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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Farm-to-Table Marine Delivery: Harbor Harvest Vessel Launched on Long Island Sound

Jul 02, 2019 08:32PM ● By Ariana Fine

Robert Kunkel, co-owner of the Harbor Harvest market in Norwalk as well as a ship design and construction management firm, debuted in April what had once been only an idea for more efficient food transportation to connect family farms with town markets. The Captain Ben Moore, his unique, hybrid electric catamaran with refrigeration compartments, launched April 12 in Mamaroneck, New York. The vessel is the next step of Kunkel’s dream for a marine-focused, farm-to-table distribution network along the area’s coastal waterways.

The $2.8 million ship is a collaborative effort between Kunkel’s Alternative Marine Technologies and Derecktor Shipyards that began in 2016. However, Kunkel had been contemplating the idea for many years prior to that. 

“With Harbor Harvest [market], we wanted to create a food hub to see what local products were needed and desired. We saw issues immediately with in-demand items. Customers on the Connecticut side want fresh meat from Long Island, while getting Long Island’s amazing potatoes and wine to Connecticut was an issue. What would be a two-hour delivery from port to port can take more than half a day on the highways,” Kunkel said in 2016 before developing the vessel. Two of the coastal shipping issues he originally hypothesized about were tackled in the catamaran’s streamlined design: coastal property owners’ reluctance to see less aesthetically pleasing shipping vessels and the accompanying noise and emissions from such a ship.

The Norwalk native and marine engineer hopes the 65-foot cargo vessel will also play a small part in reducing carbon emissions by decreasing local fresh-food distribution traffic on congested highways between Connecticut and New York. Powered by lithium batteries and operated by a two-member crew, the emission-free ship takes about 45 minutes to travel from Huntington, Long Island to Norwalk. During the product loading and unloading process, the ship’s batteries are recharged at pier-side power units near Harbor Harvest’s warehouses. Both locations serve dual purposes as storage for resale goods and product distribution pick-up points.

The Harbor Harvest ship is Derecktor Shipyards’ third hybrid catamaran creation, built to run on the BAE HybriDrive system. Reaching speeds up to 16 knots, the vessel includes 300 square feet of open cargo space, 100 square feet of covered cargo space and 140 square feet of walk-in refrigerated space.

The aluminum ship is capable of transporting 12,000 pounds of cargo, up to five times the freight that an 18-wheel tractor trailer can. In addition, the vessel does not have to deal with the time-consuming delivery journey spent on the I-95 corridor, which can take from over 90 minutes to many hours depending on traffic. For upstate New York farms, transporting goods to Long Island or New York City can sometimes take nearly half a day.

The Harbor Harvest vessel will transport dairy, fresh produce, butchered meats and fish products coming from New England and New York small businesses and family farms along waterways to Norwalk for sale in the Harbor Harvest market. There will even be Long Island craft beer and wine brought to Connecticut. Some of the companies and growers that have signed on include Farmer’s Cow, Fossil Farms, Brewport and others. In addition, Kunkel’s company is entering agreements with shipping businesses that want to avoid the hassle of sending trucks on the Connecticut-Long Island highway journey. Instead, the distribution companies will get goods from the drop-off points on either side after they have crossed Long Island Sound.

The Harbor Harvest (HarborHarvest.com) store, co-owned by Robert Kunkel and his wife Marilyn Kunkel, strives to be farm-to-market, locally sourcing foods as much as possible. With a butcher and produce section reminiscent of mom-and-pop markets of yesteryear, Harbor Harvest sources fresh produce, dairy and meats from farms and vendors throughout Connecticut and New York. This both supports local farmers and increases the freshness of the products available, in addition to cutting down on the environmental impact of long-distance delivery of goods. 

Kunkel is passionate about the concept of disruptive sustainability and how the boatbuilding and local Harbor Harvest delivery service can contribute to combating the environmental side of global warming and emissions. “We see the damage done when food is not sourced locally with emissions, traffic, noise and gas usage. We are doing our little part,” says Kunkel. “We are aiming to move traffic from main highways by using waterways responsibly on Long Island Sound and the Hudson River.”

Kunkel’s vision for efficient, local marine shipping is catching on. The U.S. Maritime Administration has already committed $1.8 million in funding for a second marine vessel and loading equipment as part of its Marine Highway initiative. According to Kunkel, the second vessel may ferry products to Hunts Point or Garvies Point in Glen Cove, New York.

Officials from other coastal cities, such as San Francisco and Boston, have reached out to Kunkel about ideas to create and build their own similar marine transportation networks.

Harbor Harvest Market is located at 7 Cove Ave, Norwalk. For more information, visit HarborHarvest.com See ad, page 15.

Ariana Rawls Fine is a writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings Fairfield/Housatonic Valley. She resides in Stratford with her family.

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