International Women’s Day is Tuesday, March 8th, and here in the Village of Greenport, we are celebrating the women who make things happen. Over the years the North Fork has been in the news for its booming vineyard community and progressive farm to table movement, and Greenport has been at the forefront of much of it.
Today we are featuring Lara McNeil, founder of the Greenport Farmers’ Market and registered dietician nutritionist. Greenport Farmers’ Market opened in 2011 with a location on Adams Street and it attracted shoppers and supporters from the community, as well as tourists and passerby’s who wandered off their vessels docked from our beautiful Greenport Village Marina. This farmers’ market spurred a flurry of farmers’ markets on the North Fork and little by little other farmers’ markets followed. A farmers’ market in a community is vital to the future of farming. It also connects the consumer, fact to face, to the farmer that grew their food and grants exposure to farmers who do not have properties with visibility from a main road.
“Nutrition is a very powerful thing” says Lara, the home-grown North Forker who holds a Master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook School of Medicine and is also the owner of her own consulting business East End Nutrition. Even though she grew up in Mattituck, it wasn’t until a trip to Europe that she started to think about a farmers’ market in town. She was inspired by the presentation of the farm stands in various towns along with the pride displayed by the farmers in their produce. It was during her community service as a member of the planning board in the Village of Greenport that the idea was taken to fruition and the Greenport Farmers’s Market was born.
Tell us about the journey that led you to your current career?
The Greenport Farmers’ Market was a project I took on while working a full time job and pursuing an additional degree in nutrition as my first career had been in the construction industry. My passion for food and interest in nutrition and farming were important to pursue a new career and to start the farmers’ market in collaboration with local farmers and other community participants.
When considering that we are celebrating International Women’s Day, how do you feel your career choice can inspire other women to improve their lives and their communities?
Food is power and giving people access to fresh, local food is important for the community. We were the first farmer’s market on the North Fork to accept WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for healthcare and nutrition of low income or women with children. We were also the first to accept senior citizen vouchers from SFNP (Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program). This made this, an otherwise, inaccessible resource accessible to families from all incomes and backgrounds. Our “cooking with kids” program was an example of what can happen when children can participate in nutrition an interactive way and mothers reported that as a result of these classes, their children were eating more vegetables. Another way I feel my career choices have had impact is that I take interns from different colleges, at the farmers’ market and in my private practice, and mentor them in entrepreneurship and sustainability as well as nutrition.
Please share your views on the economic viability of your career choice and how can it be possible for other women to support themselves in the pursuit of their aspirations?
Starting your own business is a great leap of faith. Whether that business is in nutrition or another industry, you need to have knowledge, support of friends and family as well as funding for your venture. If you want to make a career changes, there will be sacrifices and you may not survive without a strong network. I worked a full time job to fund the additional education as well as my private practice, in addition to studying on the weekends and running a farmers’ market. This would have not been possible without the funds of my primary job, my perseverance and the support of my network.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Show up, work hard and participate in your community.