Derek DiGuglielmo feeds young ones’ bodies and souls

After Derek DiGuglielmo spent a year working in a largely impoverished Washington, D.C., public charter school, he knew it wasn’t the last time he would engage the country’s youth. 

A recent graduate of Georgetown University at the time, the Dobbs Ferry native says he wanted to keep that giving spirit alive after he returned to New York in 2010.

The following year, with some help and guidance from friends and family, he founded Eat Local NY, a Dobbs Ferry-based nonprofit with a mission to provide area children access to freshly grown food.

The organization expanded last September to an online marketplace of food, drink and other kitchen essentials that would not only promote local small businesses  but also help area children combat educational struggles and hunger through community programs and a portion of its profits.

Through a mainly word-of-mouth strategy, the site has been able to gain traction and is offering nearly 200 products, everything from pear lemon jam to tomato and spinach seeds to ginger ale syrup, all grown or produced within New York state’s borders. The eclectic product choices are often a bit pricier than those of brick and mortar markets but offer intangibles that DiGuglielmo says don’t come along with a trip to a conventional grocery store.

“What we’re trying to do is eliminate upfront inventory and create a direct producer-to-consumer relationship,” DiGuglielmo says. “People get a chance to get all their goods shipped directly from the source.”

Eat Local NY currently has products from nearly 30 New York-based companies, most of which are independently owned and operate out of the greater New York City area. The site is chock-full of niche products, including those of Brooklyn-based Salamander Sauce Co. Inc., Hudson Valley Skin Care and Schenectady-based Gatherer’s Granola.

His customers come predominantly from New York, but he has also received orders from Chicago, California and even parts of Europe. Westchester chefs and restaurants frequently place specialty bulk orders, DiGuglielmo says.

A portion of Eat Local NY’s profits goes to the site’s partner nonprofits, which include the Community Food Pantry of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, the Food Bank for Westchester, City Growers, Harlem Grown and Slow Food Metro North. The company also holds collaborative nutrition education programs with its partners and organizes food-centric field trips for area at-risk youth, including one last fall in which a group of middle school students learned the ins and outs of a Long Island organic farm.

Doug DeCandia, food growing project coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, says DiGuglielmo has worked with the organization before to help with its farm growing program, which provides vocational training for at-risk residents.

“Derek’s always helped me out on our farm,” DeCandia says. “He’s even helped me quite a bit as a volunteer himself.”

Last September, Eat Local NY, in collaboration with Elmsford-based Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., hosted the first Bike to Beer Benefit. The 55-mile charity cycling event benefits City Growers, the Queens-based partner of Eat Local NY that connects urban communities with agriculture.

The ability to reach the area’s disadvantaged youth, DiGuglielmo says, is the best aspect of running his nonprofit.

“You really see the excitement and the youthfulness of a child when they pick a carrot out of the ground for the first time,” DiGuglielmo says, “or when they taste a great leaf that really doesn’t taste bland.”

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