bars made of nuts, oats, and agave, Jensen longed to start her own business to sell her product. "Bars are the big thing," she said.

But every time she tried to take the first steps toward launching her own business, Jensen said she ran into obstacles. "Legally, I couldn't do it," she said. "It was impossible for me, as a small business person wannabe."

Until the day a friend suggested she contact Monique Gablenz, director of the Stony Brook University Incubator at Calverton. Jensen, who said she had driven by the facility many times, had no clue what the SBU Incubator was.

Once she stepped inside and met with Gablenz, she said, "It was like Oz. You could see the potential of what I could do here. It's wonderful."

A ribbon cutting was held on Tuesday at SBU's Calverton Incubator, located at 4603 Middle Country Road, local business leaders, educators and others joining together for a ribbon cutting that heralded the official opening of the Agriculture Consumer Science Center.

The ACSC is  an 8300-square foot annex to the Calverton Business Incubator in Riverhead and is meant to provide regional food and wine producers and local entrepreneurs with access to shared processing areas.

In addition, the center will provide a place for researchers, scientists and professionals from Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the New York State Small Business Development Center to network and collaborate -- a place where information can be garnered to shepherd new ideas from the early stages of a business concept to an actual start-up endeavor.

The Calverton Business Incubator, owned and operated by Stony Brook University, is a 15,680-square-foot facility that fosters the development of new agriculture, aquaculture and environmental technologies.

On Tuesday, elected officials and others said the Agriculture Consumer Science Center would be a place to turn the dreams of culinary entrepreneurs into reality.

Yacov Shamash, Vice President for Economic Development and Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the ribbon cutting symbolized the beginning "of a new chapter for agriculture on Long Island."

When Stony Brook University first began planning for the Incubator, Shamash said, only a few dozen existed nationwide; today, there are thousands around the world. Incubators, he added, have given birth to successful new businesses, with 87 percent still in business after their launch and 84 percent remaining in the same communities in which they were started.

Samuel Stanley Jr., MD, president of Stony Brook University, said the new facility would serve as a bridge, helping farmers to bring their product to market.

Stanley thanked the Town of Riverhead for donating the land for the Incubator.

"Grown on Long Island has a new meaning today -- a new way to plant seeds that will grow into new businesses," Stanley said.

New York State Senator Ken LaValle said the Long Island Farm Bureau's Executive Director Joseph Gergela has helped shepherd the agicultural community to its current position as the largest in New York State.

"This is a good year for agriculture," LaValle said, adding that another significant development was the public-private partnership represented by John King's planned agricultural processing facility, located at 2711 Sound Avenue, the 108,000 square foot site of the former Blackman Plumbing Supply business.

The agri-park, LaValle said, would help local farmers package their produce and refrigerate the product so it could reach a wider market.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the Incubator was just the beginning. Down the road, he hopes to see new businesses launched at the Incubator open up on parcels directly to the west. "This would be a total progression," he said. "You start with the Incubator, but businesses have to go someplace. The town board is going to make this happen," Walter promised.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine lauded LaValle's vision and said he has served as a leader whose "why not" philosophy has seen dreams come to fruition.

Looking ahead, Gergela said that while it has been a good year for the agricultural community, the fact remains that farming as an industry is "rough sledding. The farm industry is struggling because the cost of production here is higher than anywhere else." Farmers, he said, are burdened by escalating fuel costs. "Our costs keep going up and the return on investments is not keeping pace."

The new Agriculture Consumer Science Center, he said, would help to bring value-added components to the industry.

"The center is a good example of what happens when government, education, and business work together," Gablenz said, adding that on-site offerings will include food processing facilities, labs, and learning spaces.

Also present was entrepreneur and Incubator tenant Rebecca Castellano, whose business offers gluten-free products.

So far, 12 companies have applied to set up at the new site, with six more calling to express interest this week.

"I'm so excited," Jensen said, adding that Gablenz has offered support every step of the way. "Thank you for this opportunity."

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